At 640 S. Main Street in Downtown Los Angeles, looming over the pavements that lead to nearby Skid Row, stands the 700-bedroom Cecil Hotel.
First built in 1924 by William Banks Hanner and designed by architect Loy Lester Smith, the building cost $1 million. At the time, it was considered one of the most beautifully constructed buildings in California. The grand art deco interior was designed with the intention to accommodate affluent businessmen as more than 100,000 daily commuters passed through the Pacific Electric Railway Station located just one block away.
Then, following The Great Depression of the 1930s, more than 10,000 homeless people populated a four-mile radius around the hotel. In its nearly 100-year history, the hotel has since been plagued with stories of murder, suicide, missing persons, and overdoses.
In 1962, 27-year-old Pauline Otton threw herself from the ninth floor following an argument with her estranged husband. She plunged 90-feet and landed on a 65-year-old man who just so happened to be walking by. Both were killed instantly. Another woman named Julia Moore jumped from the eighth-floor window the same year. There was no suicide note – she only had a bus ticket and a bankbook with $1800.
On June 4th, 1964, 79-year-old Goldie ‘Pigeon Lady of Pershing Square’ Osgood was found stabbed, strangled, and raped in her room at the Cecil Hotel. The killer was never found.
These tragedies were just the start of many more sinister events to take place at Cecil Hotel.
The Night Stalker Checks In
In the mid-1980s, Cecil Hotel became a serial killer’s playground for Richard ‘The Night Stalker’ Ramirez. Born in El Paso, Texas, at the age of 18, Ramirez took a Greyhound bus from the Mexican-U.S. border to Los Angeles. Between April 1984 and August 1985, his sadistic murder spree in ‘The City of Angels’ left 13 dead and he tortured dozens more.
Ramirez enjoyed the transient hospitality that Cecil Hotel had to offer; rooms could be rented for $14-a-night; no ID necessary; no home address required. Set against a backdrop of Skid Row, when Ramirez returned to the hotel with a blood-stained t-shirt, nobody asked any questions.
Skid Row historian, Dr. Doug Mungin, revealed in the documentary ‘Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel’ that the surrounding area of Cecil Hotel had become a dumping ground for criminals and the mentally unstable. Mungin explained:
“After people are released from prison, or jail, or from a mental facility, they are dropped off on Skid Row because the city wanted to make sure that these types of people remain separated from the rest of Los Angeles.”
For several days at a time, Ramirez would binge on cocaine as his psychosis increased through lack of sleep and not eating. To feed the beast of addiction, he would head out to the urine-drenched streets and alleyways of Skid Row searching for a car to steal.
Then, speeding off on the Los Angeles freeway system, he spent those hot summer nights prowling the suburbs under the cover of darkness, looking for places to burglarize – or worse.
Guests at the hotel did not have to formally check out, so if they left belongings, it was protocol for hotel staff to bag up what was left behind and place it in a storeroom for 30 days. Ramirez was well-known for taking items from his victims and what he could not sell, he would discard with little to no concern for forensics.
Six years after Ramirez was arrested and charged with some of the worst crimes the state of California had ever seen, the next notorious serial killer was ready to check-in at Cecil Hotel.
Jack Unterweger’s Hunting Ground
In 1991, Austrian-born serial killer Jack Unterweger checked in at the Cecil Hotel. Unterweger had already served time in an Austrian prison for murdering an 18-year-old woman who he strangled with her own bra. Unterweger testified in court that he felt compelled to murder the victim after he believed he saw the face of his mother who had abandoned him in hers.
Although Unterweger was sentenced to life in prison, he was released after serving only 15 years. Behind bars, he had finished his own autobiography, ‘Purgatory or the Trip to Jail – Report of a Guilty Man’, and upon release, he traveled to Los Angeles where he masqueraded as a journalist. This is how he ended up at the Cecil Hotel.
Unterweger alleged he was writing about the rising rates of prostitution in the area. He was invited to participate in ride-along journeys with local police through the red-light districts which soon became his hunting ground.
It is unknown how many victims Unterweger murdered during his time in Los Angeles. Police recovered three bodies in the area – sex workers Shannon Exley, Irene Rodriguez, and Peggy Boothwith – all with his trademark of strangulation by undergarment.
In 1992, he was captured in Miami, Florida, and extradited back to Austria to serve a second life sentence. The final dark twist in his tale is behind bars, Unterweger took his own life using a piece of string to hang himself with the same knotted-technique he inflicted on his victims.
The Curse Continues
In 2007, new owners bought the hotel for $26 million with plans to give the property a $100 million takeover. They changed the name to Stay On Main but this could not erase its grisly past.
On February 19th, 2013, the body of 21-year-old Elisa Lam was found inside a water tank, located on the rooftop of the Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.
Disturbingly, residents at the hotel complained of foul-tasting water and a maintenance worker went to investigate. It was then, Lam’s body was discovered. Residents had been using this water to brush their teeth, take showers, and even as drinking water for 19 days.
Lam was a Canadian student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who was on her first trip to Los Angeles. When the hotel checked the CCTV footage, she appeared to be acting strangely and hiding in the lift from an unknown threat.
Since the tragic incident, the internet has gone wild with theories surrounding the mysterious death of Lam. Many believe the hotel is cursed and now only the truly brave will venture there to stay the night.