The Cecil Hotel, built by William Banks Hanner, opened its doors on December 20, 1924. It cost, what is equal today, almost $14 million, and it truly was a grand building in its heyday. Over decades, however, its infamous legacy has replaced any notion of glamour and luxury. Instead, the horrendous acts of violence and brutality that happened within its walls will forever haunt those who hear its stories. The Netflix documentary, ‘The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” reminds us how dark the hotel’s past really is. Here are the top 10 horrible facts about the Cecil Hotel.
10 The First Suicide
Long-term residents started referring to the Cecil Hotel as “the suicide” in 1962, and with good reason. While the first-ever death at the hotel, a man named William Mckay, was determined to be caused by natural causes in 1926, the very next year saw its first suicide. Percy Ormand Cook committed suicide by shooting himself in the head at 52 years old. This began a long and tragic trend of people attempting suicide and completed suicides at the hotel.
People have taken their lives at the hotel by overdosing, slitting their throat, ingesting poison, jumping from the roof or windows, or by gunshot. Some incidents have left people questioning if it really was a suicide, like Grace Magro. She fell or jumped from a nine-story window. Her boyfriend claimed to be asleep at the time. Upon her descent, she became entangled in telephone wires which ripped from the poles.
Another harrowing incident is Pauline Otton’s leap out of a ninth-floor window. Not only did she kill herself, but also an elderly pensioner on the street below. Twelve of the 16 acknowledged deaths involving the Cecil Hotel are believed to be suicides.
9 Skid Row Led to the Downfall of the Cecil Hotel
The hotel was at the height of its success in the 1940s. The grandeur of the marble lobby and its style and sophistication at the time attracted a lot of high-end clientele. But a shady maneuver was being carried out by the city of Los Angeles, which, instead of helping the homeless population, chose to redirect them to the area now known as Skid Row. Skid Row became a dumping ground for people released from jail and mental facilities as time marched on. The nearby Cecil Hotel became a dilapidating relic of the fading glamour of the old world.
The hotel became an extension of the surrounding area in that it was part of a program to provide long-term housing to people in skid row. These rooms rented out for weeks, months, or years were significantly cheaper than the rates of hotel rooms. In addition, the new crowd it was attracting, that of addicts, prostitutes, and the homeless, changed the appeal and safety of the hotel.
The cost to renovate the entire building was too high and ultimately not worth the upgrade, at least to those with a stake in the building. And so, in 2011, they renovated and rebranded part of the hotel under the name “Stay on main.”
8 There was a Ghost Sighting at the Hotel
With all the horrors and deaths surrounding the hotel, Many believe that there’s sinister energy within The Cecil. But in 2014, less than a year after Lisa Lam’s death, an 11-year-old boy believed he captured a ghost sighting on camera. The image looks like a person hanging outside the window on the fourth floor. It’s been said that the hotel is haunted, but could this supernatural sighting be a testament that actual spirits haunt the building?
A two-hour special streamed in January 2021, “Ghost Adventure: Cecil Hotel,” is the first-ever paranormal investigation to take place in the hotel. Zak Bagans leads the investigation along with his team and two psychic mediums. It’s available exclusively on discovery+ and retraces the steps of Elisa Lam.
7 A Woman was Found Dead in the Water Tower
Canadian student Elisa Lam checked into the “Stay on Main” part of the Cecil Hotel on January 26, 2013. She was initially in a shared room, but after the other guests complained about her strange behavior, she was placed in her own room. Lam was declared missing after her family hadn’t heard from her on January 30.
Three weeks later, some guests complained about the water, which ran slightly brown and smelled and tasted awful. Then, like something out of a true-crime horror movie, a hotel worker discovered a woman’s body floating in the water tank. The investigation revealed strange footage of Lam in an elevator, which led many to believe she was fleeing from someone. Many saw this as proof that she was murdered. Her death was ultimately ruled an accident. “The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” covers this story extensively, including other aspects that possibly led to her death.
6 The Hotel Inspired American Horror Story Season
American Horror Story’s fifth season, “Hotel,” owes its inspiration to The Cecil’s grim past. The series centers around a dark and mysterious LA hotel named Hotel Cortez. So it’s not surprising that the show revolves around the hotel’s disturbing deaths and paranormal events. The series even includes the serial killer Richard Ramirez, a known Cecil resident, in the episode “Devil’s Night.”
The show’s creator, Ryan Murphy, talked about the real Cecil hotel’s impact on the series. He stated in 2015 that he was obsessed with the hotel and the surrounding mystery involving Elisa Lam. The notorious video footage of a panicked Lam in an elevator is haunting, especially when the CCTV footage shows no other person. It could lead one to believe that the hotel is genuinely haunted.
5 The Black Dahlia May Have Stayed There
In 1947, when the hotel was at its peak, it was rumored that Elizabeth Short, posthumously known as the Black Dahlia, had been drinking at the Cecil bar. Short, a young aspiring actress, was found murdered in the Leimert Park neighborhood, which is not far from the Cecil. The murder case became highly publicized due to the grizzly nature of the crime. The murderer mutilated and bisected her corpse at the waist. However, officials made no arrests, and the case remained unsolved.
This fact is still unverified, but her connection to the hotel remains a point of curiosity. The Black Dahlia’s life and death became the basis for many books and films. It is still regarded as one of the most interesting unsolved murders in American history.
4 The Hotel Will not be Reopening
A seedy hotel with a dark past is enough to scare off any potential guests, especially when it’s one that’s received so many bad reviews. However, “true-crime tourism” is a real phenomenon. All the attention the hotel has received over the last couple of years has been good for business. Or it would be if the hotel hadn’t been closed since 2017.
According to a Forbes article, the hotel will not be reopening despite headlines stating that it’s currently undergoing renovations and will reopen soon. There were plans to reopen in late 2019, with Simon Baron submitting an application detailing plans: “on-site sale and dispensing of a full-line of alcoholic beverages in conjunction with a 150,753 sq. ft. hotel with 299 in-room mini-bars, ground floor restaurant, lobby bar and rooftop bar with 349 indoor seats and 312 outdoor seats. Hours of operation of the restaurant, lobby bar, and roof top bar are from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., daily.”
It was also reported that the developing firm had taken a $30 million loan to redevelop the building in 2020. However, the pandemic has halted any progress, so it is still too early to tell if a grand renovation is actually in the works.
3 Serial Killers Stayed at the Hotel
Not one but two serial killers are confirmed to have stayed at the Cecil Hotel. The most famous being the mid 80’s serial killer, Richard Ramirez, who lived in a room on the top floor. At this time, there were so many addicts and dodgy characters in the hotel that Ramirez never raised any suspicions. In fact, he would return to the Cecil after committing murder and simply throw his bloodied clothes into the hotel dumpster and proceed to walk naked through the corridors. No one ever questioned this.
In 1991, the Austrian serial killer, Johan “Jack” Unterweger, also stayed at the hotel. Under the pretense of his journalistic work, which he was well renowned and respected for, Unterweger brutally murdered three sex workers. He was sent to LA to research crime and prostitution in the city and would even ride along with cops. No one suspected that he was a serial killer who strangled at least ten women to death. The hotel’s location and the vicinity’s many prostitutes made this a prime spot to hunt his victims.
2 Pigeon Goldie was Murdered in Her Room
On June 4, 1964, one of the most horrific murders took place in the Cecil Hotel. A 65-year-old woman named Goldie Osgood, a telephone operator for the hotel, was found dead in her room. A hotel worker found Osgood’s body in the ransacked room, and it was revealed that Goldie had been raped, stabbed, and beaten.
Osgood was well known in the community and had earned the nickname Pigeon Goldie by feeding the birds in the nearby Pershing square. Her LA Dodgers cap, which she always wore, was still full of birdseed and found next to her body. Newspapers at the time reported that her friends claimed to have seen her just minutes before her body was discovered.
Jacques B. Ehlinger was arrested after he was seen walking through Pershing square in blood-stained clothing. He was never charged with Osgood’s murder, and her case remains unsolved.
1 Down Will Come Baby…
In 1944, 19-year-old Dorothy Jean Purcell, who was staying at the hotel with her boyfriend, woke up to stomach cramps. Not knowing she was pregnant, Purcell ended up giving birth on the bathroom floor. She gave birth to what she believed to be a stillborn baby. She didn’t want to wake up her 38-year-old boyfriend or tell him about the baby, so instead, she threw the newborn out of the window.
Police found the lifeless infant’s body on a roof adjacent to the building. Even more disturbing is that an autopsy of the baby boy revealed he had air in his lungs at the time of death. Therefore, he was not dead when she threw him out the window. Parcell was charged with murder but was not found guilty by reason of insanity.
Three independent criminal psychiatrists testified that she was mentally confused. Parcell never gave any other reason as to why she had done what she’d done, except stating that she thought the baby was stillborn.