Disclaimer: The following article contains details about gruesome crimes. Please read at your own discretion.
Netflix recently released the trailer of its upcoming true-crime documentary, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.
And as far as true-crime documentaries go, this is one hotel that certainly makes for the perfect subject. After all, the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles has a whole Wikipedia page dedicated to itself, titled, “List of deaths and violence at the Cecil Hotel.”
Dubbed the ‘suicide hotel’ and the ‘death hotel’ over the years, thanks to its checkered history, Cecil Hotel originally opened in 1927.
In the last 90 years, at least 16 deaths, from non-natural causes (murders, suicides, and/or accidents) have been associated with the hotel.
The first case of a suicide at the Cecil Hotel was reported in 1931, 4 years after the hotel opened. A guest, W.K. Norton, consumed poison capsules and died in his hotel room.
That was the start of a series tragic coincidences, that placed Cecil Hotel at the centre of a spate of suicides, and some of the strangest and most gruesome crimes (the death of “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood in 1964 and Canadian student, Elisa Lam, in 2013) that remain unsolved till today.
In 1964, Osgood, a retired telephone operator, was stabbed, raped, and murdered in her room at the hotel. She was a long-term resident at the hotel. Though a man, Jacques B. Ehlinger, was initially charged with her murder, he was ultimately cleared and to date, her death remains a mystery.
However, perhaps even more mysterious is the death of 21-year-old Canadian student Elisa Lam, whose body was found in a water tank of the hotel in February 2013, almost a month after her disappearance was reported to the police.
She was staying at the Cecil and her body was discovered by the hotel’s maintenance workers after guests complained of problems with the water supply.
Though initially ruled a suicide, there are doubts about how Lam accessed the secured area where the water tank was kept and went inside it (it was so narrow that it had to be cut open to extract the body) in the first place.
What adds to the mystery is that five days before her body was discovered, the LAPD had released a video of her last sighting.
The video has been credited as being extremely disturbing, because of Lam’s highly erratic behavior. As far as internet sleuths are concerned, explanations range from a psychotic episode (it was later revealed that she was bipolar) to paranormal influence.
TW: Some readers may find the video disturbing. Reader’s discretion advised.
Apart from these cases, the hotel’s most notorious inhabitants remain serial killers, Richard Ramirez (in 1985) and Jack Unterweger (in 1991).
Ramirez was a convicted American serial killer, serial rapist, kidnapper, pedophile, and burglar, who was dubbed the “Night Stalker” and is, in fact, the subject of Netflix’s true-crime documentary, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer.
It has been confirmed that Ramirez stayed at the Cecil for a few weeks, and part of his killing spree (he was convicted of 13 murders and 11 sexual assaults) may have, in fact, taken place at the hotel.
How predominantly Cecil features in Ramirez’s killing spree may be conjecture. But what is a fact is that Austrian serial killer (and notable writer) Jack Unterweger actually assaulted and murdered three sex workers while staying at the Cecil in LA, USA.
Apart from housing these two criminals, Cecil, because of its location and the Great Depression, also became the ‘escape’ for many troubled souls. As many as 13 people killed themselves at the Cecil between 1932 to 1992, most commonly by jumping.
In fact, in a case of truly morbid luck, Pauline Otton, 27, ended up killing a pedestrian, George Gianinni, 65, because she landed on him when she jumped from her ninth-floor room.
Though Dorothy Purcell’s case is certainly far more shocking. Unbeknownst to her partner, Dorothy gave birth in the bathroom of her hotel room and then ‘flung’ the baby from the window, because she believed he was dead.
All these instances, and more, prove why Cecil Hotel was the inspiration behind season 5 of the American Horror Story. However, in 2017, the hotel was voted as a Historic-Cultural Monument by the LA City Council, because of its architectural design.
Currently, under renovation, the hotel is all set to reopen in 2021. It was also rebranded as Stay on the Main, to help it disassociate from its tragic past.
But the story of the ‘suicide hotel’ is now an urban legend. And as we all know, the truth may die, but legends go one forever, getting murkier the older they get.