Messed Up True Stories From The Cecil Hotel

Perhaps the most infamous hotel in the United States, the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles has since its opening a long and sordid past that includes suicides, murders, and serial killers. Basically, if something bad could have happened there, it has (and, likely, has multiple times over the years). Whether it is through coincidence, fate, or some sort of darker influences at play, the Cecil Hotel has a history unlike any other.

According to Film Daily, the Cecil Hotel was originally built in 1924 to accommodate business travelers and — as with every other business — hit hard times during the Great Depression. The area surrounding the hotel turned into Skid Row, and the Cecil — with its 700 rooms, Beaux Arts style, and lavish decorations — became a budget hotel catering to a more transient population, as well as those seeking the seedier side of life. It was around this time that the hotel's infamy started. Since then, the hotel's history has been a grim assortment of misfortunes and sad occurrences that have continued until fairly recently.

The first recorded suicide occurred in 1931

The first recorded suicide at the Cecil happened at a time when the Great Depression was truly ramping up — and was perhaps an ominous portent for things to come over the next decades, as there would continue to be suicides from that point on. On Nov. 19, 1931, a Manhattan Beach resident, one W.K. Norton, was found by hotel staff in his hotel room, deceased. According to KCET, he had only been dead for a few hours by the time he was found. In the subsequent investigation, police found capsules that were believed to be filled with poison in Norton's vest pocket.

While Norton's is the first recorded suicide, it may not have been the first glimpse at what was to come at the Cecil. Also according to KCET, a woman named Dorothy Roberson was taken to the hospital after wandering the hotel for three days having consumed barbiturates in an attempt to commit suicide due to the death of her husband.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Grace E. Magro, the 25-year-old who jumped or fell from the ninth story

Another death that occurred at the Cecil happened in March 1937, and to this day authorities don't know if it was a suicide or an accident. In this case, Los Angeles resident, 25-year-old Grace E. Magro, either fell or jumped from a ninth story window. It was not a clean descent, however, and Magro got caught up in telephone wires on the way down, which ended up wrapped around her when she hit the ground. According to The Los Angeles Times, her companion — listed as M.W. Madison, a 26-year-old sailor on the U.S.S. Virginia — was asleep in the room at the time of the incident and therefore gave no information as to how Magro ended up falling from the window.

Magro was transported to the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital (which no longer exists), where she soon thereafter died. Magro is the first of many people, if she did indeed choose, to end her own life by jumping from the higher stories of the Cecil Hotel. Another gruesome death of this manner occurred just a year later, according to KCET, when a United States Marine Corps firemen named Roy Thomson jumped from his room and landed on the skylight of a building next door.

Dorothy Jean Purcell threw her own baby out the window

Not even children have been safe from the Cecil's deadly aura. In September 1944, Dorothy Jean Purcell, 19, had been staying in the Cecil for a couple of days with one Ben Levine, 38, when she awoke in the early morning hours to the feeling that she was about to give birth. According to The Los Angeles Times, Purcell then went to the restroom on her floor and delivered the baby alone (she did not want to wake up Levine and disturb him). Upon delivery, Purcell believed the baby to be stillborn and, for whatever reason, threw the baby out a nearby window. The baby landed on the roof of a nearby building, and Purcell went back to her room, deciding to refrain from telling Levine about what happened. Purcell was arrested shortly after the event took place.

Purcell was brought to trial for the possible murder. During the trial, it was revealed by the autopsy surgeon that the baby boy had, in fact, been alive when born. The proof, the examiner explained, was evidence of oxygen in the lungs. Purcell was also examined by psychologists and eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity, according to James Bartlett in his book, Gourmet Ghosts 2: More ghosts, murders, suicides and L.A. Weirdness.

Pauline Otton jumped from the window and landed on someone

Another person who is known to have jumped to her death from the Cecil Hotel is Pauline Otton, 27, who did so in October 1962. Otton, though, did not simply kill herself after jumping. According to Film Daily, after getting in an argument, Otton leapt from the window of her ninth story room. Unfortunately, when she fell those 90 feet, she landed on a 68-year-old transient man named George Giannini, who just happened to be walking by at the time. 

By the time police arrived, both Otton and Giannini were deceased, having been killed instantly upon impact. When beginning their investigation, there were no witnesses to the events, which complicated things. Initially, police thought that the two deceased had committed a murder-suicide and had potentially leapt together from the hotel. It became clear, however, when police discovered his hands in his pockets and his shoes still on — something that would not have been possible had he also jumped from the hotel.

Pigeon Goldie Osgood's murder is still unsolved

Some of the murders that have occurred at the Cecil have remained unsolved to this day, and the case of "Pigeon Goldie" Osgood is one of them. She was a retired telephone operator who earned her nickname because she was known to frequently feed the pigeons in Pershing Square. A woman, whose most dangerous act, according to The Los Angeles Times, was to scare away bigger birds from the smaller ones she was feeding, was found dead in her Cecil Hotel room in 1964 having been shot, stabbed, and sexually assaulted. The hotel staffer who found her body also found her Dodgers baseball cap and bags of feed next to the body. Police suspected that Osgood's murder was connected to a murder that had happened the previous month at another hotel in Los Angeles.

A 29-year-old laborer, Jacques Ehlinger, was arrested by police after being seen in Pershing Square covered in blood shortly after the murder took place. Ehlinger had admitted to knowing Osgood but denied having anything to do with the murder. Police never found enough evidence to charge Ehlinger (or anyone else, for that matter), and the murder sadly remains unsolved.

The Night Stalker Richard Ramirez lived there

Perhaps the most famous person on this list, the satan-worshipping serial killer Richard Ramirez, the "Night Stalker" — is said to have spent time living at the Cecil in the mid-1980s, during which he engaged in a crime spree that devasted Los Angeles. According to Biography, Ramirez was known to have killed at least 14 people and sexually assaulted and tortured at least 20 more between June 1984 and August 1985. From childhood through his teen years, Ramirez's criminal behavior exponentially increased, starting with a 1977 arrest for marijuana. His first murder occurred seven years later, in April 1984, when he murdered 9-year-old Mei "Linda" Leung in San Francisco's Tenderloin District. This murder, according to SFGate, was not connected to Ramirez until new DNA technology was used, over 20 years after the fact.

Ramirez's first "Night Stalker" killing (the name being given to him by the media), occurred on June 28, 1984, when he assaulted then stabbed to death 79-year-old Jennie Vincow. From that point, he spent over a year terrorizing Los Angeles, committing burglaries and murders before being caught and arrested in August 1985, when he attempted to steal a car. Area residents chased Ramirez and proceeded to beat him until the police arrived.

Austrian serial killer Johann Jack Unterweger also lived there

The Cecil has not had one infamous serial killer, it's had two. Possibly lesser-known (but still a terrible human being), Austrian Jack Unterweger also spent time at the hotel. By the time he stayed at the Cecil, though, Unterweger had already been convicted of – and released from prison for – murder. You heard that right. In 1974, Unterweger murdered 18-year-old Margaret Schäfer and was sent to prison for life for it. According to Biography, there, he began to writer prodigiously and accrue a following for his work. Less than a decade after being sentenced, a petition was started for his release, which happened in 1990 after he served the minimum 15 years required by Austrian law.

Upon release, Unterweger murdered at least seven more people before being hired by a magazine to write about crime in Los Angeles. In the time he was there, he stayed some of the time at the Cecil Hotel. (CNN reports that some thought he stayed at the Cecil in homage to Ramirez.) Also in that time, three sex workers were found murdered in much the same way Unterweger's European victims had been. Unterweger came under suspicion for the murders, and when police finally had enough evidence, he had fled. Unterweger was eventually captured in Miami and extradited back to Austria. On the day he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (in June 1994), he committed suicide in his jail cell.

Robert Sullivan murders Teri Francis Craig

There are even some crimes that have occurred not quite within the walls of the Cecil Hotel but are tangentially related. Take the murder of 32-year-old Teri Francis Craig, for example. The Los Angeles Times writes that in 1988, Craig's body had been found brutally stabbed to death in the rented Huntington Beach home she had shared with her boyfriend, Robert Sullivan, after calls from neighbors alerted the police. The couple had been in the house for the past seven years. According to witnesses, Sullivan had been seen driving away from the property the day of the murder.

And where did he go? Well, he may have gone any number of places, but when police found him almost two months later, Sullivan was holed up in the Cecil Hotel. There are no sources available that explain why Sullivan chose to stay at the Cecil, but with no shortage of bad vibes emanating from the hotel, one could make the argument that he was drawn to the site.

Elisa Lam was found in a hotel water tank

One of the most recent (and most mind-boggling) tragedies to strike on the grounds of the Cecil Hotel is that of 21-year-old Canadian student Elisa Lam, who was found in a water supply tank on top of the hotel on Feb. 19, 2013. According to CNN, after complaints from residents about the water (the supply, pressure, and taste), a maintenance worker found her body. 

Lam's story is a tragic one — she checked into the hotel on January 26, and the last known footage of her (which was shared by CBS) was taken five days later. In the video, Lam can be seen entering and leaving an elevator, pressing the buttons multiple times, and possibly gesturing and talking to someone off screen (who she may or may not have been hiding from). This footage was not the only cause for consternation and confusion by police and armchair detectives alike, though.

The physical location of Lam's body also created issues in explaining her death — she was found inside one of the four 8-foot-tall water cisterns on the hotel roof. Not only that, her possessions and clothing were found inside the tank with her (though she was naked). Theories range when it comes to explaining Lam's disappearance and death. While the paranormal (and the hotel's history) has been invoked, CNN reports that her death was ruled an accident. USA Today adds that bipolar disorder, which Lam was on medication for, was a significant factor in the death. This explanation, though, sadly does not fully explain just how Lam ended up in the water tank.

The Cecil was also the inspiration for American Horror Story

One of the more popular horror television series of the last decade, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk's anthology series American Horror Story used the Cecil Hotel as part of the inspiration for its fifth season, aptly named "Hotel." Set at the Hotel Cortez in Los Angeles, the season dives into the hotel's mysterious past and the guests that have, for various reasons, never checked out. While there are some people that are still actually alive inside, the majority of the characters viewers were introduced to had already met their end. This is put on full display in the episode "Devil's Night," when Mr. March (played by series constant Evan Peters), hosts a dinner for a veritable who's who of American serial killers. Some that appear at the dinner are John Wayne Gayce, Aileen Wuornos, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Zodiac Killer, and the Cecil's own former resident, Richard Ramirez.

The Cecil Hotel was not the only inspiration for the season, though. In addition to the decades of sordid history that the Cecil has produced, it was not the only disturbing hotel used by Murphy and Falchuk for inspiration. According to ScreenRant, there was another infamous hotel, too (hotel might be a strong phrase, though). Built in the late 1800s to accommodate visitors to the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (otherwise known as the World's Fair), H.H. Holmes' "Murder Castle" — and Holmes himself — were integral references for many of the plot points of the season. While March is not a direct iteration of Holmes, the similarities (concerning the will to entrap, torture, and murder) are there.

The Cecil Hotel is still open — sort of — though under a different name

While the Cecil Hotel may seem like the kind of place that should have been shuttered long, long ago, it is in fact still open. In 2007, new owners started renovating and refurbishing the hotel, working to turn it from single-resident occupancy housing (as it was during Richard Ramirez's and Jack Unterweger's stays) into something closer to a hostel-like boutique hotel experience. A few short years after that, in 2011, the Cecil Hotel got another upgrade — a new name.

In 2011, the Cecil Hotel became the Stay on Main (named as such because of its location near Seventh and Main in Los Angeles), a few years after a portion of the hotel was refurbished by a new owner. Then, in 2014, the hotel was again sold to Richard Born, a New York-based hotelier. Then, following that in 2015, Simon Baron Development entered a 99-year ground lease with the property owner, according to Curbed Los Angeles. (At that time, plans for renovation included rehabbing 261 of the 301 residency units and building 30 additional in a different spot owned by the company). Then, in 2017 it was designated a Los Angeles historic landmark (for the pedigree and other works of the original designer, not for everything discussed in this article, obviously). As of right now, the Stay on Main is not open, though as Curbed wrote in 2019, construction was supposed to wrap in mid-to-late 2021.