The infamous Hotel Cecil (later Cecil Hotel and The Stay on Main), located in downtown Los Angeles, has seen more than its’ share of murder, crime, suicides, and brushes with famous criminals and victims. Some say the hotel is cursed, others that it is just a victim of its location. Either way, it is a central location in the seedy history of crime in LA.
The hotel opened in 1924, built by hotelier William Banks Hanner. The hotel was quite upscale, featuring a marble lobby and stained glass windows. The hotel was quite successful until the Great Depression began in 1929, although it continued to offer upscale accommodations through the 1940s. However, as Los Angeles grew in the 1950s, the neighborhood around the hotel declined (becoming known as Skid Row), the hotel declined along with the neighborhood, and became a destination for transients and other undesirable elements.
The hotel began earning a reputation for being a destination for suicides. The first noted suicide attempt was in 1929 when Dorothy Roberson, visiting from San Francisco and distraught over her husband’s sudden death, unsuccessfully tried to kill herself in the hotel. The first successful suicide on record was in 1931 when W.K. Norton consumed “a number of capsules, believed to have contained poison.” Over the years so many suicides were attempted inside the Cecil it gained the morbid nickname “The Suicide.”
As the years passed, the mayhem inside, and associated with, The Cecil continued. Some of the more notable incidents and brushes with infamy:
THE BLACK DAHLIA
It was reported that Elizabeth Short, “The Black Dahlia,” was seen drinking at The Cecil in the days before her gruesome death in 1947.
In 1964, “Pigeon” Goldie Osgood, a retired telephone operator who had been a longtime Cecil resident. She was found dead in her room; her assailant had brutally raped, stabbed and beaten her. The case was never solved.
SUICIDE KILLS PEDESTRIAN
In 1965, a woman, Pauline Otton, committed suicide after a fight with her husband, by jumping out a window from her room on the 9th floor. Her body fell on George Gianinni, a pedestrian walking in front of the hotel. He was killed instantly.
HOME OF THE “NIGHT STALKER”
In the 1980s notorious serial killer Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, lived at The Cecil for a period of time, and is believed to have committed some of his murders while living there. According to one source, “Ramirez would allegedly return from a murder, leave his bloody clothes in the dumpster out ack, and walk half naked back to his hotel room. In a place where drug deals happened in the open, and overdosed junkies lay undisturbed in the hallways for days, he would easily have gone unnoticed.”
A MURDERER APPREHENDED
Robert Sullivan was arrested at The Cecil in July 1988 for the murder of his girlfriend, Teri Francis Craig, at their Huntington Beach home. He had been staying there while attempting to elude law enforcement.
AUSTRIAN SERIAL KILLER
Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger stayed at The Cecil in 1991 and killed three prostitutes during his stay – Shannon Exley, 35, Irene Rodriguez, 33, and Peggy Jean Booth, 26. Unterweger had been released from an Austrian prison as a symbol of rehabilitation. He became a journalist, and was in Los Angeles on a magazine assignment to study crime in the city, as well as the different views on prostitution held by Americans and Austrians. He was later tried and convicted of the L.A. murders in Austria. He killed himself in prison shortly after his conviction.
In January 2013 a 21-year old Canadian college student, Elisa Lam, went missing while staying at the hotel. Police searched the hotel and the rooftop, but did not locate her. On February 14, the LAPD released a surveillance video of Lam from one of the hotel’s elevator security cameras, in which she behaves oddly. Some viewers surmised she was being followed by someone and was desperately trying to escape. Others alleged the tape was edited prior to release and critical footage was removed. On February 19, responding to complaints from residents of low water pressure, and funny tasting water, hotel employees opened one of the water tanks on the roof and discovered Lam’s body. The coroner ruled the death an accident, alleging she opened the tank and fell in, finding no signs of foul play. There is a healthy debate online over the plausibility of this explanation but the case is considered closed.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
The Stay on Main, as it was most recently known, is located at 640 S Main St, Los Angeles, CA. Unfortunately, the hotel is currently closed and not accepting guests. The current owners are planning to re-open the building as a boutique hotel and apartment building. The City of Los Angeles granted it landmark status in 2017 due to its history and notable Beaux Arts architecture,