Inside The Cecil Hotel And Its Eerie History Of Death And Murder

Published May 23, 2023
Updated April 3, 2024

From Elisa Lam to Richard Ramirez, the Cecil Hotel's history has been filled with bizarre horrors since it was built in 1924.

Nestled within the busy streets of downtown Los Angeles lies one of the most infamous buildings in horror lore: the Cecil Hotel.

Since it was built in 1924, the Cecil Hotel has been plagued by unfortunate and mysterious circumstances that have given it a perhaps unparalleled reputation for the macabre. At least 16 different murders, suicides, and unexplained paranormal events have taken place at the hotel — and it’s even served as the temporary home of some of America’s most notorious serial killers.

Hotel Cecil

Getty ImagesThe original sign on the side of Los Angeles’ Cecil Hotel.

This is the eerie history of Los Angeles’ Cecil Hotel.

The Grand Opening Of The Cecil Hotel

The Cecil Hotel was built in 1924 by hotelier William Banks Hanner. It was supposed to be a destination hotel for international businessmen and social elites. Hanner spent $1 million on the 700-room Beaux Arts-style hotel, complete with a marble lobby, stained-glass windows, palm trees, and an opulent staircase.

The Lobby Of The Cecil Hotel

Alejandro Jofré/Creative CommonsThe marble lobby of the Cecil Hotel, which opened in 1927.

But Hanner would come to regret his investment. Just two years after the Cecil Hotel opened, the world was thrown into the Great Depression — and Los Angeles was not immune to the economic collapse. Soon enough, the area surrounding the Cecil Hotel would be dubbed “Skid Row” and become home to thousands of homeless people.

The once beautiful hotel soon gained a reputation as a meeting place for junkies, runaways, and criminals. Worse yet, the Cecil Hotel ultimately earned a reputation for violence and death.

Suicide And Homicide At “The Most Haunted Hotel In Los Angeles”

In the 1930s alone, the Cecil Hotel was home to at least six reported suicides. A few residents ingested poison, while others shot themselves, slit their own throats, or jumped out their bedroom windows.

In 1934, for example, Army Sergeant Louis D. Borden slashed his throat with a razor. Less than four years later, Roy Thompson of the Marine Corps jumped from atop the Cecil Hotel and was found on the skylight of a neighboring building.

The next few decades only saw more violent deaths.

In September 1944, 19-year-old Dorothy Jean Purcell awoke in the middle of the night with stomach pains while she was staying at the Cecil with Ben Levine, 38. She went to the bathroom so as not to disturb a sleeping Levine, and — to her complete shock — gave birth to a baby boy. She had no idea she had been pregnant.

Dorothy Jean Purcell

Public DomainA newspaper clip about Dorothy Jean Purcell, who threw her newborn baby out of her hotel bathroom window.

Mistakenly thinking her newborn was dead, Purcell threw her live baby out the window and onto the roof of the building next door. At her trial, she was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity and she was admitted to a hospital for psychiatric treatment.

In 1962, 65-year-old George Giannini was walking by the Cecil with his hands in his pockets when he was struck to death by a falling woman. Pauline Otton, 27, jumped from her ninth-floor window after an argument with her estranged husband, Dewey. Her fall killed both her and Giannini instantly.

Cecil Hotel In Los Angeles

Wikimedia CommonsOutside Los Angeles’ Cecil Hotel, host of numerous murders and suicides.

Police initially thought the two had committed suicide together but reconsidered when they found Giannini was still wearing shoes. If he had jumped, his shoes would have fallen off mid-flight.

In light of the suicides, mishaps, and murders, Angelinos promptly dubbed the Cecil “the most haunted hotel in Los Angeles.”

A Serial Killer’s Paradise

While tragic calamities and suicide have contributed heavily to the hotel’s body count, the Cecil Hotel has also served as a temporary home for some of the grisliest murderers in American history.

In the mid-1980s, Richard Ramirez — murderer of 13 people and better known as the “Night Stalker” — lived in a room on the top floor of the hotel during much of his horrific killing spree.

After killing someone, he would throw his bloody clothes into the Cecil Hotel’s dumpster and saunter into the hotel lobby either completely naked or only in underwear — “none of which would have raised an eyebrow,” writes journalist Josh Dean, “since the Cecil in the 1980s… ‘was total, unmitigated chaos.'”

At the time, Ramirez was able to stay there for a mere $14 per night. And with corpses of junkies reportedly often found in the alleys near the hotel and sometimes even in the hallways, Ramirez’s blood-soaked lifestyle surely raised nary an eyebrow at the Cecil.

Night Stalker Mugshot

Getty ImagesRichard Ramirez was ultimately convicted of 13 counts of murder, five attempted murders, and 11 sexual assaults.

In 1991, Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger — who strangled prostitutes with their own bras — also called the hotel home. Rumor has it that he chose the hotel because of its connection to Ramirez.

Because the area around the Cecil Hotel was popular with prostitutes, Unterweger stalked these environs time and again in search of victims. One prostitute he is believed to have killed vanished right down the street from the hotel while Unterweger even claimed to have “dated” the hotel’s receptionist.

Eerie Cold Cases At The Cecil Hotel

And while some episodes of violence in and around the Cecil Hotel are attributable to known serial killers, some murders have remained unsolved.

To pick one of many, a local woman known around the area named Goldie Osgood was found dead in her ransacked room at the Cecil. She had been raped before suffering a fatal stabbing and beating. Though one suspect was found walking with bloodstained clothing nearby, he was later cleared and her killer was never convicted — another instance of disturbing violence at the Cecil that has gone unresolved.

Another grimly noteworthy guest of the hotel was Elizabeth Short, who came to be known as the “Black Dahlia” after her 1947 murder in Los Angeles.

She reportedly stayed at the hotel just before her mutilation, which remains unsolved, despite a wealth of Black Dahlia suspects, including an especially promising one named George Hodel. What connection her death may have had to the Cecil is not known, but what is known is that she was found on a street not far away on the morning of January 15 with her mouth carved ear to ear and her body cut in two.

Such stories of violence are not simply a thing of the past. Decades after Short, one of the most mysterious deaths ever to take place at the Cecil Hotel happened as recently as 2013.

Elisa Lam

FacebookElisa Lam

In 2013, Canadian college student Elisa Lam was found dead inside the water tank on the roof of the hotel three weeks after she had gone missing. Her naked corpse was found after hotel guests had complained of bad water pressure and a “funny taste” to the water. Though authorities ruled her death as an accidental drowning, critics believed otherwise.

Hotel surveillance footage of Elisa Lam before her disappearance.

Before her death, surveillance cameras caught Lam acting strangely in an elevator, at times appearing to yell at someone out of view, as well as apparently attempting to hide from someone while pressing multiple elevator buttons and waving her arms erratically.

Elisa Lam Podcast
History Uncovered Podcast
Episode 17: The Disturbing Death Of Elisa Lam
When Elisa Lam was found inexplicably dead in February 2013, investigators were baffled — then the security footage taken just before she vanished only made things stranger.

After the video surfaced publicly, many people began to believe that the rumors of the hotel being haunted might be true. Horror aficionados began drawing parallels between the Black Dahlia murder and Lam’s disappearance, pointing out that both women were in their twenties, traveling alone from L.A. to San Diego, last seen at the Cecil Hotel, and were missing for several days before their bodies were found.

Thin though these connections may sound, the hotel has nevertheless developed a reputation for horror that defines its legacy to this day.

The Cecil Hotel Today

Stay On Main Hotel

Jennifer Boyer/FlickrAfter a brief stint as the Stay On Main Hotel and Hostel, the hotel closed. It’s currently undergoing a $100 million renovation and being turned into $1,500-a-month “micro apartments.”

The last body was found at the Cecil Hotel in 2015 — a man who reportedly committed suicide — and ghost stories and rumors of the hotel’s haunting swirled once more. The hotel even subsequently served as the chilling inspiration for a season of American Horror Story about a hotel that’s home to unimaginable murder and mayhem.

But in 2011, the Cecil attempted to shake off its macabre history by rebranding itself as the Stay On Main Hotel and Hostel, a $75-per-night budget hotel for tourists. Several years later, New York City developers signed a 99-year lease and began gut-renovating the building to include an upscale boutique hotel and hundreds of fully furnished micro-units in keeping with the surging co-living craze.

Perhaps with enough renovations, the Cecil Hotel can finally shake its reputation for all things bloody and eerie that has defined the ill-fated building for the better part of a century.

After this look at Los Angeles’ Cecil Hotel, check out Hotel del Salto, Colombia’s most haunted hotel. Then, read about the hotel that inspired The Shining.

Katie Serena
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.