The Chilling Story Of Murder And Hauntings Inside LA’s Infamous Cecil Hotel

Published October 12, 2017
Updated August 15, 2019
Published October 12, 2017
Updated August 15, 2019

A mother threw her newborn out the window, a man was killed by a falling woman, and a decomposing body was found in a water tank — all at the Cecil Hotel.

Cecil Hotel

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

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

Since opening its doors in 1927, the Cecil Hotel has been plagued with unfortunate and mysterious circumstances. At least 16 different murders, suicides, and unexplained paranormal events have taken place at the hotel, and it’s served as the temporary home of some of America’s most notorious serial killers.

The Grand Opening Of The Cecil Hotel

The Cecil was built in 1924 by hotelier William Banks Hanner. It was supposed to be a destination hotel for international businessmen and social elite. 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.

Hotel Cecil Lobby

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

But Hanner would come to regret the investment. Just two years after the Cecil Hotel opened, the world was thrown into the Great Depression. Eventually, the area surrounding the Cecil Hotel would be dubbed “Skid Row,” home to thousands of homeless people.

The once beautiful hotel soon gained a reputation as a meeting place for junkies, runaways, and criminals. Today, the Cecil Hotel has a reputation for death and violence.

“The Most Haunted Hotel In Los Angeles”

In its first decade of business, the Cecil Hotel was home to at least six suicides. A few residents ingested poison; others shot themselves, slit their own throats, or jumped out their bedroom windows. The next few decades saw several more violent deaths.

In September 1944, 19-year-old Dorothy Jean Purcell awoke in the middle of the night with stomach pains while she 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

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

Thinking her newborn was dead, Purcell threw her 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 Gianni 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 Gianni 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 Gianni was still wearing shoes. If he had jumped, his shoes would have fallen off mid-flight.

Angelinos promptly dubbed the Cecil “the most haunted hotel in Los Angeles.”

A Serial Killer’s Paradise

The Cecil Hotel has 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.

Richard Ramirez And Jack Unterweger

Wikimeda Commons/Getty ImagesRichard Ramirez (right) and Jack Unterweger, two of the hotel’s most notorious guests.

After killing someone, he would throw his bloody clothes into a 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.'”

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.

Cold Cases At The Cecil Hotel

Another noted guest 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 in a case that’s still unsolved.

One of the most mysterious deaths ever to take place at the Cecil Hotel happened in 2013.

Black Dahlia And Elisa Lam

Wikimedia CommonsElizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia victim (left) and Elisa 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.

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 attempting to hide from someone. She also pressed multiple elevator buttons and waved her arms erratically.

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 murder, 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.

The Cecil Hotel Today

Stay On Main

After 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 hotel in 2015 — a man who reportedly committed suicide — and ghost stories and rumors of the hotel’s haunting still swirl. The hotel even served as the all-too-true inspiration for a season of American Horror Story.

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 it to include an upscale boutique hotel and hundreds of fully furnished micro-units, in keeping with the surging co-living craze.

Though the building still bears the original “Hotel Cecil” sign on its facade, and the original, and somewhat creepy, interior, who’s to say whether its haunting will survive the modern refurbishment.

After this look at Los Angeles’ Cecil Hotel, check out Hotel del Salto, Colombia’s most haunted hotel. Then, read about the most haunted sites around the world.

Katie Serena
Katie Serena is a New York City-based writer and a staff writer at All That's Interesting.