Every Creepy Detail You Need to Know About the Cecil Hotel

Laura Hanrahan
·5 min read
Photo credit: MARK RALSTON
Photo credit: MARK RALSTON

From Cosmopolitan

Netflix's new series The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel dove into all of the details surrounding the very tragic death of Elisa Lam. There's a lot to be upset about when it comes to that tragedy, but the hotel itself had a very questionable history even before she set foot in it. The four-part docuseries not only gets into all of the crazy theories behind the young Canadian's death at the L.A. hotel, but also gives you a peek at the hotel's super seedy past and oh my god, you guys, it's WILD.

The Cecil Hotel is all kinds of creepy and has had more deaths in it (including multiple murders!!) than any hotel should ever have. And let's not forget about all of the very questionable guests that have allegedly stayed there (*cough cough* Richard Ramirez). The hotel is so spooky, in fact, that it's inspired tons of TV and movie projects, including the fifth season of American Horror Story. Yikes!

So with that in mind, here's a definitive timeline of every weird and creepy thing that's happened at the Cecil Hotel from the day it opened until now.

Photo credit: ROBYN BECK
Photo credit: ROBYN BECK

1920s: The Cecil Hotel opens

There seems to be some conflicting info about the exact year the Cecil Hotel opened. Some sources say it was 1924 while others say 1927. But if the mother of all sources (aka Wikipedia) is to be trusted, the hotel opened on December 20, 1924. It stood at 15-stories high, had 700 guest rooms, and cost just a mere $1.5 million to build.

Also 1920s: The first death at the Cecil Hotel

Whether it opened in 1924 or 1927, the Cecil didn't make it very long before it had its first death. The death was that of 52-year-old Percy Ormond Cook who committed suicide inside his hotel room on January 22, 1927 after not being able to reconcile with his wife and child.

1930s: Even more deaths

The next reported death came just a few years later in 1931 when a guest named W. K. Norton died after taking poison capsules. According to Esquire, three other men died by suicide not too long after, one with pills, one with a gun and one with a razor. And in 1937, a woman named Grace E. Magro fell from a ninth floor window and died. It was never confirmed whether it was a suicide or foul play.

1940s: Skid Row becomes the hotel's downfall

The Cecil was at its peak in the 1940s, with its swanky marble lobby and high-end finishes. But as the City of Los Angeles began pushing its homeless population to the nearby Skid Row (rather than, you know, actually helping them) the grand appeal of the hotel went away and it started to take a turn, quickly becoming a popular spot for housing among transient people.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

1944: The first confirmed murder

In 1944, a 19-year-old woman named Dorothy Jean Purcell was staying at the hotel and gave birth to a baby boy on the bathroom floor. She then threw the baby out the window, killing him. She claimed that she thought he was stillborn so she threw him out the window rather than telling her boyfriend at the time, but the coroner found that the baby had in fact been alive when he was thrown out the window. Purcell was charged with murder but found not guilty by reason of insanity.

1947: The Black Dahlia maybe stayed there

Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, was rumored to have been drinking at the Cecil bar shortly before her gruesome murder. This fact remains unverified and her murder is still unsolved, so I guess we'll never know the truth on this one.

There was one confirmed death that year, though: Robert Smith, who fell from the building. Two other falls and one confirmed suicide by jumping happened between 1954 and 1962.

1964: A staff member is brutally murdered inside the hotel

This is possibly the most terrifying death to have happened at the Cecil. A 65-year-old telephone operator for the hotel named Pigeon Goldie Osgood had been staying at a room in the hotel for the past five years. But on June 4, 1964, she was found dead in her room, having been raped, beaten and stabbed. Newspapers reporting on the murder at the time said her friends claimed to have seen her just minutes before her body was found by a man delivering new telephone directories. Her murder is still unsolved.

1980s-1990s: Serial killers make themselves at home

At least two serial killers are known to have stayed at the hotel during this time, which TBH, is two too many for me. Both Jack Unterwegger and Richard Ramirez (also known as the Night Stalker) are alleged to have stayed there IN THE MIDDLE OF THEIR KILLING SPREES. If that doesn't prove that this hotel's got some bad energy, I don't know what will.

2007-2011: An attempted rebranding of the hotel

The Cecil got new owners in 2007 who tried to refurbish parts of the hotel. In 2011, they rebranded part of the hotel as Stay on Main, but as we all know from the documentary, the hotel was in need of a much MUCH bigger face lift that just some lobby upgrades and a name change.

Photo credit: Jay L. Clendenin
Photo credit: Jay L. Clendenin

2013: Elisa Lam dies

University of British Columbia student Elisa Lam checked into the Cecil Hotel on January 26, 2013. She was originally staying in one of the hostel-style shared rooms but after several complaints were made, she was moved to a room by herself. On January 31, she was declared missing after her family hadn't heard from her like they normally would.

Three weeks later, guests started to complain about low water pressure and tainted water with a funny look and taste. A hotel worker went to check on the building's rooftop water tanks and found Elisa's body floating in one. Her death was later ruled an accident.

Today: The Cecil Hotel has undergone major renovations

A new owner bought the hotel in 2014 and shut it down in 2017 to do major renovations and add a few high class (and perhaps unfortunately placed) amenities, like a rooftop pool. The hotel is expected to open back up some time this year.

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