The Cecil Hotel was constructed in 1924 by hotelier William Banks Hanner and opened in 1927, located at 640 South Main Street, Los Angeles. With 700 rooms at affordable prices, The Cecil was intended to be the ideal location for both tourists and businessmen, but despite having a $1 million lobby the rooms were often small and simple with shared bathrooms located on the floor, sometimes described today as being like dorms for rent rather than hotel rooms.
Just two years after the hotel was opened, the country was hit by the Great Depression and the area around the hotel fell into despair, eventually becoming known as the infamous Skid Row, with as many as 10,000 homeless people living within a 4-mile radius. The Cecil was forced to become a budget hotel in the following decades, and by the 1950’s it had gained a reputation for being a residence for transients, in an area that was now filled with drugs and crime.
Refurbished in 2007 and re-branded as Stay On Main in 2011, The Cecil Hotel still seems unable to shake its dark history, which all began just 2 years after it opened in 1927. What follows is a timeline of some of the most extreme incidents that occurred in or around the Cecil Hotel.
April 1929 – Distraught by the sudden death of her husband, and after roaming the hotel for three days, 33-year-old Dorothy Roberson was taken to hospital from the hotel after overdosing on prescribed barbiturates in a failed suicide attempt.
November 19, 1931 – 46-year-old Manhattan beach resident, W.K. Norton, checked into the Cecil Hotel a week earlier under the name “James Willys” of Chicago and was found dead by a maid after ingesting poison capsules, more of which were found in his vest pocket.
September 1932 – The body of 25-year-old Benjamin Dodich was found by another maid, having shot himself in the head the previous night, leaving no suicide note.
1933 – A young truck driver was fatally crushed against the wall of the hotel by his truck, though his name was lost due to poor record-keeping of the time.
July 1934 – 53-year-old former Army Medical Corps sergeant Louis D. Borden was found with his throat slashed. Officers found a razer next to his body, as well as some farewell notes, in which he mentioned his ill health.
March 1937 – 25-year-old Grace E. Margo fell from the 9th floor of the hotel, her body becoming entangled in telephone wires on her descent. She died later at Georgia Street Receiving Hospital. A 26-year-old sailor of the U.S.S Virginia, M.W. Madison was in the room at the time Margo fell, though he claimed to be sleeping when it happened, and he said he knew of no reason why she would try to kill herself. Police were unable to determine if it was an accident or suicide.
January 1938 – 35-year-old marine fireman, Roy Thompson, was found dead on the skylight of a neighbouring building after having jumped from the top floor of The Cecil Hotel, where he had been living for several weeks.
May 1939 – 39-year-old Navy officer, Erwin C. Neblett, of the U.S.S. Wright was found dead in his room after ingesting poison.
January 1940 – 45-year-old teacher, Dorothy Sceiger, was found at the hotel after ingesting poison. The Los Angeles Times reported her to be “near death”, though no further updates were given on whether she survived or not.
September 1944 – Dorothy Jean Purcell, 19, was staying in a room with shoe salesman Ben Levine, 38, when she woke in the night with stomach pains and went to the restroom, not wanting to wake Levine. In the restroom, she went into labour and gave birth to a baby boy, apparently unaware that she was pregnant. Thinking the child was dead, she threw him out the window, where the body was found on the roof of an adjacent building. Purcell was charged with murder but in January of 1945 was found not guilty by reason of insanity after three psychiatrists, known then as alienists, testified that she was “Mentally confused” at the time, though sane now, and was ordered to report to a hospital for further examination.
November 1947 – 35-year-old Robert Smith of Long Beach died after falling from the seventh floor in an apparent suicide.
October 22, 1954 – 55-year-old Helen C. Gurnee jumped from the window in room 704 and passers by saw her body land on the hotel’s marquis. Hunderds gathered and watched as firefighters retrieved the body. Gurnee had checked into the hotel a week earlier under the name “Margeret Brown” of Denver. A man named Melvin Hinkley, 26, had apparently become hysterical after witnessing the death and was taken to hospital shortly after.
February 11, 1962 – 50-year-old Julia Frances Moore jumped from the 8th-floor and landed on the hotel’s second floor interior light well. Among her possesions found later in her room were a bus ticket from St. Louis, 59 cents in change, and a bank book from Illinois showing a balance of nearly $1,800.
October 12, 1962 – 27-year-old Pauline Otton jumped from the window of her 9th floor room after an argument with her husband, Dewey, when he left the room to go out to dinner. On the street below, Otton landed on 65-year-old pedestrian, George Gianinni, killing him instantly. Since the two bodies were found together, and as there were no witnesses, police initially thought that they had jumped together, but it was later found that Gianinni still had his hands in his pockets and his shoes were still on his feet; If he had fallen from the ninth floor, his shoes would have fallen off in the fall, or been thrown off in the impact.
June 4, 1964 – Retired telephone operator, Goldie Osgood, also known as “Pigeon Goldie” or “The Pigeon Woman” because she was known for feeding the birds in Pershing Square, was found dead in her room by a hotel employee. She had been beaten, raped, and stabbed. Near her body was a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball cap she always wore, and a paper bag full of birdseed. A retired nurse named Jean, a friend of Goldie, spoke to a reporter about a bouquet of flowers, which she said she bought with donations received from people giving what they could, stating that “We just want her to know we remembered.“. Hours after the murder, Jacques B. Ehlinger, 29, had been seen walking through Pershing Square wearing blood stained clothing. He was arrested and admitted knowing Goldie, but was later released, and the murder was never solved.
December 20, 1975 – A still unidentified woman Jumped from the 12th floor window and landed on the second floor roof of the hotel. She had registered at the hotel on December 16th.
February 19, 2013 – The body of 21-year-old Elisa Lam was found by a maintenance worker in one of the water tanks on the hotel’s roof. Her body had been in the tank for over 2 weeks, and was only found when guests complained about the low water pressure and strange taste and colour of the water. She was found naked, with her clothes, watch, and room key in the tank with her. Her death was ruled accidental drowning, with bipolar disorder as a significant factor. Video surveillance footage taken from one of the hotel’s elevators showed Elisa shortly before her disappearance behaving strangely. While some people believe this behaviour was due to her bipolar disorder and various medication, others believe she may have been stalked by her eventual killer, or even that something paranormal was to blame. Though police ruled the death as accidental, many believed that there were, and still are, a lot of unanswered questions, missing or unexplained pieces of evidence, and other valid theories that could have explained her behaviour, or the strange circumstances of her death.
June 13, 2015 – The body of a 28-year-old man was found outside the hotel and it was believed that he had jumped from one of the hotel’s floors, though further details were never released and this was never confirmed.
Other notable occurences to add to The Cecil Hotel’s dark history include two known serial killers allegedly living at the hotel during periods in which they were active. These were Richard Ramirez, known as the “Night Stalker”, in 1985, and Jack Unterweger, an Austrian serial killer, in 1991.
In 1988, Rober sullivan, 28, was arrested in his room at The Cecil and charged with stabbing his girlfriend to death at their home in Huntington Beach.
In 1995, murder suspect Eric Reed was found hiding out at The Cecil after breaking out of jail in Castaic, California.
Unconfirmed reports state that Elizabeth Short, known by the media as “The Black Dahlia”, was seen in the bar of The Cecil Hotel just days before her murder in January 1947.
With all these tragic events, it’s no wonder that The Cecil has been the subject of several paranormal reports, with claims of ghost sightings, electronics malfunctioning, and a general feeling of discomfort and unease within its walls.
In the first few years, The Cecil Hotel seemed like it had a bright future ahead as a popular and trendy location in the heart of Los Angeles, but circumstances and bad luck took it down a different, darker path. The Cecil’s bleak and dismal history could just be a product of the misfortune that befell that area of the city, or there be other forces at work. Maybe darkness just attracts darkness. The Cecil Hotel, now re-branded as Stay On Main, is currently undergoing a $100-million renovation, but with tragic events still in such recent history, we may not have seen the last of the fatal influence of The Cecil Hotel.