The Horrific History of the Cecil Hotel

The Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles has seen more than its fair share of suicides, murders and mysterious disappearances since its opening in 1927. Built on Main Street, an up-and-coming area of the city, the opulent, art deco-style hotel promised to draw in affluent tourists and businessmen. Unfortunately, just a few years after its opening, the Great Depression hit, turning Main Street into skid row and forcing The Cecil to become a budget hotel.
 Over the years, The Cecil has certainly made a name for itself. During the 50s and 60s, the location was a popular destination for suicides; So much so that long-time residents began referring to The Cecil as “The Suicide”. Reportedly, it was one of the last locations where Elizabeth Short, more infamously known as ‘The Black Dahlia’, was seen before her body was found bisected and dumped in an empty lot in 1947. The Cecil has been home to two (known) serial killers: Satanist Richard Ramirez, also known as the ‘Night Stalker’, and Austrian serial killer, Jack Unterweger. Most recently, the decomposing body of Elisa Lam was discovered inside the water tank at the Cecil Hotel after guests complained the water in their rooms was brown and had, “a very funny, disgusting taste”. A video of Ms. Lam behaving erratically in the hotel’s elevator went viral and exacerbated rumors that an evil, demonic presence resides at The Cecil.

   The story received so much attention that The Cecil served as partial inspiration for American Horror Story’s 5th season, ‘Hotel’. But the deaths that have occurred there without publicity far outweigh those the general public is aware of.
In April 1929, 33-year-old Dorothy Roberson of SanFransisco, distraught over the sudden death of her husband, roamed around the hotel for three days before being taken to the hospital. She had attempted to kill herself with an overdose of barbituates but failed.
On November 19, 1931, 46-year-old W.K. Norton was found dead in his room by a maid. He had committed suicide by ingesting poison capsules; More were found in his vest pocket. He had checked into the hotel as James Willys of Chicago.
In 1932, another maid named Carrie Brown found the body of 25-year-old Benjamin Dodich. He had shot himself in the head the previous evening.
In July 1934, 53-year-old former Army Medical Corps sergeant Louis D. Borden slit his own throat with a razor in his room at the Cecil Hotel. He had left several suicide notes behind for loved ones; In them, he said he took his own life due to poor health.
In March 1937, 25-year old Grace E. Magro jumped, fell or was pushed from a window in the hotel and later died in the hospital from her injuries. News reports stated, “telephone wires, ripped from poles in her decent, were entangled about her body.”. Her companion, M.W. Madison, a 26-year-old sailor of the U.S.S. Virginia was in the room at the time of the incident. He told investigators he was sleeping when it occurred and knew of no reason why she would commit suicide.
The January of the following year, a marine fireman named Roy Thompson, who had been residing at the Cecil for several weeks, was found dead in the skylight of the building next door having apparently jumped from his room.
In May of 1939, 39-year-old sailor, Erwin C. Neblett of the U.S.S. Wright committed suicide in his room by ingesting poison.
The following year in January, 45-year-old teacher Dorothy Sceiger attempted suicide in the same way at the hotel and was found barely clinging to life; The papers never reported on whether she had lived or died.
In September 1944, 19-year-old mother Dorthy Jean Purcell threw her newborn son out a window at the Cecil Hotel. The body was found on top of the building next door. Allegedly, Ms. Prucell was unaware she was pregnant. The young mother claimed she and her 38-year-old boyfriend, shoe salesman Ben Levine, were sleeping. She awoke with stomach pains and went to the restroom where she delivered the child herself. Dorothy stated she had believed the child was dead and threw it out the window to dispose of the body. She was charged with homicide but was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity.
In November of 1947, 35-year-old Robert Smith of Long Beach jumped or fell from a window on the 7th floor of the hotel.
 On October 22, 1954, 55-year-old Helen C. Gurnee jumped from her window in room 704 of the Cecil Hotel. Pedestrians witnessed her body land on the hotel’s marquis. Hundreds of spectators gathered as firefighters used a ladder to retrieve her body. Later, the police were called to the Philharmonic Auditorium where a man who had witnessed the suicide had become hysterical due to the event. Ms. Gurnee had checked into the hotel one week before as Margaret Brown of Denver.

An interior light well in the Cecil Hotel, like the one the body of Julia Frances Moore landed on.

On February 11, 1962, 50-year-old Julia Frances Moore leaped from her room on the 8th floor and landed in an interior light well on the 2nd floor of the Cecil. In her room, she left a bus ticket from St. Louis, fifty-nine cents and a bank book from Illinois with a balance of $1,800.
On October 12, 1962, 27-year old Pauline Otton was arguing with her estranged husband, Dewey, in their room on the 9th floor of the Cecil Hotel. Dewey went out for dinner, leaving Pauline alone. She jumped from the window, landing on George Gianinni (65). Initially, police believed the two had formed a suicide pact and leaped together. However, Mr. Gianinni’s hands were still in his pockets and his shoes were on his feet; If he had fallen nine stories, the fall would have ripped his shoes off.

On June 4, 1964, Goldie Osgood, long-time resident of the Cecil and retired telephone operator was found dead in her ransacked room by a hotel employee who was distributing telephone books. She had been stabbed, strangled and sexually assaulted. She was well-known in the area for feeding the birds in Pershing Square and was nicknamed “The Pidgeon Woman”. Shortly after her body was discovered, Jaques B. Ehlinger (29) was seen in Pershing Square wearing bloodstained clothing; He was arrested for the crime, but never charged.
Most recently, on June 13, 2015, the body of a 28-year-old man was found outside the hotel; It is believed he was staying at the Cecil and jumped or fell from a window but no additional details were ever released.
 One elderly female who resided at the Cecil was found drowned in the ocean and another elderly resident attempted to shoot himself in Westlake Park.
In perhaps the most bizarre death involving the infamous hotel, a Cecil resident who worked as a cafe manager was at a nearby bar called the ‘Waldorf Cellar’. He was shot dead by his childhood best friend who was the bartender at Waldorf Cellar after the two engaged in a gun battle.
A young truck driver once had an accident outside the hotel; He was ejected in the crash and fatally pinned between his own truck and the Cecil Hotel
Additionally, in 1988, a Huntington Beach man accused of killing his girlfriend was arrested at the Cecil and in 1995, murder suspect Eric Reed was found hiding out at the hotel after breaking out of jail in Castaic, California.
 With all the tragedy that has occurred in the hotel and in the lives of it’s residents, it comes as no surprise that many believe the building is haunted. Many even believe the hotel itself drives people to commit heinous acts. Although the owners of the Cecil tried to erase its horrific history, rebranding the hotel as ‘Stay on Main’, it recently closed its doors. Currently, the building is in limbo; While there is talk of perhaps using the building as housing for the homeless, the owners are holding out hope that they can one day successfully rebrand the Cecil.


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If you enjoyed this article, you might also like The Countless Suicides at Chicago’s Infamous Congress Plaza Hotel, The Lurid Case of the Black Dahlia: Unsolved 70 Years Later, The Mysterious Death of Elisa LamThe Most Beautiful Suicide, The Genesee Hotel Suicide,  The Los Feliz Murder Mansion, Aokigahara: Japan’s Macabre Suicide Forest , Eerily Beautiful Vintage Crime Scene Photos, Vintage Crime Scene Photos Shot with an Overhead Tripod and The Real Roanoke

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