The Cecil Hotel's disturbing history revealed – from Elisa Lam's mysterious death to regular guest Richard Ramirez

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By Fournine

Feb 13, 20215 mins

The Cecil Hotel's disturbing history revealed – from Elisa Lam's mysterious death to regular guest Richard Ramirez

The Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles certainly has a sordid past.

Back in 2011, the owners changed it name to the Stay on Main, but this did little to change its "creepy" reputation.

In fact, two years later, the decomposing body of 21-year-old Elisa Lam was found in one of the hotel's rooftop water tanks. It's still unclear what happened to the Vancouver student, and her mysterious death is the subject of a new Netflix docuseries, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.

But, the institution has a longer history – one that involves countless murders, suicides, and the presence of some very notorious serial killers. Let's take a look...

Is the Cecil Hotel still open The iconic Cecil Hotel opened in 1927 (Credit: Netflix / Screenshot)

The creepy true story of the Cecil Hotel

Shortly after it opened its doors in 1925, the Great Depression hit, forcing downtown Los Angeles into Skid Row. The once-grand hotel quickly became a hangout for locals involved in prostitution and drugs.

Over the years, its notoriety was cemented after a slew of apparent suicides, murders, and violent crimes. It also became the stomping ground of two serial killers: Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger.

Cecil Hotel The Cecil Hotel opened its doors in 1925 (Credit: Netflix / Screnshot)

The early years of the Cecil Hotel

In the 1930s, six reported suicides took place at the Cecil Hotel. In 1934, Army Seargeant Louis D. Borden was found dead in his room after taking his own life. Four years later, Roy Thompson of the Marine Corps jumped from the roof of the building.

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Then, in September 1944, Dorothy Jean Purcell, who was 19-years-old at the time, woke up in the middle of the night with stomach cramps, while staying at the hotel with 38-year-old Ben Levine. To her complete shock, she gave birth to a baby boy. She was completely unaware that she'd even been pregnant in the first place.

Thinking her child was dead, Purcell threw her baby – who was alive – out of the window and onto the roof of a neighbouring building. At trial, she was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity, and was duly admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is available to stream on Netflix (Credit: Netflix / Screenshot)

The Black Dhalia

Elizabeth Short – who came to be known as the Black Dahlia – was a guest at the Cecil shortly before her 1947 murder.

She reportedly stayed at the hotel, and was spotted at its bar just days before her death.

While there's no confirmed connection between her mutilation and the Cecil, her body was discovered on a street nearby on January 15.

The Cecil Hotel is now known as the Stay on Main hotel (Credit: Netflix / Screenshot)

Richard Ramirez and the Cecil Hotel

The Cecil home was the temporary residence of Richard Ramirez, who is also known as the Night Stalker. Ramirez was one of LA's most infamous serial killers – having murdered at least 14 people between June 1984 and August 1985.

He was also convicted of the attempted murders of five more people. In addition, he was also convicted of several counts of sexual assault and burglaries. He attacked people of all ages, including men, women and children.

Ramirez was a regular presence on Skid Row during the 80s, and spent some weeks at the Cecil. It's believed that the Night Stalker may have committed some of his crimes while he was a guest.

Richard Ramirez Richard Ramirez pictured while on trial (Credit: Netflix / Screenshot)

Jack Unterweger

Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger – who murdered his first victim by strangling her with her own bra – resided at the Cecil in 1991. People have long speculated that Unterweger picked the location due to its connection with Ramirez.

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While he was there, Unterweger strangled and killed at least three prostitutes. He was convicted of his crimes in Austria, and hung himself shortly after receiving his sentence. One sex worker that he allegedly murdered is believed to have disappeared just down the street from the Cecil.

Pictured is Elisa Lam who went missing and later died at the Cecil Hotel (Credit: Netflix / Screenshot)

Elisa Lam's mysterious death

Lam was a 21-year-old Canadian student who disappeared while staying at the Cecil in 2013.

After failing to get any leads, police released CCTV footage of her final moments to encourage people to come forward with information. Pretty much instantly, the video went viral because of Lam's odd behaviour.

While standing in an elevator, she can be seen behaving erratically, waving her arms, pushing buttons before appearing to try and hide.

However, two weeks after the footage was release, Lam's body was found in a water tank on the top of the hotel. Staff were prompted to investigate the tank after guests complained about the discolouration of the water and a drop in pressure.

An autopsy revealed that there were no significant injuries on Lam's body. Further, the only drugs in her system were the medications she was prescribed for her bipolar disorder. No sign of sexual assault or rape were found.

Detectives were never able to solve the case or figure out what caused her to behave so erratically that day.


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