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The Twisted History Of The Cecil Hotel

Cecil Hotel

All throughout history, there have been locations that secure their spot in infamy thanks to their illustrious pasts. Locales such as the Amityville House, Eastern State Penitentiary the Sands Hotel immediately spring to mind. The infamous Amityville house was the home of a family that was savagely murdered by someone they loved. Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania was once the oldest active prison in the US, which gained its reputation from constant brutal violence. The Sands Hotel was frequented by the iconic Frank Sinatra, along with some old, Italian mafia types who enforced the rules with broken bones. These places were never designed to be sources of sinister deeds, of course, but somehow they were chosen by fate and each has a legacy written in blood. Such is the case with the infamous Cecil Hotel.

The Cecil Hotel is located in the center of Los Angeles, California, nestled within a severely impoverished neighborhood that is plagued by murder, rape, and drug trafficking. About 40% of the residents in the area surrounding the hotel have an annual income below the poverty line. And hospitals, as well as mental health facilities, are known for dropping homeless patients off in this neighborhood when they cannot afford additional treatment.

The Cecil Hotel is noted for being frequented by prostitutes, drug addicts, and other unsavory characters who seek social isolation. However, the place is not only famous for its cheap rooms, it has also notably been home to notorious serial killers, Richard Ramirez and Johann Unterweger. It is also the location of the mysterious death of Elisa Lam.

Cecil Hotel

Austrian born serial killer Johann Unterweger spent a great deal of his youth in the Austrian correctional system, subsequently receiving a life sentence for strangling a young women in 1974. While serving his prison time he utilized his charm and intelligence to write several books, his pinnacle piece being his autobiography, Fegefeuer oder di Reise ins Zuchthaus (Purgatory or The Trip to Prison). His literary work enraptured the prison population and general public, alike. And, after a group started a petition demanding his release, after only fifteen years of his sentence Untermeyer was let out on parole in 1990.

Within a year of being released, he killed seven prostitutes in Czechoslovakia and Austria, but in 1991 he was hired by a magazine in California to, ironically, report on crime in the Los Angeles area. Unterweger eluded the suspicion of Austrian law enforcement for the prostitutes’ murders under the guise of his new job. Shortly after arriving stateside, he took up residence in the Cecil Hotel. However, shortly after he checked in, three prostitutes were assaulted and killed using the same methods as the previous murder he served time for, and he quickly became a suspect. Just two years later, Unterweger was extradited to Austria and charged with 11 murders, but he committed suicide in 1994 after he was given a second life sentence.

Cecil HotelAmerican-bred Richard Ramirez was the more famous of the two serial killer who inhabited the Cecil Hotel. Ramirez took up residence there from 1984-1985. Known as the Night Stalker, Ramirez’s most MO included breaking into the home of his intended victims (primarily couples) and hiding in their bedroom closets until they went to sleep. He would then spring out, hold a gun to the man’s head, rape the woman, and then kill both victims. He confused police because he frequently changed his weapon of choice from knives to guns to blunt objects and he killed indiscriminately; men, women, and children were all prey.

During his killing spree, residents didn’t leave windows open, carried weapons, and women were encouraged never to go out alone. There was an unofficial curfew that fell over the area as all Los Angeles citizens were afraid of being the next victim. A break in the case finally came when the police lifted a fingerprint from a crime scene and matched it to Ramirez, whose prints were on film from his long history of criminal activity.

After the LAPD press conference, and subsequent news stories, that named Ramirez and plastered his face everywhere, he was actually traveling, unaware he had been named as the killer. When he returned to Los Angeles, he was recognized in a grocery store as being the Night Stalker and was chased by customers who beat him until police arrived to make the arrest. Four years later, in 1989, he was charged with 13 counts of murder, 5 attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults, and 14 burglaries. He was sentenced to death, but died of cancer in prison.

Cecil HotelThe last case in the bizarre legacy of the Cecil Hotel is that of Elisa Lam, a 21 year old Canadian college student visiting Los Angeles who died under mysterious circumstances. Elisa Lam was reported missing in the beginning of February 2013 with the only evidence of her disappearance being a strange CCTV video of her inside the elevator of the hotel. Lam enters the elevator alone in the middle of the night and acts erratically, pressing all the buttons of the floors and moving about rather strangely. Two weeks after she vanished, guests of the Cecil Hotel complained of the drinking water having an odd taste and were mortified to find that it was Lam’s bloated dead body contaminating the water supply.

Lam’s death has been left unexplained and is still widely discussed for several inconsistencies that don’t seem to have any logical explanation. First of all, the elevator footage that was released to the public was 135% slowed down and there are moments where there is time edited out. Furthermore, the behavior of Lam in the video doesn’t correspond to her previously reported depression, which is rarely accompanied by auditory and visual hallucinations (which are thought to have been partially responsible for her death).

Also, Lam’s family and friends claimed that she was in good spirits and would have no reason to commit suicide. But the weirdest part of this case is that, in order for Lam to have killed herself by drowning, she would have had to access the roof with a key, undress, move a ladder to the water tank, scale the tank, unlock the door, crawl inside, move the ladder several feet away, and then lock herself in. Sadly, her cause of death was ruled as accidental despite the multitude of oddities.

Before the death of Elisa Lam the Cecil Hotel was rebranded as Stay On Main. However, it is still more commonly known as The Cecil Hotel. There have been large number of reports of paranormal activity from previous and more recent visitors to the hotel. Daring guests can still stay there today and renewed interest in the hotel has been created, because the Cecil Hotel was recently depicted in American Horror Story: Hotel, as The Hotel Cortez. Most people would agree, there are not enough coats of paint or layers of carpeting to hide the dark and twisted history of the Cecil Hotel.

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Written by Syl
Syl is a professional criminologist who shamelessly spends her time listening to true crime podcasts, watching horror films, and bringing real life horror to her written pieces.
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