Inside the Haunted History of the Cecil Hotel

Hidden in the heart of downtown Los Angeles, there is a building that has witnessed a century’s worth of secrets, mysteries, and darkness – the Cecil Hotel.

It’s an iconic building shrouded in a haunting aura. The infamous hotel has become a place of near-supernatural fame. Echoes of names from years past, like the “Night Stalker” or the Black Dahlia, still reverberate through the halls.

It has grand facades and once-luxurious interiors. For decades it beckoned travelers to experience a world of elegance and sophistication. Yet behind the glamor and opulence, this intriguing establishment holds a troubled past that continues to haunt its many rooms.

What gives rise to its sinister reputation? What draws us to its tales of dark events and unsolved mysteries? Ultimately, the truth lies in answering the question: what happened in the Cecil Hotel?

The outside of the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles

Early Years, Grandeur, and Popularity

In 1924, amidst the vibrant energy of the booming city of Los Angeles, three hoteliers – William Banks Hanner, Charles L. Dix, and Robert H. Schops – had a vision. Together, they joined forces to create the Cecil Hotel.

Their goal was to create a luxurious haven for business travelers and tourists seeking respite in the heart of the city. The hotel was designed by the talented architect Loy Lester Smith in a Beaux-Arts style. And it was constructed under the watchful eye of W. W. Paden.

From the beginning, the Cecil Hotel embodied wealth and opulence. With a price tag of $1.5 million, the Cecil boasted a grand marble lobby. It was adorned with exquisite stained-glass windows and other expensive decor.

In the end, the enterprise would cost about $2.5 million for the hoteliers.

The Cecil Hotel was a sanctuary that welcomed the highest of society. It promised an indulgent and unforgettable experience. When it finally opened its doors a few years later in 1927, it immediately became a destination of choice for many travelers to the city.

The lavish interiors were adorned with gleaming marble. It exuded an air of sophistication and prestige that was tailored for luxury-seeking tourists and business people. In truth, the Cecil catered to an interesting mix of clientele.

However, the hotel’s fortunes began to take a dramatic turn just two years later. It began with the devastating Wall Street Crash of 1929, which plunged the United States into the depths of the Great Depression.

As the economy crumbled, so did the surrounding neighborhood, including the infamous Skid Row. The once-thriving area became synonymous with violence and crime. This cast a shadow over the Cecil and signaled the beginning of a tumultuous journey ahead.

The Cecil’s Decline and Notoriety

As the 1940s unfolded, the Cecil Hotel’s once-glamorous façade began to fade. The tides of change swept through the neighboring area known as Skid Row.

This once-thriving district became an enclave for transients. There was an estimated population of up to 10,000 homeless individuals within a mere four-mile radius.

The hotel’s decline also paralleled the deteriorating conditions of its surroundings. This set the stage for a series of unfortunate events that would forever give its name worldwide notoriety.

You see, through the years, the Cecil Hotel also became a hub for activities society often preferred to keep hidden.

It attracted sex workers seeking clients. It provided a clandestine backdrop for illicit encounters. Adulterous affairs found their meeting place within its walls. This added an extra layer of intrigue to the hotel’s reputation.

The dark underbelly of society seemed to find solace in the Cecil. And the situation would only grow darker and more disturbing. Over time, the Cecil Hotel acquired a haunting notoriety for its association with death and suicide.

Growing Reputation for Dark Events

The first recorded suicide at the Cecil Hotel occurred in 1927 when Percy Ormond Cook tragically ended his life. Consumed by despair after a failed attempt at reconciliation with his family, Cook died of a self-inflicted gunshot inside his hotel room.

Despite efforts to save him, Cook passed away that same evening. This cemented the beginning of the Cecil’s association with tragic endings and death.

Unfortunately, the hotel’s notoriety for suicides only continued to grow. A few years after, in 1931, a guest by the name of W. K. Norton died in his room in the Cecil. He intentionally ingested capsules full of poison.

Many more suicides followed throughout the 1940s and 1950s. No good explanation exists for why the Cecil became such a hub of despair and demise.

In 1964, another horrific incident stained the history of the Cecil Hotel.

Pigeon Goldie Osgood, a retired telephone operator, and beloved long-term resident, met a tragic and violent end. She was discovered in her room. She was a victim of rape, stabbing, and severe beating. Her belongings were strewn about in disarray.

Her murder sent shockwaves through the community. Suspicion initially fell upon Jacques B. Ehlinger, who was found covered in blood near the hotel. However, Ehlinger was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing and was released. The case of Osgood’s murder is unsolved to this day and shrouded in mystery.

Over time, each tragedy that occurred only added more intrigue and fascination around the hotel’s lengthy history. Its growing reputation for death, darkness, and danger fueled its legacy – one that exists to this day.

The echoes of these tales continue to resonate with those who visit. An indescribable energy and haunted feeling now define the Cecil Hotel. However, the history of the Cecil was just beginning.

The “Night Stalker” Connection

Throughout the Cecil Hotel’s history, its name became intertwined with the chilling presence of one of America’s most notorious serial killers: Richard Ramirez. Also known as the “Night Stalker.” During the mid-1980s, there are reports that Ramirez stayed at the hotel, establishing a temporary residence there.

In those years, many believed that “Night Stalker”  committed multiple murders. These murders were also combined with disturbing cases of rape, kidnapping, and even pedophilia. For years, he terrorized communities across the state of California.

Disturbingly, it’s believed that Ramirez carried out the majority, if not all, of his heinous crimes while staying at the Cecil. Accounts suggest that he would discard his blood-soaked clothes in the alley outside the hotel. He would enter through a fire escape and ascend the interior stairs in his blood-stained underwear.

His reign of terror eventually came to an end when vigilant Los Angeles residents apprehended him on the street in 1985. This led to his arrest and subsequent conviction for 13 murders. Ramirez was sentenced to death. He ultimately succumbed to cancer in 2013.

Richard Ramirez (aka The Night Stalker) smiling at camera as he is escorted by sheriffs from court in Los Angeles, 1986

But the Cecil Hotel’s connection to serial killers didn’t end with Richard Ramirez. In the 1990s, the hotel hosted another infamous figure – the Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger.

It’s speculated that Unterweger may have sought to emulate Ramirez’s crimes during his stay at the Cecil. In a chilling series of events, Unterweger strangled and killed at least three prostitutes. He was eventually convicted of these crimes in Austria.

The presence of such notorious and malevolent individuals within the walls of the Cecil Hotel has long added to its macabre allure. It has cemented its reputation as a place intertwined with darkness and horror.

One particularly perplexing case, however, would eventually outweigh them all.

The Mysterious Case of Elisa Lam

In 2013, the Cecil Hotel captured the public’s attention once more with the perplexing case of Elisa Lam. A surveillance video of the young Canadian student behaving erratically in the hotel’s elevator went viral. This sparked widespread fascination, especially online.

The footage shows Elisa Lam repeatedly pressing buttons. She steps in and out of the elevator. Then, she seemingly attempts to hide from an unseen presence. Shortly after the video was recorded, Lam mysteriously vanished.

Concern grew as the days turned into weeks. Hundreds of theories emerged as to what had happened to the young woman. Was she being followed into the elevator? Was she kidnapped? Could there be another serial killer in the Cecil Hotel?

Weeks later, there were complaints from guests about strange-tasting water and low pressure. Upon inspection, her body was tragically discovered in one of the hotel’s water supply cisterns on the roof.

The circumstances surrounding Elisa Lam’s death raised numerous questions, particularly how she ended up inside the water tank. Authorities were baffled. Further investigation into her case revealed that the floor she stayed on lacked security footage. This left a void of crucial information.

Additionally, her sister informed detectives about Lam’s history of mental health problems. Lam was diagnosed with an extreme form of bipolar disorder. She had apparently exhibited such behavior before, especially when she was not consistently taking her medication.

In fact, several prescription medications were found among her belongings at the hotel, seemingly untouched. As such, the police concluded that her behavior in the elevator was a result of paranoia or a hallucination. They believe that she climbed into the water tank herself, believing she was in danger.

The speculation was that she might have entered the tank when the water level was high enough for her to climb out. However, as guests and residents used the water, the level likely dropped. This would have left her trapped inside.

In the end, the Los Angeles County Coroner ruled that Elisa Lam’s death had been accidental. Still, this explanation was not enough for many people. Many questions still remained and the evidence seemed fragmentary. 

The release of the eerie elevator footage to the public catapulted the Elisa Lam case into a viral Internet sensation. The baffling nature of her actions and subsequent disappearance ignited intense speculation and discussion on various online platforms. Forums, YouTubers, and media pundits dissected the eerie circumstances surrounding her tragic end.

Ultimately, the case of Elisa Lam remains there. It is a chilling and baffling chapter in the dark history of the Cecil Hotel. It adds to its reputation as a haunted, threatening place shrouded in mystery and tragedy.

Modern Renovations and Rebranding

Despite the dozens of murders, suicides, and bewildering disappearances linked to the Cecil Hotel, it has remained open for business. Not without changes, however.

Following a change in ownership in 2008, the Cecil Hotel underwent a partial refurbishment. This signaled a shift in its trajectory.

Then, in 2011, a portion of the hotel was rebranded as “Stay on Main.” Despite the rebranding, the hotel’s official website continued to bear its original name.

The building underwent further redevelopment under new ownership. In 2014, it was sold for $30 million. The hotel continued to change hands in the following years. Finally, in 2017, the hotel temporarily closed its doors for renovation.

However, progress was put on hold indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the interruption, the historical significance of the Cecil Hotel was acknowledged in February 2017. The Los Angeles City Council designated it as a Historic-Cultural Monument.

After several years of transformation and uncertainty, the Cecil Hotel found a new purpose. In 2021, it reopened as an affordable housing complex operated by the Skid Row Housing Trust. It now provides affordable living for approximately 600 low-income residents.

This transition marked a departure from the hotel’s tumultuous past. It offered it a fresh start and a positive contribution to the community.

The Cecil Hotel Today

Today, the Cecil Hotel stands as a testament to its complex history. It still bears the weight of its tumultuous past. The hotel has long been associated with names like the Black Dahlia, the Night Stalker, and dozens of tragedies. However, what remains of the infamous hotel at present?

It was once known for its dark reputation. It was marred by incidents of violence, mysterious deaths, and connections to infamous individuals. But the hotel has undergone significant changes in recent years.

This shift represents a remarkable turnaround for a place that was once synonymous with tragedy and notoriety. With its designation as a Historic-Cultural Monument, the Cecil Hotel has gained recognition for its architectural and historical significance.

The preservation efforts, particularly in restoring the grand lobby, pay tribute to the building’s past. It highlights its role as an early 20th-century American hotel. This blend of historical preservation and contemporary transformation represents a balanced approach to revitalizing the Cecil Hotel.

Yet, of course, as the Cecil Hotel enters this new chapter, it carries with it the stories of the past. It reminds us of the complex web of tragic, disturbing events that have unfolded within its walls.


“The Cecil Hotel and Its Mysteries.” The Yucatan Times, April 5, 2023.

Harvey-Jenner, Catriona. “The Deaths and Dark History of the Cecil Hotel.” Cosmopolitan, February 17, 2021.

Knight, Lewis. “Cecil Hotel’s Dark History – Murder, Horror and Bizarre Elisa Lam Vanishing.” Mirror, January 30, 2021.

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