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Arts and Entertainment

New Book Explores The Criminal History Of Downtown's Barclay Hotel

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When it comes to formerly grand hotels with dark pasts in downtown Los Angeles, the Cecil gets all the attention. But a new true crime book from J.M. Moore titled The History of the Barclay Hotel: A Collection of True Short Stories Both Epic and Tragic discusses the lesser known, but mysterious tales that unfolded blocks away at the Barclay Hotel. Moore tells LAist that she herself lived at the Barclay for seven years—from 2005 to 2012—before moving to the Inland Empire to focus on her writing. Despite the dark nature of her research, she recalls living at the hotel as uncomplicated and pleasant.

"They didn't have prospective tenants fill out all that paperwork," she said. "If you paid three months in advance and paid the first month's rent, you were in. I didn't have a car, I didn't have any financial liabilities like a mortgage or kids. I worked at a bank at the time. Everything I needed was within the vicinity. I could shop at Ralph's or Grand Central Market. My room was right on the fire escape, so I sort of had my own balcony. I put plants out there, and enjoyed the view. It was quiet, no young people partying, and rarely anyone in the hallways. The rent was cheap and it was the best time of my life."She began researching the hotel's history in 2008. Of course, the more she unearthed, the more unsettled she felt about roaming those same halls.

"I kind of put [my research down] because it was getting really scary. The more I researched, the higher the bodycount got. I walked to work every day and I would pass places that I read were crime scenes," she said. "I figured after I moved out would be a good time to write about it again."

Though she left out a few robberies and smaller crimes, she says her book is comprehensive when it comes to tragedies, and she'd challenge you to find something she hasn't. Her book opens at the hotel's beginning, with a chapter on the history of the building written in first-person, as though the hotel is speaking to you.

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The Hotel Barclay was completed in 1896, then called the Van Nuys Hotel. In the beginning, it was a regal hotel.

"Some of the VIPS would stay there," Moore said. "Justices, judges, senators. I lit up when I saw how it used to be and how there used to be a grand staircase. It reminded me of Titanic, when Jack was coming down the staircase. I hope that—because it's for sale—the prospective owners will consider restoring it back to its former grandeur."

Like many of the old, glorious hotels in downtown L.A., the Barclay slowly fell into decline. Over the course of those years, Moore said she found that about 20 different deaths occurred there. She conducted her research using everything from old coroner's reports, to the microfilm machines in the Los Angeles Public Library's basement. The most infamous murders were those committed by the Otto Stephen Wilson, better known as the L.A. Ripper. The L.A. Ripper, so named for across-the-pond serial killer Jack the Ripper, murdered and mutilated two women in 1944. His first victim he met at a bar and murdered in a room at the Barclay. Her body was discovered by a maid that same afternoon. His second victim was found at another nearby hotel called The Joyce only hours after the first. The women Wilson murdered were said to have been prostitutes, but Moore said she was able to explain who his victims really were.

"They were wives…and waitresses," she said. "There was no evidence [indicating they were] prostitutes except for the fact that when the perpetrator was interviewed by the police, he said his reasons for killing his first victim were because she had asked him for money. But she was also suffering from alcoholism and [maybe she asked] because she wanted another drink. These women died tragically and horribly, and I wanted to set the record straight."

Moore also discusses fires, accidental deaths, suicides and another notorious killer, the Skid Row Slasher. The Skid Row Slasher was active in the '70s, so named because the first seven of his nine known victims were all found near Skid Row. The seventh victim was found in his room on the fifth floor of the Barclay Hotel.

While Moore's book is non-fiction, she said she'd like to work on a follow-up project that details her own personal experiences at the hotel.

"I want to go into detail about supernatural and spiritual things, and the triumphs and tragedies I experienced while living there," she said. "I'd always been skeptical when it comes to the supernatural stuff until I lived there and I was experiencing things for myself."

And who doesn't love a good ghost story that takes place in an old hotel? Moore also pointed to an online series called The Hotel Barclay, which writer and director Leah Myette has mentioned is inspired in part by the hotel. The series is described as "psychological horror episodic, The Hotel Barclay, a series which explores a hotel becomes so lonely it pathological, preying on guests in a bizarre overlap of past and present."

Here's the series trailer:

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The Barclay is currently up for sale. Moore said that when she lived there, she knew the owner Rafael Vasquez quite well. Rafael died in August of 2015, and now Victor Vasquez, his son, is managing the hotel.

"He's trying to sell it," she said. "His dad would not have had it."

She worries that with a $40 million price tag, new owners would seek to push out long-term tenants and rather than restore it, "turn it into something posh."

If the closing of Bar 107, which occupied part of the building's first floor, offers any foreshadowing, Moore may be right. Bar 107 owner Vee Delgadillo expressed her frustrations to LAist when Vasquez demanded the bar shutter in April 2015. She similarly suggested that the bar would be replaced with something upscale. Bar 107 defied the order to close for a few months after their supposed final date, but ultimately shut off the lights on that location for good that September.

The History of the Barclay Hotel: A Collection of True Short Stories Both Epic and Tragic is available on Amazon here and via Barnes & Noble here.

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