Inside The 'American Horror Story' Hotel
The Cecil Hotel is back in the spotlight with the season premiere of American Horror Story: Hotel, but the hotel has been plagued by misfortune and weird occurrences for almost its entire existence. AHS creator Ryan Murphy said that the upcoming season of the horror anthology series, Hotel, which premieres tonight on FX, was inspired by The Cecil Hotel, a 600-room hotel in downtown Los Angeles. He mentioned the death of Elisa Lam, and that he had watched a video of her in the elevator of the hotel from the night she died.
"There was a surveillance video that went around two years ago that showed a girl getting into an elevator in a hotel that was said to be haunted … and she was never seen again," Murphy said.
TMZ reports that the new season has fans trying to stay in the room Lam stayed in—which TMZ says is "off limits"—and that security is on the lookout for anyone trying to snoop around. If you try to get up onto the roof, you'll be met with a stern sign telling to absolutely not do that.Whether that particular room is truly impossible to rent or not, the hotel on the whole has a long history of being weird.
The Cecil Hotel at 640 S. Main Street was built in 1924. At the time, it was a relatively decent place for those in town on business to get a good night's sleep. However, the hotel had fallen into disrepair by the 1950s and was mostly home to low-income, long-term residents and transients. And for nearly its entire existence, it's been plagued by misfortune.
In 1985, serial killer Richard Ramirez stayed there. Ramirez, known as "The Nightstalker," was one of America's most notorious killers. Originally from Texas, Ramirez had a strange childhood. He had an abusive father, and a cousin who fought in the Vietnam War and told Ramirez about people he had killed and women he had assaulted there. That same cousin would later murder his wife in front of Ramirez. As a teen, Ramirez got a job at a Texas hotel, using his key to rob various patrons. In one instance, he was caught attempting to assault a woman, but charges were eventually dropped because the woman and her husband were from out of town and did not return to testify against him. Ramirez dropped out of high school and at 22, moved to California.
His crime spree began in full in June of 1984 in San Francisco, when he murdered a 9-year-old girl. It was after this murder that he began his career as "The Nightstalker," the name given to him by the media, though he was also called "The Walk-In Killer" and "The Valley Intruder." He attacked people in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas, predominantly in the Valley and East L.A., breaking into their homes and raping, torturing and murdering them. He is believed to have killed 14 people, though not all of the people he attacked died. He was apprehended on Aug. 30, 1985 when a woman at a market in East L.A. recognized him from the news. Ramirez attempted to flee, but was eventually tackled by a group of locals who restrained him until police arrived. Ramirez died while on death row at 53 years old of B-cell lymphoma. Ramirez was a frequent guest at the Cecil in 1985, staying in a room on the hotel's top floor for $14 a night, according to Kim Cooper and Richard Schave of L.A. tour company Esoteric. They say Ramirez committed 13 of his murders while staying there and would simply throw his bloody clothes in the dumpster before returning to his room.
Six years later, another serial killer would check into the Cecil Hotel. This was a man named Jack Unterweger, a journalist form Austria. Unterweger murdered his first victim in 1974, when he was 24—the same age Ramirez was when he committed his first murder. She was an 18-year-old German woman whom he strangled using her bra. He was arrested and sent to prison, where he became a celebrated writer. In 1990, Unterweger was released, much to the celebration of many who believed that he had been totally rehabilitated and valued his skill as a writer. Unterweger became something of a minor celebrity, hosting TV shows and giving talks on how he'd been reformed, and working as a journalist. Unfortunately, Unterweger was not reformed at all. He murdered several more women in Europe after his release and in 1991, received a journalism assignment that took him to L.A. He was to write an article about how Europeans viewed prostitution compared to Americans. In Los Angeles, Unterweger checked into the Cecil Hotel and went on police ride-alongs and interviewed law enforcement. In his spare time, he murdered three women, whom he may have encountered on the fire escape of the hotel. Notably, he strangled them in the same manner as he had done nearly two decades prior, linking him to his earlier crimes. Unterweger was a fugitive for a brief time but was ultimately arrested in Miami in February of 1992. He would eventually hang himself in his prison cell in Austria. Some believe that Unterweger had been drawn to the Cecil due to its connection to Ramirez.
In June, a 28-year-old man was found dead in front of the Cecil Hotel. Authorities believe he may have jumped to his death from the property, though an employee of the hotel said the man was not a hotel guest. This man would not have been the first to end his life at the Cecil Hotel. The L.A. Times reports that some residents of the neighborhood refer to the hotel as "The Suicide" instead of the Cecil because of the number of people who have jumped off the building over the past several years. In one instance in 1962, a 27-year-old woman jumped from the ninth floor and landed on 65-year-old George Gianinni, killing them both.
There is also the unsolved mystery surrounding "Pigeon Goldie" Osgood. Osgood was something of a pigeon lady, who would feed the birds in Pershing Square. She lived at the Cecil until she was found dead on June 4, 1964 in her room. Authorities determined she had been sexually assaulted, stabbed and choked, and her room had been turned over. Police arrested a man for her murder, but did not have the evidence to convict him.
In 1995, 14 inmates broke out of Pitchess Honor Rancho jail in Castaic by fleeing through a poorly patched over hole in their holding cell and climbing over razor-wire fence with socks on their hands. One of these men was Eric Reed, a 24-year-old man who got drunk and told police that several years before, he had smothered his infant son. Reed tricked a passing driver into picking him up by stripping down to his underwear and claiming to have been robbed. The driver took him, at his request, to the Cecil. He was arrested the following day, sent back to Maine to stand trial for the murder, and convicted.
Police also arrested 24-year-old Raymond D. Hair at the Cecil in 1950. Hair was staying at the hotel under the name J.S. Roster, hiding from his crimes in North Carolina where he was charged with fatally shooting 20-year-old Watson Coble.
A 2003 New York Times article about Skid Row called the Cecil a "common stop of the coroner's route," but this was before the hotel's most notorious mystery.
In January of 2013, a 21-year-old tourist from Vancouver named Elisa Lam would check into the Cecil Hotel. She was on a trip down the coast, but went missing on January 31. Her family alerted authorities after they hadn't heard from her in a few days. Police searched the hotel, but couldn't find her. On February 19, an employee of the hotel went up to the roof to check the four water tanks after guests began complaining about low water pressure. In court documents, he described how he climbed the ladder up to the tank and found Lam's body floating inside.
A surveillance video showed Lam standing in an elevator the night she disappeared, making bizarre hand motions. Authorities eventually ruled her death an accidental drowning with bipolar disorder as a contributing factor. Lam's parents have filed a wrongful death suit against the hotel, and the Cecil's lawyers are trying to get the suit dismissed, citing the series of complicated steps a person would have to take to get up to the roof and into one of the tanks. They also pointed out that still, no one really knows for sure what happened that night.
The Cecil was sold in 2007 to new owners, and has rebranded as Stay On Main. Attempts to make it into a boutique hostel have included renovations, but the hotel's dark history can't be erased. The Cecil did consider a plan to turn 384 of its mostly empty rooms into SRO housing last year, but that plan was blocked by nearby businesses and residents who claimed that providing more services would only make Skid Row worse.