People will claim that ghosts aren’t real, just superstition and nonsense. However, there are certain spots that have a history that would make the most dubious person start to believe in the supernatural. One such place can be found at 640 S Main Street in Los Angeles. It’s called Stay on Main today but most in the city know it by another name: The Cecil Hotel. And it’s a name that in the world of ghost hunters has a lot of resonance. Its legacy was solidified when Ryan Murphy was inspired by stories to create the “Hotel” season of his hit American Horror Story. More than a few have joked that even that show couldn’t quite touch the bizarre history of this hotel and its strange legacy of deaths.
Built in 1924 when L.A. was a good rising city, the Cecil soon became center to the area that turned into Skid Row. With as many as 10,000 homeless people in the area, the place was soon home to more transients than paying guests and had to undergo some renovations. However, its legacy has been marked by a string of strange, mysterious and downright bizarre deaths. True, any hotel can be home to a murder or suicide. But since 1931, no less than fifteen people have been found dead by unnatural causes at the hotel. Indeed, the place was once home to not one but two serial killers: Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterwerger. There’s also claims one of the victims of the Black Dahlia was there before her murder. To look at its history is to see a truly scary showcase and here are 15 deaths at this place that make you believe in curses after all. Here are 15 deaths at the Cecil that will make the most dubious person want to avoid checking into the place.
15 The Close Calls
To start with, even without all the odd deaths, the Cecil has been home to some truly strange happenings. In 1927, John Crouner was arrested for theft in his hotel room. In 1929, 33-year-old Dorothy Roberson spent three days wandering the hotel before people realized how strange it was and it turned out she had tried to poison herself following the death of her husband. Cecil resident George Ford, a successful morphine and opium dealer with a stash of $10,000 worth of opium, was arrested in a sting at the nearby Astor Hotel. An elderly man was found at the Cecil, barely alive, after he drank poisoned liquor, which had actually killed three other men. One resident tried to shoot himself in Westlake Park while a woman drowned herself in the ocean. A teenage stickup artist was arrested at the hotel while Dorothy January was choked and robbed. That one hotel could be home to so many people connected to strange deaths and outlandish crimes is enough to make the most rational person start to suspect something very dark and evil is going on at this place.
14 The Mystery Men
Most of the Cecil’s deaths are on record and open to the public but in a few cases, the names remained withheld or have been lost to time. One case was in 1933 where a young truck driver was caught in between his truck and the hotel and crushed fatally against the Cecil’s wall. His name is now lost due to the poor record-keeping of the time and while such accidents may be common, crushed right against the hotel is something else. Most recently, in June of 2015, the body of a 28-year-old man was found lying outside the Cecil, which is now known as Stay on Main. It was suspected a suicide but no official word was made and police and the man’s family decided not to reveal his name. It seems they didn’t want the man tied in as yet another victim of the Cecil as no matter the name it has today or how it’s been renovated, the hotel’s dark and sinister legacy continues to this day.
13 Erwin C. Neblett
Los Angeles spent the 1930s pulling itself out of the Depression. While the movie industry did majorly help boost the city’s coffers and increase tourism, much of the town remained in a bad way. The Skid Row area around the Cecil was one such place as the area was still mired in too much crime, corruption and hard-drinking homeless folks. With World War II building, there was an upbeat in the economy but also great worry of the future. In May 1939, Erwin C. Neblett, a 39 year-old sailor on the USS Wright died in his room after taking poison. It seemed Wright had been upset about being called to duty already and unable to handle the pressure of possibly going into combat with war looking inevitable. What makes it even more bizarre is that just a few months later, teacher Dorothy Sceiger also took poison and was near death before paramedics saved her. While not confirmed, the story has taken hold that Neblett and Scieger actually stayed in the same room. Which may sound crazy somewhere else but not the Cecil.
12 Benjamin Dodich
By 1932, the area around the Cecil had turned from a somewhat upscale neighborhood to what is now famous as Skid Row. Its population of 10,000 was comprised of mostly homeless people and vagrants with business of saloons, social service stations and other low-rent places that catered to those with little money. The Cecil had gone from an upscale hotel to a run-down area catering to transients. Benjamin Dodich seemed to be one of them, checking into the hotel in 1932. He was found by maid Carrie Brown in his room having shot himself in the head. No suicide note was found and it was dealt with as a simple death. However, the mystery of why a healthy 25-year-old would kill himself like this hung around and was the second notably odd death on the hotel grounds. Little did anyone know it was only the start of its strange history.
11 Louis D. Borden
While the Cecil had been built during the boom times of the Roaring Twenties as a fantasy palace, reality came crashing in hard in the 1930s. The Great Depression affected L.A. as much as the rest of the United States and the area around the Cecil soon fell into despair. The clientele became more transients and other oddballs as a few people seemed to gather in foul spirits. A case appeared to be Louis D. Borden, a 53-year-old former Army Medical Corps sergeant. Checking into the Cecil in July of 1934, Borden kept to himself before he was found in his room with his throat slashed. It was speculated murder briefly before it came out that Borden had left a note mentioning he was already quite ill and didn’t want to put off the inevitable. Slashing his own throat was a bit extreme and may indicate how something about the Hotel seemed to drive even suicides to take their ends to some major extremes.
10 Roy Thompson
As noted in the intro, Ryan Murphy was inspired by stories of the Cecil to create the “Hotel” season of American Horror Story. It plays into how some hotels seem to have…something in them, a strange aura that seems to drive people to harsh ends. A key example would be Roy Thompson. A 35-year-old Marine fireman, Thompson checked into the Cecil in January of 1938. He seemed to have jumped right off the roof of the hotel, a clear suicide in many ways. However, the fact he was found on the adjacent roof of a nearby building was rather impressive. It indicated Thompson had taken a good running start before his leap and thus carried over the distance. However, those more inclined to look at the supernatural will argue that someone (or “something”) gave Thompson a very extra push to carry him so far and so hard. There was no note left behind and thus yet another strange death connected to the hotel.
9 Grace E. Margo
This is one of the odder deaths at the Cecil as arguments still rage on how it happened. In March of 1937, reports stated that Grace E. Magro fell from a ninth story window. Her fall had been broken by a suspended telephone wire that caused her body to bounce and then wrapped around the wire. It was a strange sight that attracted several reporters as it took a while to get Margo’s body out of the wire. It was highly debated whether it was a suicide or some sort of accident as the trajectory of the body indicated she had to have either taken a running leap off the roof or someone pushed her. Those who believe in the supernatural aspects of the place lean toward the latter although some contend it was the simpler idea of Margo being murdered by someone. Either way, it was one of the more gruesome deaths at the place and added to the Cecil’s growing reputation for strange happenings.
8 W.K. Norton
The Cecil had been built under hotelier William Banks Hammer, who had high hopes of how it could be a lavish place for tourists and businessmen. He spent a million dollars (a serious sum in 1924) for an expensive palace that he thought could stand among the best of Los Angeles and attract a high-priced base of guests. Sadly, just five years later, the Depression hit and Hammer’s would-be clientele found themselves unable to afford the place. Thus began the hotel’s slide to lower-class people. In November of 1931, W.K. Norton checked into the Cecil under the name of James Wyllis of Chicago and spent most of the next week in his room. He was found dead on November 19th after ingesting numerous poison capsules. He is now marked as the first known suicide of the hotel but it was only the first of numerous strange deaths that turned Hammer’s dream into a nightmare.
7 Julia Francis Moore
Despite themselves, by the 1960s, the Cecil had begun to develop its history of dark deaths and how people seemed to want to choose it to end it all. A case was Julia Francis Moore, a 50-year-old from St. Louis who checked in on February 11th, 1962. She kept to her room for a long while, no one really knowing much about her until she climbed out the window, leaping from the eighth floor to land onto a light well on the second floor. She left no suicide note, just a bus ticket, 59 cents in change and an Illinois bank book showing a balance of $1800. It remains one of the odder mysteries of the Cecil as there was no clue as to why Moore chose to end her life in this way. The fact that out of all the hotels in Los Angeles she chose the Cecil to kill herself is one of those bizarre “coincidences” that hint to the sinister background of the place.
6 Helen Gurnee
The 1950s saw Los Angeles beginning a major shift in demographics due to the post-war influx of immigrants and a rise in the black community. It was here that the Cecil began its transformation from a once-grand hotel to a more seedy dive that seemed to cater to guests down on their luck. Such a case was Helen Gurnee, an unemployed secretary who checked into the Cecil on October 22, 1954 under the name of Margaret Brown. She was quiet and reserved, keeping to herself most of the time. That changed when she climbed out of her seventh floor room window and leaped out, landing right on the hotel’s marquee. Needless to say, that brought the Cecil some press of the bad sort and a big mess to have to clean up her body. She left no note or signs as to why she’d done this and another mystery to some wondering if something in this hotel is pushing people to a dark end.
5 Dorothy Jean Purcell
Here’s proof the “I didn’t know I was pregnant” thing isn’t a new phenomenon. In September of 1944, 19-year-old Dorothy Jean Purcell was having an affair with shoe salesman Ben Levine. Waking up with stomach pains, Purcell slipped out of the bed, went to the bathroom and ended up delivering the baby herself. In shock and thinking the infant was dead, Purcell threw it out the window and onto the roof of an adjacent building. It was found and determined it had still been alive when tossed away so Purcell was arrested for murder. Her defense of not knowing she had been pregnant was widely mocked with jurors openly stating they found the tale “almost beyond belief.” Purcell was found guilty of murder but in January of 1945 it was amended to her found not guilty by reason of insanity. Today, Purcell might be seen in a more sympathetic light due to her mental illness but at the time, it was one of the harsher crimes to be pinned on the Cecil as even a newborn wasn’t safe there.
4 Pauline Otton
Here’s a two-for-one deal. On October 12th, 1962, Pauline Otton had checked into the Cecil and was meeting her estranged husband, Dewey. It turned into a bitter one, the two having a vicious argument with Dewey leaving to clear his head. Apparently, Pauline decided she had had enough and crawled out the window to jump out of the ninth-floor room. That was bad enough but what made it worse was that she landed right on top of pedestrian George Gianinni who’d had the bad luck of walking by at that instant. For a brief time, it was speculated the two were lovers and jumped together but then someone noticed how Gianinni had his hands in his pockets when he died and still had his shoes on his feet. Dewey was naturally thrown by the tragic death and while it wasn’t totally her fault, Otton bore responsibility for taking Gianinni with her. A suicide is one thing but one that ends up taking the live of a completely innocent passerby is something that could only happen at the Cecil.
3 Pigeon Goldie
Nicknamed “Pigeon” because of her love of birds, Goldie Osgood was a retired telephone operator popular around Pershing Square. She was known for her love of the Dodgers, always wearing a baseball cap to root for her favorite team and well liked around the neighborhood. On June 4, 1964, Osgood was found in her hotel room, stabbed, strangled and the victim of sexual assault. Lying by her side was her beloved Dodgers cap and a bag of birdseed. Her local friends held a makeshift funeral for her at Pershing Square to show how loved she was. A week later, Jacques B. Ehlinger was seen walking around with blood on his shirt and arrested. However, he was later cleared and to this day, Osgood’s murder remains unsolved. It was a brutal end to a truly nice and wonderful lady and one of the more gruesome deaths connected to the Cecil.
2 The Killers
Technically not a death on site but no history of the Cecil is complete without noting two very infamous guests. The first is Richard Ramirez or as he’s better known “The Night Stalker.” From 1984 to late 1985, Ramirez embarked on a series of home invasions where he murdered thirteen women, sexually assaulting several of these women as well as one man.
For much of the time, Ramirez lived on the top floor of the Cecil for $14 a night. While he didn’t kill any women on site, Ramirez would return to the hotel for a shower and dump his bloody clothes in the dumpster outside. He terrorized Los Angeles for over a year before he was finally arrested, convicted and sentenced to death. His famous words on trial were "Big deal. Death always went with the territory. See you in Disneyland." He ended up dying in his cell of lymphoma in 2013.
In 1991, Jack Unterweger stayed at the Cecil, fresh off of spending fifteen years in prison for murdering a woman in Germany. During this time, Unterweger hunted and strangled three prostitutes. Arrested in Miami, Unterweger was sent to Austria as he had been linked to another eight murders in Europe. He committed suicide in his cell after being found guilty. That not one but two serial killers picked the Cecil to stay in is a bizarre coincidence.
1 Elisa Lam
This is the most famous case and the one that really pushed the history of the Cecil to the limelight. Lam was a Canadian student in Los Angeles who had suffered from bipolar disorder. She checked into the Cecil on January 31st, 2013 but when she failed to check in with her parents, they called the police. They searched her room to no avail even with police dogs and a search of the neighborhood turned up nothing.
A week later, a surveillance video came out of Lam in a hooded sweatshirt heading into an elevator, looking panicked. She hit several buttons, looking back and forth as the doors didn’t close. Her behavior was weird, rocking back and forth and seeming to speak out with some claiming it was signs of possession while others said drug use.
On February 19th, Lam’s body was found inside one of the Cecil’s rooftop water tanks, meaning the hotel guests had been drinking water shared with a decomposing corpse. It was determined her death had been accidental drowning but that left the major question as to how Lam ended up inside the water tank and naked to boot. It got huge attention and showcased the bizarre circumstances that make the Cecil a place you might want to visit but not check into.
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