Netflix’s new documentary Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel has true crime fanatics talking all about the infamous Cecil Hotel of downtown Los Angeles, California. The hotel’s infamy reached new heights in 2013 when, per Good Housekeeping, Canadian college student and hotel guest Elisa Lam was found drowned in a closed water tank on the Cecil’s roof after going missing three weeks earlier. However, the Cecil Hotel had been associated with crime and death for decades.
The hotel opened in 1927 and was “built with the intention of being a comfortable and polished spot for business travelers and Hollywood tourists to enjoy.” However, the United States entered the Great Depression two years later and the general desperation sweeping the entire nation combined with the hotel’s location near Los Angeles’ Skid Row made it a criminal hot spot. The Cecil’s first on-site death was in 1931 when a guest committed suicide. Since then, over a dozen deaths, including suicides, overdoses, and murders, have been documented at the Cecil Hotel. And the real count of deaths at the Cecil Hotel could be even higher. Interviewed for the Netflix documentary, a former manager said that there must have been at least 80 deaths in the hotel during the ten years she worked there.
Its negative reputation has even inspired storylines in movies and television shows, including American Horror Story and Barton Fink. When the hotel became a single-room occupancy residence, things got even creepier. One of the Cecil regulars in the mid-1980s was none other than Richard Ramirez, the serial killer known as “The Night Stalker.”
This room for let?
According to The Sun, Richard Ramirez probably lived at the Cecil Hotel in 1985, near the end of his year terrorizing Los Angeles during which he killed at least 14 people. The Metro quoted Los Angeles historians Kim Cooper and Richard Schave about Ramirez’s time at the hotel. Cooper notes that he would return to the Cecil after committing his horrible crimes: “In the middle of the night, he would be in the back alley covered in blood, taking off his clothing.” Schave elaborated: “He would walk in his blood-stained underwear, barefoot, up to his floor and into his room. Repeatedly. And that’s cool, and no one’s got a problem with that, because it’s that kind of heavy place.” Ramirez was arrested in 1985, convicted of over 12 murders, and died in prison in 2013.
So, is Richard Ramirez’s hotel room available for rent? As reported by the Los Angeles Times, in 2016, Simon Baron Development “signed a 99-year ground lease with the building’s owner, 248 Haynes Hotel Associates” and planned a $100 million renovation, with president Matthew Baron declaring: “We are gutting the entire building. We are going to redevelop it from the doorway to the roof and everything in between.” Presumably this means none of the hotel rooms of the past will be available. Per a Curbed story from 2019, the hotel was set to reopen in late 2021, but it’s possible the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the timetable.
The Night Stalker wasn't the only serial killer to call the Cecil home
After getting to know the unsavory reputation of the Cecil Hotel, it isn’t surprising to learn that Richard Ramirez wasn’t even the only serial killer to have stayed there. According to The Tab, the shady establishment also welcomed an Austrian journalist named Jack Unterweger in 1991. Unterweger claimed to have been working on a story about the red-light districts in Los Angeles, so it made sense that he’d be staying in Skid Row. He made friends with the police officers and sex workers in the area, even went on ride-alongs and was known to have sex workers make visits to his room in the hotel.
What people didn’t know, however, was that Unterweger was convicted of rape and murder in Austria before coming to the United States. He had been sent to prison in 1974. Upon his release in 1990, the area where he lived began to see a spike in kidnappings and murders of local women. The police suspected Unterweger, so he bailed to California, and when he did, Los Angeles began to see a spike in murders of women.
The Cecil Hotel was the perfect place to use as a base for his heinous crimes, which The Sun chronicled in all their brutal detail. He would strangle his victims with their own bras, a practice that tied him to the murders of three Los Angeles sex workers, as he used a signature knot found on his victims elsewhere. He was arrested in Miami in 1992 and extradited to Austria, where he later killed himself in his jail cell.
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