The next time you’re staying in a hotel room, take a quick look around. How many people have stayed in that room before you? Some of us might easily shut our eyes to the idea of enjoying a space many have already slept in; others might shiver at the very thought. But have you ever stopped to wonder what really went down between those four walls?
For the guests at one notorious Los Angeles hotel, this question will yield the kind of answers that make sleeping in the street seem like a more appealing option. The building’s history is one marked by a near century of horror and tragedy, and even today, those that check into the seemingly ordinary hotel have a peculiar habit of never checking out.
Constructed in 1924 by hotelier William Banks Hanner, the Cecil Hotel was designed to be the epitome of class for the American elite; with its 700 rooms, opulent marble lobby, and magnificent stained-glass windows, it wasn’t hard to see why.
Yet while Hanner had the utmost confidence in his hotel, there was one thing he and the rest of the world never counted on: the Great Depression. With even the wealthiest Americans struggling to get by, the Cecil quickly became an overpriced relic.
The neighborhoods surrounding the Cecil began to decline shortly after, and with this downfall came an influx of homeless to the area. By the 1930s, the location – dubbed “Skid Row” – was now home to over 10,000 transients.
As a result, the Cecil became a hotspot for unsavory characters and salacious happenings, including drug activity, prostitution, and even adultery. But beyond these seedy dealings, the Cecil soon gained a reputation for something far more unsettling — death.
Over the years, the Cecil has become notorious for the frequent deaths and violent associations of its guests, and it’s the particularly gruesome ways in which these guests perished that’s made the Cecil’s history so terrifying.
The first reported death at the Cecil came in 1931 when Manhattan Beach resident W.K. Norton used poison capsules to take his own life. Five more suicides followed between then and 1940, including those by gunshot, multi-story fall, and even razor blade.
Four years later, a 19-year-old woman named Dorothy Jean Purcell gave birth in one of the hotel’s bathrooms despite not knowing she was pregnant. Believing the newborn to be dead – and not wanting to disturb her roommate – she tossed the baby out the window and onto a neighboring rooftop.
Sadly, the child was very much alive, and Purcell was subsequently tried for murder. A mental health evaluation determined Purcell was “mentally confused” at the time of the incident, and after being found guilty, she was committed to a psychiatric hospital.
The Cecil was also rumored to be the last known location of Elizabeth Short, otherwise known as “the Black Dahlia.” Short was reportedly seen drinking at the hotel’s bar in the days before her murder in 1947.
Four more deaths occurred at the Cecil in ’47, ’54, and ’62, including that of 27-year-old Pauline Otton. After an argument with her estranged husband, Otton waited until her spouse had left the room before throwing herself from a ninth-floor window.
But Otton didn’t hit the ground; rather, she landed on 65-year-old George Gianni, a pedestrian who’d been walking past the Cecil right as she’d jumped. Authorities initially believed Gianni had jumped with Otton, though after finding his hands in his pockets, they ruled it out.
Another death was reported just two years later, though this wasn’t a suicide: it was a murder. On the morning of June 4, a hotel worker discovered retired telephone operator and longtime resident “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood stabbed and beaten to death in her room.
Just hours later, a man by the name of Jacques B. Ehlinger was spotted wandering through Pershing Square – a spot Osgood frequented to feed pigeons – in bloodstained clothing and was promptly arrested. However, he was later cleared of all charges, and Osgood’s murder remains unsolved.
The 1980s were relatively quiet, though years later, a former clerk would reveal that during this time, the hotel served as a home for serial killer Richard Ramirez, also known as “The Night Stalker.” It’s widely believed that Ramirez committed a number of his 13 known murders while staying at the Cecil.
In 1991, another serial killer, Johann “Jack” Unterweger, stayed at the hotel, possibly as an homage to Ramirez. Here, he strangled three sex workers before being captured in Miami a year later. Still, perhaps the most disturbing death took place in 2013.
It was then that 21-year-old Elisa Lam’s body was found decomposing in a rooftop water tank. The discovery, which was made by a maintenance worker, was prompted by guests’ complaints that the hotel’s water “tasted funny.”
What’s more, video surveillance from one of the Cecil’s elevators showed Lam acting strangely shortly before her disappearance three weeks prior. In the footage, Lam can be seen waving her arms wildly, entering and exiting the elevator multiple times, and cowering in the corner, as if to hide from someone.
Though Lam’s death was ruled an accidental drowning brought on by her use of antipsychotic medication, not everyone is convinced. Could this unexplained death – and the many others like it – have been caused by the spirits of the Cecil that refuse to rest?
No one can say for sure, though the Cecil has since undergone several rebrandings in an effort to dissociate itself from its grisly past. After a brief stint as the “Stay on Main” budget hotel, the Cecil is now set to become a multimillion-dollar micro unit complex.
Yet while the presence of restless spirits at the Cecil is often disputed, there’s one hotel not too far from LA where otherworldly entities are as common a sight as any. In fact, the hauntings at this lodge are so frequent that they actually inspired one of the most chilling horror stories of all time.
In the remote mountains of Colorado lies the Stanley Hotel. At first glance, it’s an impressively large and well-maintained inn that can house a variety of guests and events. Once you learn the history, however, you realize just how creepy it actually is…
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
The story of the Stanley Hotel began in 1903 when American inventor Freelan Oscar Stanley, founder of the carpet cleaning service company Stanley Steamers, landed on his deathbed with a severe case of tuberculosis. Following medical advice, he and his wife ventured out to Colorado for the therapeutic mountain air.
After a few calm weeks, Freelan became bored of the rural living. So, he and his wife, who had a lot of money, designed a massive 48-room Georgian mansion on 160 acres of land, complete with lavish luxuries to attract guests.
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
When their vision was completed and finally opened to the public in 1909, people took interest in it. Snagging a room at the Stanley was a sign of wealth, and everyone who wanted to flaunt their finances showed up.
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
Indeed, business at the Stanley Hotel Business was booming right from the start. Soon after its grand opening, however, guests reported unusual things happening.
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
Guests frequently heard strange noises echoing through the winding halls and empty corridors. Many left with an eerie feeling, but it wasn’t until a popular author stayed overnight in the ’70s that the hotel truly developed its frightening reputation.
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
Stephen King, his wife Tabitha, and their son sought refuge in the hotel one wintry evening. They were the only guests in the entire place, which was creepy on its own, but what happened to King while he slept truly chilled him to the bone.
In the dead of night, a nightmare haunted King: a demonic presence was chasing his son all throughout the halls of the hotel. Even after waking, King couldn’t shake the horrible feeling, and he turned his experience into perhaps his most popular novel, The Shining.
The room King and his family stayed in was number 217, which was changed to 237 in the film adaptation of his book. But, there was actually a sinister history to room 217, which may have explained King’s terrifying ordeal.
In 1911, two years after the hotel opened, there was a severe gas leak in the room unbeknownst to any of the hotel staff. The head housekeeper went in, lit a candle, and was killed instantly when the gas exploded. Her spirit allegedly never left the room.
But Room 217 is not the only area of the hotel said to be haunted. Many visitors claim to have heard the music of a piano coming from the concert hall, even though the room was empty. Some even swore they saw the piano’s keys moving on their own.
There’s also an entity known as “Paul” who apparently haunts the hallways of the hotel. He was once an employee whose job it was to ensure guests followed the 11 p.m. curfew. People claim to hear the words “get out” murmured after dark.
One of the spookiest presences said to roam the hotel corridors is a 13-year-old girl named Lucy. As the story goes, she ran away from home and hid in the basement of the hotel. When employees found her, they tossed her out into the cold, and she froze to death.
Need proof of Lucy? Well, this was a picture taken by a hotel guest named Stephanie Reidl. What looks like a small girl dressed in pink standing in front of the wall, but Stephanie adamantly denied there was ever a young girl on her hotel tour that day.
Here’s another unsettling photo taken by a family from Aurora, Colorado, during one of the hotel’s “spirit tours.” You can clearly see the shape of a young girl dressed in white walking down the grand staircase; the family swears the girl wasn’t there when they snapped the picture.
Jessica Martinez-Mausling / Facebook
Of course, all the sightings of apparent ghosts and otherworldly energies do little to deter guests from booking rooms. People from all over flock to the Stanley to hopefully get a dose of the excitement — and the scares — it offers.
The hotel completely embraces the fact it was the basis for The Shining. Decorating the walls of every room are stills from the movie and artwork dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s terrifying vision.
In fact, every Halloween, the hotel hosts a massive costume party anyone can attend. Everyone dresses up to the nines and parties all night long. It’s a fantastically fun way to honor America’s most haunted hotel!
Both Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick helped the Stanley Hotel become a massive tourist attraction. If the spirit of Freelan Oscar Stanley does, in fact, watch over the premise, it makes you wonder what he thinks of everything…
Are you the kind of person who likes to get spooked? There are plenty of haunted locations throughout the country, but if you’re looking for the place that inspired a classic horror movie and gave meaning to the term “redrum,” there’s only one Stanley Hotel — check out the video below for more on it.
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