Tourists in Los Angeles were shocked to learn this week that the body of a Canadian woman had been found at the bottom of a water tank at their hotel in the city’s downtown area. Elisa Lam, 21, was last seen at the Cecil Hotel on Jan. 31, according to L.A. police. Her parents reported her missing earlier this month, and a maintenance worker discovered the body Tuesday as he was looking into complaints about the water pressure in the building. It seems very possible that guests have been drinking and bathing with water contaminated by a body that has been decomposing for nearly two weeks.
But the suspicious death of the 21-year-old is only the latest in a series of unfortunate incidents that have taken place at the Cecil, which dates back to the 1920s and is located near the city’s seedy Skid Row. “There were murders there in the 20s and 30s,” Chris Nichols, associate editor of Los Angeles Magazine, told South California Public Radio. In 1962, a 27-year-old woman jumped out of a window, killing herself and the pedestrian she landed on. In 1964, Goldie Olsen — a former telephone operator known as the pigeon lady of Pershing Square — was found strangled to death in her room, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Two infamous serial killers, Richard Ramirez, the “Night Stalker,” and Austrian journalist Jack Unterweger, are believed to have stayed at the Cecil during the 1980s. Ramirez was a regular who reportedly checked in for 14 days, paying $14 a night. He was later found guilty of 13 murders and is currently on death row in California. Unterweger, who had been convicted of murder in 1974 in Austria but released in the 1990s, was later charged with killing 11 prostitutes while on parole, including three found strangled “with their bras” during his stay in Los Angeles. He was convicted of nine of the murders in 1994 and hung himself in his cell the following day.
While the Cecil Hotel now markets itself as a boutique hotel — and underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation five years ago — sightseeing buses still stop at the historic building as part of a “Hotel Horrors and Main Street Vices” tour. In 2008, a Los Angeles Times headline billed the lobby as a place where “the hip and the near-homeless meet”: “The rooms are small, bugs scamper across the floors and in the dim hallways, one sometimes encounters guests who have been using drugs or alcohol.” At the moment, rooms are a bargain, according to the hotel’s website.
Yelp reviewers agree, complaining about everything from cockroach infestations and cigarette burns in the bed sheets to homeless people loitering. In light of this week’s events, there has been an influx of new reviews of the two-star hotel — “this hotel definitely offers something for the macabre tourist” — on its Yelp page.