The Cecil Hotel: A Walk on the Dark Side
Information compiled by Craig Owens, Author of Haunted by History Vol. 1: Separating the Facts and Myths of Eight Historic Hotels and Inns in Southern California.
The Cecil Hotel was never a hotel that received and earned a lot of respect until 2017 when it became an officially designated landmark. The middle-class hotel was built on the site of a home that had later been converted into a chicken farm/pet store called the Fancier’s Exchange. This chicken ranch store stayed in business into the 1920s before the property was sold to W.W. Paden and Associates for a new hotel.
The Cecil’s architect was L.L. Smith and it was constructed by the Weymouth Crowell Company. All of its furnishings were made in California.
The reinforced concrete hotel building featured 700 rooms “with 50 percent baths, a spacious lobby and mezzanine, and basement.” The Cecil’s main outstanding feature was a large terra-cotta adorned archway that served as its main entrance.
The hotel opened on December 20, 1924. The Cecil Hotel Company, Inc.’s officers were W.B. Hanner, president; R.H. Schops, vice-president; and Charles L. Dix, secretary-treasurer.
There’s nothing terribly exciting about the hotel’s history in its early years. It had received a gift of 700 Gideon Bibles in July of 1925. By 1927, rooms with a shared bath cost $1.50/night; rooms with a private toilet cost $2.00/night, and rooms with a private bath cost $2.50/night.
It did, however, start collecting suicides and deaths as early as 1926. These deaths continued after the Great Depression started when the hotel, like many others, began its decline.
VETERAN MINE MAN BURIED AT OLD HOME
Los Angeles Times, June 19, 1926
The body of William F. McKay, for years a mining operator in Arizona, has been buried at his old home in Colfax, Wash. McKay died at the Cecil Hotel here the 10th inst., at 62 years of age….
DEATH ENDS PROLONGED SICK SPELL
H.W. Simons, ex-Official of Brick Company, Victim of Heart Disease
Los Angeles Times, Oct. 6, 1926
Ending an illness of nearly five years, illness which forced him to resign as secretary of the Standard Brick Company, founded by his father in 1888, death yesterday took Harold W. Simons, resident of Los Angeles for thirty-eight years. Immediate cause of his death was said to be heart disease.
Mr. Simons, 46 years of age, and next to the youngest of four brothers, came to Los Angeles when his father moved here from Sidney. He was educated in Los Angeles and early in life entered his father’s plant, remaining identified with it until ill health forced him to retire. The father, R.G. Simons, died in 1922.
The death of Mr. Simons occurred at the Hotel Cecil where he had lived for several years. He leaves his mother, Mrs. R.G. Simons, of 4963 Ambrose Street; three brothers, John V., Ralph, and Robert; and four sisters, Ruby, June, and Margaret Simons and Mrs. L.O. Hopkins and two sons, Garrett and James.
Funeral services have been tentatively set for tomorrow afternoon at 2 o’clock from the Breese Brothers’ chapel. The services will be private. Burial will be made in the family plot in Inglewood Cemetery.
Marital Strife Held Cause of Suicide Attempt
Los Angeles Times, January 23, 1927
Leaving a note addressed to “the press” in which he said he had spent $40,000 in the last six months in a vain attempt to buy happiness, Percy Ormond Cook, 52 years of age, shot himself last night in a room at the Hotel Cecil, Sixth and Main streets. He was taken to the Receiving Hospital where doctors said he has only a slight chance of recovery. [Note: Cook died from his wound on January 22, the day of the shooting. In fact, he was already dead when this article was published.]
The note stated that Cook, who formerly was a well-to-do real estate dealer of Providence, R.I., had been separated from his wife and son for several months and had brooded over his loneliness until he decided that the only way out was to commit suicide. He had written a letter to his wife, the note said, in which he informed her of his intention, but he had been more than a week trying to work up his courage to the point of firing the shot.
“Money cannot buy happiness,” Cook wrote in what he expected to be his farewell message. “I have tried it and I find that it cannot be done. I have lost my wife, my son and my home, and I am doing the only thing left for me to do.”
He is said to have formerly owned the Willard Apartments in Hollywood and was believed to be wealthy. His son, to whom he referred in the note, is a student at Harvard and his estranged wife lives in Providence.
Search for Man Ends in Finding Body at Hotel
LOS ANGELES TIMES, November 19, 1931
Missing from his home at 912 Strand avenue, Manhattan Beach, since last Saturday, according to police, W.K. Norton, 46 years of age, was found dead in a hotel room at 640 South Main Street yesterday morning. A number of capsules believed to have contained poison were given by police as evidence that Norton had ended his own life. The capsules, police said, were found in his vest pocket.
Norton had been dead, apparently only a few hours when found by a maid. He registered at the hotel, according to police, last Saturday as James Willys of Chicago. Several checks made out to Mrs. M.C. Norton, found in his clothing, served to identify him as Norton, according to the police report.
Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1932.
The body of a man believed to be Benjamin Dodoch, 25, was found in a room at the Cecil Hotel, 640 South Main Street, Saturday night a few hours after he had registered there. A bullet had been fired into the right temple, but Detective-Lieutenant Baggot of the Central homicide squad said no apparent reason could be assigned for the act. Papers found on his person indicated that he had formerly lived at 301 South Boyle Avenue. The body was found by Mrs. Carrie Brown, a maid.
Former Soldier Takes His Own Life
Los Angeles Times, July 27, 1934
His throat slashed, Louis D. Borden, 53 years of age, former sergeant in the Army Medical Corps, was found dead in a hotel room at 640 South Main Street. Investigating officers, finding a razor by the body and farewell notes, reported Borden ended his own life because of ill health.
WOMAN TAKES DEATH PLUNGE
Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1937.
Victim crushed in Nine-Story Drop at Downtown Hotel
Her body crushed by a nine-story plunge from a window of a hotel at 640 South Main Street, Grace E. Magro, 25 years of age, of 423 East Seventh Street, died early yesterday in Georgia-street Receiving Hospital.
Police were unable to determine whether the woman had fallen or jumped from the hotel room. Telephone wires, ripped from poles in her descent, were entangled about her body.
The officers stated that M.W. Madison, 26-year-old sailor of the U.S.S. Virginia, who was the woman’s companion, was sleeping at the time of the occurrence and could give no explanation for the woman’s action. J.B. Read, Jr., manager of the hotel, corroborated his story.
Fireman On Ship In Suicide Leap
Wilmington Daily Press Journal, January 10, 1938
Leaving no notes to explain his action, Roy Thompson, 35-year-old marine fireman, took what police termed a suicide leap from the fourteenth story of a Los Angeles hotel early yesterday.
Registered at the hotel, 640 So. Main Street, for several weeks, Thompson apparently leaped from the window of his room. His body was found atop a skylight on a next-door building by a hotel employee, who notified police.
Detective Lieutenants Clark and Hill of the homicide squad notified a brother, W.E. Thompson of Port Arthur, Texas.
Sailor Ends Life by Taking Poison
LOS ANGELES TIMES, May 29, 1939.
Erwin C. Neblett, 39-year-old sailor on the U.S.S. Wright, ended his life yesterday in a hotel room, 640 S. Main St., by swallowing poison, police reported. Neblett was found unconscious on the floor of the hotel room by a maid, who called police. He died shortly after their arrival.
Neblett, who was a U.S. Navy Radio Man 2nd Class, died from strychnine poisoning. Inside his room, police found a sealed letter addressed to Dr. D.C. Neblett of Staten Island. Police did not open the letter. Instead it was sent along with the corpse to a mortuary in Long Beach. Neblett was buried in Tennessee.
Teacher Near Death
Los Angeles Times, January 11, 1940.
Miss Dorothy Sceiger [sic.], 45-year-old Riverside schoolteacher, last night was near death in the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital after having reportedly taken poison in her room in a hotel at 640 S. Main St., police reported.
Dorothy Segar, never married, passed away on January 12 and was interred at Evergreen Memorial Park and Mausoleum in Riverside, CA.
Mother Held After Baby Found Thrown to Death
Los Angeles Times, September 8, 1944
After hearing testimony that one juror later described as “almost beyond belief,” a coroner’s jury yesterday recommended that Dorothy Jean Purcell, 19, be held to answer to a homicide charge for allegedly throwing her newborn baby boy to his death from a high window of a downtown hotel.
Miss Purcell, formerly a war-worker, was arrested Wednesday and held in the prison ward of General Hospital on a District Attorney’s murder complaint after the baby’s body was found on the roof of a building adjacent to the hotel at 640 S. Main Street.
Testifying at the inquest, Police Officer Stewart Jones said the young woman had for several days occupied a hotel room with Ben Levine, 38, shoe salesman. She awakened, Jones quoted her as saying, early one morning to learn the baby was about to be born.
Not desiring to awaken her companion, the officer related, she went to the hotel restroom on the same floor and there delivered the baby alone. Believing the child dead, she threw it out the window and returned to the room, never telling Levine of the incident, according to testimony.
County Autopsy Surgeon Frank R. Webb, however, declared the baby was born alive, his lungs having filled with air.
Body Identified in Hotel Room Fall
Los Angeles Times, November 1, 1947.
Police yesterday identified the body of a man who fell from a seventh-floor room of a hotel at 640 S. Main St. as that of Robert Smith, 35, of 1144 Gladys St., Long Beach.
Woman Killed in Seven-Floor Hotel Plunge
Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1954
A woman plunged to her death from a seventh-floor window of a downtown hotel yesterday afternoon, her body landing atop the hotel marquee above the heads of pedestrians on busy Main St.
Police identified her from cards in her purse as Mrs. Helen C. Gurnee, about 55, an employee of a San Diego stationery firm.
Officials of the Hotel Cecil at 640 S Maine St. said she had registered as Margaret Brown of Denver when she checked into Room 704 a week ago.
Hundreds of spectators gathered as firemen and ambulance attendants put a ladder up to the marquee and lowered the body.
Shortly afterward, police were called to the lobby of Philharmonic Auditorium to aid a man who seemed to be hysterical, and they said he told them he had been unnerved by witnessing the woman’s death.
He was Melvin Hinkley. 28, of 227 S Olive St., and he identified himself as a ministry student. Hinkley was taken to General Hospital for observation.
Woman Leaps to Death From Hotel Window
Los Angeles Times, Feb. 12, 1962
A woman leaped to her death from an eight-floor window of the Cecil Hotel, 640 S Main St., early Sunday morning, her body landing on a second-floor roof in the light well of the building.
Police identified her from a hotel registration card and papers in her purse as Julia Frances Moore, about 50.
Det. Sgt. Paul LePage said the woman, who left no notes, had registered at the hotel on Wednesday. Her purse and a small overnight bag were found in the room.
59 Cents in Purse
Although the purse contained only 59 cents, a bankbook showed she had nearly $1,800 in a Springfield (Ill.) bank.
Sgt. LePage said he also found a bus ticket stub indicating she had come here from St. Louis. Other papers containing two home addresses in St. Louis were also found….
Woman’s Death Leap Kills Man on Street
Los Angeles Times, October 13, 1962
A young woman plummeted to her death from the ninth floor of a Main St. hotel Friday night, killing an elderly man strolling on the sidewalk below.
Mrs. Pauline Otton, 27, of 504 W 41st Dr., had been discussing marital problems with her estranged husband, Dewey, 32, in the Hotel Cecil, 640 S Main St. Officers said she leaped or fell from the room when her husband went out to dinner.
At first, police thought Mrs. Otton and George Gianinni, 65, formerly of 440 W 3rd St., might have leaped out of the window together, but they found the man had his hands in his pockets and his shoes still on. If he had fallen nine stories, the impact would have knocked his shoes off, investigators said.
Otten, a sheet metal worker, said his wife had gone to his place of employment earlier in the day wanting reconciliation. He said he took her to the hotel to discuss it.
Oakland Man Leaps to Death
The Californian, April 12, 1963
LOS ANGELES (UPI) – A man identified as Delbert Lawrence, 65, Oakland, apparently jumped to his death today from the 13th floor of a downtown hotel. His body landed in a parking lot behind the Cecil Hotel. No suicide notes were found.
Bird Lover Slain, but Friends Remember
by Eric Malnic, Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1964.
Flowers lay on a curbstone in Pershing Square Friday evening – a simple memorial from the friends who would see her no more.
“Pigeon Goldie,” the kindly woman who had visited the spot daily to feed birds too small to forage for themselves, had been murdered.
The retired telephone operator, whose most violent act had been to scare away the larger birds which threatened her favorites, was found dead in her hotel room at 640 S. Main St. late Thursday. Officers said she had been stabbed, strangled and raped.
Investigators said the crime may have been committed by the same man who slew another woman, Mrs. Viva Brown, 50, of Oakland, in a nearby hotel last May 16.
The two slayings were linked after an autopsy showed that “Pigeon Goldie,” whose real name was Mrs. Goldie Osgood, had been killed and assaulted in much the same manner as Mrs. Brown.
Jacques B. Ehlinger, 29, an unemployed laborer, was arrested late Friday when officers saw him walking through Pershing Square in blood-stained clothing.
Police said Ehlinger, of 637 S Olive St., was booked on suspicion of murder at Central Jail after he admitted knowing Mrs. Osgood and said he had been in the vicinity of her hotel at the time the crime was committed.
Officers said Ehlinger denied any connection with either murder.
Mrs. Osgood’s body was found late Thursday by a hotel employee who was distributing phone books. The room had been ransacked.
Beside her bed was the Dodger baseball cap she always wore and a paper bag of feed….
Note: another article claimed that Osgood was choked to death by a hotel towel during the assault.
According to the Doe Network, On December 16, 1975, an unidentified woman, age 20-30, checked into the Cecil under the name “Allison Lowell” and took Room 327. On December 20th, she plummeted from a 12th-floor window at the hotel onto a 2nd-floor roof.
The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office never identified the body. Investigators at that time had determined that she stood 5’4″ tall, weighed 118 pounds, had brown hair and brown/hazel eyes. They found scars on both wrists.
The mystery woman’s personal items consisted of “a blue sweater with purple and black, navy blue pants, navy blue coat, black shoes and a beige bra.” On the dresser of her room, she left behind a black purse and a yellow metal key, along with a Greyhound bus ticket from Bakersfield, CA.
According to the Los Angeles Times, dated October 25, 2001:
October 6, 2001: A woman died from an overdose. Source: Specter of Bygone Glory Haunts Hotels by David Ferrell.
Also from the same Times article:
October 7, 2001: A young woman (unidentified) was found murdered.
According to the Los Angeles Times, dated July 8, 2003:
Shortly after noon Saturday [July 5], a man was found dead in a room at the Cecil Hotel in the 600 block of South Main Street in downtown Los Angeles, a possible victim of strangulation. Police did not identify him.
Excerpts are taken from:
Body Found Inside Water Tank Atop Hotel Identified As Missing Canadian Tourist
LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A Canadian tourist Tuesday was found dead in a water tank on top of a downtown Los Angeles hotel.
Elisa Lam, 21, had last been seen at the hotel on Jan. 26. [Later reported that she was last seen on Jan. 31.]
Police and firefighters were summoned to the Cecil Hotel at 640 South Main St. shortly after 10 a.m., according to LAPD Officer Bruce Borihanh….
A maintenance worker discovered the body after he received reports from hotel guests of low water pressure in the building and went up to the roof to investigate the cause….
‘We thought the water tasted funny’: Los Angeles hotel guests drank and bathed in water from tank where dead Canadian tourist decomposed for two weeks
Guests at the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, drank, bathed in and brushed their teeth with water from a roof-top tank where a Canadian tourist’s body floated, decomposing, for nearly three weeks….
Police still don’t know how Lam died or even how she ended up on the roof of the hotel – which is protected by locked doors and an alarm….
Tourists staying at the run-down Skid Row hotel said they were shocked by the discovery of a body in the hotel’s water supply.
‘The water did have a funny taste,’ Sabrina Baugh, a British tourist who used the water in the hotel for eight days, told CNN.
‘We never thought anything of it. We thought it was just the way it was here.’
Ms Baugh and her husband Michael said they were disgusted by the revelation.
‘The moment we found out, we felt a bit sick to the stomach, quite literally, especially having drank the water, we’re not well mentally,’ Mr Baugh said.
Los Angeles County health officials said they are testing the water to determine whether it is contaminated. The water in the tank where Lam was found feeds taps and showers in the hotel rooms, as well as a coffee shop and the kitchen downstairs.
‘Our biggest concern is going to be fecal contamination because of the body in the water,’ Terrance Powell said….
Law enforcement sources told the Times that a locked door and fire escape are the only ways to access the hotel’s roof.
The door, which only employees can reach, is also equipped with an alarm that notifies hotel staff if someone is up there.
The water tank is also hard to access requiring authorities to work well into the afternoon to remove her body…
‘The location of the water tanks is very small and configured in a very tight way so it’s a little more difficult to get the body out,’ said police spokeswoman Officer Sara Faden.
Lam stayed in touch with her friends and family while traveling in California – up until the day she disappeared.
A security video taken in an elevator at the hotel and released by the LAPD last week showed Lam acting strangely, hiding in a corner and repeatedly peering around the elevator doors into the hallway.
She never checked out of the hotel positioned on the outskirts of Skid Row and employees said they never saw her with anyone else….
Body Found in Water Tank at Hotel is Missing Canadian Tourist: LAPD
The water tank was about three-quarters full when the body was found, according to Sgt. Rudy Lopez of the LAPD. He said the tank’s metal latch could be easily opened but added that access to the hotel’s roof is secured with an alarm and lock.
Fire Capt. Jaime Moore said a water sample had shown “no biohazard concerns” and that the hotel’s water tanks were not connected.
Longtime hotel resident Bernard Diaz [who lived at the Cecil for over 30 years] reported flooding on the fourth floor at about the time Lam disappeared, saying he heard a thump so loud one night he “fell out of bed.”
Elisa Lam’s death ruled accidental
by William M. Welch, USA TODAY
LOS ANGELES — The mysterious death of the young woman whose body was found in a water tank on the roof of a cheap downtown hotel has been ruled accidental….
A surveillance videotape of Lam behaving oddly in a hotel elevator had triggered widespread speculation and conspiracy theories about her death on the Internet. Her case had drawn high interest in China, where the video went viral, and other Asian countries as well as the United States and Canada.
The coroner’s office initially said that an autopsy in February had proven inconclusive and that it was awaiting a toxicology test before establishing a cause of death.
Those test results were initially expected to take six to eight weeks to complete, but coroner’s spokesman Ed Winter said earlier this month in response to queries that the office was still awaiting complete testing results.
Corral said no other information on the cause of death or condition of the woman’s body was being released.
Authorities including police and the coroner have not stated how they believe Lam got into the tank. Law enforcement officials had been careful to say that the death could be accidental, despite widespread public suspicions of foul play….
Police searching for Lam before the discovery of her body released the surveillance video showing her inside a hotel elevator, pushing buttons for multiple floors and at various times waving her arms and stepping out of the elevator. Internet forums and blogs were filled with speculation about her death, and some amateur detectives had gone to the hotel and posted video reports on how difficult it would be to climb to the roof and into the tank – or to carry a body to the roof and into a water tank.
After her body was found, city public health officials issued a do-not-drink order for the hotel’s water supply until the hotel drained, flushed and sanitized the water lines.
Death outside skid row hotel is under investigation as possible suicide
The man was pronounced dead Friday at 5:05 p.m. outside the Cecil Hotel, said Lt. David Smith, coroner’s supervising investigator. The cause of death has not been determined, and the man’s name will not be released until his family can be notified, Smith said.
The hotel, an 85-year-old skid row institution, operates in part as a low-budget tourist hotel and hostel called Stay on Main, but during its long and sometimes dark history was known as the Cecil.
A man who identified himself as the assistant manager said the man who died was not a guest and could have been an intruder. But he declined to provide other details….
In late 2020, the hotel owners allowed the Ghost Adventures production crew to film a special devoted to its haunted reputation. While the show tried to pass itself off as a real investigation, it was a squandered opportunity to really test the hotel for paranormal activity. The “paranormal happenings” sensationalized by Ghost Adventures should be viewed as entertainment only until a legitimate investigation is allowed to take place.
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