The Cecil Hotel (now rebranded as Stay on Main) is a Los Angeles institution, located at 640 S. Main Street in the heart of downtown LA.
For Angelenos, it’s a looming, crumbling building only a few blocks from Skid Row. But for true crime fans and obsessed aficionados, it’s the notorious spot where some of our country’s most dark and intriguing mysteries have occurred.
It’s also the focus of a new Netflix series, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. The four-episode series reveals not only the depravity true crime fans know it for, but also how many locals and true crime experts are convinced the hotel is a hub of dark energy and evil power which threatens to consume everyone who stays there.
The Black Dahlia’s Last Stop
Although many continue to dispute whether or not Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia, ever stepped foot in the Cecil Hotel, that aspect of the ‘40s noir folklore helped build the infamy and notoriety the hotel is known for today.
As the story goes, Short had her last drink in the hotel bar before her murder in 1947. Her dismembered body was discovered by a mother walking her child in a neighborhood nearby.
A Boston native, Short was reportedly a wannabe-actress who had come to LA in the hopes of making it big in Hollywood. Her gruesome murder and the shocking discovery of her body rocked the LA community when it was discovered, and no guilty party was ever found. The Black Dahlia case remains one of America’s most notorious unsolved murders, though countless true crime fans have their own theories.
One theory that dominates the conversation is that George Hodel was responsible for Short’s murder. Hodel was a mercurial Hollywood figure, known for his mysterious personality and vast wealth. Hodel lived at the Sowden House, a Hollywood landmark known for its unusual architecture, and reportedly threw parties and orgies there for the LA glitterati. Hodel was allegedly an abortionist, and would perform abortions for young women who came to LA to be actresses, thus the supposed connection to Elizabeth Short. Hodel was a leading suspect in the Black Dahlia case, though no formal charges were ever filed. He later fled the U.S. after his daughter accused him of molesting and impregnating her.
(If you’re further interested in the Black Dahlia’s suspected killer, Dr. George Hodel, I recommend I Am the Night which you can find on Hulu. It’ll knock your socks off.)
Richard Ramirez’s Hunting Ground
Known as the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez was a serial rapist and murderer who terrorized Southern California in the mid-1980s.
During part of his spree, Ramirez made the Cecil Hotel his home base for exploring Los Angeles and finding victims. His MO was erratic, as he would target men, women, and children, breaking into their homes during the night which garnered him the moniker “Night Stalker.” The series reveals that Ramirez stayed on the 14th floor, and paid $14 a night for his room.
Ramirez would ditch his clothes in the hotel’s alleyway and walk up to his room in blood-soaked underwear.
Between June 1984 and August 1985, Ramirez murdered 13 people and attempted to murder five more. He was also convicted on multiple counts of burglary and sexual assault. Another Netflix series, Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer chronicles his year-long reign of terror on the LA community.
Richard Schave, an LA historian, noted that Ramirez’s stay in the hotel “tells you a lot about the kind of place it was” and the type of people who were staying there. Schave also notes that when Ramirez returned to the Cecil after his murderous acts, he would ditch his clothes in the hotel’s alleyway and walk up to his room in blood-soaked underwear. But until he was cornered by angry residents in a neighborhood which led to his eventual capture, no one at the hotel was apparently any the wiser.
The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam
Elisa Lam, a young Canadian woman originally from Vancouver on a solo trip through California, vanished in January 2013. Detectives were first alerted to her disappearance by her concerned family, and they immediately learned that Lam had been staying at the Cecil Hotel during her four-day stay in LA. She was reported missing the same day she was due to check out.
The last sighting of Lam is on a surveillance video where she’s seen acting erratically in an elevator.
While some do believe her death could have been a tragic accident or suicide as a result of mental illness or a breakdown, some think there may have been someone inside the hotel who was responsible, especially because Lam never left the hotel before her body was found, and the last sighting of her is on a surveillance video where she’s seen acting very erratically in an elevator. Because the hotel is located next to LA’s Skid Row, others think Lam may have been the victim of a senseless killing, which often characterizes that area.
Whatever happened to Lam, internet sleuths continue to investigate, even eight years after her disappearance and death.
The series does an excellent job of hearing from actual hotel management as well as former guests and residents. Amy Price, who managed the hotel for 10 years, compares the Cecil Hotel’s trajectory to the sailing of the Titanic. From a once-prominent example of Los Angeles’s flourishing during the Roaring Twenties to a rundown landmark that became a hub of drugs, suicide, and prostitution, the Cecil, similar to the Titanic, just couldn’t recover when it hit the iceberg.
There has been some attempt at redemption in recent years. The Cecil is no longer but was renamed Stay on Main. Just in case you're thinking of booking few nights there, the hotel is currently closed for renovations and hopes to reopen later this year, so you'll just have to wait. Speaking just for myself, I won’t be too eager to book a reservation there any time soon.