Conspiracy Column: The Cecil Hotel

This hotel was built upon nightmares

Jordan Copsey

Warning: This story contains descriptions of suicide and violence

The Cecil Hotel was built upon nightmares and murders. Opening in 1927, it was the most popular hotel for people to visit at a reasonable cost. The hotel is located on Skid Row, which is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the US. If people had a low-income job, they were able to stay in the Cecil for around 4 dollars a room. However, starting in the 1980s, visiting the floors above the fifth level was a death wish. Gangs would lure people into a room, corner them, rob them, and finally, they would beat them up and throw them out the window. 

Hundreds of murders and suicides occurred at the Cecil. The earliest know suicide was W. K. Norton, a 16-year-old boy who overdosed in the hotel. In October of 1962, Pauline Otton was fighting with her husband, and then, fed up, she committed suicide by jumping out of the window. Pauline hit someone below and instantly killed both of them. In June of ‘64, Goldie Osgood (Pigeon Goldie) was attacked in her room. She was raped, stabbed, and strangled to death. However, the murder of her case was acquitted. One of the most popular cases of murder at the Cecil was the Night Stalker, otherwise known as Richard Ramirez. He stayed on one of the upper-level floors would leave to murder single women, children, or elderly couples. Though his crimes were brutal, many did not even bat an eye at his suspicious behavior. 

The most popular conspiracy surrounding the Cecil Hotel is Elisa Lam’s death. She was a Canadian, 21-year-old college student who wanted to get out and see the United States. Her parents were hesitant about her going but they had agreed upon her texting or calling them every morning and night. On February 1st, 2013, she didn’t contact her family and they became worried and reported her missing. LAPD searched the hotel and her room and found all of her belongings in the room. There were no signs of forced entry. The investigators interviewed the hotel staff and some said that the night before her missing person report was filed, she was found in a Staff Only room. They asked her to leave, and that was the last time she was seen. 

Or so they thought. A week after the report, they had 20 robbery-homicide detectives at the hotel with police dogs to track her scent. The dogs lead the police to the 5th floor; they could follow her scent to a window at the end of the hall. Outside of the window was a fire escape, which was where the scent got lost. Late into the night, they had helicopters searching the roof looking for her, but nothing was found. The investigators noticed that the hotel had cameras, though most were in very inconvenient places. After hours upon hours of looking through camera footage, they saw her in one of the elevators. 

Elisa Lam walked in and pressed all of the buttons down the middle row. Then, Lam cornered herself in the back-left corner. She poked her head out of the door and whipped her head around looking left and right. Then, she hid in the corner by the buttons. Anxiously, she kept looking out the elevator door to the right. She walked to the edge of the elevator and started to step in a square form. Next, Elisa began hitting random buttons. She walked out of the elevator to the left and went out of view. Once she was back in view of the camera,  she was seen using odd hand motions, and then just walked away. The elevator door finally shut a minute after she left, and the door opened and closed a few times with no one walking in or out. Almost 3 weeks later, many of the guests started complaining about the water pressure. One of the maintenance workers went to check on it and saw the hatch to the main tank was open. He looked in and saw a woman lying face up in the tank. 

After an autopsy and toxicology tests, it was concluded that there were no signs of physical trauma. Her cause of death was officially left as accidental drowning. They claimed her depression and bipolar disorder contributed to the accident. However, there are many holes in this conclusion. The fire escape door had alarms that were said to be working but they did not notify anyone that they were opened. Even if the alarms were broken and she did get to the roof, she would have had to have found a way to get to the platform of the water tank. Then, Lam would have to climb a 10-foot ladder on the side of the tank and find a way to lift the heavy water tank lid. None of this seems plausible. The detectives argued it would’ve been hard for someone to put her in the water tank without leaving prints. But, many think something more sinister took place. 

The Cecil Hotel is now closed, but many are left wondering what truly happened to Elisa Lam and the others whose lives were cut short at the hotel. Now, one can only speculate. But the next time you stay at a hotel, you might want to remember to lock your door, to pull the curtains shut, and to never go on the elevator alone.