CREEPY CORNER: The Cecil Hotel and the Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam

What the heck is wrong with the Cecil Hotel?
Publish date:
September 16, 2014
creepy corner

About a month ago I got stranded in Los Angeles for a couple days because I'm stupid.

We had an overnight layover in my former home, and spent the 12 hours I (thought) I had there happily camped out on my friend's dreamy Christmas light lit roof deck, sipping drinks and laughing the big laughs I hadn't laughed in a long while.

In the grey, wee hours of the morning, my husband and I dragged our jet lagged asses out of bed and endeavored to drive to LAX to catch our flight back to Honolulu and the mountain of packing we had to do before moving to Japan.

But we were stupid. We left Glendale with about an hour and a half to make it to the car rental return place and make it to check in for our flight. Had we been the practiced Angeleno drivers we thought we were, we could have made it, barely.

But we were cocky ex-Angelenos. We got lost, we tried to remember the back ways long foggy in our brains, and we didn't account for the horror of the 110 at rush hour.

We missed our flight and were stuck in LA for two days.

With a little money left in our Honeyfund we decided to check ourselves into a cheap hotel rather than impose on our friends in one of their tiny apartments. Enter The Historic Mayfair Hotel AKA Stupid Move #2.

The pictures online looked surprisingly fancy (stupid), the price was surprisingly low (stupid), it was "historic" (stupid) -- what could go wrong? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

You'd think I'd know better, having not only been a devoted Angeleno for eight years, but also a connoisseur of all things creepy. But I did not. The Mayfair was like something out of a movie.

A horror movie.

The lobby was a lie. It was marble, and well lit, and had some old-timey charm, but something was off in the way the restaurant looked dark and desolate, and shell-shocked looking humans wafted around the lobby. The glass was missing from the ornate front doors.

We got our keys and got in the elevator to our fifth floor room. The elevator lurched and moaned as it carried us upward. It smelled like mildew and cardboard boxes.

When the doors opened, we walked down a dark, dingy hallway to our room. Not quite the old world charm I had expected, more just "old." When arriving home late that night, I realized that this hallway is what some murderers would call a "jackpot."

Our room was tiny, stained, and dank-smelling -- a far cry from the elegant pictures that had lured me. I'm rarely squeamish about going barefoot almost anywhere, but I kept my shoes on when traversing the patchy, "I can almost see the pattern through the dirt" carpet. The white wallpapered walls had mold and stains along the floorboards, and the upholstered chair might have been pink at one point, but now was just the color of sadness (and grease stains?).

The bed seemed clean, but nonetheless, I was happy that I traveled with my own pillowcase. (I like the smell of my own spit and face-grease while I sleep, don't we all?)

When I told my friend Marty where we were staying, he snorted and said, "More like Historic MURDER Hotel."

And that's when I had to own up to it, I had been tricked. In my "I'M BACK IN LA!" haze, I didn't read the reviews for my hotel, and had booked myself into a classic, Los Angeles MURDER HOTEL.

OK, in all fairness I can't find Internet evidence that any murders occurred at The Historic Mayfair Hotel (aside from the various hunches of online reviewers), but my stay at The Mayfair sparked an old obsession with decaying, "yesteryear" Los Angeles hotels.

And right on cue, I got an email from a Creepy Corner reader this weekend -- because we are all connected, muhahaha, but really, thank you "J"! -- reminding me of one of the grande dames of Los Angeles "murder hotels:" The Cecil Hotel now the Stay on Main Hotel and Hostel.

Built in downtown Los Angeles in 1927, in what was then the thriving social hub of the city, the Cecil Hotel on Main near 7th, was meant to be a modestly priced hotel for brief stays and "business travellers." As time wore on, and Los Angeles culture and society moved west, the Cecil Hotel fell into disrepair and became a budget hotel with a "reputation" for housing unsavory "transients."

Unsavory folks like serial killer/rapist, Richard Ramirez AKA "The Night Stalker." Paying $14 a night, and living on the 14th floor (really the 13th floor?), Ramirez killed and tortured 13 women while living at the Cecil in the mid-’80s. The avowed Satanist who would creep into his victim's homes all in black, sometimes remove their eyes, torture and kill them, then draw pentagrams in lipstick on their walls.

Then there was Jack Unterweger, a prostitute killer who lived at the Cecil for five weeks in the early ’90s. Unterweger apparently chose the Cecil specifically for its proximity to 7th Street, a popular prostitute gathering place at the time. He would then either invite the women to climb up the Cecil's fire escape to his room, or simply go out looking for victims on 7th. Either way, his victims were found strangled by "their own bra-straps" and dumped "naked and posed obscenely."

Some believe Unterweger was at the Cecil in homage to Richard Ramirez.

But the sad and mysterious death of Elisa Lam is the latest death to darken the Cecil Hotel. Some of you have probably already seen this video, but for those of you who haven't, it's pretty bizarre and frankly, disturbing. But I keep coming back to it.

A Canadian student, 21-year-old Lam was last seen at the Cecil on January 31, 2013. An investigation was launched after her family reported her as missing, but Lam was nowhere to be found.

On February 19th, after guests at the Cecil had complained that the water coming through the hotel's pipes was tinged with black and foul smelling, maintenance staff opened up one of the sealed rooftop cisterns to a grisly discovery: Elisa Lam's body.

19 days of corpse water. I just want to bring that to your attention.

Authorities don't know how Lam was able to access the supposedly locked roof, let alone climb into the cistern, and close the heavy lid. And as she was found naked, where were her clothes?

The only clue -- that the public knows of -- is the elevator video that documents the last moments of Lam's life.

So what happened to Elisa Lam?

Some say her long bout with depression, as mentioned on her personal blog, may have come to a head and she had a break of sorts. In a body language analysis I read about the video (it may or may not be legit, but it was interesting), the writer says that she is actually expressing conflicting signs of playfulness, anxiety, and even sexual attraction/posturing -- but not fear. This could certainly be in keeping with a compromised mental state.

The coroner concluded that there were no drugs in Lam's system, and that her death was accidental by drowning, with Bipolar disorder "listed as a significant condition."

But, and this is Creepy Corner after all, there are people out there who believe Elisa Lam died because of something more sinister lurking in the Cecil Hotel. Could some THING in the Cecil have been stalking Elisa Lam? Could the hotel itself, the site of many suicides, have compelled Lam to harm herself a la "The Shining"?

Could so much bad, built up over so many years, have a negative effect on a susceptible young woman?

What is going on at the Cecil Hotel? What do you think?

Oh, and just blocks from the Cecil Hotel, there was an outbreak of tuberculosis. The name of the test kit was the LAM-ELISA.