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The long, dark history of downtown LA's Hotel Cecil

The infamous Hotel Cecil was named a historic-cultural monument by the City Council in a unanimous 10-0 vote in Los Angeles, California on February 28, 2017. Built in 1924, the hotel has been the scene of at least 15 murders and suicides as well as the temporary home of serial killers Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger.
The infamous Hotel Cecil was named a historic-cultural monument by the City Council in a unanimous 10-0 vote in Los Angeles, California on February 28, 2017. Built in 1924, the hotel has been the scene of at least 15 murders and suicides as well as the temporary home of serial killers Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger.
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

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Authorities are trying to determine how a Canadian tourist ended up dead in a rooftop water tank at a hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Elisa Lam, 21, checked into the Hotel Cecil on 7th and Main streets, but she never checked out. She went missing nearly three weeks ago.

A maintenance worker made the gruesome discovery Tuesday after guests complained about the water pressure.

The mysterious death is hardly the hotel's first brush with notoriety. 

Chris Nichols, associate editor at Los Angeles magazine, explains the Hotel Cecil’s long and sordid history.

The Cecil in its Prime

The Cecil Hotel opened in 1925 and had a short heyday.

“By that time,” Nichols said, “all the action [in downtown L.A.] had sort of shifted to the Biltmore Hotel to start a long slow deterioration into burlesque halls and pawn shops."

Its Dark History

“There were murders there in the 1920s and '30s,” he said, “and a woman jumped out a window in the '60s."

“Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez was a frequent resident in the 1980s. That’s when room rates were as cheap as $14. He reportedly lived in a room on the hotel's 14th floor while killing 14 people.

Austrian murderer Jack Unterweger also stayed there in the ‘80s.

“He picked up some prostitutes nearby and they ended up dead,” Nichols said.

Renovations

New owners bought the Hotel Cecil in 2007. Since then, they’ve made improvements to the historic site, which is next door to another historic building, the Pacific Electric Lofts.

“They’ve added the Stay boutique hotel, which I’ve sent people to, which looks pretty neat,” Nichols said. “They added a coffee place, a restaurant.”