What horrors happened at one of the real-life hotels that “AHS: Hotel” uses as inspiration?


American Horror Story: Hotel (2015)‘s Hotel Cortez may be fictional, but series creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk pulled inspiration for the show’s material from incidents at various hotels with supernatural histories. One in particular, the skid row Cecil Hotel (now renamed Stay on Main in an attempt to shelter its past), built in the 1920s, was once a high-end tourist establishment. As the years passed, it turned into a grungy building with a long history of weird happenings, from murders to suicides, supernatural visits and mysterious disappearances. It has harbored serial killers and housed famous victims.

The hotel has 600 rooms, and as recently as last year, they could be rented for as little as $470/month, making the establishment attractive to all sorts.

Most recently, the Cecil made internet headlines with its elevator video of Elisa Lam, the 21 year-old who disappeared only to be discovered dead and naked in the hotel’s rooftop water tank weeks later. A viral security video circulated online, showing Lam acting erratically in the hotel’s elevator for several minutes, creeping in and out of the elevator, talking to herself, and looking frightened. It’s the last record of Lam being alive.

The rooftop is difficult to access, protected by an alarm, and was not broken into; the water tank is difficult to to open and even more difficult to climb into and close. No drugs or alcohol were found in Lam’s system upon autopsy.
The water tank where Lam was found.

Elizabeth Short, aka The Black Dahlia, was discovered in Leimart Park, Los Angeles on January 15, 1947. She was cut in half and bloodless, and over 60 people confessed to the murder, leaving it unsolved to this day. Elizabeth Short (Mena Suvari) showed up briefly back in American Horror Story: Murder House (2011), and her story has been turned into numerous books and films over the years, most recently by Brian de Palma in 2006’s Black Dahlia. Rumors have it that during the time of her murder and dismemberment, Short was allegedly staying at the Cecil.

And she’s not the only notable murder victim who spent time at the Cecil. Goldie Osgood, nicknamed Pigeon Goldie, liked feeding pigeons in Pershing Square. She was raped and stabbed to death in her Cecil hotel room in 1964.

The Cecil also carries the nickname “hotel suicide” from the high number of self-killings that have taken place within its walls through the years. A woman jumped out of a 7th floor window in 1954, landing on the hotel marquee. Another woman jumped from the eighth floor in 1962, and later that same year yet another jumped from the ninth floor and landed on someone below, killing both herself and the pedestrian. As recently as June 2015, a 28 year-old man jumped from one of the hotel’s windows. In the pilot of American Horror Story: Hotel, Hypodermic Sally (Sarah Paulson) is launched out of a hotel hallway window by Iris (Kathy Bates) during a flashback, a moment which obviously takes inspiration from the stories of the Cecil.

The Cecil has also been home to two notorious serial killers: Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez and Jack Unterweger. Ramirez lived in a $14/night room on the top floor of the Cecil in 1984 and 1985, during which time he murdered 13 people in Los Angeles, ditching his bloody clothes in the dumpster behind the hotel. His victims ranged from children to the elderly and generally involved brutal beatings and sexual assaults coupled with home burglaries. He would leave occult symbols at the scenes as his mark. Showing no remorse upon his arrest, he spent 23 years on death row awaiting execution when he died of lymphoma in 2013.

As a youth, Richard Ramirez spent time with his cousin Miguel, who would show him photographs of women he raped, tortured, and murdered in Vietnam. Richard also witnessed Miguel shoot his wife in the face, which almost certainly impacted his own evolution into a serial killer.

Jack Unterweger was a convicted Austrian murderer who served 16 years of a life sentence for strangling a teenage prostitute with her own bra before being released. Police later discovered he actually killed at least six women in Austria before moving to Los Angeles to become a crime journalist, where he would even ride around town with the local police. Living in the Cecil in 1991, he murdered three prostitutes in honor of Ramirez, again strangling them with their own bras and sexually assaulting them with tree branches. He was eventually arrested by the FBI, imprisoned for life in Austria, and hung himself with his pants.

The Cecil isn’t just home to murderers and victims but has countless reported ghost sightings—perfect fodder for American Horror Story. The photo below was taken in January 2014 outside a Cecil hotel room. Several paranormal investigation television shows have done episodes at the Cecil.

All of these backstories set Murphy and company up with bountiful real-life material to draw from for American Horror Story: Hotel. Spousal murders, rape, suicide, apparent possessions—it’s all the stuff American Horror Story is built on. It’s hard to imagine a place as weird as the show’s Hotel Cortez actually existing, but if there’s any place with as dark and nefarious a past in reality, the Cecil is it.