Elisa Lam Was Far From the First Person to Die at the Cecil Hotel

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One of the most chilling details about Elisa Lam’s death, the subject of Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, was how oddly predictable it was. Though the exact method of Lam’s death was unusual and likely linked to her own mental illness, the notion that a guest of the Cecil would die on the hotel’s premise isn’t unexpected at all. That’s because since its founding in 1924 the Cecil Hotel has served as the crime scene for two murders and eighteen other deaths.

The two most chilling deaths were that of Elizabeth Short and “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood. Though Short, also known as “The Black Dahlia”, wasn’t murdered on the Cecil’s property, the last time this notorious woman was ever seen was at the hotel’s bar. The Cecil wasn’t connected to another brutal murder until 1964. After Osgood checked into the hotel, she was discovered murdered in her room with multiple stab wounds.

True to its somber reputation as being a sort of halfway house for troubled people on the run, the Cecil Hotel has been most consistently tied to suicide. The first was Percy Ormond Cook, who shot himself in the head after a fight with his wife and child in 1927. That was followed in 1931 by W. K. Norton who died in his room after ingesting poison capsules.

Norton set off a long list of Cecil deaths that took place in the ’30s. A year later 25-year-old Benjamin Dodich was found by the housekeeping with gunshot wound to the head. Two years after that former Army Medical Corps Sgt. Louis D. Borden was found dead in his room after slashing his throat with a razor. In 1937 Grace E. Magro fell from the hotel’s ninth story window. Though she initially survived, she died at the hospital. A year later United States Marine Corps fireman Roy Thompson took his own life by jumping off the roof of the hotel. That death was followed in 1939 by Navy officer Erwin C. Neblett, who ingested poison.

The 1940s also saw its fair share of ended lives. Teacher Dorothy Seger was staying at the hotel in 1940 when she ingested poison. According to newspapers at the time, she left the hotel “near death.” Her death was then declared a few days later. She was then followed in 1944 by the sad saga of Dorothy Jean Purcell. Purcell checked into the hotel with her boyfriend, apparently unaware that she was pregnant. When she eventually had the baby at the hotel, Purcell claimed that she thought he was dead and threw him out the window. She was later charged with murder but was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The final death of this time period was that of Robert Smith, who jumped from the Cecil’s seventh story window in 1947.

After this intense period of tragedy, things seemed to calm down for the Cecil. Only one death took place at the hotel in the 1950s, that of Helen Gurnee, who jumped from the seventh story. After that, three deaths took place in the ’60s. In 1962 both Julia Frances Moore and Pauline Otton jumped from the hotel’s windows. Moore left behind a full bank account and a bus ticket to St. Louis instead of a note. But it’s Otton who arguably has the oddest death this dark location has ever seen. While falling from the ninth-floor window, it’s believed that her body collided with pedestrian George Gianinni, killing him instantly. The third death of this time was that of the murdered “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood.

The most recent tragedies that have struck this establishment have been far more spread out than what’s happened in previous decades. Three unidentified persons have died from jumping from the hotel in 1975, 1992, and 2015. In fact, the last known person to die on this property’s premise is Elisa Lam, the subject of Netflix’s latest docuseries. Hopefully we’re now at a point where we can end this all-too-depressing chapter of Los Angeles history.

Watch Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel on Netflix

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