The Cecil: Los Angeles' "murder" hotel

The Cecil Hotel in Los Angelese offers travelers a low cost travel option.  And more than a few macabre stories. Photo: The Hotel Cecil / Matt Payne

LOS ANGELES, February 25, 2013 ­ – The body of Elisa Lam was found in one of four water tanks at The Cecil Hotel, located in downtown Los Angeles’ Historic District. Lam had been missing since January 31 and was last seen panicking in a video recorded in the Cecil’s elevator.

Her body was found submerged in the hotel’s drinking water tank on February 19th.


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Originally built in 1927 and renovated in 2007, the lobby of the downtown Los Angeles hotel, with its marble floors and marble pillars on either side of the reception desk feels true to its original incarnation. The receptionists are well informed about the area and polite. 

Cecil Hotel Lobby, recently renovated it belies the reality of sparce rooms (Click to enlarge)

Cecil Hotel Lobby, recently renovated it belies the reality of sparce rooms (Click to enlarge)

A guest none-the-wiser would, at a glance and without seeing the rooms nor being aware of its history, think the hotel a bargain.

While it lacks the grandeur of a Four Seasons, it is certainly not the lobby you would expect from a hotel that has housed two serial killers, including the infamous Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez. It has been aligned with the Black Dahlia, has been host to suicides, murders, and most recently the last place that Canadian Elisa Lam was seen alive and where her body was recently found.


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In recent years, downtown LA has experienced a significant cultural resurgence. With Nokia Live and the Staples Center, home to the Lakers, Clippers and Kings, as well as the Frank Geary designed Walt Disney Concert Hall bringing in high profile events and entertainers nightly to the city’s center, the once derelict metropolis has become a hub of exciting bars, restaurants, hotels, and attractions.

And while the facelift has done much for the Southern California city, with a wrong turn travelers can easily find themselves on Skid Row, home to one of America’s largest homeless populations where drug abuse and prostitution are rampant. And danger lurks.

The hotel is on the urban edge of where LA’s wealthiest collide with its most destitute. And like its locale, the hotel itself is a curious blend of grandeur and grime.

The rooms are affordable, starting at $65 dollars a night for a room, which includes a small television, closet, sink, and bed. For a few dollars more, you can get a room with a toilet. Otherwise, the bathroom facilities, shower included (the same shower whose water comes from the tank that was Lam’s tomb), are shared with other guests. Those shared facilities, located in the wandering hallway, create a hostel feel more than that of a historic hotel.

There is no consistency in the décor of the rooms. They feel hollow. Functional at best.

In one room guests find a bed with brown floral comforter and in the next a new white duvet, each renting for the same rate. While this might add character in certain types of hotel, it reads at the Cecil as a lack of effort and is a strange contrast to the freshly remodeled lobby.

Hotel Cecil, Los Angeles

This inconsistency makes the rooms feel unclean and uncared for and while it might have some appeal to a backpacker, looking for a place to crash, it is hardly a draw for any other reason.

Most disturbing, however, is the elevator. There is only one. It is tight. It is the same elevator that you can see the murder victim, Lam, in as she peers out, terrified into the hotel hallway, the night she disappeared.

It is the one that Richard Ramirez took to get to his room after a night of killing. It is hard to ride in it without imagining those spectral individuals in there with you. It is stifling and strange and when the door opens, you are glad that it has.

While there were no looming ghosts nor bloody footprints, the hotel has its history. Its beautiful lobby, meandering hallways and its six hundred rooms hold the memories of some of Los Angeles’ strangest and most frightening tales and individuals.

And while this might make it displeasing to some, in a city where it is hard to find an identity, The Cecil has certainly carved out its distinction as LA’s murder hotel.  

Read more of what Matt Payne finds interesting in Payne-Full Living



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Matt Payne

Matt Payne has lived and worked as both a television writer and producer in Los Angeles for nearly ten years.  Matt grew up in Oklahoma City and began his career with a degree in Film and Video Studies from the University of Oklahoma.  Since then, he has worked as part of writing staffs for such hits as 24 andWithout A Trace. Most recently Matt wrote and produced episodes of CBS’s The Defenders starring Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell and Memphis Beat, starring Jason Lee, which is set to air on TNT in August of 2011.

In addition to a successful television-writing career, Matt has developed features with major production companies and continues to work as a freelance script analyst for Relativity Media, the production company behind such hits as The Fighter, Zombieland, and Catfish where he has provided script feed back on nearly a thousand features.

When he is not writing and producing television, Matt works as contributor to the Washington Times Communities Travel section, where he has writing skills have taken him from the top of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpar to the jungles of the Philippine Islands.  New York City’s finest restaurants to the earthquake ravaged Port au Prince Haiti. 

Matt was the winner of the 2004 Comedy writing award for Scriptapolooza, a finalist for the Warner Brothers Television Writer’s workshop, and is an active participant in Los Angeles’s Young Storytellers Program.  

Early in his career, Matt spent two years working as an assistant the Endeavor, which is now part of WME, the second largest talent agency in the world, working closely with such talent as Christian Bale and Michael Douglass.

Matt  is a member of  the Writer’s Guild of America and the Screen Actor’s Guild.

Contact Matt Payne

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