Serial Killer Central

What do serial killers Richard "The Night Stalker" Ramirez and Austrian Euro-ghoul Jack Unterweger have in common, besides the obvious? Both lived at the Cecil Hotel on Main Street in downtown Los Angeles while raping and murdering their way through the Southland.

I wrote last week about how Unterweger killed several prostitutes he picked up on Seventh Street while staying at the seedy SRO hotel in 1991. Six years earlier, in 1985, when rates were as low as $14 a night, Richard Ramirez lived in a 14th floor room of the Cecil while killing 14 people. (Occult numerology, anyone?)

Shortly after Ramirez was run aground by a group of heroic East L.A. residents, the Los Angeles Times interviewed Cecil employees who said he smoked marijuana, played loud music and holed up for days at a time in his tiny room.

New owners, who today are renovating and repositioning the 1927 historic site as a boutique hotel for budget travelers, probably aren't eager to draw attention their two most infamous guests.

But they have a macabre legacy to contend with.

Esotouric Bus Adventures, which leads offbeat tours into the hidden history of Los Angeles, regularly pulls up to the Cecil to discuss Richard Ramirez�s summer of �85 stay as well as other lurid stories associated with the hotel.

The Black Dahlia, Elizabeth Short, is alleged in at least one book to have hung out at the Cecil and drank at the bar next door before she disappeared in 1947, though cultural historians Kim Cooper and Richard Schave of Esotouric say that�s just rumor.

Schave does believe The Cecil inspired the shabby hotel in the 1935 Raymond Chandler short story �Nevada Gas.� �It goes by the name �Metropole", but by its location and description, it�s clearly the Cecil,� Shave said.

What is also beyond doubt: Pauline Otten, 27, committed suicide by jumping out of a window of the Cecil Hotel in 1962, also killing an unlucky pedestrian when she landed on top of him. Retired telephone operator Goldie Osgood, known as the Pershing Square Pigeon Lady, was raped and strangled at the Cecil in 1964. Her tiny room was ransacked; the killer was never found. In 1995, an escapee from the Peter Pitchess Honor Rancho was cornered and recaptured there.

Is the Cecil the victim of dire coincidence because it was cheap and so close to Skid Row? My fanciful novelist�s mind imagines ground plagued by an ancient curse. Or maybe sitting atop a portal to the Underworld? Do bricks and mortar retain memories of crimes committed in airless rooms? Can violence sear a pattern into walls that no layers of paint can ever erase?

�I could tell you horrible stories about a lot of hotels downtown,� says Kim Cooper, who says there are so many sinister tales that Esotouric devotes an entire L.A. tour to �Hotel Horrors.� �But I do think it�s intriguing that two serial killers stayed there.�

Did Unterweger choose the Cecil because Ramirez had stayed there, or was it merely sordid and cheap enough to appeal to him? John Leake, whose biography of Unterweger came out last month, didn�t find any mention of the Night Stalker in the Austrian�s diaries. Instead, Unterweger kept a Charles Bukowski novel propped on the windowsill during his 1991 visit.

By comparison to his Viennese admirer, the hard-drinking, brawling, womanizing Bukowski was a demure angel. But maybe the Cecil�s new owners should put a copy of �Barfly� in every room, next to the Gideon Bible, so visitors can see what L.A. was like before all the dive bars and serial killer hangouts got renovated as hip, trendy boites. The Cecil is almost ready for its close-up, Mr. DeMille.


More by Denise Hamilton:
A summer solstice underground perfume pop-up
A Hot Date with Libros Schmibros
My LA Times Festival of Books Top/Bottom 10
A journalist of the old school
Grim-Lit Serial Killer Strikes Again in Westwood!
Previous Native Intelligence story: Please don't hit me!

Next Native Intelligence story: Postcards from Hollywood

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