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What you need to know about the Cecil Hotel in Netflix’s latest crime show


“Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel,” which premiered this week, is a four-part docuseries about the mysterious death of Canadian college student and hotel guest Elisa Lam.

After disappearing from her room in the Los Angeles hotel in February 2013, the 21-year-old’s body was found two weeks later drowned inside a water tank on the roof of the hotel.

Nearly a decade and dozens of conspiracy theories later, Lam’s case remains unsolved.

The show’s Oscar-nominated director, Joe Berlinger, however, certainly had enough material to work with for his new series given the hotel’s grim history.

Two notorious serial killers lived there

The Cecil Hotel’s dark past earned it a spot on Los Angeles tours long before a woman’s body was found inside its rooftop water tank.

“It’s the place where serial killers stay,” Hollywood tour guide Richard Schave told CNN in 2013.

The most famous are serial killers Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger.

In 1985, Ramirez, known as the “Nightstalker,” was living on the Cecil’s top floor in a $14 a night room.

The Cecil, filled then with hundreds of transients living in the cheap rooms, was a good place for Ramirez to go unnoticed as he killed 13 women.

Jack Unterweger worked as a journalist covering Los Angeles crime for an Austrian magazine in 1991 when he moved into the Cecil.

He is blamed for killing three prostitutes in Los Angeles while a guest at the Cecil.

Several guests jumped to their death

During the 1950s and 1960s, several guests killed themselves by jumping out upper-floor windows.

Among them was a 27-year-old woman who jumped from a ninth-floor window after an argument with her estranged husband in 1962.

She landed on a man who was walking on the sidewalk 90 feet below. Both were killed instantly.

A theory about the hotel’s sordid past

In a 2013 CNN piece, Schave and his wife, Kim Cooper, offered some theories why the Cecil’s past has been so sordid.

It was built in the 1920s as a hotel “for businessmen to come into town and spend a night or two,” Cooper said.

But it was soon upstaged by nicer hotels in a better part of town, she said.

When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, it became more of a transient hotel. Eventually, it transitioned into a single room occupancy business, known as an SRO. Long-term tenants rented individual rooms and shared bathrooms with neighboring residents.

“This was just a place where people who were really down on their luck were going,” Schave said. “These hotels are filled with people who are at the edge of being integrated in society.”

A version of this piece first appeared on CNN in 2013.


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