The haunted Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles, California, opened its doors in 1927, and since then has been home to suicides, murders and strange happenings, so much so that some think the building itself is possessed. Its guest list boasts a number of guests who never had the opportunity to check out, a handful of killers and a few wildcards.

We’re going to be covering the timeline of Hotel Cecil from its inception in 1927 to present day. In part one we’re covering:

  • The mysterious death of Elisa Lam
  • The story of Johann “Jack” Unterweger

If you’re looking for more stories from before the ’90s, check out part one.

Listen to the episode

Note: This podcast was recorded under the name “The Haunted True Crime Podcast” which later became The Lady Dicks Podcast. So pardon the name change. We assure you that the real Lady Dicks are standing up!

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The Timeline of the Haunted Hotel Cecil

As a quick recap of our first episode: The Cecil Hotel is located at 640 Main Street, Los Angeles, California – on 7th and Main. It was constructed and opened in the 1920s, and has seen a string of tragic deaths since it’s doors opened in 1927 starting with the first suicide of W.K. Norton in 1931. 

If you haven’t checked out the Part 1 of this episode we highly recommend pressing pause on this one and going back. So far we have covered the hotel’s history from the 1920s to 1980s. Today we are going to cover the 1990s to present day.

This is definitely one of those episodes where you want to do part 1 first! But now that we’ve warned you, and made sure you know that this is the second of two, it’s about time we get started.


Johann “Jack” Unterweger

It’s well-known that infamous serial killer, Richard Ramirez, is alleged to have spent some time at the haunted Hotel Cecil. But he wasn’t the only killer to spend some time there, the ’90s brought the Cecil two other murderous men.

Perhaps in homage to him, Austrian killer Johann “Jack” Unterweger stayed at the hotel in 1991. It was said that while there he strangled at least 3 sex workers, for which he was convicted in Austria.

Born on August 16, 1950, in the province of Styria Austria to single mother, Teresa Unterweger, Jack grew up hated and horribly abused at the hands of an alcoholic grandfather. He went to live with his grandfather after his mother was arrested in 1953, and it wasn’t the first for her.

Teresa Unterweger was a Viennese waitress who had allegedly worked as a sex worker. She was in and out of jail for most of her life for her petty criminal actions that included committing theft and fraud. In fact, she actually spent most of her pregnancy jailed for fraud but was released so she could give birth.

Jack’s father was an American soldier named Jack Becker whom his mother met in Trieste, Italy. Jack never met him.

His less-than-savoury grandfather kept him surrounded by drugged-up party girls and professional sex works. It is said they lived in poverty, and Jack was introduced to alcohol at a young age. He grew up to emulate the lifestyle surrounding him and was a pimp to local sex workers when he grew up.

At the age of 16, in 1966, he was arrested for beating up a sex worker, and eventually would accumulate 16 more convictions for petty crime and sexual abuse.

The murder of Margaret Schaefer

At the age of 24, Unterweger was convicted of murder. His girlfriend Barbara Scholz (a sex worker) and he were out driving when they spotted 18-year-old Margaret Schaefer a German sex worker. They picked her up, robbed her parents’ house then drove Margaret to a secluded area where she refused to have sex with Unterweger.

It was then that he hit her in the head with an iron bar and strangled her with her bra strap. Abandoned her body in the woods. Unterweger confessed saying: “I envisioned my mother before me and I killed her.”

At trial a psychologist described him as a “sexually sadistic psychopath with narcissistic and histrionic tendencies and prone to fits of rage and anger.” Mentally abnormal, but legally sane.

Reinventing himself

Unterweger was illiterate, but learned to read and write in jail. And went on to write tories, plays, poems, and, ultimately, an autobiography titled Purgatory or The Trip to Prison: Report of a Guilty Man, which he published in 1983, that topped Austria’s book charts.

He acquired a wide fan base from his writing, and in 1985, they led a campaign to have him pardoned, five years before he was eligible for parole. Ultimately their campaign failed, but Unterweger was released May 23, 1990, after doing the minimum time allowed for a life sentence – 15 years.

Unterweger convinced Austria’s intellectuals, authors, political radicals, and church leaders that he was a genius who had simply needed an outlet for his troubles, and he had proven that genuine rehabilitation was possible.

They believed that he had left behind his life of crime and traded it for television and newspaper appearances, magazine and public broadcast reporting, and a life of writing crime stories. He wore white suits, drive convertible Mustang, and maintained the appearance of a 40-year-old intellectual bachelor surrounded by beautiful young woman.

The Courier murders

In a bizarre twist of irony, Unterweger began to cover his own crimes, bodies of sex workers in Vienna started showing up after his release. He interviewing sex workers about a predator called The Courier who was stalking them—all the meanwhile it was him.

Unterweger was being courted to glitzy parties and asked for his opinions and advice on the disappearances. He appeared on TV talk shows to speak about “The Courier” and even conducted broadcast interviews about it on the street.

The first body turned up September 15, 1990, in Czech where he was reporting on a story about their red light districts. Thirty year old Blanca Bockova was found by a river in Prauge, nude save for her wedding right, socks and the underwear around her neck that she was strangled with. She was not a sex worker.

He went on to kill seven more sex workers in 1990. A few weeks after Blanca’s body was found, Brunhilde Masser, 39, was reported missing sometime that year. In December, Heidemarie Hammerer, 31, a local prostitute went missing and body was found on New Years Eve, 5 days later Brunhilde’s decomposing body was also found. While not naked, her legs were bare and a missing piece of material from her slip was found inside her mouth.

On March 7, 1991, Elfriede Schrempf, 35, disappeared from same area as Brunhilda. Her skeletal remains were found on October 5.  And in the span of a month, 4 more sex workers would disappear, all asphyxiated by an article of their own clothing.

Stay at Hotel Cecil

Later in 1991, Unterweger went to Los Angeles on assignment to cover the city’s street crime epidemic. He stayed at the Hotel Cecil.

While he was in Los Angeles, the bodies of Shannon Exley, Irene Rodriguez and Peggy Jean Booth were found. Irene, 33, and Peggy, 26, were found on June 30, and Sherry Ann was found on July 10.

All three were beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled with their own bra straps all with knots identical to the murders in Austria. All were believed to have entered his room via the fire escape for the promise of a mere $30.

Police originally theorized that it was the work of a Richard Ramirez copy-cat killer, until 70-year-old investigator August Schenner noted the similarities between Jack’s first homicide and the recent local killings.

Police were able to link Jack to each of the victims after looking through records for his car rentals and credit card. DNA linked him back to the murders in Los Angeles, and fibres linked him to the ones in Austria.

Unterweger fled Vienna with his then 18-year-old girlfriend Bianca Mrak after returning from Los Angeles, tipped off by friends that police were on to him. They travelled to Switzerland, Paris, Canada, New York then eventually Miami. He accused police of framing him.

Unterweger’s arrest

Unterweger and his girlfriend were apprehended on February 27, 1991, by US Marshals while collecting money from Western Union.

He was extradited to Austria four months later, which he didn’t fight because he would have faced the death penalty in California. All shortly after the bodies of Sabine Motzi was found on May 20, and Karin Eroglu-Sladky, 25, on May 23. Remains of Silvia Zagler, 23, and Regina Prem, 32, were never found, but it is believed Jack killed them in April 1991.

He was tried for 11 counts of murder in 1994, in what was described as the trial of the century. On June 28, 1994, after nine hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty of nine counts of murder, acquitted of the other two and was sentenced to life in prison without parole in a penitentiary for dangerous and psychologically disturbed convicts.

Before sentencing, a bomb was planted by an unknown attacker. While it damaged the courthouse, it caused no injuries and failed to delay final arguments.

At 4:30 am, the morning after he was sentenced, Jack Unterweger hanged himself in his cell with a rope made of shoelaces and the drawstring from his track pants. Police said tape-recordings were found in the cell, but have declined to reveal the contents. He was 43 years old at the time of his death.

SIDE NOTE, HE WROTE THIS “Real life in L.A.,” he subsequently wrote, “is dominated by a tough struggle for survival, by the broken dreams of thousands who come to the city and an equal number who leave, sometimes dead.”

Eric Reed

Unterweger was not alone in his murderous mayhem at the Cecil in the 90s. At around 6 pm on May 1, 1995, murder suspect Eric Reed was discovered hiding out at the hotel after breaking out of a jail in Castaic, California. Reed was being held pending a trial for the “pistol attack” at Gladys Avenue and 7th Street Los Angeles in 1993, that left one man dead and three injured. The incident was said to be drug related. 

Los Angeles police were alerted by an informant that they had seen Reed at the hotel, and 50 sheriff’s deputies and LAPD officers sealed off the hotel. He was found in room 412 and re-arrested without incident along with an unidentified man that had rented the room for Reed. Officers found a bayonet and narcotics in the room with him.


The Death of Elisa Lam

The 2000s brought the Hotel Cecil a new look, new name, new status and 2 mysterious deaths. In 2007, a portion of the hotel was refurbished in 2007 by new owners that took over the property.

Unfortunately that was not enough to ward of the bought of mysterious deaths that have wracked the hotel for its entire life. On February 19, 2013, the naked body of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old Canadian student, was found inside one of the water supply tanks on the hotel roof. 

Lam was a Canadian visiting California with the intent to take a break from her life as a student at the University of British Columbia where she had spent her previous three years studying. She struggled with depression, and her parents were not entirely comfortable with her idea of travelling alone but she was determined to do so.

Lam traveled by train and bus, checked in every day with her family and friends, and posted sporadically on social media. She visited the San Diego Zoo, a speakeasy where she lost a phone she had borrowed from a friend, attended a taping of the Conan O’Brien show and walked downtown.

She had been reporting missing on January 31, 2013. Earlier that afternoon she visited the Last Bookstore. The bookstore’s manager, Katie Orphan described Lam as “very outgoing, very lively, very friendly.” The later, she was spotted in the lobby of the hotel. Lam’s parents immediately began to worry on February 1, when Lam failed to check in.

One week later on February 6, a press conference was held by Los Angeles police appealing for any information regarding Lam’s disappearance. She was described as “an Asian woman of Chinese descent” with black hair and brown eyes, height 5’4” and weight 115 lbs. Her disappearance was described as being “suspicious and may suggest foul play.” By this time her family had already been in town for a few days searching for her.

Elisa Lam elevator video

For those of you familiar with this story, you will know that there is a very strange Elisa Lam elevator video from her time at Hotel Cecil. You can watch the video on YouTube.

For those of you that don’t watch the video (because it is very strange), it essentially it shows her acting strangely, pressing multiple elevator buttons, hiding in the corner of the elevator, and waving her arms wildly. All of which lends itself to the widespread speculation about the cause of her death.

It was discovered that the footage had been altered: the timestamp had been redacted, the clip also appears to have been sped up and there appears to be at least one jump in the tape suggesting that some footage was missing. The LAPD released it without comment or explanation.

The video went viral receiving 3 million views, 400,000 comments in the first 10 days – and sparked two theories about her death, including:

  1. That Lam was under the influence of an illicit substance at the time of her death
  2. That she was flirting with someone who’s not seen on the video.

Many viewers also picked up on what appears to be a third foot, connected to a body that is otherwise out of the frame. But the more likely explanation is probably that it is a shadow of Lam’s foot.

The discover of Elisa Lam’s body

Her decomposing body was discovered by a maintenance worker in one of the rooftop water tanks after guests had complained about low water pressure and water that “tasted funny.” Residents had brushed their teeth, drank and bathed in the same water that Elisa’s body was in for 19 days before it was discovered.

On Feb 21, police confirmed that the body was Lam’s. Her body was found near the bottom of a tank that was three-quarter filled with water. She was naked with her clothes nearby.

The clothes were an exact match of those that she had been wearing in the video. There were no security cameras on the roof and although the door to the roof was not locked, hotel management said that it was alarmed.

Had she been murdered, her murderer would have had to circumvent the alarm, climb a 10 foot ladder up the side of the tank with her body, open the hatch and drop her body in without being seen. In the case of a murder, she would have had to made it to the roof in the middle of the night, scaled the tank, open the hatch and either fall or jump in.

Elisa Lam cause of death

Her death was ultimately ruled an accidental drowning. She was reported to have had bipolar disorder, for which she was prescribed various medications, which could have contributed to her death as well as her strange behaviour in the elevator.

It is also speculated that she could have been under the effects of a sleeping aid of sorts, which could also explain her strange behaviour. However, her toxicology found no traces of drugs or alcohol.

#Sidenote: some think she was sick with tuberculosis, since there was an outbreak around the time of her death that affected thousands of people in the area near the Cecil. The test to identify tuberculosis is called LAM-ELISA – which, of course, just adds to the lore. Her autopsy showed no evidence of this.

The Cecil’s manager at the time, Amy Price, said that Elisa was moved 3 days into her stay from a hostel style room with roommates to a private one due to “odd” behaviour.  People also note that her Tumblr blog was filled with bright photos of art and fashion mixed with ramblings of depression, pain and anxiety.

Elisa’s death remains a mystery to this day. According to the investigation there are only 4 ways to access the rooftop: three are via fire escapes on the sides of the building, and the fourth is through a locked rooftop door that sets off an alarm when opened. No one is quite sure how Elisa made it up there.

In September of 2013, her parents David and Yinna Lam sued the Cecil for negligence leading to wrongful death.

Other incidents at haunted Hotel Cecil

On Friday, June 13, 2015, a 28-year-old man was found dead on Main Street outside the Cecil. He was pronounced dead at 5:05 pm on site by the coroner. And while the cause of death was never released, at one point it was said that the case was being investigated as a suicide.

Further, it appears that the man’s name was never released—it is suspected that it wasn’t released because they didn’t want his death associated with the notorious hotel. An individual identified as the assistant manager of the hotel said that the man who died was not a guest, but could have been an intruder. 

Even without all of the mysterious deaths, tragedies and genuinely bad experiences of the hotel, it has been home to some very strange happenings. In 1927, John Crouner was arrested for theft in his hotel room.

Two years later in 1929, 33-year-old Dorothy Roberson of SanFransisco spent three days wandering the hotel before people realized how strange it was. She was then taken to the hospital where they discovered she had tried to poison herself with barbiturates, likely in an attempt to kill herself, following the death of her husband.

The rest of the incidents we found happened at unknown dates:

  • Cecil resident George Ford, a successful morphine and opium dealer with a stash of opium worth $10,000, was arrested in a sting at the nearby Astor Hotel. 
  • An elderly man was found at the Cecil, barely alive, after he drank poisoned liquor, which had actually killed three other men. 
  • One resident tried to shoot himself in Westlake Park while a woman drowned herself in the ocean. 
  • A resident of the hotel who worked at a nearby bar called the ‘Waldorf Cellar’ as the manager was shot dead by his childhood best friend who was the bartender at the same place, after the two engaged in a gun battle.
  • Finally, a teenage stickup artist was arrested at the hotel while Dorothy January was choked and robbed. 

Traveling to the Cecil Hotel

Looking for the rest of the story? Check out part two of the haunted Cecil Hotel story.

Visiting Haunted Hotel Cecil

Today, you can’t stay at the Cecil Hotel — but you can Stay on Main. Same building, same history, different name. Stay on Main has a 3 out of 5 on Trip Advisor, and before you book your flight and pack your bags we have a few reviews we highly recommend listening to:

If you’re going to be visiting Los Angeles anyway, you might want to check out these other haunted places in the area:

Ready to book your trip to Los Angeles?

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The haunted Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles, California, opened its doors in 1927, and since then has been home to suicides, murders and strange happenings, so much so that some think the building itself is possessed. Its guest list boasts a number of guests who never had the opportunity to check out, a handful of killers and a few wildcards. We're talking about the story of Jack Unterweger and the mysterious death of Elisa Lam.

Have you stayed at the haunted Cecil Hotel? Share your experience in the comments below ??????

The Lady Dicks did not just magically come up with this information themselves, they, in fact, did research beyond Wikipedia (thanks jerky iTunes reviewer for your one-star comment), and here are those sources:

The Lady Dicks Podcast was created by Tae H. The Lady Dicks are Andrea C., Nikki K. and Tae H. This episode was researched by Andrea, Nikki and Tae, and was produced, written and edited by Tae.