Remember when Elisa Lam disappeared in L.A. in 2013, leaving behind mystifying elevator surveillance video, only to turn up inside a water tank on the roof of downtown’s Cecil Hotel? The Canadian university student, traveling alone, appears deeply disturbed as she hides in an elevator corner from an unseen assailant. Click here to watch. Some say her bipolar disorder explains her behavior, while others credit supernatural forces, given the hotel’s history. More likely, foul play ensued.
Two and a half weeks later, when hotel guests complained about low water pressure (and, some say, a strange taste), Lam’s body was found in the roof tank. Mysteriously, she was found naked, the clothes she’d worn in the elevator footage floating near her. Although eventually ruled accidental death, that conclusion seems unlikely as the tank area was only accessible through a locked door or fire exit and her slight build suggest it doubtful she could have hoisted the heavy tank lid herself. Strange also that these real life events somewhat mimic the plot of Walter Salles’ “Dark Water,” a remake of a Japanese film, released in 2005 — almost seven years BEFORE Lam’s disappearance and death. Top 5s explores all the possibilities.
“American Horror Story” creator Ryan Murphy confided to EW the inspiration for the noir-ish upcoming season five “AHS” theme, Hotel, saying, “There was a surveillance video that went around two years ago that showed a girl getting into an elevator in a hotel that was said to be haunted … and she was never seen again.” Although the show’s hotel will sport the moniker Hotel Cortez, Murphy’s statement strongly suggests the Cecil. The Cecil’s deco style jibes with “AHS: Hotel” graphics. In fact, Bloody Disgusting suggested the possible influence of the Cecil way back in March.
Lam’s tale proves the most recent in a series of atrocities at the site since the hotel opened in 1927. In fact, prior to Lam’s stay at the Cecil, the hotel earned a spot on a true crime tour, similar to “AHS” season one’s Murder House. A string of suicides jumped from the hotel’s rooms in the 1950/60s, with one even unwittingly killing a pedestrian below. And in 1964, Goldie Osgood, aka The Pershing Square Pigeon Lady, was raped and killed in her room at the Cecil, her murderer never found.
In 1984/5, Satanist Richard Ramirez, aka The Night Stalker, terrorized L.A. with a spree of burglaries, rapes, brutal murders and body mutilations. His more than two dozen known victims ranged from age 16 to 83. Although he committed the crimes in the homes of his victims, he lived most of this time at the Cecil, where staff reported he “smoked marijuana, played loud music and holed up for days at a time in his tiny room” (according to L.A. Observed). Filled with “transients,” no one noticed that Ramirez was “just dumping his bloody clothes in the Dumpster at the end of his evening and going in the back entrance.”
Believed to be an homage to Ramirez, six years later, in 1991, Austrian rapist/serial killer Jack Unterweger also made the Cecil his home (according to CNN). Unterweger spent many of his early years in jail for numerous sexual assaults before his conviction at age 24 for murdering an 18-year-old woman by strangling her with her own bra. Released after only 15 years, he became a journalist and minor celebrity. While reporting on crime, sometimes about those he himself had committed, he killed at least six prostitutes in Austria and three in L.A.
Each “AHS” season features at least one historical person. And Murphy has already revealed that Lily Rabe will guest as real life murderer Aileen Wuornos in this season’s two-part Halloween episode (titled Devil’s Night). Wuornos’ string of murders of men along I-95 in Florida in the late 80s/early 90s was chronicled in 2003’s “Monster,” which rightfully won Charlize Theron an Oscar for her portrayal of the vengeful prostitute. The talented Rabe will no doubt turn in an equally intriguing portrayal.
Which, if any, of the real horrors from the Cecil Hotel will feature in “AHS: Hotel”? Fans will find out starting October 7, when the season premiere, titled Checking In, airs at 10 p.m. Eastern on FX. Until then, click here for a complete rundown on the cast of characters