With Halloween approaching, it seems fitting to highlight some of the more gruesome events that have taken place in the City of Angels. To help with this endeavor, I turned to James T. Bartlett, author of Gourmet Ghosts and recently-released Gourmet Ghosts 2.
For both books Bartlett searched numerous Los Angeles archives, trawled local bars and hotels, and found unknown stories and pictures about the city’s dark past for his murder, mystery, history and ghost guides. Inspired by the true crime trend and American Horror Story, he selected the “best” deaths in Gourmet Ghosts 2 (and one he just couldn’t leave out from the earlier book) for Curating LA and your bloody Halloween enjoyment.
Guest Post by author James T. Bartlett
The Cecil Hotel
Though it was renamed Stay on Main some years ago, this downtown hotel still has Cecil signs all over its exterior – and really could be said to be the deadliest hotel in Los Angeles. Whether they admit it or not suicides happen at every hotel, but the archives show that The Cecil really has an extraordinary catalog of violence and death.
Serial killers such as “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez (14 victims across Greater L.A.) and Johann “Jack” Unterweger (at least 10 victims overall, three in Los Angeles) stayed here while they killed; Ramirez even threw some bloody clothes into the hotel’s dumpsters.
And that’s to say nothing of the 2013 puzzling death of Elisa Lam. Her bloated, decomposed and naked body was found in the water tank a few years ago, and her odd behavior the night she died was captured on an elevator CCTV – and went viral.
There have been over a dozen suicides here too, a sniper, an arsonist, a stalker – and more. What is it about this place?
Location: 640 South Main Street, Los Angeles
Two Slashing Murders In One Day
In November 1944, Otto Stephen Wilson, 31, readily confessed to the brutal mutilation murders of two women, and was quoted in the Los Angeles Times:
“I have always been emotionally unstable and with my sexual complex I went completely insane and could not possibly control myself.”
Aptly nicknamed the “Romeo Ripper” and the “Romeo Slasher,” he met his first victim, Virgie Griffin, 26, in a bar. Back in his room at the Barclay Hotel he took a razor and knife, slashing open her body, removing her entrails, cutting off an arm and other body parts, and putting her remains in a closet.
The next day he picked up Lillian Johnson, 48, strangled and then cut her to pieces in another hotel called The Joyce (now a parking lot), then went drinking. Soon after he was arrested, and the shocking affair was all over in barely a day.
He was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin in September 1946, but who knows what this WWII-era Jack The Ripper might have done if he hadn’t been captured?
Location: 103 West 4th Street, Los Angeles
One of the original luxury hotels downtown, the Biltmore is still a glitzy world of chandeliers, endless staircases and tinkling piano playing over afternoon tea. Some of the early Oscar ceremonies were held here, and in 1984’s Ghostbusters it was here in the lobby where Ray, Egon and Peter caught “Slimer” the hungry ghost.
Ghost stories are everywhere (a man in a stovepipe hat, kids running around a remote balcony), but most famously it was the last place “Black Dahlia” victim Elizabeth Short was seen alive (at least according to police records).
Perhaps the most famous murder in Los Angeles history – it’s inspired countless books, films and television shows – the facts were that Short’s naked torso was found on wasteland in the south of the city and, despite endless suspects, her killer was never found.
She’d been cut in half at the waist, drained of blood, her mouth cut open, entrails removed – and more. Even today, the torture that Short suffered is hard to read, let alone imagine, and so it’s apposite that the cocktail the Biltmore created in her memory – the Black Dahlia (vodka, Chambord black raspberry liqueur, Kahlua) – tastes bitter.
Location: 506 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles
Gourmet Ghosts 2 is available at gift shops and bookstores across L.A., as well as on Amazon. While I’m a big proponent of supporting local bookshops, if you choose to purchase from Amazon please use the links below, since sales made through this site help me offset the cost of running Curating LA.
For those who’d like to meet the author in person, he will sign copies of his books at Dark Delicacies in Burbank on October 22nd at 2pm and at The Last Bookstore in Downtown on October 28th at 7:30pm. For more information, visit www.gourmetghosts.com, @GourmetGhosts and #GourmetGhosts.