It was with shock and no small amount of horror that we learned that a body, believed to be that of Canadian tourist Elisa Lam, last seen behaving strangely in an elevator security video recorded on February 1, had been discovered today within one of the water tanks on the Cecil Hotel's roof. A complaint about low water pressure had prompted an employee to look inside.
Hotels by their nature are the backdrop for extreme behavior, and any public building that stands for the better part of a century will collect its share of tragedies. The Cecil (established 1927) is notable among true crime aficionados as the short-term residence of serial killers Jack Unterweger and Richard Ramirez, and in all the attention paid to those grim gentlemen, the hotel's other heartbreaks too often go unmourned.
The probable fate of Miss Lam inspires us to compose a memorial note, to the five prior ladies (and one unfortunate fellow) who left this world on the grounds of the Cecil Hotel, and whose wraiths may yet haunt the place.
On June 4, 1964, "Pigeon Goldie" Osgood, retired telephone operator and well known protector and feeder of the birds in Pershing Square, was found dead in her room by a hotel worker distributing phone books. She had been stabbed, strangled and raped, and her room ransacked. Near her body were found the Dodgers cap she always wore and a paper sack full of birdseed. Soon after, Jacques B. Ehlinger, 29, was seen walking through Pershing Square in bloodstained clothing. He was arrested, but cleared of the crime, for which no one was ever arrested.
The next day, Goldie's friends came together in Pershing Square to express their grief. Jean Rosenstein, a retired nurse, told a reporter "We were all her friends, all of us here at the square. I was just standing here this morning, thinking about what had happened, when somebody suggested we get some flowers. No one has much money around here, but all of a sudden everyone started giving me what they could. We just wanted her to know we remembered."
Pigeon Goldie, we remember you, too.
It was October 12, 1962 and Pauline Otton, 27, had been arguing with her estranged husband Dewey in a room on the ninth floor when he decided he’d had enough and went out to get some dinner. She decided she’d had enough, too, and jumped from the window. She landed on top of a pedestrian, George Gianinni, 65, and both were killed instantly. Since no one saw Pauline jump, police initially thought they had a double suicide on their hands--but on closer examination, George had his hands in his pockets and was still wearing shoes, which would have been unlikely if he’d fallen ninety feet.
Pauline, and George, we remember.
On February 11, 1962, Julia Moore climbed out of her eighth floor room window and landed in a second story interior light well. She left no note, just a bus ticket from St. Louis, 59 cents in change, and an Illinois bank book showing a balance of $1800.
Julia, we remember.
On October 22, 1954, Helen Gurnee, 50-something, stepped from her seventh floor window and crashed to her death atop the hotel's marquee. She had registered as Margaret Brown a week before.
Helen—or Margaret, as she preferred—we remember.
Elisa Lam, 21, left her home in Vancouver for a solo trip to California. Her plans after visiting Los Angeles were to continue north to Santa Cruz, but it seems that she never left Main Street.
She had the great misfortune to vanish while the Los Angeles Police Department was absorbed with one of the largest manhunts in its history, and one cannot but wonder what impact the search for Christopher Dorner had upon the search for Elisa Lam.
Perhaps she climbed up the side of the water tank, lifted the hatch, slipped inside, drowned, and then floated there for weeks until her body sank and blocked the pipes. Maybe someone who knew the nooks and crannies of this very old establishment put her there. In time, the answer will come, but it will make no great difference. She is gone, and she remains.
Elisa, we remember. And hope the souls that went before can lend some comfort now to yours.
See also The Case of the Missing Consul.