L.A.’s “Suicide Triangle” and the Dark History of DTLA Hotels

Hotel rooms have always offered anonymity as well as privacy, room service if you so desired, and no need to clean up…
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This article contains references to suicide, which could distress some readers. Lifeline Network—800-773-8255—offers free emotional counseling 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, call or text 988.

For years, it was a parking lot. But recently, The Grand—two glittering skyscraper apartments, restaurants, stores, and the luxury Conrad Hotel—opened for business just a few blocks away are some of the oldest hotels in Los Angeles. These relics of DTLA, along with The Conrad, share some dark and deadly secrets, as they have been the location where many people have died—some tragically and others by their own hands.

In the days before credit cards and the internet, a hotel guest would often merely sign a guestbook; they could pretend to be anyone. It was perfect for risky business deals, illegal behavior, and especially for illicit sexual liaisons. Hotel rooms offered anonymity as well as privacy, room service if you so desired, and no need to clean up. 

That also made them ideal for suicide, because to paraphrase “Hotel California,” once you locked that door behind you, you could never leave.

The Grand, DTLA

During research for my Gourmet Ghosts books, I became aware of what might be called a “Downtown Suicide Triangle” of three former hotels that topped the list of suicides, with the notorious Cecil Hotel, just off 6th and Main, at the front of the list

In recent years, the Cecil has inspired books, documentaries, ghost hunts, the TV series American Horror Story: Hotel, and internet theories around the 2013 death of Canadian-Chinese tourist Elisa Lam, who was found dead in the roof water tank.

But when it opened in 1924 with 700 rooms, half a mile of walnut dressers, and 4,000 pieces of locally hand-made furniture that was delivered in 100 trucks, it was the latest of many luxury hotels in the business heart of a rapidly-developing city.

There were two natural deaths at the Cecil in 1926—they, too, are extremely common at hotels, but rarely make the news—with the first recorded suicide at the Cecil in January 1927. It was a real headline-grabber too, when real estate dealer Percy Ormond Cook, 52, shot himself in his room. 

It was reported that he had recently separated from his wife and son, and his suicide note was addressed to “the press;” it read in part that “money cannot buy happiness.” He had spent six months and $40,000 trying to do so–but apparently had failed.  

Then came the 1929 Wall Street Crash and The Great Depression, which saw the Cecil—among many others—begin a long and slow decline. 

Over the decades, there were at least 17 more deaths by suicide at the Cecil, but those were just the clearly attributed ones. There were certainly more that were reported as happening at “a hotel on 6th Street” which could have occurred at the Cecil, too. 

This is a hotel that has always seemed to be a vortex for death: “Night Stalker” serial killer Richard Ramirez stayed here and it’s alleged he threw away some bloody, post-crime clothes in the hotel dumpster. 

Another serial killer, Johann “Jack” Unterweger, likely chose to stay there because Ramirez had chosen it before him.  

Originally from Austria, Unterweger had murdered prostitutes across Europe from 1974 onward, with perhaps a dozen victims overall. After serving 15 years in prison for his crimes, he was released to kill again; he then came to L.A. in 1992 to write about crime and prostitution. 

A cause célèbre whose prison writings and rhetoric were a scam, he assaulted and strangled three prostitutes while he was in Los Angeles, and later died by suicide in prison back in Austria. Like Ramirez, he has been the subject of books, movies, and even an experimental 2008 opera called Seduction and Despair, starring John Malkovich.

The Cecil also saw its own murders: A baby killer, a sniper, an escaped convict, and more. But there’s no clear explanation for why it’s been a center for violence and death. Maybe it’s simply cursed. 

Completing the triangle are the Rosslyn Hotel and Rosslyn Annex, which sit opposite each other off 5th and Main, and the Hotel Hayward, at 6th and Spring. 

Completed in 1914 and 1923, respectively, the Rosslyn Hotel and Rosslyn Annex are decorated with memorable neon signs; they were designed by British architect John Parkison in the popular Beaux Arts style. The hotel cost the then-staggering sum of $1m (nearly $28m today, which explains the “million dollar” part of the rooftop sign), and they had 1,100 rooms and 800 baths between them. 

Each checked in thousands or hundreds of thousands of guests—but not all of them were happy to be there. At least 13 people died by suicide there— five in 1924 alone, including the sickly F.O. Bunting, who slashed his wrists, tried to cut his throat, and then stabbed himself in the heart with a stiletto knife. 

Hotel Hayward in DTLA

The Hotel Hayward was built by Parkinson in 1906, with a 14-story addition added in 1925, and at least six people have ended their lives here, the first being Lewis H. Cory in 1912. Leaving his wife and friends in another room, he drank a bottle of carbolic acid he found under the bathtub.  

There were three killings here, including a bizarre adjoining room “trunk” murder-suicide in 1917, but the Hayward also has a few weird offshoots from the triangle. 

In 1925, witnesses overheard a kidnap plot against the actress Mary Pickford being discussed. and in 1929, half a dozen six-foot “mascot” snakes got loose, making their way to several different floors, though, despite screams, they were all safely recaptured. 

It also seems to be a place where people fall out of windows. In the same year as the snake incident, two men’s legs became entangled after an uproarious “jest” that was their last laugh. And a 70-year-old pastor was suddenly struck ill as he opened the window in 1939. All of them suddenly disappeared from view.

You won’t see an escaped python in any of the Conrad Hotel’s 305 rooms, nor one slithering in the rooftop terrace pool, but their address already has a criminal history. 

In July 1942, there was a café here, and recently-fired bartender Emmett Lee Finch came in armed with a shotgun to confront his former boss, Jack J. Glanuzina. 

“If you touch that telephone, I’ll kill you!” shouted Finch.

When Glanuzina reached to call the police, Finch was true to his word and opened fire. 

And that’s just one of the dark and macabre stories that hide behind the official history of L.A.’s old and new hotels. 

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