If you thought Wednesday’s shocking premiere of American Horror Story: Hotel was scary, undoubtedly the series’ most gruesome episode yet, be warned – the season is bound to get even more terrifying. We know this not only because co-creator Brad Falchuk confirmed Hotel will be the darkest season yet (and that means dark, considering Asylum), but because AHS is always based on real incidents and people. If we look no further than the real-life location Season 5's Hotel Cortez was inspired by we’ll discover just how many horrors are likely on the way.

Los Angeles residents, and anyone who’s into murder mysteries, have likely heard of the Cecil Hotel, which was recently rebranded as Stay on Main. Located in downtown L.A., the Cecil was built in the 1920s for tourists, but after the Depression it became a low-rate residential hotel known for crime, suicides and rumored paranormal activity. Earlier this year, Ryan Murphy revealed that a recent suspicious death of a hotel guest was the initial inspiration for Season 5. But the rich, disturbing history of the Cecil give us plenty of ideas for what may happen this season on AHS. 

The Death of Elisa Lam

The 2013 incident Murphy was referring to was the mysterious death of Elisa Lam. The 21-year-old Canadian woman was staying at the Cecil during her visit to California. Lam was last seen by the hotel staff on January 31, 2013, the day she was expected to check out. Lam wasn’t seen for weeks and presumed missing until her naked body was discovered in one of the hotel’s rooftop water tanks. Her death was eventually ruled an accidental drowning, but the creepiest part of the incident revolves around a video surveillance tape the LAPD released during the investigation.

The video – which we warn you is pretty scary – was taken on February 1 in one of the hotel elevators. In it Lam is seen acting strangely as she presses multiple buttons, hides in the corner, steps in and out of the car as she flails her arms and appears to be talking to someone. Lam finally exits the car and isn’t seen again on the tape, disappearing for days until workers found her body. After her death, some theorized that Lam was possessed at the hotel, hiding from a pursuer, reacting to drugs (though no recreational drugs were found in the toxicology report) or having a psychotic break. If anything, we’ll bet something eerie happens in the elevator this season on AHS.

Hotel Suicides

Many longterm residents of the Cecil have dubbed the hotel “The Suicide” for quite obvious reasons. On October 22, 1954, Helen Gurnee, a middle-aged woman staying at the Cecil, reportedly killed herself by jumping out of a 7th floor window. It’s said that Gurnee’s body landed on the hotel marquee. Another woman, Julia Moore, also allegedly jumped to her death on February 11, 1962 from the eighth floor. Later that same year, a young married woman named Pauline Otton was said to have been arguing with her estranged husband before she jumped from her ninth floor window, killing herself and a pedestrian she landed on. But the suicides still haven’t stopped. According to the LA Times, an unidentified man was believed to have jumped from the Cecil after found dead outside the hotel on June 13 this year. Sarah Paulson’s Sally was already pushed to her death by Kathy Bates’ Iris in a flashback during the Hotel premiere, so even more characters falling to their death are sure to come.

The Black Dahlia

Remember Elizabeth Short, a.k.a. the Black Dahlia, from Season 1? Mena Suvari portrayed the infamous murder victim who’s body was found severed in half and drained of blood in Leimart Park, Los Angeles on January 15, 1947. The case was never solved since over 60 people confessed to the murder over time. Although her case has been largely sensationalized over the years, some rumors claim that Short was staying at the Cecil at the time (though it’s also said she frequented the nearby Millennium Biltmore Hotel) and was last seen in the hotel’s lobby. Hotel already brought back Christine Estabrook’s realtor Marcy from Season 1, so Short will most likely be the next connection to Murder House.


Richard Ramirez

Dubbed the “Night Stalker” by the media, Richard Ramirez was a serial killer and rapist who was captured and charged with 13 murders from 1984 and 1985 in Los Angeles. Ramirez also had a penchant for hotels. In high school he worked at a Holiday Inn where he broke into a room and attempted to rape a woman. Once he moved to L.A., Ramirez murdered 13 women all while reportedly living on the top floor of the Cecil. It’s also said that he got rid of his bloody clothes in the dumpster behind the Cecil. But there’s also some Ryan Murphy-worthy trauma from Ramirez’s past that could easily wind up on the FX series. Ramirez's violence may have been influenced by his cousin, Miguel Ramirez, who served in Vietnam. After the war Miguel would show a young Richard photos of Vietnamese women he’d raped and murdered. A teenage Richard also witnessed his cousin shoot and kill his wife. Must we remind you that AHS loves marital homicides and serial killers?

Jack Unterweger

Unterweger was an Australian murder who was later released from prison and became a journalist. But Unterweger had far from changed his ways. He reportedly moved into the Cecil in 1991 and murdered three prostitutes throughout Los Angeles during his stay, which some say was in homage to Ramirez. Both serial killers are likely the inspirations for this season’s Ten Commandments Killer.

Ghost Sightings

Last year a photo taken outside of the hotel went viral. The photographer believed he captured a ghost lurking outside of one of the room windows, and some thought it to be the ghost of the Black Dahlia. Based on the ending of Hotel‘s first episode with Sally’s death, we have a theory that it might be just like Murder House. Are all of the character living inside Hotel Cortez just ghosts? (We hope not.)


“Pigeon Goldie”

Goldie Osgood, nicknamed “Pigeon Goldie,” was a retired telephone operator known for feeding the pigeons in downtown’s Pershing Square. On June 4, 1964, Osgood was reportedly found stabbed to death and raped in her room at the Cecil. Pigeon Lady sounds like a character made for AHS. 

Other real-life inspirations:

Aileen Wuornos

Beyond the Cecil’s history, we know that Hotel will also reference at least two real-life serial killers. Murphy revealed to the LA Times that Lily Rabe is portraying serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the season’s two-part Halloween episode, “Devil’s Night.” Wuornos is known for murdering seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. But what does that have to do with the Cecil? Perhaps Murphy will fictionalize the woman’s story and have her check in to Hotel Cortez, maybe even blending her story with Ramirez or Unterwger’s. The other reason Wuornos’ history is perfect for the AHS anthology is Florida. We already know every season of AHS is connected and that Murphy loves revisiting a select few locations each season, from LA to Massachusetts to Florida. Vivian Harmon from Season 1 had relatives in the state and Freak Show also took place there.

FX / DEJ Productions
FX / DEJ Productions 

America’s First Serial Killer

The next serial killer connection may come from Evan Peters’ character Mr. March, the man who built Hotel Cortez in the 1930s. Peters confirmed his character is partly inspired by Howard Hughes, and Hotel has already drawn a connection between the show’s dangerous room 64 and the room Hughes famously stayed in at the Chateau Marmont. But Murphy confirmed that March is also loosely based on H.H. Holmes, American’s first-documented serial killer. Holmes built his own three-story hotel, dubbed the “Murder Castle,” outside of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Holmes lured young women to the hotel to kill in his secret torture rooms. Could Mr. March then be the Ten Commandments Killer Wes Bentley‘s John Lowe is searching for, or is there a third murderer (in addition to the Addiction Demon) this season?

John Wayne Gacy

During the season preview trailer of AHS: Hotel, some agile fans might have caught a glimpse of what appeared to be John Carroll Lynch in clown make-up yet again. But by the looks of the make-up, it seems Lynch could be playing Killer Clown John Wayne Gacy (whom Lynch’s Twisty was party inspired by). Gacy was a Chicago serial killer who murdered at least 33 young boys and men between 1972 and ‘78. Could Murphy be making a Chicago connection with Lynch’s character and Peter’s Mr. March?


The Most Prolific Female Mass Murderer

But there’s more. Lady Gaga‘s Countess Elizabeth may also be inspired by a real-life figure. As Redditor satellitejones theorized, Gaga may be portraying Countess Elizabeth Bathory, whom Guinness World Records named the most prolific female murderer. Between 1585 and 1610 the Hungarian countess is said to have killed up to 650 virgin girls whose blood she drank and bathed in to keep her youthful skin. If anyone is to play her, Gaga is the ideal candidate. Even more evidence is shown in Bathory’s sexuality. The murderer was rumored to be a lesbian, and as we already know, Gaga’s Hotel character is bisexual.

Now we’ll just have to keep watching Hotel to see if any of the horrors of the Cecil Hotel, or stories of other real-life murderers, get a Ryan Murphy touch. That is, if you can stomach it.

American Horror Story: Hotel airs on Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. ET on FX.

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