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The City of Angels has long been home to strange happenings, whether it involves the occult, serial killers, or unexplained disappearances. While there’s plenty of spooky Hollywood magic around town, like the neighborhoods where they filmed Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street, there’s actually quite a bit of real-life creepy history to be found here as well. Whether you’re interested in historical sites, museums, or supposedly haunted locales, Los Angeles takes the cake when it comes to creepy twentieth-century weirdness. Here’s our list just in time for Halloween!
1. The Cecil Hotel (aka the American Horror Story Hotel) - 640 S. Main St., Downtown LA
One of the creepiest LA locales, this hotel opened in the mid-1920s in downtown Los Angeles and has seen its share of spooky and sinister happenings throughout its history. It started in 1931 when a middle-aged man killed himself by taking poison. Through the ensuing years, the hotel became a place for hard drug use, suicide, and murder. Numerous people have jumped from the roof or from the hotel’s high-rise windows. At least sixteen murders and suicides have taken place at The Hotel Cecil—there’s even a Wikipedia page documenting the violent deaths that took place there. Serial killer Richard Ramirez (known as “The Nightstalker”) is rumored to have lived in the hotel for two years in the 1980s, during the height of his killing spree in Los Angeles. It’s believed that Ramirez killed thirteen of his victims around LA while living there.
Perhaps the most sinister story at The Cecil—certainly the most mysterious—took place just a few years ago in 2013. Hotel guests complained to management about a foul odor and taste coming from the hotel’s tap water. Investigations led to the discovery of a twenty-one-year-old tourist found dead in the hotel’s rooftop water tank, partially decomposed after nearly three weeks in the water. Authorities reviewed the security footage and found that the young woman rode the elevator alone, erratically entering and exiting the elevator at various floors and appearing to talk to and gesture toward someone who wasn’t actually there. Her death was determined to be an accidental drowning, though some were quick to point out that it would be incredibly difficult for one person to climb the water tank’s ladder while holding open the trapdoor that leads into the tank. This and other historical anomalies at The Cecil were used as the inspiration for American Horror Story: Hotel. The Guardian declared The Cecil to be the most haunted hotel in Los Angeles.
2. The Alexandria Hotel - 501 S. Spring St. (Downtown LA)
Not far from The Cecil lies another haunted hotel. The Alexandria was built in 1906, and while it lacks the reputation for bad behavior and mysterious deaths that The Cecil has, many visitors claim The Alexandria is still haunted. In the hotel’s ballroom, numerous people have reported seeing ghostly figures dancing. Charlie Chaplin’s former room at The Alexandria is also said to be haunted, though not by Chaplin himself.
3. The John Sowden House - 5121 Franklin Ave. (Los Feliz)
This monolithic home was built in 1926 by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s sons. It’s sometimes colloquially referred to as the Jaws House because the Mayan-influenced block entrance somewhat resembles a shark’s mouth. The exterior is certainly intimidating, but it’s what (allegedly) took place inside the home that really makes your skin crawl.
Between 1945 and 1951, the house was owned by a local doctor named George Hodel. During that time, actress Elizabeth Short (also known as The Black Dahlia) was found murdered and dismembered in a then-vacant Leimert Park lot. Hodel was never arrested for Short’s murder, but his son Steve Hodel (who is now a retired LAPD detective) found photographs of Short among his now-deceased father’s possessions. Years of investigation led Steve Hodel to believe that his father, Dr. George Hodel, had murdered Short and his personal secretary in the basement.
While researching The Black Dahlia, Steve Hodel learned that his father George had actually been a suspect in Short’s murder, though he was never charged. He also uncovered a transcript from when the city’s District Attorney had bugged George Hodel’s home after accusations of an (unrelated) incest crime against his daughter. The transcript noted a woman screaming somewhere in the home’s basement, and the wire also picked up the sounds of shovels digging in the dirt floor. A recorded phone conversation between George and his friend revealed this incriminating line: “Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary anymore because she’s dead.”
Elizabeth Short’s murder remains unsolved, but Steve Hodel hasn’t given up. Steve brought a cadaver dog to the house, and the dog indicated that it smelled human remains in the basement. A subsequent soil sample revealed chemicals related to decomposing human flesh, though the property was never excavated. Steve believes his father may have committed up to ten unsolved murders in Los Angeles during the 1940s. While George Hodel was never officially charged in any murder case, the house remains a creepy specter in this otherwise charming neighborhood.
4. Manson Family Locations
Ranking high among the most notorious and creepy real-life occurrences around Los Angeles, the Manson Family murders set the relatively peaceful 1960s hippie culture on edge. Many of the original properties remain standing to this day.
- 28 Clubhouse Ave. (Venice Beach) - This was the early home of Manson’s cult before they migrated north into the Valley. It’s located a mere block and a half from the famed Venice Boardwalk.
- Sharon Tate’s Home @ 10066 Cielo Dr. (Beverly Hills) - This was the location where the Manson Family first made national news. On August 9, 1969, Manson’s cult brutally murdered actress Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger (of the Folgers Coffee family) and her partner, and two other friends. The original house was torn down and the address slightly changed, but a house does currently stand at the original site—it’s owned by Jeff Franklin, creator of the wholesome family sitcom Full House.
- Leno & Rosemary LaBianca’s home @ 3311 Waverly Dr. (Los Feliz) - One night after the gruesome murders at Sharon Tate’s home, the Manson crew struck again. This time they targeted the husband and wife LaBianca duo, who together owned a chain of grocery stores and a clothing business. The original home in which the killings took place still stands in this Los Feliz neighborhood, which begs the question, WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO LIVE THERE?!
- Spahn Ranch @ 23000 Santa Susana Pass Rd. (Chatsworth) - This is where the Manson Family took copious amounts of LSD, held orgies, and plotted their murders. A wildfire burned the original buildings in 1970, but visitors still flock to Spahn Ranch to have their pictures taken in the small cave where Manson and his cohort were photographed for Time magazine.
5. The Museum of Death - 6031 Hollywood Blvd. (Hollywood)
Nothing sinister happened at this location, but Hollywood’s Museum of Death exists as a monument to all things creepy and macabre. From the world’s largest collection of artwork by serial killers (including John Wayne Gacy), to memorabilia from the Manson Family, to a re-creation of the Heaven’s Gate compound complete with historical artifacts, this museum will leave you creeped out and speechless. No Halloween visit to LA is complete without a self-guided tour at this Hollywood staple, but be warned that some exhibits (like the Manson crime scene photos) are truly unsettling. This museum is not for everyone, but if you’re looking for a real scare, the Museum of Death will deliver.