The Cecil Hotel

The Cecil Hotel, once home to the serial killer Richard Ramirez, is one of the stops on the DTLA Murder Mystery Ghost Tour. 

DTLA’s hotels and buildings have rich histories, some tied to serial killers, mysterious deaths, ghosts and crime scenes. 

During the Real Los Angeles Tours’ DTLA Murder Mystery Ghost Tour, participants spend three hours peeking into notorious spots within a 2-mile radius.

The Biltmore Hotel, for example, was the last place the Black Dahlia was spotted alive. Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez stayed at the Cecil Hotel, which was recently featured in a Netflix documentary about Elisa Lam’s death. 

The Alexandria Hotel is said to be haunted by Rudolph Valentino, and the Barclay Hotel has housed two serial killers.  

The Saturday evening tour also stops by the site of the Chinatown Massacre of 1871 and the Hall of Justice, where Charles Manson was tried. 

While the ghost tour is its most popular, Real Los Angeles also offers trips through Hollywood, including Santa Monica and Venice; Hollywood speakeasy; LA; Mount Hollywood hiking and food, history and design jaunts. Private tours are available. 

The Real Los Angeles Tours was founded in 2013 by Damien Blackshaw, a director, actor and writer who majored in history and politics in college.  

Blackshaw went on walking tours in Europe and was inspired to similarly showcase Downtown Los Angeles.  

“I thought it was a really cool experience,” Blackshaw said. 

“I hadn’t really done a lot of tours up until that point. I mostly did bus tours. It seemed like it was a good deal, but I realized I couldn’t remember anything that I had seen. When I did this walking tour, I thought it would be great to do in back in LA.

“When I looked around at that time, eight years ago, it was before Airbnb experiences. There were a lot less companies in LA, and there wasn’t really anyone doing what we did — walking tours of different areas and different types of experiences. I thought — with my background, history and running a company, writing and performing — I tick a lot of boxes that I never really thought about before. That’s how it really got started.” 

In LA, tours are led by eight guides, who present similar information but bring their own spin. They have various backgrounds in acting, composing and writing. For the first six months, Blackshaw was the only guide.

“There’s a lot of information that they are expected to talk about, but it’s not a script,” said Blackshaw, who has a similar company in San Francisco.

“They don’t have to learn it word for word. For me, authenticity is crucial, and for that, you can’t have a guide just reciting a script. It’s not as interesting for them either. Over the years I’ve been doing it, one of the interesting things is of all of the training I’ve done with the guides. I must have seen at least 15 people do the ghost tour. Each one is different.” 

These days, he tends to handle behind-the-scenes administrative and operational tasks, especially as the company grows. Blackshaw enjoys going on tours and exploring new places in LA and beyond.

He is looking to expand; however, it’s difficult to find new guides during the pandemic. The right candidate has an upbeat personality.

“What you really need for these types of tours are people who are into this kind of stuff,” he said. “They need to be outgoing and into the history.”

During the pandemic, locals frequented Blackshaw’s tours. In the past, attendees came from as far away as New Zealand. 

Blackshaw said with the ghost tours, it helps for participants to have some knowledge of the sites they visit and crimes associated with them. 

“You are talking about gory details about how people got chopped up. If they’ve never heard of the crime, never heard of the victim and never heard of the killer, it’s a little bit funny really,” he said. 

“Local people, they know the Night Stalker. They know the Black Dahlia — most of them. At first, we used to think, ‘Why do they come on the tour? They know all of this stuff.’ It’s cool for people who are interested in this kind of stuff because it’s curated. They go to all of these interesting spots and get information that is relevant.” 

Blackshaw said he feels it’s important to stick to the facts and not try to sensationalize the stories. 

“A big thing with us is to make sure it is real. You don’t need to make up stuff,” Blackshaw said. “There’s no way that I can compete with the real stuff that’s happened here. It would just be pointless really. For that very reason, we stick to the facts. It’s more interesting.” 

Sometimes, tour participants add their personal anecdotes or corroborate facts. 

“I was doing the tour myself about a year ago,” Blackshaw said. 

“I was telling the group that if you stay at the Cecil, every door to every room has four locks on the door. I said to use every one because you don’t know what’s going to happen there at the Cecil. It’s funny, we had a couple guys on the tour who had previously stayed at the Cecil, and they said, ‘Yeah, it’s true. There are four locks on every door.’ 

“I don’t really remember where exactly I found that out, but it’s happened many times that I’ve said something that people who have firsthand knowledge are like, ‘Oh yeah.’”

Some buildings do not allow guests, but the tour stops at hotel bars for cocktails. Other times, impromptu experiences will happen, like a vision of a mysterious figure at the window of the Pico House, the home of former California governor Pio Pico.  

“It seems pretty unlikely it was Pio Pico, but it was bizarre,” he said.

“I’ve never ever seen anyone there before, not at 9 p.m. on a Saturday. You just saw someone walking around in front of one window and another. I’m assuming it was someone in there for some reason, but it was just right on cue.” 

Blackshaw hopes to expand his company’s offerings by hosting themed events and tours.  

This year on Halloween, the company will have a special ghost tour with a costume contest, a Halloween-themed gift, and chances to learn more about and see decorations related to Dia de Los Muertos.  

 

DTLA Murder Mystery Ghost Tour 

WHEN: 6 to 9 p.m. Saturdays

WHERE: Starts at Pershing Square, opposite the Pershing Square Metro Station, 532 S. Olive Street, and ends at Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N. Spring Street

COST: $45; cocktails are not included

INFO: 213-316-8687, thereallosangelestours.com

 

Special Halloween DTLA Murder Mystery Ghost Tour

WHEN: 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 31   

WHERE: Starts at Pershing Square, opposite the Pershing Square Metro Station, 532 S. Olive Street, and ends at Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N. Spring Street

COST: $50; cocktails are not included

INFO: 213-316-8687, thereallosangelestours.com