Nothing can have a hold on us quite like a gripping true crime story. Whether it’s the latest Netflix series or a stunning novel, this nonfiction genre captivates us, probably because it has to do with true stories.
And if it feels like everyone is obsessed with true crime, you’d be right. Americans are watching more true crime than ever before, and many true crime documentaries sit in the top-ranking spot on Netflix for weeks on end after they’re released.
While watching a TV show can make it feel like most true crime stories happen in far-away places, these dark tales aren’t actually that far away. You can probably find some wild true crime stories which took place not too far from where you are right now, for example.
Certain cities are hotbeds for fascinating and chilling true crime tales. Take Los Angeles, for example. The City of Angels is home to the rich and famous, but it’s also home to some of the most well-known and haunting true crime stories in the United States.
If you’re as addicted to true crime as we are, then you’ll be fascinated by this list of the most out-there and notorious true crime stories in LA. Trigger warning: the following stories might be disturbing to some readers, and contain graphic depictions (although we don’t get too into the gruesome parts).
Notorious & Infamous True Crime Stories in LA
The “Black Dahlia” Murder
Perhaps the most infamous of all of the true crime stories in Los Angeles, this murder remains unsolved to this day, and is one of the oldest unsolved cases in Los Angeles county.
In 1947, a mother and her child discovered a gruesome sight while out for a walk: the mutilated body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, who was a Hollywood hopeful from New England. The press quickly dubbed this murder the “Black Dahlia,” in relation to a movie that came out at the time (the “Blue Dahlia”), and Elizabeth’s known affinity for black clothing.
There were many interesting facts about this case that captivated the public. Despite the condition of the body, there “wasn’t a drop of blood at the scene,” according to the FBI. There also were indicators that the murderer might have had skills in dissection, leading investigators to check out a group of students at the University of Southern California Medical School. But all leads went cold, and to this day, this murder is unsolved.
Nicole Brown Simpson & Ron Goldman
Maybe tied for first-place in notorious LA true crime cases is this one, also known as the “OJ Simpson murder case.” Nicole Brown Simpson was the ex-wife of famed football player OJ Simpson. She was found stabbed to death outside of her home in 1994, along with her friend Ron Goldman, in the San Francisco area, but the story includes a Los Angeles chapter.
There was overwhelming evidence against Simpson, who quickly became the primary suspect. Although he agreed to turn himself in, Simpson grabbed a passport, a disguise, and thousands of dollars in cash, and led police on a highway chase that was broadcast on national television.
Eventually, he was caught, and the evidence against Simpson seemed overwhelming, including blood found at the murder scene. But his team of lawyers convinced the jury that Simpson had been framed by racist police officers. He walked free, and promised to find the “real killers,” but never turned up any new leads.
The Cecil Hotel
Few places have as much of a notoriously dark and macabre history as the Cecil Hotel. The hotel has been the scene of murders, suicides, and suspiscous deaths for almost 100 years. It opened in 1924, and the developers planned for it to be a grand destination. But after the Great Depression, wealthy travelers were slow to show up.
Since then, there have been well over a dozen horrific stories that have come from the rooms of the hotel. In 1991, an Austrian serial killer was captured after staying at the hotel. The “Night Stalker” serial killer (who we talk about in a little bit) likely committed some of his crimes while staying at the Cecil Hotel. In 2013, the hotel rose to national notoriety yet again, when Canadian college student Elisa Lam disappeared, only to be found dead in the hotel’s water tank.
In 2007, the hotel was sold, and the new owners renamed it as “Stay on Main,” before it was sold again. Since 2017, the hotel has been closed for extensive renovations, and it’s expected to reopen a hotel and apartment complex.
The Menendez Brothers
Joseph Lyle Menéndez and Erik Galen Menéndez are two brothers who were at the center of a Beverly Hills crime case that captivated the country. The brothers were convicted in 1996 for killing their parents.
The brothers shot their parents, and went to the local movie theater to buy tickets as an alibi. They then called the police, and were not immediately suspected in the killings. But the case took a turn: after Erik confessed to his psychotherapist, that therapist’s mistress turned in the information to police.
During the case, a legal battle ensued over whether that information was admissible in the trial. The brothers also gave compelling testimony that described years of abuse at the hands of their parents. Both brothers were convicted to life in prison, which they’re still serving to this day.
The “Night Stalker” Serial Killer
Few killers terrified Los Angeles like Richard Ramirez, also known as the “Night Stalker.” The focus of Netflix documentaries, Ramirez was a gruesome killer who had at least 13 victims. Ramirez started killing in 1984, but that first incident wasn’t connected to him until 2009, well after Ramirez was in prison. During his crime spree, Ramirez would often break into homes, when he would assault or murder his victims.
Ramirez was connected to the “Night Stalker” killings in 1985, after a woman who survived an attack helped police identify him. After police released his photo, citizens identified him on the street, and held him down until police arrived.
Ramirez was tried, convicted, and was sentenced to death. He sat on California’s death row for more than 23 years, and died of natural causes in 2013.
The “Manson Family” Murders
It’s tough to talk about LA true crime without mentioning Charles Manson, whose infamous legacy is still large to this day. In the late 1960’s. Manson led the Manson Family, a cult of mostly female followers. Ultimately, some of Manson’s followers committed a series of nine murders. This included the high-profile killing of pregnant actress Sharon Tate.
There are endless eerie aspects to the case, aside from the murders themselves. During the trial, several Manson Family members camped out outside of the courthouse, holding “vigil” with X’s carved into their foreheads. Manson and several of his followers were eventually found guilty. Manson was originally sentenced to death in 1971, and ultimately to life in prison. Manson died behind bars in 2017 at the age of 83.
The “Wonderland Murders”
While much is known about this 1981 murder case, there’s one big question to this day: who actually committed the crime? The Wonderland Gang was a notorious crime group in Los Angeles, who lived in a townhouse at 8763 Wonderland Avenue. At 3:00am one July morning, an unknown number of men entered the home, and killed four people.
There was plenty of drama with the Wonderland Gang leading up to the murders, involving drugs and crime. During the case, several people related to the group were arrested, tried, and acquitted for their possible roles in the murders. But to this day, no one knows who really committed the killings, and the case remains unsolved.
The Greystone Mansion Murders
The Greystone Mansion is iconic to this day, and while this stunning Beverly Hills home is often used for film and television shows, it has some true crime history of its own. This 1928 Tudor mansion was built by the Doheny family, of oil tycoon fame, and it was the most expensive mansion built at the time ($4 million, equal to over $50 million today).
The mansion was home to Ned Doheny, his wife Lucy, and their five children. In February 1929, Ned was found dead in a guest bedroom, along with his friend and assistant, Hugh Plunkett.
While there were some theories and ideas as to what happened, the murders were never solved and the case was closed by police. Lucy lived in the house for decades, but eventually, it was sold, and the estate became a city park in the 1970’s.
True Crime Fans, You’ll Love This
Sure, true crime is fascinating to read about, and can leave you going down Wikipedia holes for hours. But true crime tours are a great way to get up-close-and-personal with some of the macabre and haunted history in LA. These tours are perfect for friends or events, but they’re also great team building events for your coworkers.