Extra! The Kipling Hotel Horrors

Kipling Hotel

Killer Clerk

Formerly a hotel and now a studio apartment building in Mid-City, the Kipling seems unremarkable from the outside, even though it has been here since the 1920s. There’s a popular Korean bar, Saek Dong Juh Gori, on street level, and though there are no stories online about any ghosts or spirits in this building, that doesn’t mean this place hasn’t seen bad times.

In fact, this building has a number of stories to tell, several of them concerning bad luck and tragedy for the staff, as well as the guests.

Opened in 1925 by Richard Kipling, it changed hands within a year when it was bought by M.M. Bryan, who promised to keep the name. In September 1929 death first visited the Kipling when real estate salesman John Francis Ryan, 44, took poison in his room here, leaving a suicide note to his estranged wife.

The Kipling changed hands again in 1930, bought by surgeon William T. Rothwell for $450,000, though he had an unlucky start to his tenure when the night clerk was robbed of $60 on December 30 that same year.

Then, on January 28, 1934 the LA Times reported the suicide of Harold Fuchs, 42, who was found dead on the floor of his hotel room, a vial of cyanide close to his body. There were no clues as to why Fuchs, who arrived from Miami just two weeks before, had committed suicide.

There was a new name on the deed in 1936 when Ella Spencer, “a recent arrival from Kansas City, Mo.” said the LA Times, shelled out $250,000 to own the keys, and then in August 1940 the Kipling was host to a famous – albeit unwilling – guest: mobster Benjamin “Bugsie” Siegel.

He was bought here and questioned after being rousted out by Police from a hidden attic at his mansion in Holmby Hills, a fact revealed at the 1942 trial of Siegel, who was accused of being involved a double murder.

In 1941 there had been another change in ownership (to Mr. and Mrs. A.L. Wilcox for yet another lower sale price of $175,000), despite the fact that the LA Times showed the hotel as being a regular location for events and functions of all kinds.

The hotel was one of eight robbed on the night of October 24, 1946 by “pistol-whipping bandits” who stole a car, held up two gas stations and then went on a rampage, evading Police, injuring several hotel clerks and escaping with an overall haul of $2,500.

Just a couple of months later on New Year’s Eve, it was also reported that composer Charles Wakefield Cadman, 65, who had been a resident at the hotel for the past two years and recently suffered a heart attack there, had died in hospital. A founder of the Hollywood Bowl, he was known for his interest in Native American music.

There was bad luck for the next Kipling owner, Paul F. Selersen, 46, when the small plane he was flying on December 30, 1951 crashed en route to Hemet, killing him and his four passengers, which included his wife Ruth and son Paul.

The Civil Aeronautics Board was investigating the claim that the plane had circled then climbed steeply, causing a stall and a rapid crash.

On February 24, 1953 there was more drama when Police came to the room of Mysti Clendening to return her son, 4 year old Terry, who had been found wandering alone in Lafayette Park (some dozen blocks away) a few days before.

Mrs. Clendening wasn’t there though, and it was assumed she was out searching for her son – but Police had a long wait for her; she didn’t come back to the hotel for two days. Apparently “emotionally upset,” she was ordered to appear at Juvenile Hall, where Terry was temporary staying.

Those events all pale into comparison in relation to what was doubtless the most shocking scandal here at the Kipling: the revelation that a former desk clerk was a murderer and mass-rapist.

The LA Times of August 12, 1983 reported that Jerald Curtis Johns, 32, had been sentenced for the rapes of 13 women and the murder of another during a killing spree the previous year.

Living what Police called “a double life” he was an active church member and worked at the Kipling Hotel where he “taught the bible” to residents, but at night he broke into houses brandishing a knife or screwdriver and assaulted women aged from 24 to 71.

Hunting in a 10 block radius of Santa Monica and Normandie (the latter barely two blocks from the hotel), Johns, who had been in and out of prison for sexual offences before and spent time in mental hospitals, was responsible for the death of one victim, who choked on her own vomit.

Calling it “one of the worst cases I’ve seen in 25 years,” an exasperated Judge Everett E. Ricks asked the prosecution during sentencing:

“Why didn’t you request the death penalty?”

In many ways it doesn’t really matter, because Johns is not eligible for parole until the year 2054 – by which time he’ll be well over 100 years old.