In his urban legend book The Baby Train, folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand writes that he first heard the “dead body found under hotel bed” legend in 1991. Every version that came to him mentioned a Las Vegas hotel, but the lack of checkable details led him to believe this was an apocryphal tale.
Okay, so we can date the appearance of this legend to 1991. Unlike a number of other such gruesome tales, this legend appears to have sprung from a misremembering of any one of a number of actual news items, with the talebearer shifting certain details so that deaths which took place in anonymous little motels along Interstates are said to have happened in Las Vegas, America’s own Sin City, and victims who’d (usually) done little else amiss than be in the wrong place at the wrong time and/or take up with questionable company were transformed through the magic of retelling into prostitutes.
Dead bodies get stashed in the box spring or the bed’s pedestal more often than you’d want to believe. What’s more, a fair number of them are only discovered days
In each of the following cases not only were bodies discovered under hotel beds, but it was investigations of the smell of decomposition that led to their discoveries.
On 10 July 2003, a man checked into the Capri Motel, just east of downtown Kansas City, and began complaining about a foul odor in his room. Management told him nothing could be done about the problem, and he spent three nights in his room before checking out because he could no longer stand the smell. When the cleaning staff came in to make up the room on
On 10 June 1999 the rapidly decomposing remains of 64-year-old Saul Hernandez were discovered inside the bed in
In July 1996 a woman’s body was found under a mattress in the Colorado Boulevard Travelodge in Pasadena, CA. Apparently the motel’s staff discovered her ten days after her demise and only after guests had complained for several days of a foul odor coming from that room.
There were two stashed-and-smelly body cases in Florida in 1994. (Further adding to the confusability of these stories’ taking place in the same year and the same state, in both instances the next tenants those rooms had were German tourists.) In August 1994 in Fort Lauderdale, hotel staff discovered the body of 47-year-old Bryan Gregory tucked under a platform bed. Though the staff had themselves noticed the strange smell for days, they only set about looking for its source after a German couple spent the night in that room and afterwards complained about the odor.
In March 1994 the body of 24-year-old Josefina Martinez was found underneath a bed at the Traveler’s Hotel near Miami International Airport. Again, the discovery was prompted by an aggrieved German tourist upset about a foul odor in his room.
In Virginia in 1989, Jerry Lee Dunbar disposed of the remains of two victims this way: 27-year-old Deirdre Smith, who was discovered in May under the floor of a motel room on
In Mineola, New York, motel in 1988, a body turned up in a box spring. The remains of 29-year-old Mary Jean DeOliviera were found at the Oceanside Motel. Again, the body was discovered days later and only after other patrons complained about the smell. At least two other guests unknowingly cohabited with the body before it was found, and at least one guest refused to stay in that room because of the smell.
Here’s a change of pace — not a murder, but a death by misadventure. In Rosedale, Maryland in 1987, an unidentified man died of a drug overdose after one of the thirty-four balloons of heroin he’d swallowed burst. His partner stashed the corpse under their motel bed, then split. Three days later, the family the room was next rented to complained about the odor, and this led to the body’s discovery.
One of the oldest “smelly body left under the bed” sightings comes from 1982. Richard Kuklinski, Daniel Deppner, and Gary Smith often teamed together to run auto theft scams. Kuklinski and Deppner decided to kill Smith, and they accomplished this by feeding him a cyanide-laced hamburger in a North Bergen, New Jersey, motel room. Kuklinkski finished off Smith by strangling him when watching Smith die of poisoning proved tiresome. Smith’s body was stuffed under the bed and left there. It was found four days later, on
That case has seemingly been topped by one in which Sony Millbrook of Memphis, Tennessee, was reported missing on
There are, of course, numerous other cases of dead bodies being left under hotel beds, but I’ve chosen not to report on these because they lack the key element of the legend: complaints about the presence of a horrific smell leading to the corpse’s discovery. What gives this urban legend its chills-down-the-spine gruesomeness is the body’s being found only after an unsuspecting traveler spends the night sleeping above it. That clearly happened in at least some of the cases mentioned here (and perhaps in others where the news reports stated only that hotel guests had complained without specifying which guests).
Urban legends tend to localize to where we believe they likely would have happened. It’s easy to understand how in each of the versions Brunvand related that
Keep in mind that the Deirdre Smith (1989, Virginia), Marilyn Graham (1989, Virginia), Mary Jean DeOliviera (1988,
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17 March 2010.
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