The Body Under the Bed

Claim: After repeatedly complaining about the smell in their room, a couple staying in Las Vegas discovered the body of a murdered girl under their bed.

Status: True (but not in Las Vegas).

Regarding the "dead body found under hotel bed" urban legend, in The Baby Train (pp. 131-133) Brunvand says he first heard this friend-of-a-friend story in 1991. Every version that came to him always had it as a Las Vegas hotel, and apparently that — coupled with the lack of checkable details — led him to believe this was an apocryphal tale.

Imagine my surprise in finding out there've been at least a handful of real life instances of this happening. It's far from being apocryphal, as a quick skim through a newspaper archive turned up a number of specific cases. 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 later after the new tenant complains about a persistent and disagreeable odor.

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.

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 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, a hotel's 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 Route 1, and 29-year-old Marilyn Graham, who turned up in June under a bed in the Alexandria Econo Lodge. In Smith's case, the killer first kept her body partially hidden under his bed for two days, then subsequently placed it in the crawl space under the carpeted floor. Her presence seemingly didn't bother him, because he didn't move out of that room until three or four weeks later. Both girls' bodies were eventually found after other guests complained about the stink.

In Mineola, New York, motel in 1988, a body turned up in a boxspring. 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.

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 I think one of the key elements of the legend is the presence of a horrible smell and complaints about it 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 I've mentioned here (and perhaps in others where the news reports stated only that hotel guests had complained without mentioning 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 Las Vegas was always named as the city where the corpse reposed, for Vegas is indeed viewed as Sin City, USA. Much easier to believe that the unsuspecting traveler shared his room with a moldering corpse in Las Vegas than it is to (rightly) place that occurrence in small-town New York, Virginia, or Maryland. Especially when dealing with a half-remembered true story, it's natural for the "obvious" details to replace facts that have been misplaced due to ordinary fuzziness of memory. One, after all, does not let a lack of facts stand in the way of a good story.

Though a real-life instance of this legend might have taken place in Vegas and I've just so far not found it, I think it more likely that the urban legend Brunvand started hearing in 1991 was based on a real happening in some anonymous little place and that the location of the tale was later changed to Las Vegas. Keep in mind that the Deirdre Smith (1989, Virginia), Marilyn Graham (1989, Virginia), Mary Jean DeOliviera (1988, New York), and John Doe (1987, Maryland) cases antedate 1991. Gruesome finds like those tend to get heavily reported on, and that certainly happened with Smith, Graham and DeOliviera (the cites below don't begin to do justice to the coverage these discoveries got — they were definitely reported on by a double handful of various papers across the USA). It is because of that widespread coverage that I lean towards this legend's having sprung to life out of a true story whose location got shifted from Your Town, USA (where only nice people live) to Sin City (where both life and room rates are cheap).

So, look ye under your hotel beds if there be a peculiar smell you can't account for.

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