Trap Door In Motel Room Leads To Criminal Underworld That Was Under Cops’ Noses All Along

No one expects a whole lot from a 2-star hotel. Guests just want low prices, a clean room with a door that locks, and maybe a pot of hot coffee in the lobby. Still, residents of a small California town were shocked at the intricate goings-on at a cheap, local hotel.

In 2014, authorities received a call about a disturbance at a Grass Valley, California hotel and rolled in to check it out early one morning. What they found, however, required a massive police operation, unlike anything the locals had ever seen…

Guests of the Holiday Lodge in Grass Valley, California, might call it quaint. In its luxury suite, smoky wood panels lined walls covered in rustic trinkets. But in 2014, authorities found looks can be deceiving.

Holiday Lodge Grass Valley / Facebook

Sure, no one called the three-star hotel situated 60 miles from the state’s capital a classy place. But any of the town’s 13,000 residents would’ve raised an eyebrow had they seen police cruisers closing in on it at 7 a.m.

That morning saw the culmination of month’s worth of investigations. “We have, for several months,” Grass Valley Police Sargent Steve Johnson, left, said, “responded to complaints from other guests at the hotel regarding this activity.”

On May 30th, authorities received one more call reporting suspicious characters at the hotel, and at last, they could no longer sit back. Their hunch, police figured, must be true.

You see, Grass Valley authorities had been researching the rising drug-related activities along the stretch of pavement the Holiday Lodge called home. With a drug-sniffing canine in tow, they launched a raid.

But all the training in the world couldn’t prepare authorities for the living fiction they found within the hotel. Officers entered the first unregistered room and found it filled to the brim with people—and more.

Raiding officers found enough drugs and drug paraphernalia to suggest more than just simple usage going on. Yet, as they slapped handcuffs on those in the room, evidence pointed them towards another hotel room.

There, the authorities found more drugs, plus enough weapons, high-capacity magazines, and ammunition to arm a small militia. As they searched, the small team of officers struggled to wrangle the 14 suspects.

One suspect “tried to jump out a back window and flee,” Sargent Johnson said. Then, the k9 smelled something that led officers to a curious corner of yet another unregistered hotel room…

Underneath the carpet, authorities uncovered a trap door, right, that led into darkness. Officers lowered themselves inside, ready to face the worst.

The trapdoor led to a basement storage unit, which held even more contraband. Anyone trying to escape from the police could use the hole to hide, but that wasn’t all it was used for…

Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times

Inside of this hole officers found tasers and a battery that was actually a hidden compartment for drugs, right. The hiding place had another function, too…

They spoke with the front desk manager Dawn Marie Olson, below, and wanted to know how all this had been going on right under her nose. When she didn’t have answers, they cuffed her too.

At the end of the raid, police officers had arrested 15 people within the Holiday Lodge. So many in fact, police required a paddy wagon to transport all the suspects to jail. Still, authorities had one last person to investigate…

Later that day, authorities spoke to 88-year-old James Ralph. James lived in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, fought in World War II, and earned a Ph.D. in economics. He owned four hotels, three of which were luxurious locations… the fourth was the Holiday Lodge.

James was flabbergasted at the news his hotel had been used for such a nefarious game. “It’s a blow, let me tell you,” he said. “That activity is a terrible thing, and I assure you it’s not going to be here again.” He devised a plan. 

“What I have told my managers,” he said, “is do not rent to local people because we can survive without them. The risk is that (local) people who rent rooms have an ulterior motive, such as dealing in drugs.”

At least, James clarified, that would be the responsibility of the new front desk manager. But only if the hotel could recover its reputation. Still, in trying to clean the place up, James hit a few more snags…

For one, authorities uncovered gross code violations in the hotel as they conducted their raid; the law required he fix those within the next weeks. Worse, cleaners found “realistic” pellet guns hiding in the framework of a bed.

James addressed those issues, and today, the hotel still operates, its dark past unknown to most travelers. In fact, some out-of-town guests staying at the Holiday Lodge might even call the 2-star joint charming!

Holiday Lodge Grass Valley / Facebook

Good thing no one was hurt in this elaborate hotel raid. It makes you wonder how many more hotels spread across the country are being used as criminal hideouts…

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