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Woman found slain at glitzy Gold Coast hotel

Rachel Baugh her husbBrian take their luggage leaves Whitehall Hotel 105 E. Delaware Monday August 13 2012.  They were

Rachel Baugh and her husband, Brian take their luggage and leaves the Whitehall Hotel at 105 E. Delaware, Monday, August 13, 2012. They were in Chicago from Cincinnati, celebrating their anniversary on Tuesday, August 14, 2012. When they heard a woman was found dead inside one of the guest rooms, they turned around and left. | Dom Najolia~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 15, 2012 6:12AM

It’s been hailed as one of the “great small hotels in the United States,” but on Monday the Gold Coast’s glitzy Whitehall Hotel found many guests shocked and others checking out as police announced it was the site of a homicide.

Housekeeping staff at the boutique hotel at 105 E. Delaware Pl. found the body of a 23-year-old Texas woman in a seventh-floor room, according to police and hotel guests.

The victim had suffered a gunshot wound to the head, police said.

“I’m scared. You don’t feel secure,” said guest Megan Cole, of Florida, as she left the Whitehall with her child in a stroller. Her family had been at the hotel three nights.

“You don’t expect something like this at a hoity-toity hotel off the Magnificent Mile,” she said. “There were a slew of police on the seventh floor. I hate to say it, but I hope it’s someone she knew. I hate to think it was an intruder. We leave tomorrow, thank God.” Police responded about 10 a.m. to the luxury, European-style hotel in a landmark building just off Michigan Avenue, a block from the John Hancock Center. Initially, police said they were conducting a death investigation. By late afternoon, that changed.

“This incident has been reclassified to a homicide investigation,” Police News Affairs said in a statement shortly before 4:30 p.m.

Abel Angeles, a doorman at The Bristol, a condo building next door, said detectives asked the condo for its surveillance footage, because the Whitehall has no outdoor cameras.

“I’ve worked here five years, and there’s never been anything like this,” Angeles said. “The paramedics pulled up, went in with a stretcher, and came back out without anyone, and left. Then the police descended. That’s when we knew it was serious.”

Representatives for the Whitehall — built as apartments in the late 1920’s and converted to a hotel in the 50’s — declined comment. General manager Leonard Mendiola did not return phone calls.

“We’ve been coming here for eight years. It’s shocking. You don’t expect this here,” said Dan Cooper of Burr Ridge, who with wife Jennifer and their three kids had come for lunch at Fornetto Mei, the hotel’s popular fine dining restaurant on the first floor.

Pending notification of family, the slain woman was not immediately being identified by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, which said the victim suffered trauma to the head. An autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.

The 221-room hotel, was named “one of the eight great small hotels in the United States,” by Fortune Magazine, according to its website. It’s why Brian Baugh of Cincinnati chose it for a week’s vacation with his wife Rachel to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

“We just got here. As soon as we heard what happened, we called another hotel and checked out. We don’t need any level of discomfort. It’s not what we’re here for,” said Baugh.

Central Area detectives were investigating.

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