Elisa Lam’s Mysterious Death
In over 22 years doing this job as a news reporter, this is one case that kind of stuck with me because we know the who, what, when, where. But why is always the question,” said NBC LA reporter Lolita Lopez in reference to Elisa Lam’s mysterious death.
To this day, no one knows exactly how Elisa Lam died. We know that the 21-year-old Canadian student was last seen at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles on January 31, 2013. But the hotel’s surveillance video captures the odd final moments before her disappearance, all clues only raising more questions than answers. Since her body was found in the hotel’s water tank on February 19, his tragic death has remained shrouded in mystery.
Although the coroner ruled her death as “accidental drowning,” the bizarre details of Lam’s case have sparked much speculation about what may have actually happened. Internet detectives have come up with a myriad of theories about the tragedy, involving everything from murder conspiracies to evil spirits. But in Elisa Lam’s strange death, where does the truth lie?
On January 26, 2013, Elisa Lam arrived in LA. She had just come on an Amtrak train from San Diego and was headed to Santa Cruz as part of his solo trip around the West Coast. The trip was supposed to be a vacation from her studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where she is from. Her family had been wary of his journey alone, but the young student was determined to go it alone. As a compromise, Lam made sure to call her parents every day during the trip to let them know she was safe.
That’s why her parents found it unusual when they didn’t hear from their daughter on January 31, the day she was scheduled to check out of her hotel. The Lams family eventually contacted the Los Angeles Police Department. The police searched Cecil’s place but could not find her.
Police immediately checked the surveillance footage taken from the camera at the Cecil Hotel on their website. This is where things get really weird. The hotel’s video shows Elisa Lam in one of her lifts on the date she left acting a bit odd. In the pixelated footage, Lam can be seen stepping into an elevator and pressing all the floor buttons. She stepped in and out of the elevator, poking her head sideways toward the hotel aisle in between. She peeked out of the elevator a few times before actually exiting the elevator. The last minutes of the video show Lam standing on the left side of the door, moving her hands in random motions. No one else is captured in the video, except for Lam. Public reaction to the unexplained video spread across Canada and China, where the Lam family is from. The four-minute video of Lam’s bizarre elevator episode has racked up tens of millions of views.
On February 19, two weeks after the video was published by authorities, maintenance worker Santiago Lopez found Elisa Lam’s body floating in one of the hotel’s water tanks. Lopez found the body after responding to complaints from hotel customers about low water pressure and a strange taste coming from the tap water. According to a statement by the head of the Los Angeles Fire Department, the tank in which Lam’s body was found had to be drained completely and then cut open from the side to remove the five-foot skeleton. No one knows how Lam’s body – floating lifeless next to the same clothes she wore in the surveillance video – ended up in the hotel’s water tank or who else might have been involved. Hotel staff told authorities that Lam was always seen alone around the hotel premises. But at least one person saw Lam immediately before her death. At a nearby shop, called The Last Bookstore, the owner, Katie Orphan, was one of the last people to see Elisa Lam alive. She remembers Liam buying some books to take to Vancouver.
“It looks like Lam has plans to return home, plans to give something to her family members and reconnect with them,” Orphan told CBS LA. When the autopsy results for Lam’s case came out, they only sparked more questions. The toxicology report confirmed that Lam had been taking a number of medical drugs, possibly drugs for her bipolar disorder. But there was no indication of alcohol or illegal substances in her body.
As soon as the toxicology report came out, amateur sleuths began poring over any information they could find in hopes of solving the mystery behind Elisa Lam’s death. For example, one summary of Lam’s toxicology report was posted online by a Reddit detective with an obvious interest in medicine. The breakdown shows three main observations: Lam was taking at least one antidepressant that day; Lam was recently taking both antidepressants and mood stabilizers, but not that day; and Lam has not taken her antipsychotic medication recently. This conclusion suggests that Lam, who has been diagnosed with both bipolar disorder and depression, may not be taking her medication properly.
This is an important finding to note given that the use of antidepressants to treat bipolar disorder can carry the risk of inducing manic side effects if used without caution. Several detectives were able to pick up on these details and suggested possible explanations behind Lam’s strange behavior in the elevator. Statements by hotel manager Amy Price in court strongly support this theory. During Lam’s stay at the Cecil Hotel, Price said Lam was initially booked in a shared dormitory-style room with other people.
However, complaints of “strange behavior” from Lam’s roommates forced Lam to be moved to a private room alone. But even if Elisa Lam was suffering from mental health problems, how could she die? Furthermore, how did she end up in the hotel’s water tank? The autopsy did not show any fraud from the evidence that was processed. But the coroner noted that they couldn’t carry out a full examination because they couldn’t examine the blood from Lam’s decomposing body.
David and Yinna Lam filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Cecil Hotel months after their daughter’s death was revealed. Lawyers for Lams stated that hotels have a duty to “examine and search for hazards in hotels that present an unreasonable risk of harm to Lam and other hotel guests.” The hotel fought back against the lawsuit, filing a motion to reject it. The hotel’s lawyers argued that the hotel had no reason to think that someone would be able to get into one of their water tanks. Based on court statements from the hotel’s maintenance staff, the hotel’s argument is not entirely far-fetched. Santiago Lopez, who first discovered Lam’s body, described in detail how much effort he had to make just to find her body.
Lopez said he took the lift to the 15th floor of the hotel before climbing the stairs to the roof. Then, he had to first set off the roof’s alarm and climb onto the platform where the hotel’s four water tanks were. Finally, he had to climb another ladder to get to the top of the main tank. Only after all that did he notice something unusual. “I saw the hatch to the main water tank open and looked in and saw an Asian woman lying face down in the water about twenty inches from the top of the tank,” Lopez said, as reported by LAist. Lopez’s testimony indicated that it would be difficult for Lam to reach the top of the water tank on her own.
At least, not without anyone noticing. The hotel’s Chief Engineer Pedro Tovar also explained that it would be difficult for anyone to access the roof, where the hotel’s water tank is located, without triggering an alarm. Only hotel employees can properly deactivate the alarm. If triggered, the sound of the alarm will reach the front desk as well as the entire top two floors of the hotel. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Howard Halm ruled that Elisa Lam’s death was “unexpected” because it occurred in an area that guests should not have access to, and the lawsuit was dismissed.
Elisa Lam’s mysterious death is not the first to occur at the Cecil Hotel. In fact, the building’s sordid past has earned it a reputation as one of the most haunted properties in Los Angeles. Since opening in 1927, Hotel Cecil has been plagued by 16 different non-natural deaths and unexplained paranormal events. The most famous hotel-related death, besides Lam, was the 1947 murder of actress Elizabeth Short, aka “Black Dahlia,” who was reportedly seen drinking in the hotel bar in the days before her gruesome death.
The hotel has also hosted some of the country’s most notorious killers. In 1985, Richard Ramirez, also known as the “Night Stalker”, was living on the top floor of the hotel during the killing spree. The story goes that after the murders, Ramirez would throw his bloodied clothes outside the hotel and come back half naked. At the time, the hotel was so chaotic that Ramirez’s nudity nearly caused it.
With such a grisly history, one would think the Cecil Hotel would soon be cursed. But actually, the building has just been given landmark status by the Los Angeles City Council. This hotel is distinguished by its opening in the 1920s, which is considered the beginning of the lodging industry in the United States. Meanwhile, Elisa Lam’s tragic death at the hotel has inspired pop culture adaptations such as Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Hotel. During a press conference for the show, Murphy stated that the new season was “inspired by a surveillance video from a Los Angeles-based hotel that appeared two years ago. The footage shows a girl in an elevator who is never seen again.” An obvious reference to Elisa Lam and her freaky elevator episode. Until now, Elisa Lam’s death has not been revealed how, why, who??