Four years ago, on February 19th 2013, Elisa Lam’s body was found in the rooftop water tank of the Cecil Hotel, in Downtown L.A. Despite being reported missing earlier that month, Elisa’s body was only discovered when guests of the hotel complained that the water in their rooms had a funny taste and colouring. This is when Maintenance workers discovered Elisa’s naked body, floating in the water tank. Elisa was a student at the University of British Columbia, and the daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong. In January 2013, Elisa decided to make the trip to Southern California alone. On social media, nothing appeared out of the ordinary about her trip. She visited many popular West Coast sights, posting photos on social media like any other tourist. On arrival at the Cecil hotel, she initially was staying in a shared room with other travellers, but eventually was assigned a room of her own, as roommates complained to hotel staff that Elisa showed odd behaviour. It is also important to note that Elisa had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression, for which she was on medication, and also openly talked about on her blog. Before her body was found, the LAPD released footage from the camera within an elevator that showed Elisa behaving very oddly, looking as though she was hiding or trying to get away from someone, and even stepping out of the elevator and talking and gesturing as though someone was there (which is a possibility, there may have been someone out of sight of the camera). Whatever is happening in the video, it is very unsettling to watch.
So the question is, how did Elisa end up in the water tank, and what are the circumstances of her death? There are so many theories, but there a several that I think are strong possibilities. A lot of people are quick to point to Elisa’s mental health history, which I personally think is overly assumptive and really rather unfair. Elisa was on medication, and clearly in control of her disorders or else she would not have been able to arrange and partake on the trip, and I am sure her parents would have stopped her if they thought she was not well enough to do so. Equally, she had no previous history of attempting suicide. A major theory was that she was murdered – I mean there is no evidence to suggest she wasn’t, so it is definitely plausible. Elisa may have been murdered by a hotel worker or a guest- the doorway to the roof where her body was found required a special pass/key only acquired by certain members of staff at the hotel, but may have also been taken by a guest. The water tanks required climbing a ladder to get into, but were also covered with heavy lids that would have been nearly impossible for Elisa to then place back on the tank once inside, suggesting someone put her body their and covered up the tank to hide it. On her blog, Elisa also wrote about how there were people behaving strangely in the hotel, and that she was having trouble with them, suggesting that a person may have been stalking or terrorising her before her death. This would also explain the eery elevator footage where Elisa looks as though she is trying to run away from someone, before stepping out the elevator to confront them. Interestingly, people noticed that parts of the footage appear to have been removed, perhaps a worker at the hotel would have access to the camera surveillance and was able to delete anything that would incriminate them as the killer.
The sinister history of the hotel is another theory that is often brought into discussion about this case. The Cecil hotel first opened in the 1920’s, and since then a has became known for its countless numbers of suicides and murders, many of which remain unsolved. People point the finger towards the paranormal, and suggest that Elisa’s strange behaviour in the lift was because she was under the influence of a spirit. Many people claim to experience paranormal activity – some guests even stating that they feel themselves being choked when nothing is there, and this is further asserted by the death of a woman who was killed by strangulation but the murderer was never found. A second theory linked to the paranormal is that Elisa was in fact playing a Korean game in which players use an elevator in order to travel to another dimension. The game involves travelling to different floors of the hotel, and apparently makes players feel confused and disorientated, a possible explanation for why Elisa ended up on the roof of the hotel. Do you think it is just a coincidence, or do you think the paranormal plays a major role in Elisa’s death?
Finally, I’m not sure what I think of this theory, because it claims that Elisa Lam was a made up person, and that does not sit well with me, especially when I think about her grieving family, but there is also a theory that Elisa’s death was used to cover up an outbreak of tuberculosis in the area. Soon after Elisa’s body was found, an outbreak of deadly tuberculosis occurred in the area surrounding the hotel. The test kits for tuberculosis were named “LAM-ELISA”. Whilst I don’t prescribe to this theory myself, it is more than spine chilling. The belief is that to cover up the tuberculosis outbreak, this death was ‘invented’ so that anyone researching LAM-ELISA would instead come across the story of Elisa Lam. Sure enough, I typed LAM-ELISA into my google search, and all that comes up on the first page are stories about Elisa Lam, and her Wikipedia page.
Elisa was only 21 when she died, and I hope one day the cause of her tragic death is discovered, and that there can be closure for her family and loved ones. She was described by those who knew her as cheerful and outgoing, always ready to welcome others, and never without a smile on her face. I hope one day she has justice.