Lisa Lam was a 21-year-old Canadian tourist who was found dead in a downtown Los Angeles hotel’s rooftop water tank in February 2013. Lam was from Vancouver, British Columbia and had traveled alone to Los Angeles on January 26, 2013, intending to stay a few days before making her way to Santa Cruz, California.

Elisa Lam

Elisa Lam

She was last seen on January 31, 2013 by workers at the hotel, but on February 19, a maintenance worker found her body in one of the four 8-feet-tall, 4-foot diameter tanks on the hotel roof. A crew had gone to check the tanks because some of the hotel patrons were complaining of low water pressure.

Authorities had searched the roof of the hotel earlier during an investigation into her disappearance but had not opened the four cisterns. It was not even considered a possibility at the time.

The historic Cecil Hotel was located near Skid Row and it did not take long for the mystery to take a turn for the occult when Elisa was found dead because of the strange circumstances surrounding the event and of a surveillance video of Lam inside an elevator pushing buttons and behaving oddly.

lam-reservoirAuthorities ruled in June 2013 that her death was an accident. The only explanation offered for her being found in a very difficult to access water tank was that she was bipolar and probably ended up falling or placing herself on purpose in the cistern.

The bothersome aspect of this theory is that the workers had to cut the tank open to remove Lam’s body. I have a hard time comprehending how she accessed the tank because the rooftop area was locked and protected by an alarm system.

There were only four ways onto the roof: three fire escapes on the sides of the hotel and one alarmed door connected to an interior staircase. The hotel’s engineer said he tested the alarm regularly and it was working when Lam went missing.

The latch of the tank she was found into was unlocked and she would have had to shut the lid on her own. Plus, if you notice on the photo, you need to bring a ladder to have access to the top part of the cistern and it is not an easy climb, especially if you are carrying your clothing and jewelry and had to procure yourself a ladder. 

Detective Wallace Tennelle in his deposition said ”My opinion is that she fell off her medication, and in her state, she happened to find her way onto the roof, got into the tank of water, at the time, I think that water tank was maybe full. But as people used water, unknown to her, the level was dropping to a point where she could no longer reach out and escape, and she died that way.” I find his theory self-serving and quite expeditive. First of all, does he know if the water in these tanks usually replenish right away or slowly? And saying that ‘in her state, she found her way into the tank‘ is skipping the most important questions necessary to come to a logical conclusion.

The coroner report indicated that the medical examination found no visible signs of trauma on her body and toxicology tests were negative for factors leading to her death. So the conclusion was that her drowning was accidental and her bipolar disorder was considered a ‘’significant condition.’’

The footage of Lam in the elevator is also very odd and when you watch her hand gestures and how long the elevator stays open, it raises questions. But it can probably be explained by her mental state and the fact that she may have pushed several buttons causing the ride to remain in place. Is she spooked by something or in the throes of a mental meltdown? I would tend to think she was having an episode and being alone at the Cecil in LA might have aggravated her condition.

As troubling as it is, we probably can chalk her actions to mental illness and not to the Shining. But for adepts of the Twilight Zone and Hitchcock, there is plenty about this story to let your mind wanders to the dark side. So if you are looking to hang your hat on a murder mystery, Lam’s death contains all the right elements:

The Cecil Hotel has a history of spooky events.  Serial killer Richard Ramirez known as the “Night Stalker,” lived on the hotel’s 14th floor for several months in 1985. Johann “Jack” Unterweger is another serial killer who lived in the hotel in 1991. A woman was found dead in 1964 after her room was ransacked and she was stabbed, strangled, and raped by an unknown assailant. A number of suicides happened at the hotel while patrons leaped from their windows, including a woman who jumped from the 9th floor in 1962 and killed a man walking below.

Lam’s death resembles a murder mystery plot. The movie Dark Water tells the story of a young woman found drowned in a hotel water tank. A scene in the movie depicts an elevator malfunctioning, and a character named Cecilia. Cecilia is damn similar to Cecil if you want to go there.

The name of a medical test is similar to the victim’s name. Shortly after Elisa Lam’s body was found, national health experts were called to Skid Row near the hotel to investigate a deadly persistent tuberculosis outbreak that local health officials called the largest in a decade. Thousands of people might have been exposed to TB and the test to diagnose tuberculosis was the LAM-ELISA.

The Cecil was shaped as an E like in the initial of Elisa’s first name.

It sounds very creepy and the elevator scene is chilling but it is no doubt a malfunctioning elevator causing a poor girl some grief. But her behavior could easily have made her a target to a stalker or the victim of a crime of opportunity. It is in fact very hard to believe that she climbed into one of the tanks willingly when she was so manic and scared. Plus, how would she have known that this specific tank was the one that remained unlocked. Luck of the draw?

lam-hotelElisa could have been frightened because of paranoia but she might have been scared of someone. Let’s not forget that the Cecil was crawling with very strange long-term residents who might have noticed the poor girl. The staff having access to the roof should also have been questioned more thoroughly.

Lam was first assigned to a shared room, but her roommates complained about her odd behavior and she was moved to a private room.

One of the detectives said that the tape of Lam in the elevator is not the only time she was caught on video. ” We did see her come in with two gentlemen. She had – they had a box, gave it to her and she went up into the elevator. We never saw them again on video. ” Did they ever find that box and its content in her room?

If she was suicidal, it would have been easier for her to jump from a window or take all her pills instead of climbing to the roof. This girl looked very paranoid in the elevator and she would have made her way to the roof through the steep emergency stairway and climbed on a ladder to get in a small opening of a cistern on the roof? 

To access the roof, Lam would have had to climb up and I wonder how she would have known to go to that exact floor and window. It is hard to imagine that she would have done this without being coaxed or directed by another individual because of her demeanor in the elevator. Someone might have noticed her and she became an easy target. Or she was totally disoriented and wandered around.

Elisa had a blog, a Facebook page, plus a Twitter and Tumbler account. Those who read her information recall that she suffered from bipolar disorder and manic depression. From all accounts, she was an excellent writer who made you feel deeply about her depression and life’s predicaments.

She used to be into fashion but after falling prey to the disease, she stayed in her room for 3 years, unable to motivate herself to work or go to College. She felt lost but after taking the right medication, she quit her blog stating ‘’this is going to stay as a reminder of what I was thinking.’’

lam-torontoShe went on to get a part time job, planned to return to university and travel to make up for wasted time. She had been to Toronto and wanted to visit Europe. She probably ended up in this sleazy LA hotel because the price was right, but it is unsettling. She was into the arts so the retro style of the place might have been attractive for this young soul who might not have known about its shady past.

The Cecil became the heartbreak hotel for Lam’s parents who are suing its owners. Their lawyer requested all the videos and a list of the sexual offenders that resided there at the time.

Their daughter was found naked in a tank and her clothes and watch were also retrieved at the bottom of it , so it is very normal that they would demand an explanation. It is conducive to the theory of another party being involved.

Maybe she fell in naked but the idea of her walking around the hotel in this condition requires a leap of logic. It is difficult to differentiate between facts and fiction in this case, and because her clothes were in the cistern, it would have to mean she went in and disrobed and removed her watch or she brought her personal effects when she was climbing and she jumped in. It sounds so illogical that it is surprising that the police did not declare it a suspicious death right away.

The autopsy report is very thorough and states that the evidence does not support suicide and found no obvious signs of foul play, but in my opinion, does not eliminate the possibility of rape or murder.

She could easily have been stalked and attacked but it seems that her mental illness and the possibility that she stopped taking her meds, were a recipe for disaster. Being in a strange hotel alone might have triggered psychosis. I hope that her parents will get the answers they need to get closure.

In the meantime, a movie project is already in the works and the conspiracy theories abound, and I do not think that LAPD is losing sleep over this case.

In his deposition, Tennelle had declared ”My partner and I tried to figure out how somebody could have put her in there, and it’s difficult for someone to have been able to do that and not leave prints, not leave DNA or anything like that. So she climbed on her own.” If they found no prints or DNA, even from Lam, how does it not indicate foul play?

Update: Judge Throws Out Suit Filed By Elisa Lam’s Parents Against The Cecil Hotel. View here.


Insteresting video on facts of the case