What on Earth happened to Elisa Lam? The mysterious circumstances surrounding her bizarre death and eerie evidence give rise to many theories. But without new information coming to light, we may never know.
Deaths and disappearances are an unfortunate reality of our society, with thousands occurring each year, a large proportion of which go unsolved.
Not many deaths and disappearances, however, play out like an eerie plot from a Hollywood horror film. The unfathomable strangeness surrounding the ultimately unresolved death of Elisa Lam makes one such case.
Lam was a 21-year-old Canadian student studying in Vancouver. In January 2013 she embarked, alone, on what she intended to be a tour of numerous cities on the west coast of the USA.
Beginning her holiday in San Diego, she visited the zoo and wrote about the city on her blog, then continued on, arriving in Los Angeles on the 26th of January. There, she checked into the Cecil Hotel.
Elisa Lam Disappears
After five days of sightseeing, Elisa was scheduled to check out and continue her journey to Santa Cruz. On this day though, her parents did not receive their daily phone call from their daughter. Finding this uncharacteristic of Elisa, they contacted the L.A. police to report her disappearance.
Hotel staff said she was alone on the morning of her disappearance, and the manager of a nearby bookstore, the last person to report seeing her alive, described her as “outgoing, very lively, very friendly,” having come in to buy gifts for her family.
Police proceeded to search the hotel with scent-tracking dogs, but were unable to search the building to a thorough extent, due to the absence of any probable cause a crime had been committed.
They found nothing.
On the 6th of February, the LAPD posted flyers around the neighborhood, urging anyone with any information to come forward. A week passed with no new leads, and then the case took its first sharp turn towards the bizarre.
On February 16, the LAPD released a surveillance video from the hotel, taken on the 1st of February. The unsettling video depicts Elisa in one of the hotel’s elevators, acting in an extremely bizarre manner. It shows her peeking in and out of the elevator, hiding in the corner, pressing multiple buttons and erratically gesturing and dancing in the hallway outside the elevator. She then exits the elevator, and the door slides closed and open several times before the video ends.
By the time of the video’s release, media attention around the case was ramping up. It emerged that the Cecil Hotel had a long history of criminal activity, including murders and suicide. The disappearance of a young university student played heavily on the consciousness of the public, and the baffling and peculiar behavior shown in the elevator video spawned a myriad of theories on Elisa’s disappearance, from drug intoxication, to mental disorders, and even demonic possession.
Discovery of Lam’s Body
It was about this time that guests of the hotel began to complain of strange tasting, discolored water and low water pressure in their rooms. Employees began to investigate the plumbing of the building. This led them to a gruesome discovery in the water tanks on the roof of the building.
Inside one of the tanks, floating naked next to her clothes and belongings was the partially decomposed body of Elisa Lam.
The discovery of the body brought up more questions than it seemed to answer. The autopsy found no evidence of trauma or sexual assault, no traces of illicit drugs, and no evidence that Elisa had attempted suicide. It listed the death as accidental drowning.
The investigation ceased, but many vital questions remain unanswered in this Canadian tragedy. The water tanks in question were propped up on cement blocks without easy access, and had heavy, difficult to displace lids, which were found closed with the body inside. Access to the roof itself was locked and alarmed. How had Elisa managed to get up there, enter the tank and replace the lid all by herself?
The video remained a prominent source of confusion and discussion even after Elisa’s body was found. Was her baffling behavior a result of a manic phase of her bipolar disorder? Many proposed a more sinister alternative; her movements can be explained as an interaction with another individual not visible in the video; a pursuer. Was someone else involved in her death? Interestingly enough, it appears the video may have been altered at some point before its release. The timestamp is obscured, some parts of the video appear slowed down, and nearly a minute of footage has been subtly removed mid-video.
Disturbingly, Elisa’s blog remained active for many months after her death. Auto-posting features may explain this away, but Elisa’s phone was never found after her death, suggesting an alternative source of these online updates.
Finally, uncanny parallels can be drawn between Lam’s sad demise and the Hollywood horror film ‘Dark Water’. The film follows the tenants of a building who experience black water coming from their taps and other eerie phenomena, culminating in the grisly discovery of the body of a girl decaying in the rooftop water tank. Weirder still, is that this movie was released in 2005, five years before Elisa’s death.