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The mysterious case of Elisa Lam – bizarre behavior caught on video prefaces drowning death in hotel rooftop water tank

Lisa Lam hiding in the elevator

The mysterious death of Elisa Lam

In February 2013, after hotel residents complained of funny-tasting, discolored water and poor water pressure, 21-year-old Elisa Lam, a student from Vancouver, Canada, was found dead inside the Cecil Hotel’s rooftop water tank in Los Angeles. The coroner’s finding was surprising to many – accidental death by drowning – despite the fact that no drugs nor alcohol were found during the autopsy of Lam’s body and Elisa showed no previous signs of depression or angst. Even more disturbing, an elevator surveillance tape recorded Elisa’s behavior just moments before her death. The four-minute video shows Lam pressing all the elevator buttons, talking to an invisible entity, frightfully hiding in the elevator’s corner, and making a series of bizarre arm and hand movements that look almost inhuman. What really happened to Elisa Lam?

Elisa Lam’s “West Coast Tour”

Arrows showing tank Lisa Lam's body was found in

In January 2013, Elisa Lam (Lam Ho Yi) left the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and embarked on a solo trip around the West Coast of the United States.  Calling it her “West Coast Tour”, she planned to visit San Diego, then move northward through Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, and finally San Francisco.  During her travels, she posted updates on Tumblr and Facebook and maintained her own blog documenting the sights she encountered on her journey.  She travelled alone, using buses and trains to move from city-to-city.  On January 26, she arrived in Los Angeles.

In LA, Lam checked into the Cecil Hotel, a budget hotel on the outskirts of Skid Row.  She originally intended to share the room with others but was moved to her own room after roommates complained of her “odd behavior” (roommates said she locked them out of the room, demanded they furnish passwords for reentry, and left notes on their bed asking them to go away). On January 31, 2013, Lam disappeared.

Where has Elisa Lam gone?

On her final day of life, Hotel staff say Lam seemed to be in good spirits.  A local bookstore employee says Lam shopped in the store and that she was “lively and very friendly”.  After panicked parents realized something was wrong, they flew to LA and contacted the police to organize a search.  Authorities had just posted flyers in the area when the creepy elevator surveillance footage surfaced.  This was the last time anyone saw Lam alive.

The Elisa Lam Cecil Hotel video

The police, of course, gained access to Cecil Hotel video to investigate Elisa Lam’s movement through the hotel. What they found on the tape was bizarre.

As seen in the video clips below, Elisa Lam enters the elevator and inexplicably, stoops and presses all the elevator buttons. She then stands and waits for the elevator doors to close. When she realizes that the elevator doors seem “stuck”, she cowers into the corner of the elevator. She can be seen moving her mouth as if speaking to some invisible entity outside the elevator. Finally, she cautiously exits the elevator, steps to the side, and then begins moving her arms and hands in an almost inhuman-like animated manner. She then walks away. The elevator door shuts and appears to begin operating normally again.

Lisa Lam’s final documented moments of life

Outside of Cecil Hotel Los Angeles

The timeline that police constructed concluded that moments after the strange elevator incident, Lam somehow gained access to the hotel’s rooftop (the rooftop area was locked and protected by an alarm system) where she climbed into its water tank and drowned. Her nude body was found inside the water tank two weeks after her death after hotel guests complained of low water pressure and the water’s strange taste and color.  Floating near her body was her purse and clothes.

Although Lam’s behavior appears to be some kind of drug-induced “trip”, she had no history of drug use and her autopsy concluded that no drugs were present in her body.

Lam’s death officially remains solved (accidental drowning) but to many, questions remain. Why did she suddenly end daily contact with her parents?  How did Lam gain access to the rooftop area which was protected by a locked door and an alarm system that notified hotel personnel anytime someone entered the roof area? How did she reach the top of the 8-foot-tall water tank which, according to hotel management, would have been exceedingly difficult to climb into? How did Lam open the heavy lid and close the water tank lid after she entered? And most importantly, why would a perfectly normal, happy young lady with no history of drug use act so bizarrely before her death?

Why was the Elisa Lam investigation into her death so unusual?

Arrow showing tank Lisa Lam's body was found in

Although originally announced that the mortuary report would be released within a week, it took 4 months before authorities would finally release the report.  During the four-month delay, participants say the police were evasive, uncooperative, and close-mouthed.  Cecil Hotel residents say that not once did the police interview them during their investigation.

When the video was released to the public, eagle-eyes noted that the timelapse timer showed a full minute of video had been edited out – and nobody could explain why.  The case became even more questionable when the final report was released indicating they found no evidence of foul play, no signs of trauma on Lam’s body, and no evidence of drugs or alcohol.

More evidence surfaces – and the Lisa Lam case gets even weirder

Months after the elevator footage emerged, another hotel surveillance video was released.  This video showed Lam entering the building with two unidentified men.  A LA police detective explained:

“We did see her come in with two gentlemen. She had — they had a box, gave it to her. She went up into her — to the elevator. We never saw them again on video.”

Police have been unable to identify the two men.

What happened to Elisa Lam? A collection of bizarre (and one not-so-bizarre theory)

WTF? A ritualistic murder spree in LA?

MTV reality star, Tila Tequila, has claimed that she knows who committed the murder of Elisa Lam and that it was part of a series of ritualistic murders taking place in the Los Angeles area. According to Tila’s post on Facebook:

“I have just kept my mouth shut because there is a lot more to it and of course…. cases like this.. I just did not want to draw any attention to myself but I know exactly why they did it and yes it was indeed a ritualistic murder.”

Similarity to 2005 film, Dark Water

The 2005 film Dark Water (a remake of a 2002 Japanese movie by the same name) 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 is named Cecilia. Some have proposed that Lam’s death was a purposeful, real-life reproduction of the movie events.

The mysterious elevator button pushes – was it all a game?

The video clearly shows Lam pushing the buttons: 14 – 10 – 7 – 4 – B.  Many believe Lam is playing a game called “The Elevator Game”.  Popular in South Korea, The Elevator Game requires a person push a sequence of buttons in order to travel to different dimensions.

The mysterious elevator button pushes – part 2

Still frame from Lisa Lam investigation news video

In an unbelievably bizarre coincidence, observers have found that the elevator button pushes (14 – 10 – 7 – 4 ) all correspond to water-related biblical verses in John 4.  If we take the numbers in reverse order and turn to John 4, we find that verses 7, 10, and 14 seem oddly prophetic.

(John 4:7) A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her “Give me a drink” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.

(John 4:10) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of god, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.

(John 4:14) but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.

The untimely tuberculosis outbreak days after Lam’s body was found

Just days after Elisa Lam’s body was found, national health experts were called into Skid Row near the hotel to investigate a deadly persistent tuberculosis (TB) outbreak that local health officials called the largest in a decade. More than 4,500 people may have been exposed to tuberculosis and scientists linked the outbreak to a TB strain unique to L.A. A test used to diagnose tuberculosis, particularly in patients with advanced immunosuppression, was used on residents. The name of the test – LAM-ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay).

Was Elisa Lam drugged?

Some have claimed that Lam’s actions look eerily similar to a person who has been dosed with Scopolamine, a powder that can be blown into a person’s face to dose them. It is frequently used in Colombia and other Latin American countries during kidnappings and robberies. It is proposed that Elisa was purposefully drugged, then kidnapped and dumped into the hotel water tank.

A case of possession and murder?

A professional psychic contacted Altered Dimensions and proposed that some sort of entity, possibly a demon or ghostly spirit that could not pass the elevator threshold, lured Lam out of the elevator. In her opinion, the entity manipulated Lam’s mind, coaxed her out of the elevator, and then took control of her, tricking her into climbing into the water tank to die.

Or was Elisa Lam just mentally ill?

It should be noted that although the autopsy report was inconclusive in determining Lam’s manner of death, The Los Angeles County Coroner’s office later ruled the “accidentally” death has a contributing factor – bipolar disorder. Elisa had been diagnosed with bipolar spectrum disorder when she was 21 years old. This is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings – from depressive episodes to full-blown mania. To recognize Lam’s behavior as manic is clear.

Additional Notes

Elisa Lam’s Tumblr account continues to post pictures six months after her death

Authorities note that Elisa Lam’s Tumblr account ( continued to post pictures for up to six months after she died.  There was even an update to her blog (“Ether Fields” on Blogspot) after her death as well.

Cecil Hotel’s long history of death and violence

The Cecil Hotel has a morbid history of violence and death. Located near the infamous “Skid Row”, the hotel saw a long list of shady clientele including two notable serial killers – Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, who lived on the hotel’s 14th floor for several months and used the hotel’s dumpster to dispose of his victim’s clothes, and Jack Unterweger, a crime journalist who unceremoniously killed three prostitutes in Los Angeles while living at the Cecil Hotel.

The hotel has seen several suicide cases where guests jumped from upper levels to the Cecil Hotel marquee below and at least one guest was murdered inside her room (on June 4, 1964 “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood was found dead in his hotel room after having been beaten, raped, stabbed, and strangled). It is indeed a creepy place and always has been.

Elisa Lam official autopsy report

Below is the official autopsy report for Elisa Lam.

Cecil Hotel motion for summary judgement (contains facts about the case)

Elisa Lam timeline of events

  1. January 26, 2013: Lam travels to California
  2. January 31, 2013: Lam moves into a private room
  3. February 2-4, 2013: Lam was supposed to check out from the Cecil Hotel
  4. February 6, 2013: LAPD releases details about Lam’s disappearance
  5. February 13, 2013: Police release surveillance camera video
  6. February 19, 2013: Lam’s body found inside the water tank on the Cecil Hotel roof
  7. February 21, 2013: Investigators report Lam’s death as accidental
  8. September 2013: Lam’s parents sue the Cecil Hotel
  9. December 14, 2014: Lawsuit is dismissed

Guest account of her stay during Lam’s stay at Cecil Hotel

A guest of the hotel posted stories of her strange stay at the Cecil Hotel. According to her, she was staying at the hotel during the time Lam was there. She says she experienced several bizarre occurrences during her stay.

“I was on a Greyhound returning from Texas and was laid over for three days in LA. If you Google Map the Greyhound Station for LA and the Cecil Hotel, you can see that it was about a 2mile walk. I was actually unaware that I was in Skid Row and, believe it or not, hoofed it all the way from the Greyhound to the Cecil. It was around 10 PPM when I started walking, alone. As I was walking and getting really frustrated and nervous as the only “hotels” I could find were rent-by-the-hour and they wouldn’t let me stay unless I had a “John,” even though I offered to pay three times the hourly rate as I was desperate to get off the street. I continued walking and a black man in about 35ish or in his 40s walking a small dog approached me. He said his name was Lavelle and that he could lead me to a real hotel. I was extremely nervous about following a male stranger through the worst part of downtown LA but didn’t really have a choice as I would have not found the Cecil and would have continued to walk for miles up on miles before ever coming across a standard hotel. I probably would’ve ended up sleeping on the street. So I followed him, and he led me to the Cecil.

That night I went up to my room on the 9th floor, room 943. I remember precisely checking the radio alarm clock before getting in bed. It was set at 9 PM time and there’s no way it could’ve accidentally gone off without someone moving the switch to “On” …At approximately 1:43 am, the radio alarm started blaring. I got up, thought it was odd that the switch had been moved, seemingly by itself, but was exhausted and just turned it off and went back to sleep. It wasn’t until I got home and found out about the place that I called down to public records and was told that a woman was strangled and then drowned in my tub many years ago. After getting some more data from the local records on deaths, I found out that the approximate time of death for this woman was marked at 1:45 am.

I spent a lot of time out front chain-smoking, but, because of that, I used the elevator quite a bit. Upon returning to my floor, I went into my room and decided to take a shower. When I turned on the tap, a brownish and quite red substance came out. I went back downstairs and told the staff at the front desk. They told me that people frequently have bizarre visions in the hotel, even reporting seeing ghosts, but that when the staff goes to check it out, it’s always gone by then and that when I got back up there whatever I thought I saw in the tub would be gone. When I got back up there, it wasn’t gone. I ended up having to get a bunch of hotel wash clothes and towels to wipe up the residue in the bathtub. I then called my father on my cellphone and told him that I knew this sounded crazy, but that I thought that blood had come out of the tap, a reddish, brownish tint to the water. I turned the shower back on and let it run clear and then took a shower.

When I finally got home – to Sacramento, I told my mom about the place and she went online and googled it. I was absolutely shocked to find out about the gruesome history. At this point however, the body hadn’t been discovered yet. I dismissed the place as a fucked up, haunted hell and then never researched it again. A few months later, I was talking with my friend who lives very close to the Cecil. I mentioned to her that I’d been nearby but hadn’t had time to visit and that I’d been staying at The Cecil Hotel. She messaged me back and said, hey, have you seen all the stuff on the news about the dead girl that was in there in February? I went on Google and found all the articles from the LA Times and was completely side swiped! What a horrible thing to happen and what a bizarre, BIZARRE thing that I’d been there!”

Image Credits

Outside of Cecil Hotel Los Angeles via Wikimedia Commons by ZhengZhou with usage type - GNU Free. December 16, 2013

Featured Image Credit

Lisa Lam hiding in the elevator via
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