Saturday, 31 January 2015


"I’m going out tonight
I really hope no creeper comes near me
Seriously though
those Italian and Mexican guys go after you STRONG

Show the slightest inclination and they hound you"
-Elisa Lam, January 26, 2013

Elisa Lam selfie [Image source]
[Image source]
Elisa Lam, a 21 year old student from Vancouver, BC was traveling north up the west coast from San Diego. She arrived in Los Angeles on January 26, 2013, and was staying at the notorious Cecil Hotel in the city's infamous skid row. She was last seen on the evening of January 31, 2013. A missing persons report was filed but police had no leads. On February 19 her naked body was found floating face up in one of the four 1000 gallon water tanks (northeastern tank) located on the roof of the Cecil Hotel, along with her clothing which had apparently been thrown into the tank with her. She was only found after residents complained of poor water pressure. After the fact, residents realized that the tap water in the building had recently been discolored and tasted oddly sweet. After cutting a hole in the side of the tank to retrieve the body, it was widely reported that police quickly determined that foul play was not a factor in Lam's death, but they went on record to deny this.

An autopsy revealed no external trauma to the body and that her remains seemed in all ways unremarkable but it did state that her anus showed subcutaneous pooling of blood. The autopsy also failed to detect significant drugs or alcohol in her system at the time of death and found no evidence of pill capsule remains in her stomach but found fluid in the lungs. The Medical Examiner's conclusion was death by drowning. The LAPD released a video reported to be from February 1 (see below), apparently showing Elisa Lam exhibiting some bizarre behavior in the hotel elevator leading to wild speculation about what might have happened in the moments leading up to her entering the water tank (more on that in Part II). The police didn't believe that the video showed Elisa being chased or in distress. After being identified by her family, her body was flown back to Vancouver and she was buried in Burnaby's Forest Lawn Cemetery, just down the street from Metrotown (incidentally, the same cemetery where my uncle is buried, who was 20 years old at the time of his death). Watch the elevator footage below:

Very few details of the police investigation into this strange death were revealed to the media. In June the LAPD ruled the death accidental and that's been pretty much it. But the security camera footage raised more questions than answers and captured the darkest parts of the imagination of the world.

It's hard not to hear the story about how she was found and then watch this video and not be creeped out in some way.

The popular story going around at the time was that there was no entrance into the water tank, that either the entrance was sealed or welded shut or that there was no entrance point large enough for a person to squeeze through to begin with. This is not true.

The misconception most likely came from the fact that the police and fire departments decided to cut a hole into the side of the tank to retrieve the body. Some people perhaps jumped to the conclusion that they had to do this because there was no other way to enter the tank. The truth is there was no better way to retrieve it. A good friend of mine and his father became volunteer Coast Guards who would patrol the waters of the south arm of the Fraser River between Dyke Road in Richmond and River Road in Ladner. One night, his father had to retrieve a 'floater' from the river. As they were hauling the body out of the water, the floater's face slipped off. Poor Elisa Lam had been in that water tank for close to three weeks, the autopsy also reports that her body was already undergoing what is known as skin slippage. The entrance hatch which is located on the top of the tank, is roughly 15 by 15 inches wide and would have created a logistical nightmare for removing the body without potentially damaging either it or any other associated evidence. The only real mystery regarding Lam's entrance point is how she closed the hatch lid behind her, or if it was someone else who closed it.

It was also widely reported that the only way onto the roof was through an alarmed door, and that the alarm was never triggered. Again, this is entirely false.

As a pair of intrepid amateur sleuths documented with their video camera just about anyone can get onto the roof of the Cecil Hotel at any time via one of two fire escapes located on the outside of the building, accessible through the hallway window of any floor, or through one of at least two roof access hatches, available through the fifteenth floor.

Another thing that is widely misunderstood is that long-term residents of the hotel use the roof as a "smoke pit", they go out onto the roof so that they don't have to go 15 floors down to street level just to have a cigarette. Another interesting thing that those same amateur sleuths found was a collection of empty beer bottles stuffed into nooks and crannies around the water tank. They seem to think that these bottles were somehow overlooked by the LAPD. Most likely, investigators either collected any trace samples they needed on scene or didn't find them relevant.

One of the more disturbing aspects of amateurs investigation into the strange death of Elisa Lam is the online witch-hunt of extreme metal vocalist Morbid. Speculation turned against him when it was discovered that not only had he stayed at the Cecil Hotel, but had posted a video of himself onto youtube pretending to shoot pedestrians on the street below through his hotel room window (he has since removed the video and deleted his youtube account). He writes dark poetry and even writes from the perspective of a murderer. But when Lam disappeared, he hadn't been at the hotel for over a year and was reportedly not even in the country at that time, let alone the state, city or same hotel. One of the worst marks against him is that he is Mexican and in one alarming post on her tumblr blog, Elisa made statements about being hounded by latin men:
I’m going out tonight
I really hope no creeper comes near me
Seriously though
those Italian and Mexican guys go after you STRONG
Show the slightest inclination and they hound you
Regardless of what one may think of Morbid or his music, he doesn't deserve to be accused of a crime he never committed. No one does. The deeper you look into Morbid the more he becomes an apparent dead-end.

On her Ether Fields blog, Elisa discussed an ongoing battle with depression and that she had been prescribed numerous medications for "bipolar disorder". She had her medications with her (they are listed in the autopsy) but didn't seem to be taking them regularly or at least as often as she might have. Based on the available evidence, this may be the best clue there is as to what might have happened to her. Then again, it might not.

One of the strangest elements of the case was that elevator video released by the LAPD. The timestamp has been redacted and nobody seems to have any idea why. But the timestamp is only partially redacted, you can still make out the numbers ticking away, you just can't see what they are. Online sleuths studying the video have discovered that about 54 seconds of footage was cut from the footage between the time that Elisa exits the elevator and when the doors close. It was later found that the video has been slowed down, again for unknown reasons. When watching the video at 135% "normal" speed her actions and behavior get a little less spooky, she seems less frightened and more playful. There is a side-by-side comparison of the video at two different speeds that you can watch right here:

A well-known body language expert reviewed the footage and came to the conclusion that Elisa was acting playfully and shows a low level of anxiety, the kind one might show when thinking about or interacting with somebody they are sexually attracted to. It's an interesting analysis and well worth a read. If this is true, the person does not appear in the video nor have they come forward publicly.



  1. WOW. I found out a lot of new stuff about this case. I've been interested in it for a while but never knew about these misconceptions. Great read!

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