This strange CCTV footage taken at a Los Angeles hotel captured the last time anyone had seen this young woman alive. And three years later, we’re still not any closer to fully figuring out the bizarre circumstances surrounding her death.
This dark story starts in January 2013, when 21-year-old Elisa Lam of Vancouver, Canada decided to go on a trip to southern California. Lam would travel alone by bus and train; nevertheless, she would check in with her parents by phone every day. Her first destination was San Diego.
Then, on January 26, she arrived in Los Angeles. Lam would stay at the 90-year-old Cecil Hotel in downtown LA, taking a shared room with several other people on the hotel’s fifth floor.
However, a few days later the roommates complained to hotel staff that Lam was acting strangely. Because of this, she was moved into her own private room on the same floor. But when she failed to make her daily call to her parents on January 31, they contacted the police.
There then followed an extensive search of the hotel. And although the police did find some people that had seen Lam on January 31, they still couldn’t locate the young woman herself. So on February 6, police publicly released news of her disappearance.
However, with little progress being made on the case, on February 14 police duly released a surveillance video. This showed Lam acting strangely in the hotel’s elevator on the day of her disappearance. And the eerie video quickly went viral, attracting millions of views: Lam’s story was now truly in the public eye.
The four-minute video depicts Lam doing some rather bizarre things and acting in a seemingly distressed manner. She starts by walking inside the elevator and pressing some buttons. A few moments later, then, she frantically peers out of the elevator, walks back inside then hides in the corner, as if she’s afraid.
Next, she steps out of the elevator and begins performing strange movements with her hands. The whole scene looks like she is experiencing a hallucination. Then she disappears off camera. She was never seen alive again.
On February 19, however, the creepy story came to a grim conclusion. A maintenance worker was sent to the hotel roof to investigate problems with the water supply. Upon reaching the roof of the 15-story hotel, he peered into the water tanks – and made a gruesome discovery.
Inside one of the tanks was Lam’s decomposing, naked body; strangely, her clothes and belongings were floating in the water next to her. Evidently, Lam’s corpse had been here for some two weeks.
A few months later, meanwhile, authorities released Lam’s autopsy report. In it, the coroner ruled that the cause of her death was accidental drowning. It also revealed that no signs of physical trauma had been found. This news only seemed to intensify public interest in Lam’s story, as so much was left unexplained. And her strange behavior in the CCTV footage was just the start.
Indeed, the report provided no explanation as to how Lam managed to get up to the rooftop and climb inside the water tank. After all, the door to the rooftop was apparently locked and set up to trigger an alarm if opened. The only other way up was by fire escape.
And that’s not all. Even if she did get up to the roof without being detected, that still doesn’t explain how she managed to get into the ten-foot-high tank. Or, indeed, how she lifted its heavy lid and then seemingly closed it behind herself.
What’s more, no signs of drugs or alcohol use were found in her system. This quickly discredited a straightforward explanation for Lam’s erratic actions in the surveillance video – that she was under the influence of illicit drugs.
However, the report did mention one potentially important factor. It stated that Lam had suffered from bipolar disorder. People who are bipolar tend to experience episodes of being extremely energized and happy or, by contrast, of being extremely sad and hopeless.
Indeed, Lam’s personal Tumblr blog contained numerous mentions of her struggles with depression, anxiety and other problems related to her condition. As such, the theory that Lam had a bipolar episode which caused her to behave erratically – and perhaps even become suicidal – is accepted by many people.
But given the difficulty of accessing the roof and the water tank, others argue that Lam may have been murdered – perhaps by a hotel employee. Proponents of this theory point to the fact that on her blog, Lam had alluded to men following her. “I’m going out tonight,” she wrote on one occasion. “I really hope no creeper comes near me. Seriously though, those Italian and Mexican guys go after you STRONG.”
But the conjecture doesn’t stop there. Another suggests that Lam had contracted tuberculosis from an outbreak which occurred in the area around the time she died. In a very eerie coincidence, the test for tuberculosis is called LAM-ELISA. However, her autopsy did not show any signs of the disease.
Furthermore, there are even darker theories. Some have suggested that paranormal forces were haunting Lam. After all, the Cecil Hotel has had a long and dark history tied up with multiple suicides and murders. Moreover, it was also once home to two serial killers – Richard Ramirez, a.k.a. the Night Stalker, and Jack Unterweger.
But whatever really happened to Elisa Lam, one thing’s for sure: the eerie circumstances surrounding her death have immortalized her story. Her tale has even inspired multiple movie and TV works, such as American Horror Story. And as screenwriter Destin Pfaff told Vice, “It’s tragic and there’s a real human being that died and that’s nothing to make light of, but the myth around her death and the question mark — it’s going to live on for a long time.”