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The Strange Case of Elisa Lam

By on June 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm - 23 Comments

Cecil Hotel Elisa Lam

They call it the place where serial killers stay.

The Cecil Hotel. An unassuming budget destination at the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, opened in 1927. But within these walls are echos of a terrible past, the home of murder, suicide, and the one-time residence of serial killers Jack Unterweger and Richard Ramirez, otherwise known as The Night Stalker. There’s something about this place that attracts a certain kind of darkness.

Consider if you will the fate of one Elisa Lam, who, earlier this year, found herself the latest victim of the shadowland called the Cecil Hotel.

What Happened to Elisa Lam?

A resident of Vancouver, Canada, 21-year-old Elisa Lam was on holiday. She stopped in at the Cecil Hotel on her way to Santa Cruz, California. Unfortunately, on the evening of January 31, 2013, she vanished.

A few weeks later, people staying at the hotel began to complain about foul-tasting and discolored water, and low water pressure. On February 19, maintenance workers discovered the body of Elisa Lam in an unlocked water tank on the roof of the hotel.

The last known footage of Elisa Lam alive is this haunting surveillance video, released by the LAPD on February 14, 2013. It shows Lam, moments before she died, acting very strangely inside an elevator at the hotel:

In the video, the elevator door glides open as Elisa Lam casually enters. She seems to press every button. She steps back. The door doesn’t close. She peeks outside the door, then moves to the wall of the elevator, eyes fixed on the hallway outside. She sidesteps to the corner, then peeks out again, and finally steps out with a kind of hop.

Elisa Lam

She moves from side to side, then back into the elevator, then out again. She stands next to the elevator for a moment, then returns inside with her hands above her head, perhaps exasperated. She punches the elevator buttons several times. The door does not close.

elisa-lam-2

She steps outside the elevator one last time, and at this point it looks like she’s talking to someone. Her hand gestures are bizarre and wavy, and as she speaks she’s slightly bent over. Whoever she’s talking to is off camera, if anyone is there at all. She begins to twist her fingers. At 2:28 in the video, Elisa Lam walks off, and this is the last time she’s seen.

Nearly a minute later, the elevator door slowly closes. Then it opens, and closes again.

Opens. Closes.

Closed Elevator Door

(Update 6/24/2013 – It would appear that they’ve trimmed the video for some reason; the last moments described above, when the door opens and closes multiple times, are no longer there. Hmm…unedited versions are still up on YouTube, such as this one, but the video I embedded here I believe was the original, official version…)

After Elisa Lam leaves the area, you can see how the outside decor changes as the elevator apparently changes floors.

elisa-lam-elevator-one

elisa-lam-elevator-two

elisa-lam-elevator-three

Finally, here’s an alternate view outside the elevator and into the hallway where Elisa Lam was standing:

elisa-lam-hallway

More Questions Than Answers

The video went viral. The strange tale of Elisa Lam was a haunting mystery, and her actions inside the elevator only raised more questions.

Why did the elevator door not close while Elisa Lam was inside? How did she get to the roof, and wind up in the water tank?

As of today, Elisa Lam’s death has been ruled accidental. No drugs, no suspects. Possible bipolar disorder, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. We’re left, then, with the unfortunate tale of a young woman by herself in a big city, perhaps at the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong state of mind. I’m not sure we’ll ever know the full story.

Was Elisa Lam murdered? Was her voyage into the Cecil Hotel’s water tank an unfortunate accident? Or did she take one wrong step directly into…the Twilight Zone? Only the walls of the Cecil Hotel know the truth.

Image credit: alejandro jofré.

About the Author

Rob Schwarz is a freelance writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Follow him on Twitter @Dimentoid or on Google+, and be sure to like Stranger Dimensions on Facebook!
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  • Danielle

    She is acting just like someone that has taken hallucinogenic drugs

    • http://www.strangerdimensions.com/ Rob

      That’s still a possibility, I think. Maybe they didn’t check for certain drugs in the autopsy, or they just didn’t show up. Still an unnerving story…

    • Goldenpins

      I highly doubt they never checked for drug use. Its pretty standard, even back than. the door not closing still shows there is something not normal. I think she became afraid after the door not closing. Also, Asians tend to believe more in ghost as a culture.

    • kimmie

      even back then?!?! In January of 2013?

    • Lori Hile

      She was Canadian!

    • goldensnakes

      LAM is an oriental common last name. So if shes Canadian, she cant have Asian background?She even looks ASIAN!

    • Lori Hile

      Your statement that “Asians tend to believe more in ghost as a culture” is nonsensical for several reasons. First of all which Asian culture are you referring to? My brother-in-law grew up in mainland China–and mainland China eschews any beliefs in the supernatural. Religion is banned there–and people are trained to believe in science, not in mystical entities. Indian culture–which is primarily Hindu and Muslim–don’t have any particular beliefs in ghosts. And like I said, this woman was Asian-Canadian. She grew up in Canada. Do you share the same beliefs as the culture of your ethnic background, whatever that may be? My Filiipino-American best friend has no particular belief in ghosts, nor do any of the Fillipino-Americans I know. My niece, who is half Chinese but raised completely in America, is as “American” as you can get. And last, so what? Even if it was true that Asian cultures believed more in ghosts than other cultures–and even if this woman’s ethnic background somehow influenced her beliefs more than the Canadian culture in which she lived, so what? Does a belief in ghosts make them more real? More likely to mess with you?

    • goldensnakes

      Your comment makes no sense and you sound defensive for being corrected. Your whole, shes Canadian! implies I was wrong to say she could be Asian. Saying Asian, is the correct way rather than guess a multitude of Asian races. Even when the video itself shows she is Asian looking. Also, you never said “shes Asian Canadian”.. You said Canadian! So stop changing what you originally said. It doesn’t matter if the woman was black, if someone had to describe how they look visually. Do you honestly think anyone would say “Shes African, American, French etc” No. They would describe her features. Lam looks Asian. You even said it yourself. Doesn’t matter if she was Canadian born for 3 generations, if all 3 generations choose an Asian Partner the children would look more oriental because there is no other race mixed in the gene pool.

      Asians do have a belief system and they do believe in Ghost but others are Christians Buddhist just like everyone else in the world… Japanese as well as Koreans and the Chinese. Its very well know. Sorry you Filipino friend doesn’t = all Asians. However, its very well know Asians do believe in Ghost as a culture which is why many celebrate the dead yearly.Being Born in the US myself, I even see it in movies.. its very prevalent. Educate yourself and look it up.I am American, but our gene pool is Chinese. We know and have family that live in China and they do practice religion hidden, just like every other country.. Or do you think everyone follows the law? We act American, but visually look Oriental, I say Oriental, because MANY from my own personal experience cant tell the difference.I know many Japanese than get asked if he is Chinese Or do you think the people that server you Chinese food is how typical Americans look like? You cannot change your back-background even if born in another country. You should go lecture someone else for looking foolish. A black man can be German, it still doesn’t change the fact he doesn’t resemble a typical German. Do you think Asian Americans go around telling everyone that they are Asian ie Japanese, Chinese etc? True Americans born like myself, WILL say American, but when people ask, its because some do look more Asian than a mixed race person black, white, Spanish etc so rather than just guess an Asian race, they ask.I know many Orientals that are about as “American as you can get” just like your niece and they get asked all the times about their background. Why? Because they are full Chinese, Japanese and Korean LOOKING not a mix. There not walking around with a wok and straw hat..They speak perfect English and very American but they get asked because they look more Oriental.

      If a guy robbed your house. Remember what you said here and tell the cop hes American so he can turn around and laugh at you.

    • Bourne Natthavat

      you have to do some research that Lam mostly use the internet for tumbler but i have found that she mostly update her status in chinese language on her facebook. (i used to read some article that she mostly posted her latest pics with her asian friend) and apparently she look just like another asian. she grew up in Vancouver support to be somewhere big group of chinese located. you can read the references by googling the terms of “why so many chinese live in Vancouver?”. and you will finally found the answer in answer.yahoo.com what i tried to explain that she might be some kind of bipolar because of she grew up surronding of western traditional but at the meantime her brain still pecked by old chinese traditional from her parent. sorry for my bad english anyway and if somebody come to this far of researching her incident like me please praying with me to every poor soul….Please be free and rest in peace. i really hope that her spirit or some kind of we are called “ghost” which showing in many hollywood movies.WILL hunting that killer down and haunt him to surrender to reopen this case and retitled as a murder.

  • http://www.hushbeautyblog.com/ Amanda

    Thank you for posting this! I remember when this happened months ago and it just didn’t add up. Doing Google searches at the time yielded no new information .. just the same old “This is the Cecil Hotel in a grimy part of LA where serial killers have stayed…” etc. etc. I didn’t know this video existed .. but I do find it odd that they never did a full investigation into her death? Even if they did and stranger things came up in any results they found, they didn’t report it. This story was all but forgotten. Our media gives so much attention to so many stories of death, murder, kidnapping, etc. so one would think this case fits that grid quite well. Now I’m annoyed all over again that there is no further information on this incident. But thanks for posting, of course :D

  • Why HELLO THERE

    There is a mistake in this article

    You give a link to an unedited video of the security cameras. These videos are edited as well. Go to the 2:57 mark. Watch the elevator door close. It skips….. who knows how much they cut out. The door could have opened and closed numerous times, and who knows what we would have seen?

    • mejustme

      The skip has been attributed to a lack of motion. The cameras turn off after a period of no motion.

  • Mork Moore

    Autopsy result said there was no trace of drugs in her
    system.

    Where are her clothes? (she was found naked and her clothes
    were not found)

    Who closed the lid of the tank AFTER she got inside?

    Why wasn’t the elevator door closing, and why did it close
    right after she left?

    Why, when the police with dogs searched the rooftop weeks prior to her body
    being found in the tank, didn’t they find any trace of her being there? No scent,
    nothing.

    She appeared relaxed when she entered the elevator. Perhaps
    she clicked on different buttons to explore the place? She pressed them in a
    playful manner imo. (based on her blog she seems to be an art buff and maybe
    she checked-in the hotel for the classic/artsy/appeal or maybe of the history
    itself – thinking nothing bad would happen to her)

    2nd time she pressed all the buttons she appeared to be
    panicking.

    Her hand gestures seemed to be of disbelief (hands on head),
    stress (bending fingers), and waving her arms seemed like she was trying to
    trigger motion detector in the elevator door (if the elevator has it) or
    checking out why it’s not closing (if there’s some sort of hindrance/blockage)
    - trying to make sense of it all. Gives up, and tries a different route.

    talking: maybe she was talking to herself- we do that from
    time to time. In her case maybe it went like this: “wtf? why is the
    elevator door not closing… what’s happening?” and yes perhaps she went
    paranoid triggered by the circumstance she was in. Ik I would be esp being
    alone and all.

    I think there’s something more to this, too many questions
    unanswered.

    • JenniSCH

      Take another look, right after she gets done pushing the buttons when she first gets in, the door moves like its closing but quickly retreats and stays open… there was no movement nothinging to prompt it to open again.. wtf.. thats when she peaks out to look and starts panicking.

    • gypsie rose

      Exactly…All very valid points!

  • JenniSCH

    LOOK… right after she gets done pushing the buttons when she first gets in, the door moves like its closing but quickly retreats and stays open… there was no movement nothinging to prompt it to open again.. wtf.. thats when she peaks out to look and starts panicking.

    • kimmie

      Maybe it was the door hold button. The first button she pushes lights and then goes off, like a door hold button.

  • Ace

    i think no one murdered her… but someone ask her to go to the roof and hide herself inside the open tank that was pre arranged before the incident.. the elevator didnt close because someone put a tape on the button of the same floor.. pretends to be just passing by and talks to her like normal.. she was then advse to go to the roof w/c was said to be safe because no one usually go there and it also has an alarm system setup w/c was disable to let he come in w/c was again pre arrange by someone..then remove the tape on the button of the elevator to close it and work as normal.. maybe the tank was emptied on the time she hid herself there and was said will get her up after sometime but the tank was filling with water so she never get back up and drowned herself to death.. the killer then came back to check her, remove her dress to mislead the police about the time of death because cctv footage might capture her wandering around with same dress.. burned her dress and throw/flush it on the toilet.. anyone cant do all of that if you dont have access to. roof, man who is well built and unsuspicious by guest.. something like an employee or hotel worker..

    • Amanda

      Wut? o_O Well that is a… theory. The parts I could make sense of anyway.

  • gypsie rose

    It
    very well could have been foul play. The hotel IS located on skid row
    and she was traveling alone…Most of the people living in the hotel are criminals.(sex offenders,muggers,drug addicts…even
    killers)She was found naked in that water tower
    and her clothes were never found. Where are the clothes? A friend of mine mentioned bath salts. Bath salts would most
    likely not be detected in an autopsy? Maybe she had somehow done bath salts
    and freaked out? Maybe they were given to her like a date rape drug? In food? (I
    don’t know how bath salts work?)Then was raped and murdered? There is
    no evidence of rape but the fact that she had no clothes on may suggest
    it? Or at least a sexual act? Another friend of mine scared the living sh*t out
    of me. Her comment actually made my eyes water for a minute. This is what
    she said ” I think she was already dead by the time she got to the
    elevator. I think that’s her ghost trying to figure out if she’s alive
    or dead. That’s why she’s being all weird and making crazy hand
    movements. I think her body was probably in the water tank before the
    elevator situation.” Could that be a possibility? I mean,how much do we
    know about ghosts? If she had just died it’d make sense as to why she
    was acting so erratically… right? Elevator won’t close,her hands/arms
    morph into this non-human looking way…Maybe that’s why
    the sensors didn’t go off? I can’t stop thinking about this case. Very scary!!

  • DUNNTOM

    Looks like the water tank is located directly over the elevator… we may actually viewing a ghost in the video at the time of her death!

  • Dallis Green

    Am I the only one who realized that the one guy in the picture of the lobby is see through?

    • http://www.strangerdimensions.com/ Rob

      That’s actually a photo of the Cecil Hotel lobby taken by Flickr user alejandro jofre (https://www.flickr.com/photos/djdroga/7086049203/). The guy in the photo is probably transparent due to the camera’s exposure. I’m 99.9% sure he isn’t a ghost or anything. ;)