Yesterday's Myths & Mysteries

The Strange Case of Elisa Lam

A mystery at the Cecil Hotel

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 (the original video, unfortunately, is no longer available). 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.


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…)

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




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.

Rob Schwarz

Rob Schwarz is a writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions.


    1. 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…

      1. 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.

      2. They did check for drugs, but only found the her prescription pills. She had been prescribed with four kinds of pills but only found three showing that she hadn’t taken a certain type for a while. Though I still do believe this is paranormal and I am working to find more information and evidence to prove so. At first on the autopsy report, they marked her cause of death from ‘drownage’, but then soon changed it to ‘unknown’. I have been working on this case in my own time aside from schoolwork and am getting as much evidence as I possibly can. It is day three on this case for me and I intend to keep working until I can solve this case for her souls peace and for her friends and family’s peace. Tho I am only 14, I believe i have what it takes to solve this and I ave a lot of knowledge due watching medical tv shows and autopsy’s when I was younger, watching many paranormal and just normal investigations/cases and just having common sense in general. I shall be looking heaps more into this and may even sacrifice my schoolwork to finish this. If I can solve this I shall bring it to the media. Tho it will be hard and very time consuming, I will never give up !! I am not going to say much information as it is my own discovery and I shall not let anyone use my discoveries as their own.

  1. 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

  2. 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?

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

      1. wrong. video experts have found the tape to be missing about 90 seconds of footage as well it has been slowed down… why?

        why did the security team feel the need to edit the last moments of a dead girl?


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

    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,

    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

    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

    1. 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.

      1. My technician mate who designs elevators and the programming for them has attributed all thes epoints to me and validates that the very design of the elevator was the reason the ddor reopens and stops its to do with her weight beinbg on the pressure pads in the elevator and the doors reopen before closing because the targeted sensor picked up her movements and opened so as not to crush her these are failsafes made durin installation,. the water tower has become the only strange factor for me it looks very clearly like she is explaining to security whats goin on in disbelief and the guy is off camera.
        murdered but by who. nothing supernatural about this.

  4. 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.

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

      1. correct. a chinese news team confirmed this.

        still doesnt explain her behaviour and how she managed to get through a locked door into a sealed water tank.

  5. 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..

  6. 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!!

  7. 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!

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

    1. That’s actually a photo of the Cecil Hotel lobby taken by Flickr user alejandro jofre ( 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. ;)

  9. I was checking thia case out again and I ran across an article about a TB outbreak it the same area around the same time. It was a drug resistant amd the test for it is name LAM-ELISA. That is a strange coincidence.

  10. The autopsy report can be found here-
    It makes fascinating bedtime reading.

  11. Could it be there was someone outside the elevator holding the button to keep the door open/ing? and out of sight from camera? perhaps a jealous ex or someone met at the hotel… (would need hallway footage to determine) When she steps out and possibly speaks to him/her, she seems to return quite distressed which means she could have tried to hide? bringing me to the water system. Now I cannot believe the roof did not have an alarm? but lets just say it didn’t! Either as mentioned she could be chased and only place on roof was water system, that she could have been locked in or strangled (would need to determine via autopsy) or could it be a kinky rendezvous that turned sinister *seems unlikely I know* but people are complex and weird from my experience, even the most banal normal types are often the most unusual. Either way, not a very nice way to go…

  12. I am almost certain there was an evil spirit entity following her. Perhaps she was hearing it call her name. She was flailing her hands around in the air trying to confirm some inter-dimensional being. The elevator speaks volumes when you see the black, blob-type mist present. Something evil was after her.

  13. Right from the off Elisa appears not be in complete control, she tries
    to operate the lift in some state of mild confusion. Her body movement
    looks predetermined, almost like she’s digging deep trying to stay with
    it by conciously reminding herelf where the control panel is located.
    She’s clearly trying to get away from someone that’s for certain. Under
    the influence of something she pressing random buttons in the lift. She
    then hears something coming from the corridor but she isn’t sure which
    way the noise is coming from. She tries to hide in the corner. Confused
    and caught in two minds she has a quick peep, right first then looks
    left quickly probably because she hears something from the left as well.
    Initially, a person from the right catches her attention. Then a second
    person from the left seems to instruct her to move out the lift but she
    seems to be doing two things at this point. One, she tries to diffuse
    the situation acting play fully to instructions and two, she tries to
    carry out instructions but in a state of confusion as she’s having to do
    several moments. It seems she’s been told to exit the lift and move to
    the left and place her hands on her head. Then something seems to happen
    to her and she walks back into the lift but visibly looks shaken,
    scared and in panic. On entry, she looks more disorientated, unbalanced
    and clearly seems to have lost control of her hands and is struggling to
    process everything. Finally, she’s asked to come out again and she
    returns to where she was standing previously. At this point she seems
    engage in conversation and is acting something out, explaining something and then she is led away to the left.

  14. Something strange about this that I intend to find out about. Clearly this may have something to do with parallel dimension and swapping of technologies.

  15. Someone provided information to her about the rooftop watertanks…and how to access them

  16. A detailed reenactment should be done to see how she got up there by herself if this was an accidental death…

  17. I am so super late to the game on this, but I think some of her behavior can clearly be attributed to the fact that she does not have her glasses on. She could easily hit several buttons knowing the floor number is somewhere in that area, but she can’t see well enough (old hotel…maybe buttons are worn thin?). If you pay attention to when the doors reopen at the end of the video, you can see the wall is painted bright orange, whereas the lobby wall was painted dark blue. I would assume each floor was probably a different color and something to be easily recognized if you “forgot your glasses in your room” or something. Also when she reached her hand through the door, it looks like a movement you would make in the dark if you can’t see and you have no depth perception. Her hand movements outside the elevator could definitely be her explaining the situation to someone else and maybe someone told her the elevator would close if there was motion sensed. I think she probably was talking to someone in the lobby about it. Her jumping and hiding at first is because I think she thinks someone is messing with her and it seems like a silly thing for a young girl to do. I don’t really find it that weird. Her ending up in the water tank however….super weird and definitely fowl play I think.


  19. I was one of her first followers on her blog. She suffered from depression and was very insecure. We emailed each other all the time. I tried to help her and told her to stay positive. I was shocked when she died.

  20. Elisa Lam’s Formspring page has been archived –

  21. Evidence could point to psychosis caused by the four prescription drugs she was taking, all of which carry suicide and akathisia warnings.