The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam: What Really Happened?

a photo of the hotel cecil, where elisa lam tragically passed

In February of 2013, guests at Los Angeles’s notorious Cecil Hotel began complaining of low water pressure from their rooms’ faucets. Some even claimed that the water was black and had an “unusual” taste. Enough complaints accumulated for the hotel to inspect its four 1000-gallon water tanks, located on the roof. Inside one of the tanks, hotel staff found the body of a missing woman named Elisa Lam. Lam had been on a solo vacation to Los Angeles, staying at the Cecil when she went missing in late January.

How had she found her way atop the roof, which was supposedly only accessible to hotel staff? If this was a suicide, why did she choose such an inconvenient method? Subsequently released security camera footage only added fuel to the fire of speculation.

To this day, the death of Elisa Lam continues to perplex investigators. Police consider the case solved. But not all of its details add up. As one digs deeper into the case, more questions arise. In this article, we will lay out the case’s facts, and you can decide for yourself what happened to Elisa Lam.

What Was Elisa Lam Doing in Los Angeles?

21 year-old Elisa Lam was a student at the University of British Columbia. She dreamed of seeing California. However, her parents hindered this goal. They were exceptionally concerned for their daughter’s safety due to her mental health struggles. Doctors prescribed Lam several medications to ease the symptoms of her depression and bipolar disorder. At times, she would neglect to take her meds, which reportedly resulted in nightmarish hallucinations. 

It took a lot of convincing for Lam’s parents to allow her to take her California trip. They did so under one condition: that she call them at least once a day. And she did so, at least until the day she went missing. Police searched every inch of the hotel that they legally could (including the roof) for Lam, but they found no trace of her.

When hotel staff discovered her body on February 19, many questioned whether or not the police had searched as thoroughly as they claimed. 

The Infamous Elevator Footage

elisa lam elevator footage
Source: Pixabay

On February 14, police released perplexing security camera footage that depicted Lam inside an elevator at the Cecil Hotel. Below is a summary of what occurs in the video

  • Lam enters the elevator. She hits every button and backs into the corner, briefly standing still.
  • Suddenly appearing frightened, she walks towards the elevator doors, peering into the hallway outside as if to ensure that the coast is clear.
  • She reenters the elevator and hides in the top right corner. Here, she cannot be seen from the hallway.
  • She exits the elevator once again, making peculiar hand movements as she looks up and down the hallway. After reentering the elevator, she once again pushes every button and hides in the corner.
  • Lam exits the elevator, and the door closes and opens behind her several times. 

Your interpretation of the footage is probably dependent on your theory of what happened to Lam. For those who believe her death was indeed a suicide, the footage exemplifies the state of hysteria she was in around the time of her death. For those who believe she was murdered, the footage showcases her hiding in genuine fear from an attacker.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any other footage from that day.

How Did Elisa Lam Get Onto the Roof?

After her body was discovered, police were quick to rule Lam’s death an “accidental drowning”. However, this is hardly a resolution. How did she manage to get to the hotel’s roof in the first place? Understandably, armchair sleuths across the globe were quick to suspect that she was murdered by a hotel staff member who had access to the roof. Such suspicions were only augmented by the security footage.

Below are some other points to consider if you’re leaning towards the murder theory:

  • It is suspicious that the only captured footage of Lam was the elevator tape. Had a hotel staff member been responsible for her death, they could have erased other footage or simply known a path to the roof by which they would not have been captured by the cameras.
  • It is also suspicious that the elevator doors do not close after Lam presses all the buttons multiple times. While it may be a stretch to assume that someone was controlling the elevators to keep her on a particular floor, this is an oddity that folks in the murder theory camp often point to. 
  • Police never found Lam’s phone.

The “Official” Theory

As bizarre as Elisa Lam’s case is, we still must consider Occam’s razor: perhaps the simplest explanation is the most realistic. Many theorize that, amidst a severe mental breakdown, Lam used the hotel’s fire escape to access the roof. Tests done on her body showed that she had been neglecting to take her medications, which could easily account for the strange behavior she exhibited in the elevator. 

Neither theory is backed with enough concrete evidence to prove for certain that it is true. The theory you side with will be based on your own interpretation of the little circumstantial evidence we do have. But no matter which theory is true, the fact remains that the death of Elisa Lam was a tragedy for those who loved her. We hope that one day, for her family’s sake, the whole truth comes out.

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