Elisa Lam last called home on January 31, 2013. Then, she disappeared.
Soon, some guests in the Cecil Hotel began to complain about low water pressure. The front desk of the Los Angeles Skid Row hotel received additional calls about black water when faucets or showers were turned on. After nearly three weeks (coinciding with Elisa Lam’s disappearance), a maintenance worker was sent to investigate. He searched and searched until he came upon four water storage tanks on the roof of the building. The tanks, located behind a locked and alarmed “employees only” door, were difficult to access. The worker checked connections for leaks and cracks until he ultimately discovered Elisa Lam’s nude body decomposing inside one of the tanks. Police and the LA Medical Examiner’s office were contacted immediately.
The police investigators examined surveillance footage from a security camera located inside the hotel’s elevator. The film contained the last few moments of Elisa Lam’s life. The video, readily available on YouTube, is — for lack of a better word — chilling. Elisa Lam, a 21-year old student from British Columbia, is seen entering the elevator. She presses several buttons and waits, but the door doesn’t close. She steps back into the hall and appears to look towards someone or something out of the camera’s view. She then hurries back into the elevator and pins herself against the corner in an effort to hide or at least not be seen. She appears to then press every button on the control panel. The elevator still has not moved and the door remains open. Elisa again steps into the hall and seems to be talking to someone out of the camera’s range. As she talks, she flails her hands around at strange and unnatural angles. Then she, herself, moves out of camera range, in the opposite direction from where she was looking. The elevator beings to move. The door closes. The elevator, now empty, begins making regular stops for the remaining one minute and thirty-one seconds of the video.
An autopsy determined the cause of Elisa’s death to be accidental drowning, although it is unclear how she ended up in the water tank. It is also unclear how, if it was an accident, she was able to get to the water tank through a locked door without setting off the alarm. And, if she was alone, how did the lid of the cistern get replaced?
Elisa was traveling alone. Her final destination was to be Santa Cruz, California. It is unknown why she chose to stay at the unseemly Cecil Hotel. It was not exactly the best place for a young girl to be, especially one like Elisa, who was all alone and a known sufferer of bi-polar disorder. The hotel is a haven for transients and has quite a checkered history. It was allegedly the last place that aspiring actress Elizabeth Short was seen alive before she was found dead in an empty lot — sliced in two — and gained unfortunate notoriety as “The Black Dahlia.” The Cecil Hotel was the temporary home of Richard Ramirez, better known as LA’s infamous serial killer “The Night Stalker.” Over the years, at least four people leaped to their deaths from windows of the Cecil. In 1964, a local character known as “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood, a retired telephone operator, known for protecting and feeding pigeons in a nearby park, was found dead in his ransacked room.
After the discovery on Elisa’s body, the Cecil Hotel changed its name to “Stay on Main,” and is currently making an effort to change its image. Those plans were interrupted when an outbreak of tuberculosis struck the area surrounding the hotel. Curiously, the screening process for determining the presence of tuberculosis is known in the health care industry as the LAM-ELISA test.