When Elisa Lam was found inexplicably dead in February 2013, investigators were baffled — then the security footage taken just before she vanished only made things stranger.
On February 19, 2013, the naked corpse of a young woman was found floating in the water tank atop the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
The hotel’s maintenance workers had gone to check on the rooftop tank after guests complained that their water tasted strange. It was then that they found the severely waterlogged and decomposing body of 21-year-old Elisa Lam.
Lam, a student from Vancouver, was visiting L.A. alone. For the first few days of her trip, everything seemed normal. She called her parents every day to check in and bought them gifts that she intended to bring home. But on January 31, the day she was supposed to leave L.A. and travel to Santa Cruz, she began acting strangely.
CCTV footage from the day showed Lam entering an elevator in the Cecil Hotel.
When the doors failed to close, she poked her head out, looked both ways, then stepped back into the elevators. Then, when the doors still didn’t close, she erratically jumped into the hallway, then hopped to the side and back into the elevator, looking around all the while. After jumping around a few more times, Lam pushed a slew of buttons on the elevator’s control panel, some more than once.
She then covered her ears and leaned against the back of the elevator, rubbing her arms together, waving her hands at her sides, stretching out her fingers, and rocking back and forth. All the while, the elevator doors remained open. Finally, after she exited the elevator and walked out of view of the camera, the doors suddenly closed.
Based on her behavior, some amateur sleuths posited that Lam was trying to avoid someone who was chasing her. Others suggested that she was under the influence of drugs or was having a psychotic episode. The video was shared millions of times online, but no further information seemed to come of it.
Lam never arrived in Santa Cruz and she failed to call her parents. In fact, nobody ever heard from her again. And the next time anyone saw her, she was floating in the water tank. But how did she get in there? And what really happened on that elevator? Was her death suicide, an accident — or murder?
In the end, investigators determined that Lam was a victim of accidental drowning. Her behavior on the elevator, they said, could be attributed to her bipolar disorder, for which she was taking medication.
The case may officially be closed, but the fascination surrounding Lam’s death hasn’t faded.
Delve into the numerous theories surrounding the bizarre and tragic death of Elisa Lam.