Happy Tuesday Everybody! On this case on Crime Blogs, we will be covering the infamous Elisa Lam death! You guessed it right the one on Netflix or the video you have seen of her in the elevator, I’m covering it here on Crime Blogs! Let’s start, shall we?!
Let’s do a little back ground in Elisa Lam before we get into her disappearance and then what happened after that. Elisa Lam was a student at the University of British Columbia she decided she was going to take a trip to California and traveled alone on Amtrak and intercity buses. She visited the San Diego Zoo and posted pictures taken there on Social media.
On January 26, she arrived in Los Angeles. After two days, she checked into the Cecil Hotel, near downtowns Skid Row. Elisa was initially assigned a shared room on the hotel’s fifth floor but her roommate complained about what the hotel’s lawyer would later describe as “certain odd behavior” and Elis was moved to a room of her own after 2 days.
The Cecil Hotel was a business hotel in 1920’s, the Cecil faced significant financial difficulties during the Great Depression of the 1930’s and never recaptured its original market as the neighborhood around it started decaying in the later decades. Several of Los Angeles’ more notable murders have happened or have connections to the hotel: In 1964, Goldie Osgood, the “Pigeon Lady of Pershing Square,” was raped and murdered in her room at the Cecil, a crime that has never been solved. Serial Killers Jack Unterweger and Richard Ramirez both resided at the Cecil while active. There have also been a number of suicides there, one of which killed a pedestrian outside the front entrance of the hotel.
After renovations it has tried to market itself as boutique hotel, but the reputation lingers. “The Cecil will reveal to you whatever it is you’re a fugitive from,” says Steven Erickson, a journalist who spent a night in the hotel after Lam’s death.
Elisa had been recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression. She had been prescribed 4 different medication, Wellbutrin, Lamictal, Seroquel, and Effexor to treat her mental health problems. Elisa had no history of suicidal ideas or even attempts, although on report did claim that she had previously gone missing for a brief period of time.
In mid-2010, Elisa began a blog named Ether Fields on Blogspot. Over the next 2 years, she posted pictures of models in fashionable clothing and accounts of her life, particularly her struggle with her mental illness. In a January 2012 blog post, Elisa lamented that a “relapse” at the start of her current school term had forced her to drop several of her classes, and leaving her feeling “so utterly directionless and lost.” She titled her post, “You’re always haunted by the idea you’re wasting your life” after a quotation from the novelist Chuck Palahniuk. She used that quote as an epigraph for her blog. Elisa worried that her blog would look suspicious with so many withdrawals and that it would result in her being unable to continue her studies and attend graduate school.
A little over 2 years after Elisa had started blogging, she announced she would be abandoning her blog for another she had started on Tumblr called “nouvelle-Nouveau.” Its content mostly consisted of Fashion photos, quotes and few posts in Elisa’s own words. The same Palahniuk quotation was used as an epigraph.
Elisa contacted her parents in British Columbia every day while traveling. On February 1, 2013, the day she was scheduled to check out of the Cecil Hotel and leave for Santa Cruz, her parents did not hear from her and called the Los Angeles Police Department, her family flew out to Los Angeles to help with the search.
Hotel staff who saw Elisa that day said she was alone. Outside the hotel, Kate Orphan, a manger of a nearby bookstore, was the only person who recalled seeing her that day. “She was outgoing, very lively, very friendly” while getting gifts to take home to her family. Katie told CNN “She was talking about what book she was getting and whether or not what she was getting would be too heavy for her to carry around while she traveled, “ Katie added.
Police searched the hotel to the extent that they legally could. They searched Elisa’s room and had dogs go through the building, including the rooftop but the dogs were unsuccessful in detecting her scent. “But we didn’t search every room,” Sgt. Rudy Lopez said later, “we could only do that if we had probable cause” to believe a crime had been committed.
On February 6, a week after Elisa had last been seen, the police department decided more help was needed. Flyers with her image were posted in the neighborhood and online. It brough the case to the public attention through national media.
On February 15, after another week with no sign of Elisa, the police department released a video of the last known sighting of her taken in one of the Cecil’s elevators by a video surveillance camera on February 1.
In approximately 2 ½ minutes of footage, Elisa, who was alone, makes unusual moves and gestures, leaving the elevator at one point while the doors remain open, even after she appears to the have pressed every button. When the doors fail to close after she returns, she leaves; then the doors close.
The video drew worldwide interest in the case due to Elisa’s strange behavior, and has been extensively analyzed and discussed. It was reposted widely, it even went as far as going viral on a Chinese video-sharing site called Youku, where it got 3 million views and 40,000 comments in just 10 days. Many of the commentators found it very unsettling to watch.
There are several theories that tried to explain her actions. One was that Elisa was trying to get the elevator car to move in order to escape from someone who was pursuing her. Others suggested that she might be under the influence of drugs, but there was none that was detected in her body when it was eventually found. When her bipolar disorder came known to the public, the theory that shew as having a psychotic episode.
Other viewers argued that the video could have been tampered with before being made public. Besides the obscuring timestamp, they claimed, parts had been slowed down and that nearly a minute of footage had been completely removed. This could have been done to protect the identity of someone who would be in the video, either related or not to the disappearance.
During the search for Elisa, guests at the hotel were complaining of low water pressure. Some later claimed that their water was colored black and had an unusual taste.
On the morning of February 19, Santiago Lopez, a maintenance worker at the hotel, found Elisa’s body in one of four 1,000 gallon tanks that were located on the rood providing water to the hotel rooms, the kitchen and a coffee shop. Through the open hatch he say Elisa, lying face-up in the water. The tank was drained and cut open since its maintenance hatch was too small to accommodate equipment needed to remove Elisa’s body.
On February 21, the Los Angeles coroners’ office issued a finding of accidental drowning, with bipolar disorder as a significant factor. The full coroners report, was released in June, stated that Elisa’s body had been found naked, clothing similar to what she was wearing in the video in the elevator was floating in the water, coated with sand like particulate. Her watch and room key were also found with her.
Elisa’s body was moderately decomposed and bloated. It was mostly greenish, with some marbling evident on the abdomen and skin separation evident. There was no evidence of physical trauma, sexual assault, or suicide. Toxicology tests showed traces consistent with prescription medication found among her belongings, plus nonprescription drugs such as sinutab and ibuprofen.
An exceedingly small quantity of alcohol was present but no other recreational drugs. Investigators and experts have noted that the concentration of her prescription drugs in her system indicated that she was under-medicating or had stopped taking her medications recently.
The investigation determined how Elisa died, but did not initially offer an explanation as to how she got into the tank in the first place. Doors and stairs that access the hotel’s roof are locked, with only staff having the passcodes and keys, and any attempt to force them would supposedly have triggered and alarm. The hotel’s fire escape could have allowed her to bypass those security measures, her scent trail was lost by a window that connected to the fire escape. A video posted by a Chinese user after Elisa’s death showed that the hotel’s roof was easily accessible via the fire escape and that two of the lids of water tanks were open.
Apart from the question of how she got on the roof, other asked if she could have gotten into the tank by herself. All four tanks were 4 by 8 foot cylinders propped up on concrete blocks, there was no fixed access to them and hotel worders had to use a ladder to look at the water. They were protected by heavy lids that would have been difficult to replace from within. The hotel employee who found the body said that the lid was open at the time, removing the issue of how she could have closed the lid from inside. Police dogs had searched through the hotel for Elisa, even on the roof, shortly after her disappearance was noted, did not find any trace of her.
Theories arose pertaining to the elevator video. Some argued that shew as attempting to hide from a pursuer, perhaps someone who was responsible for her death, while other said she was merely frustrated with the elevator’s apparent malfunction. Some say she was under the influence of drugs, saying that they might have broken down during the period of time her body decomposed in the tank or that she might have taken a rare cocktail of such drugs that a normal screen would not detect. The very low level of her prescription drugs in her system, and the amount of pills left in her bottles, suggested she was under-medicating or had recently stopped taking her medication for bipolar disorder, which might have led to a psychotic episode.
The autopsy report and its conclusions were also questioned based on the incomplete information. For instance, it does not say what the results of the rape kit and fingernail kit were or even if they were processed. It also records subcutaneous pooling of blood in Lam’s anal area, which some observes suggested was a sign of sexual abuse; one pathologists noted it could have resulted from bloating in the course of the body’s decomposition, and her rectum was also prolapsed. Even the coroner’s pathologists appeared to be ambivalent about their conclusion that Elis’s death was accidental.
Since her death, her Tumblr blog was updated, presumably through Tumblr’s Queue option that allows posts to automatically publish themselves when the user is away. Her phone was never found, and it has been assumed to have been stolen at the time around her death. Whether the continued updates to her blog were facilitated by the theft of her phone, the work of a hacker, or through the Queue, is not known nor is it known whether the updates are related to her death.
In September 2013, Lam’s parents filed a wrongful death suit, claiming the hotel failed to “inspect and seek out hazards in the hotel that presented an unreasonable risk of danger to Elisa and other hotel guests and was seeking unspecified damages and burial costs. The hotel argued it could have not reasonably foreseen the at Elisa might have entered the tanks and since it remained unknown how Elisa got into the water tank, no liability could be assigned for failing to prevent it. In 2015, the suit was dismissed.
This case is still remained unsolved and has recently grabbed the attention of the nation as the 4 part documentary series was posted on Netflix. If you haven’t watched it, it’s a little eerie and I recommend it.
The 3rd source that I have put up, you can watch the hotel elevator clip and seen how she was acting.