Season 3 Episode 2 - Elisa Lam
On February 15 2013, the LAPD released a video taken by a surveillance camera of an elevator passenger at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles California. They were asking the public's help in finding Elisa Lam who had gone missing two weeks earlier. Once the surveillance video landed on Youtube and other video sharing sites it became one of the most hotly debated videos of that year. Partly because of the strange and some would say unnatural behavior exhibited by Elisa Lam, and also because of where her body was eventually found.
Are you ready to jump down the rabbit hole?
The Elisa Lam video caused quite a stir in all corners of the internet when it became viral, . It was even credited by American Horror Story creator Patrick Murphy as the inspiration for the “Hotel” season in 2015.
Lots of conjecture and theories were put forth, we will try and get to the truth today.
On this episode of Clouded we will try and answer 5 questions:
Who was Elisa Lam?
Elisa was a 21 year old student at the University of British Columbia and the daughter of immigrant parents who had opened a restaurant just outside of Vancouver, Canada. What is also known is that she was diagnosed as having Bi-Polar disorder and was prescribed medication to help keep it under control.
On January 26th 2013 Elisa arrived alone in Los Angeles after having visited the San Diego Zoo a few days earlier. That same day Elisa made internet reservations for a shared room at the Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles. She checked into the hotel two days after arriving in LA on January 28th and was scheduled to check out on the 31st. It has been reported that her final destination was Santa Cruz California.
What is the Checkered Past of the Cecil Hotel?
The Cecil Hotel (Now known as Stay on Main) began construction in 1924. It was being built by hotelier William Banks Hanner and was meant to be a destination hotel for international businessmen and the social elite in Downtown Los Angeles which was booming at the time.
The cost of the hotel was 1 million dollars and it was Designed by Loy Lester Smith in the Beaux Arts style. The Cecil opened in 1927 and boasted an opulent marble lobby with beautifully stained-glass windows, potted palms and an alabaster statuary. It was, at the time, a lobby that stood out from the pack. But almost from the beginning the hotel had a tragic history. In 1927, a man named John Croneur was arrested in his room for running from police at the Hayward Hotel and stealing a diamond hairpin at the Rosslyn Hotel.
But the excitement and beauty of the neighborhood quickly changed 2 years later when the Great Depression hit. The once elegant hotel was now notorious for housing drug addicts, prostitutes, and adulterous couples. It was also becoming a haven for transients and the homeless, slowly being engulfed by the now infamous skid row.
The bad luck of the hotel has a vast history behind it. There have been at least 10 confirmed suicides at the hotel and 3 inconclusive deaths that may have been suicides. Here are a couple of those unfortunate suicides:
One of the more sad and shocking deaths to occur at the hotel was the death of "Pigeon" Goldie Osgood. On June 4, 1964, a hotel worker discovered the body of Mrs. Osgood, a retired telephone operator, dead in her room. She had been raped, stabbed and beaten and her room was ransacked. Osgood was well known around the area and had earned her nickname because she fed birds in nearby Pershing Square. Near her body was the Los Angeles Dodgers cap she always wore and a paper sack full of birdseed. Osgood's murder remains unsolved.
The Cecil Hotel also had some shocking guests visit its, some say, haunted halls. In 1947 Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia, was rumored to have had her last drink at the Cecil's bar in the days before her notorious and, to date, unsolved murder.
Richard Ramirez, also known as the night stalker, made the Cecil his home during his spree of 13 murders, five attempted murders, 11 sexual assaults and 14 burglaries in 1985.
Then In 1991, Jack Unterweger — a serial killer who strangled prostitutes with their own bras in Australia — also rented out a room at the hotel. Many believe he stayed at the hotel in homage to Richard Ramirez.
What happened to Elisa Lam?
Elisa Checked into the Cecil Hotel on the 28th and was assigned a shared room on the 5th floor. Two days into her stay her roommates complained to hotel management about “odd behavior” by Elisa. She was then moved to a private room also on the 5th floor.
Lam contacted her parents everyday while on vacation. On January 31st, the day she was scheduled to check out, her parents didn’t receive a call.
Lam’s parents contacted police and a search ensued. On Feb. 15th, a full two weeks after she had gone missing, the LAPD released a surveillance video of Elisa from inside an elevator at the hotel. The video was time stamped Feb. 1st and was the last known sighting of her.
Elisa’s body was found on the morning of Feb.19. It was located in one of four 1,000-gallon tanks providing water to guest rooms, a kitchen, and a coffee shop. The days prior to this, guests in the hotel were complaining of low water pressure, unusual tasting water, and black water coming out of the faucet.
What is in the surveillance video?
To say that her motions and reactions in the video are a bit odd is an understatement. It truly is bizarre to watch it. It has a supernatural feel to it, like just off to the side of the camera is the ghost or spirit we are all waiting to see.
Here is how wikipedia describes the video. It does not get into the supernatural element of it, which I think is also important to share:
In the clip, the camera at one of the elevator cab's rear corners looks down from the ceiling, offering a view not just of its interior but the hallway outside. It is somewhat grainy, and the timestamp at the bottom is obscured. At some points Lam's mouth is pixelated.
At the start, Lam enters, clad in a red zippered hooded sweatshirt over a gray T-shirt, with black shorts and sandals. She enters from the left and goes to the control panel, appears to select several floors and then steps back to the corner. After a few seconds during which the door fails to close, she steps up to it, leans forward so her head is through the door, looks in both directions, and then quickly steps back in, backing up to the wall and then into the corner near the control panel. The door remains open.
She walks to it again and stands in the doorway, leaning on the side. Suddenly she steps out into the hall, then to her side, back in, looking to the side, then back out. She then steps sideways again, and for a few seconds she is mostly invisible behind the wall she has her back to just outside. The door remains open.
Her right arm can be seen going up to her head, and then she turns to re-enter the cab, putting both hands on the side of the door. She then goes to the control panel, presses many more buttons, some more than once, and then returns to the wall she had come into the elevator from, putting both hands over her ears again briefly as she walks back to the section of wall she had been standing against before. The door remains open.
She turns to her right and begins rubbing her forearms together, then waves her hands out to her sides with palms flat and fingers outstretched, while bowing forward slightly and rocking gently. This can all be seen through the door, which remains open. After she backs to the wall again and walks away to the left, it finally closes.
What she in fear for her life?
The official coroner’s finding was that this was an accidental drowning. In the same report it was noted that Elisa was found naked floating inside of the water tank. Her clothes, similar to what she was wearing inside the surveillance video, was also found floating in the water coated with what was noted as a “sand-like” particulate. The autopsy revealed no evidence of physical trauma, sexual assault, or suicide.
The toxicology test was deemed incomplete because not enough of her blood was preserved, but it did show traces consistent with prescription medication found among her belongings, plus nonprescription drugs such as Sinutab and ibuprofen.
One of the mysteries surrounding this case was how did she access the water tanks? All the doors that take you to the roof are locked and require a key or a passcode. None of these doors were found to have been tampered with and they also had alarms on them that were not triggered. So how could Elisa have gotten around these measures? Simple actually.
The roof was also accessible by the fire escape. Lam could have easily made it up to the roof via this method. This was actually shown in a youtube video by a chinese blogger named Kay Theng. In his video he shows just how easy it is to get to these water tanks at the Cecil Hotel. He also shows that two other mysteries in this case could also be explained in the same video.
Two other unresolved issues with her death are how did she climb to the top of the water tanks when employees needed to get a ladder to access them? And how did Elisa get into the water tanks once she somehow was able to get on top where the maintenance access doors are heavy and not easy to lift?
The same video by Kay Theng and pictures online of the water tank extraction operation of Elisa’s body also gives answers to both of these questions. The top of the water tanks are accessible in two different ways: One way, which is shown in the video, is that above the water tanks is a roof accessible by a ladder on the opposite side of the water tanks. Lam could have gotten up there and jumped down. There is also a second possible explanation, in pictures I found online I noticed that on one side of the two water tanks there is a side railing. Elisa could have climbed this side railing and possibly pulled herself up to the top.
Her odd behavior in the elevator is really creepy and a little disturbing to watch. But that may have an explanation as well. As mentioned earlier Elisa had been being diagnosed as bi-polar. If she had stopped taking her medication or if they no longer were as effective as they once were, she may have had an elevated mood known as mania. When an episode of mania hits psychosis may follow with Individuals making poorly thought out decisions with little regard to the consequences.
The one thing that I can’t explain is the elevator door. It stays open for a really unusual amount of time. Longer than I have ever seen an elevator door stay open. Now there have been reports, although I have not been able to verify that the video may have been slowed down. Which is totally plausible. But even if true, it’s not significant enough to really notice it in the video or to explain the door staying open for so long.
I think the evidence shows in an overwhelming fashion that Elisa was not being chased or that any supernatural events occurred in the video.
Unless, of course, the elevator is cursed.
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My name is Victor and this has been another episode of Clouded, where internet meets mystery