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For those amateur sleuths that love to hear us talk about true crime on Film Daily, here’s what we know about the death of Elisa Lam.

Elisa Lam: Inside the creepy curse of LA’s Hotel Cecil

There are some cases, especially in recent years, that are inescapable within the true crime community. At the top of the list is the mystery surrounding the death of Elisa Lam. Theories abound on how the 21-year-old student died while staying at the infamous Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles in 2013, ranging from murder to accident to supernatural forces playing a role in things. As for what really happened to Elisa Lam, we may never truly know the answer to that question.

For those amateur sleuths that love to hear us talk about true crime on Film Daily, here’s what we know about the death of Elisa Lam.


Lam, the daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong, was born in 1991 in Canada. At the time of her death in 2013, she was a student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Though at the time of her death, Lam was not registered as a student there. 

Prior to her trip to California, Lam had been struggling with mental health issues being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression. At the time of her death, Lam was on four separate medications to help with her conditions: Wellbutrin, Lamictal, Seroquel, and Effexor. While her family tried to keep Lam’s mental health struggles quiet, they would later say she had no history of suicide attempts or suicidal ideations. 

In the years prior to her death, Lam was an avid blogger. She had a Blogspot named Ether Fields before switching over to Tumblr named Nouvelle-Nouveau. Her blog consisted of fashion images mixed with quotes and passages about her struggles with mental health and the goings-on in her life. 

In January 2013, Lam embarked on a solo trip to California from Vancouver. As a deal with her family, who worried about her travelling alone, Lam promised to call them once a day. Using Amtrack and buses to travel, Lam went to San Diego and visited the Sam Diego Zoo. She then travelled to L.A. where, on January 26, Lam checked into the infamous Cecil Hotel. 

Originally, Lam was assigned a shared room, but, following complaints from Lam’s roommates about strange behavior, was moved to a solo unit. 

Disappearance of Elisa Lam

Lam kept her promise to remain in contact with her family every day of her trip. On Jan. 31, 2013, however, Lam went quiet. This was the day that Lam was supposed to have checked out of the Cecil Hotel and headed to Santa Cruz, but . . . nothing happened. The Lam family would call the police to report Elisa Lam missing and head to L.A. in order to search for her.

Police acted quickly. They descended on the Cecil Hotel and interviewed hotel staff and businesses in the surrounding area. Staff said that they saw Lam alone that day while nearby owner of The Last Bookstore, Katie Orphan, also saw Lam, who was buying presents for her family that day. Orphan would say that Lam appeared to be in good spirits.

In addition, the LAPD also searched the Cecil Hotel with search dogs, but the LAPD could not go everywhere within the hotel without probable cause. While they searched for Elisa Lam everywhere in the hotel, including the roof, the LAPD did not find her. 

The search, however, did not go well. Even with Lam’s picture plastered everywhere and international media attention on her disappearance, things got even more baffling when the infamous video footage was released.

The footage, which you can view below, has been extensively analyzed and picked apart by true crime fans. It is definitely very odd, to say the least, including Lam’s strange hand gestures and what looks like a conversation to an invisible person at one point in the footage.

The bizarre security footage only fueled the mystery surrounding Elisa Lam’s disappearance even further. Shortly after the release, however, there would be a major break in the case.

Discovery of Elisa Lam

While the police and Lam’s worried family were searching for her, the guests of the Cecil Hotel were noticing something off with the water. Guests complained to hotel staff about odd water pressure. Some said that the water would come out black before clearing and that it had a funny taste to it. 

On Feb. 19, 2013, four days after the release of the security footage, and a couple of weeks after Lam’s disappearance, her body was found in one of the four 1,000 gallon water tanks on the rooftop of the Cecil Hotel. The tank provided water to the guest rooms, the kitchen, and a coffee shop. 

Responders had to cut the tank open in order to remove Lam’s body, which had begun decomposing. Now details on the state of Lam’s body have remained vague. Some people say that she was found naked in the tank while others say that she was found clothed but covered in a “sand-like particle”. Running forensics was difficult, though, reportedly, the coroner did not find any sign of foul play or sexual assault. 

What toxicology tests that could be done on Lam’s blood showed that she was taking her medications at the time of her death. Though, given the state of her body and her blood, more tests could not be run on Lam. So the cause was ruled to be an accidental drowning with her bipolar disorder as a significant factor in Lam’s death.

But . . . is that really case closed?

Unresolved mystery of Elisa Lam

Lam’s death raised more questions than answers. How did she get onto the roof of the Cecil Hotel? The area was closed to guests and any attempt to force entry would have triggered the alarm. The best answer to Lam getting on the roof is if she climbed the fire escape to do so, but someone would have noticed her. Wouldn’t they? 

Saying she used the fire escape to get onto the roof unseen, how did Lam get in the tank of water? Hotel workers had to use a ladder to check the water in the four-by-eight-foot cylinder tanks. In addition, they are covered by heavy lids which would be hard to cover from the inside. 

Amateur sleuths are divided on why Lam would go to the roof. Some say a pursuer, others say she was on ecstasy, some say a psychotic break, and others say that Lam committed suicide. More importantly, these online sleuths think that the coroner’s report should be reexamined, especially for an indication of sexual assault or testing of the rape kit. 

Finally, Lam’s phone has never been found. In the aftermath of her disappearance and murder, her Tumblr kept updating. Whether or not this was through the use of the Queue option, which allows users to store posts for updates at a later time, or whoever had the phone was posting what was in Lam’s draft folder remains unknown. 

There are more questions than answers surrounding the tragic death of Elisa Lam. It looks like the Lam family will not be getting closure anytime soon.

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  • Elisa Lam’s old Formspring page has been resurrected –

    March 18, 2020
  • In the extender video where it shows the elevator closing, does anyone else notice a face appear? Seen it on multiple videos now…

    June 29, 2020
    • Yes I see a face too

      August 29, 2020
  • Someone must have been holding the button in ,,the button in outside of elevator because the door wasn’t shutting , when it shut and when down a level it only took 6 seconds for the door to shut ! Notice she didn’t stand In the door way and it was way longer then 6 seconds and the door could have shut but it didn’t because someone was holding the door button in .. someone probably said come with me the elevator isn’t going anywhere

    July 23, 2020

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