What Happened to Elisa Lam?

The Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles has a long, dark history. The hotel, near skid row on 7th and Main, opened its doors in 1927 — and almost immediately the trouble began: a rash of murders were committed there in the '20s and '30s. The 600-room hotel is known to have been a one-time haunt of murder mystery victim Elizabeth Short, also known as The Black Dahlia.

 
In the '50s and '60s, the Cecil developed a reputation as a place people would go to commit suicide by jumping out of windows. On October 22, 1954, Helen Gurnee leaped to her death from a seventh-floor window, landing on the Cecil Hotel marquee. On February 11, 1962, Julia Moore jumped from a window on the eighth floor. Later that same year, on October 12, Pauline Otton jumped from a ninth floor window following an argument with her estranged husband. Otton landed on a pedestrian, George Gianinni; both were killed instantly.
 
"Pigeon Goldie" Osgood, a retired telephone operator known for feeding and protecting pigeons at nearby Pershing Square, was found murdered in her room at the Cecil on June 4, 1964. She had been stabbed, strangled, and raped. The crime remains unsolved.
 
Fast forward to 1985, when Richard Ramirez, who would come to be known as The Night Stalker, checked in to the Cecil. During his stay of several months in a room on the 14th floor, paying $14 a night, Ramirez murdered 14 people around Los Angeles. Ramirez, now on Death Row in California's San Quentin State Prison, would routinely return to the Cecil at night through the back alley entrance, visible from 7th Street, covered in blood. He would throw his bloody shirts into the Dumpster in the alley and walk up to his room clad only in pants.
 

Richard Ramirez
 
In 1991, Jack Unterweger, a journalist covering crime in Los Angeles for an Australian magazine, strangled 3 prostitutes with their own bra straps and dumped their bodies nearby during his five-week stay at the Cecil. On June 29, 1994, after being convicted of nine murders and sentenced to life in prison, Unterweger hanged himself using the same ligature he had created out of the bras of the women he killed.
 
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The latest chapter in the sordid history of the Hotel Cecil is the mystery of the disappearance and subsequent discovery of 21-year-old Elisa Lam of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
 
Lam, a student at the University of British Columbia, was visiting California on vacation in late January. Though she was traveling alone, she was in daily contact with her family. She didn’t have a car and was travelling by Amtrak train and public transit. After spending some time in San Diego, Lam traveled north to Los Angeles and checked into the Cecil Hotel at a rate of $65 a night on January 26. Lam planned to check out of the Cecil the morning of February 1 and then head north to Santa Cruz.
 
Elisa Lam
 
The last daily call home from Elisa Lam was on January 31. Cecil Hotel employees reported seeing her walking through the lobby of the building that same day; staff members who spotted her said nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The next morning, Lam never checked out.
 
Lam's parents reported their daughter missing, then flew to Los Angeles to find answers regarding their daughter's whereabouts. On February 6, the Los Angeles Police Department held a press conference regarding the disappearance of Elisa Lam.
 
LAPD Lieutenant Walter Teague, joined by Elisa's parents and sister, told reporters that homicide and robbery investigators were in the process of going through surveillance footage at the hotel, and monitoring whether Elisa's debit and credit cards had been used.
 
Because of the case's international status, the LAPD coordinated its investigation with Interpol and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
 
For three weeks, the search for Elisa Lam turned up nothing.
 
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At 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, February 19, a Cecil Hotel maintenance worker, responding to complaints by hotel guests about low water pressure, climbed to the roof and, while peering into the four water cisterns there which supply the hotel with fresh water, discovered the nude, decomposing body of Elisa Lam at the bottom of one tank.
 
The body had been in the cistern for as long as 19 days, and much was made in the media of the fact that hotel guests had bathed in, drank, and brushed their teeth with water from the tank.
 

 
Los Angeles Robbery-Homicide detectives immediately treated the case as a suspicious death, but it was unclear from the beginning whether this was an accident, a suicide, or a homicide.
 
On one hand, they reasoned, falling into a covered water tank behind a locked door on top of a roof would be an unusual accident. However, there were no obvious signs of foul play or trauma to the body, offering no clear answers to Elisa Lam's puzzling last days and death.
 
An autopsy was completed, but the cause of death was deferred pending further examination, including toxicology reports that would show whether Lam had any drugs in her system. Results would take several weeks and are still pending.
 
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The Elevator Video
 
The halls of the Cecil are perhaps the hotel's creepiest feature. "The hallways reminded me of the movie The Shining," one traveler wrote in an online review after staying at the Cecil. Only a fraction of the hotel's 600 rooms are occupied at any given time, leaving the hotel — and its long, echoing halls — largely empty.
 

Then there are the elevators. There are two that service the hotel's fifteen floors, one of which is reportedly out of order much of the time. The halls of each floor of the Cecil feature different styles and color schemes, and strange angles abound. Upon exiting an elevator and hearing a sound down the hall, a check of your environment with a quick turn of the head to your left and right may yield a very limited view, as seen in these photos of the 14th floor hallway just outside the elevators:
 

 
On February 14, while the search for the then-missing woman was still ongoing, the LAPD released a video of the last known moments of Elisa Lam's life:



 
 
E-mail thoughts and theories on the Elisa Lam mystery to truecrimenotebook@gmail.com. 

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