Elisa Lam's Mysterious Death At The Cecil Hotel Still Haunts Years Later

A sign at the top of the Cecil Hotel
Unsplash | Christopher Alvarenga

There's nothing the internet loves more than a good mystery, and the Elisa Lam case is one of the more haunting mysteries out there.

The case has been written about endlessly. There's even a Netflix docuseries about it, which officially enshrines it in the pantheon of great mysteries.

While many people believe it's an open-and-shut case and not mysterious in the slightest, others aren't so sure.

21-year-old Elisa Lam visited Los Angeles in 2013.

Elisa Lam
Wikipedia | LAPD flyer photo

Lam, a Chinese-Canadian tourist, was a student at the University of British Columbia with bipolar disorder and depression. She traveled to California, using Amtrak and intercity buses, in late January of 2013.

When she arrived in Los Angeles, she checked into the Cecil Hotel.

Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles
Wikimedia Commons | Jim Winstead

The Cecil Hotel's long history is worthy of its own entry. Once a luxurious place to stay, it had fallen into disrepair over the decades. It was an inexpensive place to stay by 2013, in part because of its proximity to Skid Row.

Things were strange right from the start.

Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles
Wikimedia Commons | ZhengZhou

Lam was in a shared room, but was given her own room after her roommates complained about her strange behavior. A hotel manager said Lam left notes for her roommates telling them to go away. Later, she attended a live show of Conan, but was asked to leave due to her behavior.

This is the last footage of Elisa Lam.

Elisa Lam elevator CCTV video
Wikipedia | LAPD

CCTV video from the hotel's elevator shows Lam acting very strangely: pressing multiple buttons, hiding in the elevator and peeking out around the corner. She's the only person visible in the video.

Lam was soon reported missing after she failed to return to her room.

After her disappearance, hotel guests noticed a few things.

A water faucet
Unsplash | Sasikan Ulevik

Shortly after Lam disappeared, hotel guests started noticing some weird stuff surrounding the water faucets in their rooms: the water was discolored and tasted weird. There also seemed to be low water pressure.

If you've seen the Netflix series, you know where this is going.

Lam's body was found on February 19th.

A rooftop water tank
Unsplash | Lucas van Oort

Nineteen days after she was reported missing, workers found Lam's lifeless body inside a cistern, or water tank, on top of the hotel.

While her cause of death was drowning and ruled an accident, the bizarre circumstances led to internet sleuths coming up with alternative theories.

How did she even get up there?

Los Angeles Police Dept. sign
Wikimedia Commons | Ken Kistler

Questions abounded about how Lam, a small and slight woman, was able to access the roof, climb the ladder to the cistern, remove the cover and climb inside. To some, it seemed more likely that there was foul play.

Ultimately, it seems like death by misadventure is still the most likely situation.

Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles
Wikimedia Commons | Wilrooij

All of the troubling questions surrounding Lam's disappearance can be easily answered. The Netflix doc and Lam's Wikipedia page are both full of info.

It's always helpful to apply Occam's Razor to these scenarios. In this situation, an accidental death is the most likely answer.

The mystery persists.

Magnifying glass against a blue background
Unsplash | Markus Winkler

In the years since Lam's untimely death, internet sleuths have flocked to the Cecil to see if they can get any closer to unraveling the mystery. However, it's important to remember that this isn't a fictional whodunit — it's a real story with real people.

Is it even a mystery anymore?

Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles
Wikimedia Commons | Abdelrhman 1990

Lam's disappearance seems to hold pop culture cachet, even though it's a closed case.

What do you think happened to Elisa Lam? Did she die accidentally, or is there more to the story? Let us know your theory in the comments section.