Born In: Vancouver, Canada
Elisa Lam was a 21-year-old Chinese-Canadian tourist/student who, while on a vacation, went missing from Los Angeles Cecil Hotel on January 31, 2013. Later, on February 19, her body was discovered by a hotel maintenance staff, in one of the rooftop tanks, while looking into guests’ complaint of low water pressure and murky water. Her case attracted much attention from media and public after LAPD released a security camera footage in which she was seen behaving strangely in a hotel elevator. The footage went viral and gave rise to numerous theories and explanations about her actions. The Los Angeles County Coroner's office later ruled her death an accident with bipolar disorder being a significant contributing factor. It has been pointed out that her case bears an uncanny resemblance to the 2002 horror film Dark Water. Her case has also inspired various documentaries and songs including the 2021 Netflix docuseries Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel and a two-hour special in Discovery+ show Ghost Adventures.
Also Known As: Lam Ho-yi
Died At Age: 21
father: David Lam
mother: Yinna Lam
siblings: Sarah Lam
Born Country: Canada
place of death: Los Angeles, California, United States
Cause of Death: Drowning
Notable Alumni: University Of British Columbia
education: University Of British Columbia
Elisa Lam, whose Chinese name was Lam Ho-yi, was born on 30th April 1991 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to David Lam and Yinna Lam. Her parents were immigrants from Hong Kong and she had a sister named Sarah Lam.
She was a student at the University of British Columbia. In mid-2010, she joined the blogging platform BlogSpot and started her own blog with the name of Ether Fields.
She mostly posted fashion photos of models as well as her own life content which included her struggles with mental illness.
She continued to post on the platform for a couple of years before deciding to quit BlogSpot for another of her blog Nouvelle-Nouveau that she started on Tumblr. Here again, she posted fashion photos, quotes, memes, film clips, photography and some of her written posts.
She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression and had been given several medicines for the problem.
As part of her solo trip around the West Coast, Elisa Lam visited San Diego and posted a photo of her trip to San Diego Zoo on her social media channel.
She took Amtrak train from San Diego and reached Los Angeles on January 26, 2013. There, a couple of days later, she checked into the Cecil Hotel. At the hotel, she initially shared with others a room on the fifth floor; however, following complaints of her odd behaviour, she was shifted to an individual room later.
Since her parents were not comfortable with her travelling alone, she had assured them that she would let them know every day that she was fine.
On 31st January 2013, the day she was supposed to leave for Santa Cruz, her parents did not receive a call from her. Therefore, they contacted LAPD and themselves came down to LA to look for her.
The police searched the hotel premises but were unsuccessful in locating her. One of the last persons to see her was Katie Orphan, the owner of the nearby bookshop The Last Bookstore where Elisa Lam had gone to buy gifts for her family back in Vancouver.
Around a week later, with no success in the case, the LAPD sent out flyers with her photo in the neighbourhood and also posted her photos online. This got the case a lot of public and media attention.
On February 13, the LAPD released a video footage of Elisa Lam in one of the elevators of the hotels.
In the video, which was from the day of her disappearance, she was seen behaving strangely – stepping into the elevator and pressing multiple floor buttons; leaving and again entering the elevator, talking and gesturing outside the lift, sometimes trying to hide in the elevator and finally leaving it altogether. The elevator itself appeared to be malfunctioning.
The video went viral and gave rise to various explanations, ranging from paranormal activity, to someone threatening her and a psychotic episode due to her bipolar disorder. It was also argued that the video had been tampered with.
Twenty days after her disappearance, following guests’ complaint about low water pressure, murky water and weird water taste, a hotel maintenance staff, Santiago Lopez went to check the water tanks located on the roof of the hotel. In one of the four tanks, he saw Lam’s naked body with her clothes and personal belongings floating in the water close by.
While the initial autopsy reports were inconclusive, in June 2013, the Los Angeles County Coroner's office released the full autopsy report and ruled the death an accident with bipolar disorder being a significant contributing factor.
The case raised numerous questions as to how she got up onto the locked roof (without anyone noticing and without triggering the alarm) and also into the tank herself. Additionally, the police dogs who had initially searched for Lam in the hotel (including the roof), had not been able to find her.
After her death, her Tumblr blog was updated too. Whether it was through Tumblr's Queue option or through the theft of her phone (which was not found) remained unknown.
Guests staying at the hotel sued it over the incident and Lam’s parents, too, filed a separate wrongful death suit seeking unspecified damages and burial costs. The latter suit was dismissed in 2015.
Her death drew a lot of attention with the circumstances of her death bearing unusual resemblance with the 2002 horror movie Dark Water.
It also inspired a number of later creative work. This includes the final episode – Watershed – of the 2013 season of the ABC series Castle, another ABC series How to Get Away with Murder and parts of the 2014 Hongkong-Malaysian horror film Hungry Ghost Ritual.
In 2014, in the music video of their song Ancient Mars, the Vancouver pop duo The Zolas envision the last day of her life. It shows a young girl exploring Los Angeles, enjoying simple pleasures and taking photographs.
The 2014 song Disappearing Syndrome by the American post-hardcore band Hail the Sun and the 2018 song Elisa Lam by industrial rock band SKYND were inspired by her case too. In 2017, the American folk rock band Sun Kil Moon released two songs Window Sash Weights and Stranger Than Paradise which promoted the idea that the incident was a hoax.
In 2016, an episode – The Bizarre Death of Elisa Lam – of documentary entertainment web series BuzzFeed Unsolved explored the incident. Her case became a part of 2018 horror film Followed.
In 2021, her death was investigated in Discovery+ show Ghost Adventures’s two-hour special episode Cecil Hotel.
Yet again in 2021 a four-episode Netflix docuseries Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel chronicles her death.
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