Accident Or Something More Sinister? Inside The Death Of Elisa Lam At L.A.’s Cecil Hotel

The 21-year-old Canadian tourist’s body was found floating in a rooftop water tank weeks after she disappeared.

March 31, 2023
Elisa Lam, pictured here smiling, was found dead in a water tank at the Cecil Hotel in February 2013.

Elisa Lam was a 21-year-old Canadian student who disappeared and was later found dead at the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles while she was traveling across the US.

Photo by: Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "Horror At The Cecil Hotel")

Warner Bros. Discovery, Inc. (Screenshot from ID's "Horror At The Cecil Hotel")

By: Aaron Rasmussen

A Canadian tourist who was staying at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles suddenly went missing. When her body was found in a rooftop water tank on the property weeks later, police initially ruled her death an accident — but speculation, theories and wild rumors about what happened to her have persisted ever since.

On Jan. 28, 2013, Lam, a 21-year-old student, checked into the Cecil Hotel. The 19-floor, 700-room hotel, located in a rough area of downtown L.A. known as “skid row”, is famous for its often-sketchy history that includes multiple unsolved murders, according to KNBC.

Lam was on a solo trip at the time, and she planned to check out of the hotel on Feb. 1 following a four-day stay.

According to Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, the Netflix documentary by director Joe Berlinger, Lam’s family last heard from her on Jan. 31, her third day in the city. They reported her missing to police the following day.

Investigators looking into Lam’s case obtained surveillance video from the Cecil Hotel. Video later released by the LAPD shows Lam at an elevator possibly speaking with someone and the elevator doors failing to close. She then enters and exits the elevator and appears to behave oddly.

Detectives were unable to determine what happened to Lam based on the video, and a subsequent floor-by-floor search of the hotel turned up no trace of her.

Weeks after Lam was last heard from, the hotel began to receive complaints from guests about shower water pressure as well as discolored and foul-tasting water. A worker scaled a 10-foot ladder attached to the rooftop water tank, moved a 20-pound lid and made the grisly discovery of Lam’s body floating face up.

Lam reportedly was naked and her clothing, which appeared to be similar to what she was seen wearing in the elevator surveillance video, was found in the tank with her.

A coroner ruled Lam’s death an accidental drowning. Police reportedly believed the student, who was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, for some reason hid in the water tank and drowned.

Through the years, multiple theories about Lam’s disappearance have popped up, including one of the most common: She was the victim of foul play. Others believe supernatural activity may be to blame.

Documentarian Berlinger, however, notes that what he considers the more outlandish narratives “are incredibly disrespectful,” the BBC reported.

Amy Price, the hotel’s manager at the time of Lam’s stay, told the Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel documentary that “from the beginning” she had a “bad feeling” about Lam’s disappearance.

“She was traveling alone and I really thought that she must have gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd and that wouldn't be hard to do in downtown Los Angeles,” she said.

Next Up

A Brief History Of The Black Dahlia Case

Since 1947, the brutal death of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short has remained Hollywood’s most enduring unsolved mystery.

Golden Gate Bridge Mystery: Where's Sydney West?

The Find Sydney West website, dedicated to finding the missing 19-year-old, announced a $25,000 reward to help find her. Sydney stands 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs around 130 pounds.

Store Clerk Deborah Deann Poe Disappeared During Overnight Shift At An Orlando Gas Station

An ambitious Florida woman vanished without a trace during her Feb. 4, 1990 shift at a convenience store. The case remains unsolved.

Inside The Rise And Tumultuous Last Days Of Hollywood Star Brittany Murphy

“Bad things happened to her, and the end of her life is very tragic and sad,” a documentarian who covered the star’s life says.

Investigating The Mysterious Death and Mutilation of Miguel Ángel Martínez Santamaría

The family of a Spanish man found dead in a fjord near Stockholm is searching for answers 16 years after his death. Did the body they buried really belong to their loved one?

No Leads Or Information Available In Mysterious Florida Disappearance

Haneul Oh, a 22-year-old Korean national, has been missing from Davie, Florida since December 2021.

Inside Alcatraz: How 3 Inmates Broke Out Of ‘The Rock’ — A Prison Once Considered Inescapable

A convicted armed robber and bank-robbing brothers spent months planning their daring flight to freedom.

Mystery Surrounds Case Of California Woman Who Went Missing At A Yoga Retreat In Guatemala

Nancy Ng's family is desperately trying to find answers after the 29-year-old disappeared during a swim while kayaking on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala.

Where’s Chelsea Grimm? California Woman Vanishes While On Road Trip To Attend Wedding

“We are trying our best to hold onto positive outcome scenarios and put our faith in the authorities,” Stephen Grimm says about his missing daughter.

5 Things That Still Bother Us About The Unsolved Maura Murray Case

On Feb. 9, 2004, UMass Amherst student Maura Murray left campus and crashed her car in Haverhill, New Hampshire. She has never been seen since.