039 - The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam

[Case Evidence]

                Elisa Lam was born on April 30th, 1991 in Vancouver, British Columbia to parents David and Yinna who had immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong.  Upon arrival in Canada, the Lam family opened a restaurant called Paul’s.  The restaurant specialized in home style Canadian and Chinese food and was located in Burnaby, the third largest city in British Columbia, located immediately to the east of Vancouver.  Burnaby boasts a population of over 200,000 and a land mass totaling just over 90 square kilometers, or 35 square miles.  David and Yinna raised their children in the area, which they believed to be an optimal area to do so, with good school and a diverse community.  They would have one other child, a daughter they’d name Sarah who would be very close to her sister, Elisa.

                Elisa had a tight circle of friends and a close relationship with her family.  Her interests were varied and included traveling, gaming, reading, psychology and she was a sucker for a good comedy film.  Her favorite book has been listed as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”  She most thoroughly enjoyed spending time with those close to her, and it was her sincerity and kindness that drew others in.  While Elisa could be very outgoing and talkative, joking and laughing with people she’d only recently met, there was another side to her.  If Elisa felt overwhelmed, anxious or shy, she would withdraw into herself.  This creative a complex duality within her as she craved interactions with others, which seemed to boost her spirits and give her a new scope on optimism, but there were times when she needed the quiet within herself.

                As Elisa grew older, she began to find new avenue through which to express herself, which eased the urge to disappear inside of herself.  She began blogging in mid 2010 and had two of them hosted through Blogspot, though the main one, entitled Ether Fields, specified that she was much more active on her tumblr page where she mostly shared photos of fashion models.  Through these blogs, Elisa described herself as an introvert and talked of the way she enjoyed watching others, their lives, their interactions, as she sought the truth about the world, and about herself.  She had a strong desire to understand others, and not just on a surface level.  She longed to know someone’s soul, and especially her own.  She valued authentic individuals over shallow ones and had a deep compassion within.  Her writing shows her to be a very contemplative young woman who felt everything strongly, and also, perhaps, felt a little lost trying to figure out the direction she wished to go.  The “introduction” section of her blog is only filled in with a quote reading “You’re always haunted by the idea you’re wasting your life.”

                When she was in High School, Elisa continued her academic excellence.  She was disciplined and demanded a great deal from herself, believing that she had to always get the best scores and highest grades.  In High School she split her time studying with participating on both the Cross Country and Track and Field teams.  While she enjoyed her activities, she found herself lacking in the drive and discipline to truly excel.  In one of her blog entries she wrote “I wasn’t a very good runner, but I did it.  I lacked the discipline to actually train.  And now I am still lacking the discipline to run or do any sport.”  She goes on to speak about finding excuses not to do it, such as it being too cold out.  She would try to get herself to the gym, but felt self-conscious about not knowing how to properly lift weights. 

                Though she states on her blog “I am not too terribly self conscious of my body.  I’ve accepted it’s simply the way I am.”  She goes on to complain about her legs being disproportionate, making her appear heavier than she was.  She jokes that she is looking forward to the warmer weather so she can wear dresses, but then qualifies it by saying she can’t because then people would see her legs.  She is also honest about being depressed, which she blames on her lack of physical activity.  At the same time she refers to herself as lazy, saying that if she weren’t she’d like to learn something like coding and then states “I’m falling into a pattern of going on tumblr and it’s not giving me any joy actually.  It’s just something I do.  Idling by.”  Elisa was diagnosed as suffering from bipolar disorder as well as depression, though her family went to lengths to conceal the diagnosis throughout her life, and even after.

                Nearing the completion of high school, Elisa began to feel the pressures of needing to figure out her future, a future she didn’t quite know what to make of.  She began looking at colleges and trying to determine a degree program to pursue.  Ultimately, Elisa would end up at the University of British Columbia, though her curriculum would be varied.  Her pursuit of top scores and her devotion to studying required her to ascend to another level now that she was in college, and this added stress and frustration to her life.  This, combined with her struggles with mental illness, resulted in withdrawals from classes and frequent breaks. 

In January of 2012, on her main blog, she wrote about a relapse, saying “I’m very disappointed in myself for breaking down during the term, forcing me to withdraw from courses.  I’ve been at university for three years and I’ve only managed to complete three courses.  That means I’ve been a first year for three years and this September it will be for the fourth year because I require 30 credits in order for second year status.”  Her blog entries became less frequent and shorter, with one in April of 2012 being only one line reading “I spent about two days in bed hating myself” and her final entry, in July, simply stating that she is more active on her tumblr.

In early 2013, twenty-one year old Elisa made the decision that she was going to take a trip to California.  Elisa referred to the trip as her West Coast Tour and she was excited to head down into the states and see a bit of the world.  Among the places listed on her trip were San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Cruz and while she would make it to the first two, she would never get to Santa Cruz.  Elisa’s parents weren’t exactly thrilled with her choice to travel alone, but they felt it was important for her to get out more and they believed that it might give her some perspective.  There was also the belief that, it was possible, that once Elisa got this out of her system she might be more focused at her studies.  At the time of the trip, Elisa was not enrolled in classes.  Elisa used modes of public transportation, including buses and Amtrak trains.  Her first stop was San Diego.

Elisa maintained activity on her social media accounts while in San Diego, posting photos of her travels.  At some point, she visited the San Diego Zoo and posted images of several of the animals and herself.  A friend of Elisa’s, Alex Ristea later suggested that, as far as he knew, Elisa was visiting California for a holiday and that she wasn’t planning to stay very long.  During the trip, Elisa contacted her parents multiple times a day, usually through phone calls, explaining the day’s events and her plans for the coming days.  According to everyone who spoke to her, she seemed to be doing well and was enjoying her time there.  For the optimistic young woman who loved travling, it was a dream trip of sorts.  According to court documents later released, on January 26th, 2013, Elisa made reservations via the internet for a three night stay, from January 28th to January 31st, at the Stay on Main Street, formerly known as the Cecil hotel, in downtown Los Angeles.

It is known that Elisa had been in Los Angeles for two days prior to making this reservation.  Why she chose this particular location, or decided to change from where she had been previously staying has been speculated about, though ultimately, nothing strange was determined to have influenced her decision.  The Cecil has its own storied history, having opened in 1927 it boasts 600 rooms.  The hotel has a colored history, with multiple suicides through the thirties, forties and fifities, earning the hotel the nickname “The suicide.”  Considering its location, 640 S. Main Street, in an area of Los Angeles referred to as skid row, it would later become known as a hot spot for prostitution and drug activity.  Among the more notorious associations with the Cecil hotel, there is a rumor that the Black Dahlia, Elizabeth Short, was seen drinking in the bar in the days before her murder.  In 1965, Pigeon Goldie Osgood was raped, stabbed and beaten in her room.  Though a man was later charged with this crime, he was cleared and released.  Her case remains unsolved.

In the 1980’s, Richard Ramirez, later known as the Night Stalker, was rumored to have stayed at the Cecil over the course of several weeks.  Ramirez is speculated to have been staying at the hotel during some part of his killing spree.  Later, in 1991, Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger  stayed at the Cecil, during which time he strangled and murdered at least three prostitutes.  Some have argued that Unterweger stayed at the Cecil in some kind of a sick homage to Ramirez.  Perhaps due to these violent associations, the Cecil officially changed its name to Stay on Main Street, creating new signs, a new website and, in a sense, ignoring any references to its old name.  Due to its violent history, the hotel had become somewhat of a tourist attraction and the ownership had gone to some lengths to prevent non-guests from entering, taking photographs or loitering in the area.

While some have speculated about the Cecil / Stay on Main Street being cursed, or simply being a bad place to be, it’s fairly simple to see that it’s a cheaper priced hotel located in an area of Los Angeles that doesn’t exactly attract the cream of the crop.  Whatever the buildings history may be, I am certainly not one of those who believes that there is some kind of jinx or curse on the location.  Elisa’s case brought a lot of these kinds of statements to the surface, and while it certainly has a very dark history, it is a building that’s nearly one hundred years old and most old buildings have a twisted story or two to tell.  Today, the building is undergoing renovations to transform it into a mix of hotel rooms and residential units.

When Elisa made her reservation for the hotel, she booked a shared room.  Upon her arrival, she was given a room with two roommates.  According to the release of court documents in a lawsuit filed later, the roommates requested that Elisa be removed, siting what has only been referred to as “odd behavior.”  At this point, Elisa was given her own, private room, located on the fifth floor.  Trying to locate anything specific about her behavior has been complicated, and ultimately, almost every report that has addressed Elisa’s case has only referred to it as odd.  What is interesting is that, during this time, Elisa was in contact with her family each day and they didn’t note anything strange about their conversations with her. 

On January 31st, Elisa was set to check out of the Cecil, but she never appeared.  It was also the first day during her trip that Elisa failed to place a call home.  Elisa’s posts on social media also stopped, and friends didn’t hear from her either.  Her parents were worried and began trying to get in touch with her.  When they couldn’t get Elisa on the phone, their panic grew and they placed a call to the Los Angeles Police Department, filing a missing persons report on their daughter.  It should be noted that there have been reports that Elisa was reported missing on January 26th, five days earlier, but it appears that her location was known at that time and she was maintaining contact with her family at that time.  Being that Elisa hadn’t been missing for very long, and she was a young woman in Los Angeles, the police didn’t immediately suspect something out of the ordinary.  Their initial thought was that the young woman had gone out to do something, was meeting with people, visiting the sites, and had lost track of time.  However, when February 1st came and Elisa still hadn’t been seen, officers were dispatched to the hotel to check for her.

Elisa’s parents and her sister flew down to Los Angeles in hopes of participating in a search for their daughter.  Upon arrival at the hotel, the LAPD first proceded to Elisa’s room, but found she wasn’t there.  They began sweeping through the building, though they were somewhat limited in their search.  In a later interview, an LAPD spokesperson said that they searched everywhere they were legally allowed to.  It was a floor to floor search, entering rooms where the guests allowed them to.  They even went up onto the roof of the hotel, but ultimately found nothing.  In addition to officers conducting the search, they also utilized a search dog in hopes of picking up on Elisa’s scent, but this too proved to be a fruitless effort.  LAPD Sgt Rudy Lopez would later say “We did a very thorough search of the hotel.  But we didn’t search every room, we could only do that if we had probable cause.”

It should be noted, at the time of her disappearance, Elisa’s parents elected not to share her mental health condition with authorities, afraid they would dismiss her disappearance if they knew.  This was a debated detail later on, with authorities feeling it inhibited their investigation and others feeling that the family had made the right choice.

Over the course of the next few days, authorities questioned hotel employees as well as those living and working in the area in hopes of gaining a picture of where Elisa could have gone.  In addition to this, they requested copies of surveillance camera footage from inside the hotel for the days leading up to Elisa’s disappearance.  Initially, officers didn’t share a great deal of information about the surveillance footage, other than confirming that the last official sighting of Elisa took place in the lobby of the hotel.  Six days after Elisa disappeared, the LAPD called a press conference.  Investigators from Robbery / Homicide were in control of the case, and in their press conference they referred to the disappearance as suspicious and say that foul play could possibly be involved.

At the press conference, fliers depicting Elisa were circulated.  According to surveillance footage, she was last seen wearing a purple shirt and black shorts.  It was noted that she was not wearing her glasses, though it wasn’t confirmed whether or not she had been known to have brought them on the trip with her.  LAPD Lieutenant Walter Teague stated “It’s been five days, six days now, and as far as suspicious circumstances, nothing on that, but there’s been no communication and that’s worried us and worried the family.”  At this time, it was noted that while San Diego and Santa Cruz were known destination for Elisa, there didn’t appear to be an indication that she would be stopping off in Los Angeles.  Detectives elected not to speculate on what brought her to the city, though it was ultimately believed that she simply was in the area and wanted to see and spend time in Los Angeles.

At the conference, authorities stated that they were concerned for Elisa’s well being and they made a plea to the public to report any information they may have about her current whereabouts or her activities in the days and hours leading up to her disappearance.  Police also stated that they had collected some of Elisa’s person affects from her hotel room and had spoken with witnesses who had seen her the day she disappeared.  When asked about whether or not they were in possession of Elisa’s cell phone, Lieutenant Teague responded “I don’t want to talk about the cell phone, right now, very much, we have some of her property and she was in regular contact with her parents until six days ago.” 

Several members of the hotel staff reported seeing Elisa on January 31st, though it was noted that when seen, she had been alone.  According to Katie Orphan, the manager of The Last Bookstore, a shop located nearby, Elisa was “outgoing, very lively, very friendly.”  Orphan would go on to say that she had spoken with Elisa on the 31st and that the young woman was shopping for gifts.  Orphan stated “She was talking about what book she was getting and whether or not what she was getting would be too heavy for her to carry around as she travelled.” 

The fliers bearing Elisa’s photo were circulated around the area, with police as well as family putting them up wherever they could.  The fliers gave a short summary of Elisa’s last known movements and her future destination of Santa Cruz, it also bore a description of the young woman, describing her as standing 5’4” and weighing 115 pounds.  In addition to this, there was a note on the flier which specified “Possibly suffers from mild depression.”  The search continued, with all available areas around the hotel being examined, but again, nothing could be found.  For investigators it was frustrating how a young woman could simply vanish, but at the same time, with Elisa having been from Canada, it brought a brighter spotlight onto the case than their normal missing person’s cases would.  The international quality attracted more reporters from both Canada and the United States, and this was considered a good thing.  At that time, investigators felt they could use all of the help they could get in trying to locate Elisa and the more eyes were open, the better chance they had.

A week would pass before investigators would call another press conference, on February 14th, 2013.  At the press conference, investigators would release a clip of surveillance camera footage which would immediately grab headlines and begin a firestorm of speculation.  The clip, considered by many to be absolutely bizarre and chilling, was shot by a security camera mounted in the back corner of one of the hotel’s elevators.  Since the release of the footage, it has been extensively analyzed and debated by professional investigators and online investigators alike.  The footage is not of the highest quality, appearing somewhat grainy and a little blurry. 

For some reason, the time stamp located at the bottom of the video was distorted, whether this was done purposefully or not has never been directly stated.  The camera shows the full interior of the elevator as well as some of the space outside the doors.  Some have argued that at particular points in the video Elisa’s mouth appears to be pixelated, though this may simply be a result of the poor video quality.  Others have suggested that there is a missing portion of the video, a fifty second snippet that wasn’t released with the original footage.  Still yet, there has been a great debate about the footage having been edited and slowed down, which some speculate could explain the blurred timestamp.

In the footage, Elisa enters the elevator wearing a red hooded sweater over a white or gray t-shirt.  She is wearing black shorts and sandals.  Elisa enters from the left of the camera, stepping into the elevator and immediately turning to her left, where the elevator control panel is.  She appears to press multiple buttons before stepping back into the corner of the elevator.  For some reason, the elevator doors remain open and Elisa steps forward, leaning her head out.  She looks both ways before sliding back into the elevator.  She stands in the corner for a few seconds before moving into the corner near the control panel.  Standing in this corner, she would be hidden from view of anyone passing by the open doors of the elevator.

When the doors still fail to close, Elisa approaches them and stands in the doorway, slightly leaning from side to side.  She puts her right foot outside of the elevator and leans forward and then performs a little hop, bringing her left leg out too.  She looks to her left, then straight ahead.  She opens her legs and then brings them back together before stepping backward into the elevator once again.  She then steps back out, to her left, where only the right side of her body is visible in the camera shot before completely disappearing out of view.  Her right arm reappears in the shot and she appears to lift her hand up to her head as her elbow is jutting into the frame at head height.  She then turns around and steps back into the elevator, dropping both hands down from her hair and appearing to steady herself by placing her hands on the doorway.  She returns to the elevator control panel and spends the next sixteen seconds appearing to hit buttons.  She is leaned in close, with her face nearly pressed against the panel which is located at approximately waist height. 

Elisa steps back out, again going to the left of the doors.  After lingering there for a few seconds, she turns to her right and appears to lean slightly forward.  At this time she begins making odd hand gestures, with her fingers splayed.  Her left hand hovers on her left side, palm down, while her right makes a swimming gesture in the elevator doorway before both hands move to be directly in front of her and she begins making a few gesticulations.  I can’t really describe it other than to say it has the flowy kind of motion as someone leading an orchestra or chorus does.  Her hands drop to her sides, then back up to her head and she turns, heading left and out of frame again.  Elisa does not return to the elevator and its doors close thirty seconds later.

After seeing the video, several theories were developed.  Some believed that the elevator wasn’t operating properly and felt Elisa was displaying frustration over the fact that the doors wouldn’t close.  It is interesting that the doors closed after she left the elevator, though it took thirty seconds.  Others felt that it was Elisa, not the elevator, that displayed bizarre behavior.  Speculation was rampant that Elisa was clearly on some kind of drugs while others thought she may have been having a psychotic episode.  Still, incredibly, others argued that Elisa may have been exhibiting the behavior of someone possessed, as ridiculous as that may sound.  Others felt it was possible that Elisa was avoiding someone, or attempting to get away from someone, and was desperate to get the elevator moving.  The video was considered unsettling by many, and as soon as it was uploaded to the internet, it quickly gathered views and comments.  On a Chinese video hosting site, the elevator footage accrued more than three million views and forty-thousand comments in just ten days. 

                Body language experts examined Elisa’s movements in the footage and brought forward several thoughts about her behavior.  According to their study, Elisa exhibited some minor signs of anxiety, but predominantly, showed playfulness and even possible sexuality.  Body language experts would go on to say that she displayed no indications of fear, and in fact, the argument was made that Elisa may have been attempting to get the attention of someone to whom she had an attraction.  They also felt there was the possibility that all of her behaviors could have been as the result of ingesting a narcotic or what they referred to as a “party drug.”  Their findings have been highly debated while many have agreed, others feel that Elisa is clearly displaying fear when she hides in the corner of the elevator and that her odd behavior may signify psychological issues rather than the influence of drugs. 

Alex Martinez, of the LAPD, would later state about the video:  “We see her going in and out of the elevator several times.  That is strange.  I am not aware of any medical condition she might have… or mental.”  Martinez was asked if it was possible that Elisa was running away from someone at the time, to which he simply responded No.  In addition to the statement of Martinez, LAPD officer Christopher No stated “We can’t say what was happening.  Maybe she might have just been playing around with someone, it could have been anything.  We are going to keep an open mind on all aspects.”

                For the next few days, searches continued, though the amount of officers involved had slowly tapered off as other crimes demanded attention.  Public interest in the case, stirred up by the video, began to fall away as well.  While the video continued to fascinate everyone who saw it, articles written about Elisa began to revolve more around the mysterious events caught on tape than her disappearance itself.  Investigators continued to hope that someone in the public would be able to provide information but nothing was coming through.  It was around this time that guests staying at the hotel began to file complaints with management.  Some guests reported that the water had a had a strange taste.  Sabrina Baugh, staying at the hotel at the time, later stated “The water did have a funny taste.  We never thought anything of it.  We thought it was just the way it was here.  The shower was awful.  When you turned the tap on, the water was coming black for the first two seconds and then it was going back to normal.”

                At 10am, on Friday, February 19th, hotel maintenance worker Santiago Lopez was told to investigate the buildings pipes, beginning with the water tanks on the roof.  Guest complaints had piled up and hotel management was concerned they could have a major issue on their hands or, at a minimum, something could be wrong with the water tanks on top of the building.  On the roof of the hotel were four, 1,000 gallon water tanks which provided water to guest rooms, a kitchen and a coffee shop.  It should be noted that these tanks were four by eight foot and propped up on concrete blocks.  There is no fixed access to them, meaning there is not an attached ladder or staircase and Santiago Lopez had to use a ladder to look inside.  Upon reaching the roof, Lopez began his inspection of the water tanks which, from the outside, didn’t appear to have any issues.  Lopez began looking inside of the tanks when he made the disturbing discovery of a nude, partially decomposed woman floating face up in the tank.  A call was placed to 911 at 10:13am and investigators arrived on the scene.  Bernard Diaz, who had lived in the hotel for thirty-two years, reported strange noises the night before the discovery was made.  In an interview, Diaz stated “They said there was some obstruction to the drain between the third and fourth floor.”

                Immediately after the discovery, the police issued a no-water order for the hotel.  There were great concerns about the safety of the water and the possibility of fecal matter, or other foreign items related to the decomposition of a human body.  While the order was issued, the hotel remained open and booking guests.  Guests were asked to sign a waiver informing them about the issue, and a statement that if they consumed the water they did so at their own risk and would not be able to sue.  Although hotel staff would later claim that all guests were informed of the issue, and anyone looking to book a room was told about the water situation, some guests at the time have alleged they were never told and only learned about the issue by watching the news.  The Los Angeles Public Health Department told hotel management they could remain open, so long as they provided bottled water to guests.  A class action lawsuit was later filed against the hotel, stating “The defendants provided water that had been contaminated by human remains and was not fit for human ingestion or to use to wash.”

                Authorities did not immediately identify the body as belonging to Elisa Lam, saying that the corner would have to perform an examination for a positive identification, but her identity would later be released after her body was identified through specific markings and scars.  LA City Fire Department Captain Jamie Moore stated “There are three of these tanks, inside a portal, with sealed water cisterns on the roof.  The body is inside one of these tanks.”  Due to the size of the hatch granting entrance to the tank being too small, it was drained completely and then cut open from the side.  The equipment necessary to remove the body was unable to fit through the hatch.  According to official reports, clothing similar to that which Elisa was seen wearing in the elevator video was also found in the tank, covered in what was described as a “sand-like particulate.”  In addition to her clothing, Elisa’s watch and room key were present in the tank.  When asked about how someone would gain entrance to the tank, LAPD Sgt Rudy Lopez responded “The water tank above has a separate latch, or hatch, on top of it that is not secured by any lock.  Anybody could open it, but the roof is secured with an alarm and a lock and key to the door access.”

                The coroner officially released Elisa’s cause of death on February 21st, two days after she had been discovered.  There was no evidence of trauma, sexual assault nor implications of suicide.  Toxicology tests were difficult to complete due to blood loss but did find traces of medicines for which she was prescribed plus non prescription medicines such as Sinutab and Ibuprofen.  A small quantity of alcohol totaling .02% was present, but there were not traces of recreational drugs. 

                Among the prescription drugs prescribed to Elisa were Dextroamphetamine (more commonly known as Dexedrine) which is a stimulant prescribed for the treatment of ADHD, she was 10mg.  Lamotrigine (or lamictol) an anti-convulsant and mood stabilizer prescribed for epilepsy and bi-polar disorder, 100mg.  Quetiapine (Seroquel) an a-typical anti-psychotic prescribed for schizophrenia, bipolar, generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder, 25mg. Venlafaxine (Effexor) An SNRI, or selective norephinephrine reuptake inhibitor antidepressant prescribed for major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and social phobia, 225mg, and finally Bupropion (Wellbutrin) a-typical antidepressant prescribed for depression and to help quit smoking, 300mg.  It should be noted that Wellbutrin has been known to have a side effect of causing mania in those suffering from bipolar disorder.

                According to toxicology from her autopsy, the anti-depressant Effexor was found in her heart and liver enzymes, suggesting she had taken it the day she died.  Metabolites of Wellbutrin were in her heart, blood and liver enzymes, which would indicate she had taken it recently, but likely not the day she died.  The anti-psychotic Seroquel was not detected, suggesting she hadn’t taken it for days prior to her death.  Her mood stabilizer, Lamictol, was found in very minor traces indicating that she hadn’t taken it the day she died.  It should be noted that they did run a full drug screening on her, which tested for, among other things, amphetamines and none were found present, which would imply that Elisa had not taken her ADHD medication Dexedrine the day she died either.  Of course, due to due to a low supply of blood, all of these findings are open to the interpretation of the medical examiner.  Suffice it to say, assuming these results are accurate, Elisa had taken at least one anti-depressant the day she died.  She had taken her mood stabilizer, but not that day.  She had not taken her anti-psychotic and she wasn’t drunk or using recreational drugs.

The official statement released said that Elisa had died as the result of accidental drowning with bipolar disorder as a significant factor.  The official autopsy report, released three months later, stated “The decedent died as a result of drowning.  A complete autopsy examination showed no evidence of trauma and toxicology studies did not show acute drug or alcohol intoxication.  Decedent had a history of bipolar disorder for which she was prescribed medication.  Toxicology studies were performed for the presence of these drugs.  However, quantitation in the blood was not performed due to limited sample availability.  Therefore, interpretation is limited.  Police investigation did not show evidence of foul play.  A full review of circumstances of the case and appropriate consultation do not support intent to harm oneself.  The manner of death is classified as accident.”

Though Elisa’s death was ultimately ruled to be that of an accident, and investigators found no signs or indications of foul play or homicide, many questions have been raised about how this accident could have taken place.  If indeed Elisa had gotten herself into the water tank, possibly during a manic episode, how could she have gotten onto the roof in the first place without alerting someone?  As we previous discussed, the door to the roof was locked and alarmed, there was no ladder access to the tank and the lids were on securely.  Well, as is typically the case in a situation like this, simply because something is supposed to be, doesn’t mean that it is.

Investigation by private citizens found that the roof door wasn’t exactly locked twenty-four hours a day.  There were times where the lock didn’t secure, or where someone had accidentally left it unlocked.  Regardless of the door, the roof was also accessible by way of a fire escape, although hotel staff alleged that this, too, would set off the alarms and at the time of Elisa’s disappearance, no one had reported any alarms going off.  There have also been statements about the water tank itself, alleging that there was no ladder to grant her the ability to get to the doorway and that the hatch itself wasn’t hinging, meaning that it couldn’t have simply swung shut behind her.  This would imply either she closed the lid behind herself, or someone else closed it. 

However, a Chinese citizen released a YouTube video of a visit to the hotel, during which he conducted his own investigation.  In the video, the young man was able to gain access to the roof via the fire escape, failing to set off an alarm.  While on the roof, he approached the water tanks and showed, clearly, that there was a piece of the building which stood taller than the tanks, and was right beside them.  This raised portion had a staircase granting access to a door, and a ladder granting access to the top of this raised portion, meaning Elisa could have climbed ladder, gotten to the top, and then been looking down at the tops of the water tanks.  When the young man points his camera down, two of the tanks clearly display that their hatches are wide open.  There is also, clearly, a ladder in the shot leaning up against one of the tanks.  In other photos, taken the day Elisa’s body was recovered, a ladder appears to be chained to one of the tanks.

So it would appear, despite the fact that the tanks hatches should always be closed, that sometimes they are not.  It also seems that gaining access to the roof isn’t very complicated and doesn’t necessarily set off any alarms.  In addition to this, there was a way to gain access to the tanks via a ladder which may have been there at the time, but certainly by climbing to the top of the raised portion of the building and lower oneself down.  Of course, the question then became, why Elisa would have gone to the roof and gained entry to the tanks in the first place.  Unfortunately that’s a resounding mystery which has never been fully explained, though her election to not take her anti-psychotic in conjunction with the mania associated with bi-polar disorder, when combined with her bizarre behavior on the elevator footage, certainly opens the door to the possibility that Elisa did this while in a manic state.

For investigators, lacking any evidence to point them in any other direction, the only plausible option was that Elisa perished as the result of an accidental drowning.  Whether Elisa elected to enter the water tank, or fell in, cannot be known for sure but considering her autopsy showed no trauma to the body, and there were no mention of any wounds which would indicate a struggle, it’s hard to imagine someone could have forced her inside against her will.  For many, though, this is not just a clear cut case of someone tragically dying as the result of an accident which may have been related to mental illness.

While others were debating the possibilities, the Lam family was struggling to accept that their beloved daughter and sister had gone to California for a fun visit, and was not going to be returning home alive.  Her body was brought back to Canada and in March, a month after she had been reported missing, and sadly found deceased, she was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Burnaby, Vancouver.  They weren’t quite ready to give up the fight for Elisa, though, and six months later, in September of 2013, David and Yinna Lam filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hotel, seeking unspecified damages and compensation for Elisa’s burial costs.

The lawsuit stated that the Cecil hotel had an obligation to “inspect and seek out hazards in the hotel that presented an unreasonable risk of danger to hotel guests.  The lawsuit stretched on for over two years with witnesses being called to testify, including employees who were working at the hotel during the time that Elisa died.  Ultimately, on December 14th, 2015, Judge Howard Halm dismissed the case.  The Lam’s attorney, Thomas Johnston, argued that the death could have been avoided if the hotel had secured the tanks, stating “They should have secured that water tank, this was an accident waiting to happen.” 

Johnston went on to argue that Elisa’s death was not the result of a grand conspiracy, nor did it have anything to do with the hotel being haunted, possession or any of the other wild theories floating about.  He contended that Elisa was mentally ill and her death could have been avoided had proper safety procedures been in place.  Judge Halm however referred to the death as an unforeseeable incident, citing that no hotel employees were aware of any other incidents related to roof access.  Furthermore, Halm felt the hotel was not at fault because the incident had occurred in an area which was designated as prohibited to hotel guests and that “The very nature of the water tank would make it unreasonable for Lam to assume she was allowed to climb it and open the lid.” 

                Despite the fact that the medical examiner, LAPD, and even Elisa’s family and lawyer had come to conclude that Elisa’s death was a tragic accident, others have dug into the case and examined details which remain unresolved, and as a result, have purported a great number of possibilities.  There are far too many address them all, so in the interest of time and professionalism, I am going to discuss some of the lingering questions and the thoughts others have had on them. 

                Based on the elevator video, multiple theories have been put forward.  The predominant theory is that Elisa was attempting to escape someone who was pursuing her.  Many believe that Elisa was in a state of fear and panic and that the person or persons from whom she was attempting to escape may have been aware of the camera in the elevator, which would explain why they never entered the frame.  The LAPD has stated openly that they found no evidence to suggest anyone was involved in Elisa’s death, but for many the elevator video alone contradicts that.  It’s very hard to tell.  The elevator video is certainly disturbing, but also very open to interpretation.  Some have argued that the doors failing to close is a sign that someone working for the hotel was involved, but others have pointed out that Elisa appears to hit many buttons on the control panel and in many older model elevators, depressing too many buttons at the same time causes the elevator to stall for a set period of time. 

It’s been argued that Elisa entering and exiting the elevator tripped the door censors, further prolonging this stall.  Unfortunately, based on the video, one can only speculate what they are seeing.  Be it a woman in fear, a woman suffering from bipolar experiencing mania or, perhaps even, Elisa reacting to the use of recreational drugs.  While the autopsy found none present in her body, some have argued that she may have lingered alive in the tank for enough time to pass for the drugs to be passed through her system.  Again, purely speculative, but difficult to rule out entirely.

One particular theory which must be categorized as “far fetched” is the alleged Elevator game.  Originating in Korea, the elevator game is allegedly a method by which one can exit this realm of existence and enter another.  I honestly don’t even want to address this as it is so outside of rational thought, but if I don’t someone is going to ask me why I didn’t.  According to this game, there is a specific series of buttons to be pressed in the elevator, and when arriving at designated floors, you enter in other button presses.  This will supposedly lead to a woman entering the elevator and eventually grant the rider access to a world where he or she is the only one that exists.  Some have speculated that Elisa was in fact playing this game, though for the most part, this is a quickly dismissed idea that falls into the realm of urban legend.

Another question about the case which has raised many eyebrows is that the autopsy report states that Elisa received a rape kit, testing for the possibility of sexual assault, as well as her fingernails being clipped and sent out for analysis but there are no results listed on the report.  These tests don’t appear to have ever been completed, or if they were, their results were not officially listed.  For many, this implies that a rape may have occurred, especially when it is later discussed in the autopsy that that there was pooled blood in Elisa’s anal area and that her rectum was prolapsed.  However, other pathologists have come forward and argued that decomposition and the bloating of her body could have caused these issues.  The argument has been made that since there were no suspects considered, and that this was ruled an accident, the possibility of sexual assault was not looked into. 

Other factors which have aroused suspicions about there being more involved in the case is the fact that Elisa’s tumblr account updated after her death.  While for many, this signifies someone having access to it, tumblr does have an option with allows users to queue their entries, to automatically post at later dates.  Some have argued this could have been done by a hacker, rather than the queue, and others yet have made the link between Elisa’s tumblr and her missing cell phone.  The device was not found with her body, nor in her hotel room amongst her possessions.  It’s been theorized that she may have dropped it somewhere, or someone could have stolen it, but for many, there could be a direct link between the missing phone and someone who may have been involved in her death, though no evidence has ever come to light.  Whether or not Elisa’s phone was tracked while she was missing has never been revealed.

Another connection, which appears to exist only as one of those strange coincidences often described as life imitating art, is the 2005 film “Dark Water.”  Filmed and released eight years prior to Elisa’s death, the movie involves a young woman entering an elevator (which is filmed from a similar angle to Elisa’s elevator video) before the woman access the roof, via a door which is supposed to be locked, and is later found dead in the roof top water tank after people living in the building complain about the water.  In the film, the young woman who ends up inside the tank is wearing a red jacket, much like Elisa was wearing a red hoodie in the elevator video.  Some have examined this in a two fold manner, first wondering if Elisa had seen the film and was inspired to go to the roof and enter the water tank.  Others have suggested someone else may have seen this film and wanted to re-enact it.  While the similarities are certainly bizarre, there is little here of evidenciary value to suggest a true connection, yet the rumor remains.

Then there is the tuberculosis theory.  Several weeks after Elisa’s death the Centers for Disease Control announced a possible tuberculosis outbreak in Los Angeles.  The outbreak was centered in the skid row area, surrounding where the hotel Elisa stayed in was located.  In what many have called a coincidence too bizarre to be a coincidence, the test used to check for tuberculosis is called the LAM ELISA.  While for many, this is a direct link between Elisa and the tuberculosis outbreak, the test had been in existence well before Elisa arrived in Los Angeles and it is an acronym.  The ELISA part stands for Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assay and is a standard diagnostic test for almost all pathogens. 

The LAM part of it stands for Lipoarabinomannan, which is a glycolipid on the bacterial cells that cause tuberculosis.  Essentially, LAM ELISA means “test for tuberculosis.”  Also, the medical examiner found nothing which would indicate that Elisa had tuberculosis.  Some have suggested Elisa strange behavior could be related to tuberculosis, though there appears to be no link between tuberculosis and hallucinations or odd behavior, unless the individual is taking specific medicines for treatment which may induce this.  While I think that it’s fascinating people have dug deep enough to make this connection, and that it is eerie how the names are shared, there doesn’t appear to be much to this.  I will discuss the conspiracy aspects a little more when I tackle the other theories.

Elisa’s death has certainly garnered a great many followers.  The bizarre incidents leading up to her disappearance, the inexplicable discovery of her body inside of the water tank and the way investigators and the medical examiner seemed to simply find that it was the result of a tragic accident has fired people up.  When something like this happens, people often find a need to seek out the grandest explanation, finding it difficult to accept that sometimes, in life, people die in ways which don’t make a great deal of sense but are not connected to something more.  For many, someone else must have been involved or Elisa must have been possessed.  There must be a connection to the tuberculosis test leading to a government conspiracy.  Some have even argued that Elisa did not die in the water tank, and that, in fact, no one did and it’s all some spectacle for reasons beyond understanding.  Outside of the fact that this thought process is wildly insulting to Elisa’s memory and the pain and grief of her family, no one seems to be able to put into words why this alleged “hoax” would have been conducted.

As a result of the strange circumstances, the elevator video, the location of her body and questions left unanswered by investigators and the autopsy report alike, several theories that fit more into the realm of the rational have risen to the surface.  The first of these theories suggests that, Elisa Lam died, just as the report states, as the result of an accident.  The question becomes did Elisa enter the water tank due to a manic state, was she in sound mind when she did so or did she fall in? 

The second theory eliminates the term “accident” and suggests that Elisa, either as a result of her mental illness, perhaps in conjunction with illicit drugs, may have entered the tank for the very purpose of committing suicide.  For those who support this theory they point out that the medical examiners finding are not necessarily in contrast to the possibility of a suicide, and that it’s difficult to determine whether or not this was purely an accident or if it was done purposefully.  They feel that this would go to great lengths to eliminate the confusion and speculation about how Elisa gained entry to the tank since, if suicide was the plan, it would explain her determination.

The third theory is that Elisa was murdered.  For supporters of this theory, they believe, that Elisa went to Los Angeles either to meet a specific person, or she met this person during her time in the city.  It is then suggested that Elisa may have engaged in a relationship with this person, or may have been pursued by him, leading to her fear and the events of the night she was filmed in the elevator.  The fact that she disappeared the day she was meant to check out has others believing that someone wanted to stop her from leaving Los Angeles which may have involved the theft of her phone and possibly drugging her.  Who this person could be, none can say, though some believe it may have been a hotel employee which would explain how Elisa could get on the roof and end up in the tank without setting off alarms. 

The death of Elisa Lam is a terrible tragedy that should have never happened.  A smart, talented young woman traveled from Canada to California to see a bit of the world, to gain some perspective and to test the waters of being out on her own.  She was clearly struggling with issues stemming from her bi-polar and depression, that can be clearly seen in her blog entries, tumblr page and the array of medications which she was prescribed.  Her family has been left shattered by her loss, and with little information about why this happened.  Whether or not Elisa’s death came as a result of her mental illness or not, the official finding was that it was all a terrible accident.  From the moment Elisa went missing, police considered the possibility of foul play, but in the end, dismissed that.  Elisa’s family withheld information about her mental illness, in an attempt to protect her, and to keep authorities searching, though ultimately this information may have been helpful at the time.

We may never know exactly what led to Elisa’s untimely death in this incredibly bizarre manner. Officially, this case is closed and falls under the ruling of an accidental drowning.  For many, that simply isn’t good enough, and five years later, the internet is inundated with theories ranging from the plausible to the incredibly ridiculous.  Regardless, Elisa’s case is debated every day, on forums all over the world.  There have been countless podcast episodes, youtube documentaries and articles written.  And yet, at the end of it all, while the majority find themselves fascinated with the events surrounding her death, those who knew and loved Elisa choose to focus on her life, the joy she gave, the love she offered and the kindness she kept in her heart.

[Thoughts & Theories]

                The death of Elisa Lam is a case which listeners have been requesting me to cover since the very early days of Trace Evidence.  For a long time, I wanted to steer clear of it.  There’s so much rumor and speculation, it’s difficult to sort through and get down to the facts of the case.  I’ve had a lot of conversations with people about this case and I’ve found its one of those subjects that people seem to be very fervent in their opinion of.  Most of the people I’ve spoken to have a very firm belief in what happened, be it that Elisa died as the result of an accident, or that she was the victim of some great conspiracy.  Proponents of different angles for this case often find themselves awash in the vitriol that can accompany something controversial, and while I don’t necessarily worry about criticism for my opinions, it wasn’t a pool I was looking to dip my toes into.  So what changed?

                Someone died.  Elisa Lam was a young woman standing at the horizon of her future.  Her possibilities were endless, her options vast.  She went on a visit to California and never made it home, be it by some sick stroke of fate, the overwhelming grasp of mental illness, the hand of another or some other means that has yet to be considered.  For me, this podcast has never been about the crimes.  It’s been about the people that these crimes happened to, the ones they’ve left behind, the people who loved them and have to go to bed every night wondering what happened, wondering why.  Elisa Lam isn’t a controversy, she isn’t a hyped up story, she isn’t a conspiracy.  She was a young woman who met an untimely end and it’s important that her name lives on longer and brighter than the circumstances surrounding her final hours.

                Before getting into the theories I selected to cover in this case, I wanted to speak a little about the others, the more far fetched ones.  I am by no means someone who dismisses all conspiracy theories, and in general I believe that the word conspiracy, in general, has gotten a bad wrap over the years.  A conspiracy, in a nutshell, is simply two or more persons planning to commit a crime.  If two people walk into a clothing store with the premeditated purpose of stealing, they’re guilty of conspiracy, among other things.  There are so-called conspiracy theories out there that I strongly believe in.  When you look at it from a rational perspective, the assassination of JFK is wrapped up in conspiracy and for many, the single shooter explanation is incorrect, making their thoughts on the subject those of a conspiracy theory.

I don’t believe that following a well thought out, evidence based, supportable and defendable angle makes you a conspiracy theorist.  However, when you claim that the death of a young woman is connected to tuberculosis because the test name is close to hers, that’s a bit of a stretch.  Elisa once posted a blog entry talking about a government project to develop a cloaking system which would allow people to wear a garment and thus become invisible.  It’s something the United States government has been working on for a long time, and likely other countries.  Some people have taken that blog entry and transformed it into a conspiracy that the government killed Elisa to protect this secret.  The problem is, it wasn’t really a secret and wouldn’t it be easier to just shut her blog down?  I

I know that the simple explanation can often be considered less entertaining, but real life isn’t like fiction and there are not always men in black hiding around the corners.  In some instances, yes, but far less so than are purported.  At the end of the day, Elisa Lam lost her life in a bizarre set of circumstances and, while there is an official ruling, it hasn’t really provided the answers that people are truly seeking out.  How does a twenty-one year old woman end up drowning in the water tank on top of a hotel she was staying in?  How does her family go home and lay her to rest having to accept that this was the way her life ended?  They did attempt to sue the hotel, a lawsuit which they ultimately lost, but can you blame them at the end of all things?  The loss of a child often leaves parents feeling like they have to do something, someone has to be held responsible.  A judge felt that the hotel couldn’t be held responsible, and that was likely the appropriate decision, but for her family, it was just another confirmation that they’ll never truly feel satisfied.

So I’ll step off my soap box now, but I felt it necessary to address the conspiracy aspect of the case.  Beyond the rumors, and when you cut through the speculation, this case truly comes down to three essential theories.  The first of these theories is broad in definition but involves Elisa ending up in the water tank by her own choice, as a result of her mental illness or due to the actions of another person or person’s being involved.

The official cause of Elisa’s death was accidental drowning.  According to the medical examiner and the LAPD, there was no evidence to suggest anything outside of the possibility that Elisa either chose to enter the tank, or fell into it.  Of course, questions remain about why she would have been on the roof of the hotel, what would have led her to the tanks and how she managed to fall in, if indeed it was accidental, or why she would have chosen to get in.  It seems highly unlikely that were Elisa’s mind working uninhibited by mental illness or the presence of some kind of drug which affected her thought process, she likely wouldn’t have entered the tank.  While I can appreciate the idea that she may have chosen to get in with a clear mind, that’s really very difficult to wrap my head around.

Everyone is different, and its impossible to step into her mind and try to determine the why and how of it all, but entering the tank certainly wasn’t something that way exactly easy to do.  It could be done, but you’d really have to want to do it.  Even if Elisa used the raised part of the building to climb down onto the tank, what would be the purpose of entering it?  Someone of sound mind would have to be aware that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get out of and no one was likely to hear you calling out for help.  Beyond that, when the sun rose the next day, it would result in that tank becoming extremely warm.  Perhaps this is why she was found nude, with her clothes floating with her?  Impossible to determine, but not impossible to consider.  The idea that Elisa entered that tank willfully, of her own volition and of sound mind is extremely difficult to swallow.

So what if she wasn’t of sound mind?  We know that in the days leading up to her disappearance, Eliza was sharing a room at the hotel with two others.  Those roommates requested Eliza be removed from the room due to odd behaviors.  What those behaviors were, we can’t say, but she was given her own room.  Then the elevator video comes into play.  I know this video is highly debated, and I’ve probably seen it a couple of hundred times.  To me, I don’t see a lot of what others do.  My immediate reaction upon first viewing was that there was either something wrong with Elisa or she was on drugs.  The idea that she is running or hiding from someone has never gelled with me.  If I were running from someone and the elevator didn’t work, I’d get out of there.  I wouldn’t linger in the doorway making strange gestures and continually go back in and come back out.  I know it’s impossible to know how you’ll react in a situation where you’re afraid for your life, but I just don’t see intense fear there.

The video, taken out of context, does feel eerie and strange.  When you blend it with the details of the case it becomes more so, but as someone who knows people that suffer from bi-polar disorder, and has witnessed similar behavior, I cannot help but see her actions as those of someone suffering from a manic state.  The elevator video, to me, is a clear indication that Elisa’s mind wasn’t properly functioning at that time.  When you factor in that, according to the autopsy, she likely hadn’t taken her anti-psychotic medication, this becomes more apparent.  Seroquel has a half life of six hours, meaning that half the dose is gone within six hours of taking it and six hours later the remaining dose is gone.  It tends to clear out of your system inside of 30 hours meaning that if Elisa didn’t take the Seroquel that day, she was running low on the remnants in her system and, more than likely, by the end of the day was completely without the assistance of the medication.

Manic episodes can result in a lot of risky behavior.  Often times, people experiencing a manic episode will talk fast, experience an increased intensity in their senses, be easily distracted, need less sleep, feel high, have lots of energy and take more risks.  There is also the possibility of psychosis, including but not limited to, hearing things that aren’t there and believing that they possess super human abilities which may lead them to perform acts that can result in their death.  When you watch Elisa in the elevator, I don’t think anyone feels that everything is perfectly normal there.  Sadly, I do believe the video shows her in the midst of mania. There is a lesser form of mania, known as hypomania, but based upon what happened and Elisa’s movements, it seems most likely she was full blown manic at this moment.

It’s impossible for someone who doesn’t have bi-polar, for someone who has never experienced mania, to be able to determine what thought processes would occur leading to what decisions being made.  As someone who has never suffered first hand from this, I can only presume.  That being said, if indeed Elisa was experiencing a manic episode, it isn’t all that difficult to imagine how she could have ended up in the water tank.  Racing thoughts and high energy could have encouraged her to be impulsive.  Maybe she was hot and wanted to go outside, maybe she wanted to see the city skyline from the roof.  It is purely speculative, but it’s simply not possible to begin to try and understand nor determine the choices made by someone suffering from mental illness in this form.  Perhaps that’s why so many people struggle to accept the official findings, because her actions seem completely irrational.  Well, that’s because they were, if this is what happened.  Suffice it to say, it is definitely not out of the realm of possible that Elisa could have ended up in that tank as a result of her bipolar. 

This leads us to the second theory:  that Elisa’s choice to enter the tank, likely influenced by her bipolar, was done with the intention of committing suicide.  It’s made rather clear based on Elisa’s prescriptions and her own writings that she suffered from depression.  Based on the pills, likely major depressive disorder.  Suicidal tendancies are not uncommon for people suffering from this particular illness, and when you combine the pills that she was on, the state of her life and the way she often spoke about feeling directionless and unsure of her future, the possibility of suicide has to be considered.  I do have a few problems with this theory, though.

Imagine someone in a manic state, who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, and she ends up on the roof of a 19 story building.  Why would Elisa elect to go through the extra steps of gaining entry to the water tank where she may drown, she may not, she may be found and she may survive rather than simply stepping off the side of the building?  I know it’s a grim thought, but if suicide was the plan and that’s truly what she was looking to do, even though she was likely not of sound mind, I’ve never understood why she wouldn’t choose the easier, more guaranteed option.  Again, it’s impossible to figure out what thoughts may have been going through her mind in that moment and if she was in a manic state, it’s probably not unusual that a logical approach wouldn’t be used, but still, this has always baffled me.

It’s somewhat impossible, considering the condition her body was in when found and the circumstances surrounding it, for a medical examiner to be able to determine whether or not suicide was the intent.  In the report it’s an accident, but part of me can’t help but wonder if that choice wasn’t made to spare the family pain.  On the other hand, there is nothing in the report nor in the police investigation to suggest that Elisa tried to exit the tank.  As far as we are aware, there were no injuries to her body signifying that she banged on the tank, there were no marks inside to designate that she had tried to get out or tried to draw attention to herself.  It’s all rather difficult to examine, and impossible to get a grasp of her mental state.  In terms of Elisa purposefully entering the tank with the intent of committing suicide, I don’t believe this can be ruled out or in given the evidence at our disposal at this time.

We know that Elisa severed contact with her family and friends the day she disappeared.  It can be looked at from a certain angle that she may have done so because suicidal thoughts were growing in her mind.  Often times, people who commit suicide, attempt to distance themselves from loved ones in order to commit the act.  Could this have been the entire intent of the trip to California?  It’s certainly up for debate, but again, without more information its pure speculation.  There is also the possibility that, considering Elisa’s phone was never found, that the reason she actually severed contact because she had lost her phone or it was stolen.  Ultimately, there’s no way to know one way or the other, but Elisa committing suicide as a result of her mental illness is a possibility that has to be considered. 

This leads us to the third and final theory in this case:  that in some way, shape or form, at least one other person was involved in the events of the night the led to Elisa’s death, be that a plan to commit a homicide or something that led up to her accidental death.  There are several factors that raise the question of another person being involved in Elisa’s death.  First and foremost is the hatch on the water tank.  According to initial reports, the hatch was shut when Elisa was found.  According to multiple documents about the day she was found, the hatch weighed approximately twenty pounds and did not have a mechanism to shut it behind her, meaning that the only way the hatch could be close is if she pulled it closed, which based on the depth of the tank, she wouldn’t be able to reach it, or, possibly, someone closing it after she entered.

It’s been alleged that no one knows why Elisa chose to stop in Los Angeles.  I can’t guarantee the accuracy of that report, but to me, if you’re in southern California and you’ve never been there before, you’re going to try and see Los Angeles.  Some believe that Elisa may have been meeting someone there and this person may have played some role in her death.  Whether she met this person after deciding to go to Los Angeles, or perhaps spoke to him or her through the internet, possibly on one of her blogs, is unknown but a possibility also.  Under this thought process, whoever this person was, either had bad intentions with Elisa or their intentions became bad after spending time with her.  From the perspective of solid evidence, there is nothing which connects Elisa’s time in Los Angeles to anyone else.  Hotel staff, when interviewed by police, described her as being by herself, especially the last night she was see.  The bookstore manager also said that Elisa was alone.

However, it’s not entirely impossible that she could have met someone.  There was a post on her tumblr where she referenced men hitting on her.  Of course, this seems to be more of a broad description of how, as she says it, when you show some men a little interest they become very hard to deter.  Whether or not this is linked to the possibility of someone wanting her and becoming obsessive is difficult to draw anything from, but for many, this is a good place to start.  For many, they became frustrated when the autopsy report didn’t list the results of the rape kit, and it’s been suggested for a long time that Elisa could have been sexually assaulted, or perhaps even indulged in consensual sex while staying at the hotel.  Without the results of that test, we may never know, but it certainly has to be considered.  Especially if she were entering a manic state, hypersexuality is often associated with this.

For many, rape becomes a possibility when two factors are considered:  her body was found nude, though her clothes were floating in the tank with her and the autopsy report saying that there was blood pooled in her anal area.  Why some pathologists have dismissed this as a result of decomposition, others have felt that she may have been sexually assaulted.  It’s hard to argue against, and even if there wasn’t anything to indicate rape, you’d think they’d want to process the rape kit simply in the interest of being thorough. 

But how would someone go from committing rape, or possibly consensual sex, to leaving her inside the water tank on top of the building?  That’s where it gets strange.  It seems like a complicated task to pull off.  Elisa had no signs of physical trauma which would imply that she was either forced into the tank with the brandishing of a weapon, was tricked into entering the tank or was not conscious when she was placed inside.  On that last note, it would seem that were someone placing her inside the tank, this was likely a task that would have required more than one person, but that’s debatable.  Perhaps it was an act done simply to buy time for the killer to escape the area.  Regardless, there are issues with the idea of someone else being involved.

The alarm on the roof didn’t go off, and although we’ve seen how that’s not necessarily hard to bypass based on the video shot by the Chinese gentleman, why would anyone make the choice to do this?  If murder was the intent, again like in the suicide theory, she could have been pushed off the roof.  Maybe that would have drawn too much of a crowd, but even so, most killers aren’t willing to go to this extent to conceal a body and even if they are, it’s guaranteed she will be found at some point.  Even if the water hadn’t gone bad, at some point, those tanks would need to be filled.  It’s so hard to say, it’s such a weird set of circumstances.  Some though, have taken the idea of roof access and the lack of an alarm as an indication that the person who may have been responsible would have been familiar with the systems, the area and the hotel itself, meaning that an employee may have been involved.

A hotel employee would have had the knowledge that Elisa was traveling alone and staying in a room by herself.  This person would also know where to stand in terms of the elevator so that he or she wouldn’t be caught in the camera’s shot.  Again, this person would have had access to Eliza’s room using the keycard system available behind the front desk.  It’s never been fully revealed how many cameras are in the hotel, but it seems unlikely that if someone else was involved, he or she wouldn’t have been caught on camera at some point near or interacting with Eliza.  Again, this person would know where the cameras were, but it would be difficult to get her to the roof without passing by a camera at some point.  Could a rendezvous have been arranged?  Perhaps.

Elisa’s missing cell phone has convinced some that the killer may have taken it with him.  This is a possibility, but so are the options that Elisa lost her phone or had it stolen from her previously. 

Suffice it to say there is no evidence that is beyond circumstantial to suggest that anyone else was involved in Elisa death.  At the same time, there isn’t exactly incontrovertible evidence to suggest that no one was involved.  It’s a very confusing road to go down, and there is speculation abound, but the possibility of another person being involved can neither be ruled in or ruled out.  Police found nothing which proved to them that someone else played a role in this terrible incident, but its impossible at this particular time to say that their investigation was 100% correct and there are no other possibilities.  I have to work with what I have before me, to follow the evidence, and in this case, the evidence doesn’t answer this question.  Whether or not a third person was involved, remains unknown and unprovable.

There are so many different thought processes in regard to the death of Elisa Lam.  It would be impossible for me to address all of them, unless I were doing a podcast specifically about this case and this case alone for the next few years.  What we know for certain is that a young woman died tragically and for the past five years the circumstances of her death have been hotly debated, speculated about and discussed all across the internet.  We may never have the answers as to what really happened here, whether it was a terrible accident as a result of her mental illness, if she made the choice to commit suicide, if someone else was involved or if some yet unknown theory could hold the key.  There are likely items in police evidence, extended cuts of surveillance footage and witness statements that have never been released, which may or may not shine more light onto this baffling situation.  Whether or not they are ever revealed or if they case become more clear remains unknown.

Elisa suffered from mental illness.  A lot of people, when looking at this case, dismiss that out of hand and just assume that because she was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and major depressive disorder, she must have been crazy.  Mental illness is a serious problem, worldwide, in terms of treatments and social stigma.  Yes, Elisa was mentally ill, but she was far from crazy.  51 million people around the world suffer from bi-polar disorder, and it is a daily struggle.  Luckily, there are medications that can help, but it’s not something that can simply be dismissed out of hand.  More than 300 million people around the world are diagnosed with some form of depression.  It’s still a learning process, and there is still a great deal which can’t be known or understood.  Elisa was not a victim of bi-polar, she wasn’t just a depressed young woman.  She was a beautiful, brilliant, sweet, kind and caring person who had issues she was fighting against.

Elisa’s death is a terrible story to tell, and it’s a devastating case to examine.  Her family still doesn’t know what really happened that night, and they more than likely, never will.  Nor will anyone, unless new evidence is discovered or someone comes forward.  This case is officially closed, ruled an accidental drowning, but the questions remain.  The unresolved details of this case continue to haunt everyone who examines it, and most of all, Elisa’s family who only wish to remember her as the sweet young woman they were so proud of.  They’ll never get to see what she could have done with her life, and while many revel in theories about her death, they have the bittersweet memories of her life. 

Click to read the Official Autopsy Report

Video of missing Canadian Elisa Lam, via the LAPD