On February 19th, 2013, the body of 21-year-old Elisa Lam was found inside a water tank, located on the rooftop of the Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles.

Disturbingly, residents at the hotel complained of foul-tasting water and a maintenance worker went to investigate. It was then, Lam’s body was discovered. Residents had been using this water to brush their teeth, take showers, and even as drinking water for 19 days.

Lam was a Canadian student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver who was on her first trip to Los Angeles. When the hotel checked the CCTV footage, she appeared to be acting strangely and hiding in the lift from an unknown threat.

Netflix has just announced they will be debuting a four-part series into the mysterious death with director Joe Berlinger (‘Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes’) at the helm. ‘Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel’ is set to debut on February 10th.

Variety reported: “The docuseries features interviews with hotel employees and guests, as well as with some of those who investigated the case.”

Although the Los Angeles coroner’s office reported the cause of death as an accidental drowning, many online conspiracy theorists still believe this is simply not the case. Here we investigate the top six theories surrounding the mysterious death of Elisa Lam…

6. She Was Murdered And Her Body Dumped In The Tank


On January 31st, 2013, Lam did not check out as scheduled. She left behind all of her possessions, including her wallet and ID in her hotel room. Staff at the hotel were not too concerned as guests often left without formally checking out.

Lam’s parents reported their daughter missing to the Los Angeles Police Department. Then on the morning of February 19th, her naked body was found floating in one of four 1,000-gallon water tanks on the roof.


Many believe Lam was murdered; although there was no evidence of foul play or anyone sighted with her that night. Further speculation claimed that the killer could have potentially been a hotel employee who would have known where to stand so they were not captured on the cameras.

The Cecil Hotel is known for attracting serial killers – Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez and Jack Unterweger had previously stayed at the hotel. In a post on her blog, Lam had complained about a “creeper” staying at the hotel. Yet, the coroner’s report found no evidence of physical trauma or sexual assault.

Director Joe Berlinger will feature the hotel’s sinister past in the upcoming docu-series. He told Variety, “My past projects have leaned into individual crimes and criminals, but I have never explored the role a particular location has played in creating an environment in which multiple crimes seemingly take place over and over again.”

Adding, “The fact that Elisa disappeared in a location that has a multi-decade history of crimes is what made her case fascinating to me.”

5. She Was Another Victim Of The Cecil Hotel Curse


The Cecil Hotel has one of the most sinister pasts nobody can quite explain. The following events all took place within its very walls…

  • In 1947, the body of 22-year-old Elizabeth Short was found in a field on south North Avenue between Coliseum and West 39th Street – a 20-minute walk from the hotel. Her body had been cut in half, drained of blood, and her face slashed to give her a “smile” effect. The Cecil Hotel was the last place Short had been seen alive. The unsolved murder is now known as “The Black Dahlia”.
  • In 1962, 27-year-old Pauline Otton threw herself from the ninth floor after an argument with her estranged husband. She fell 90 feet and landed on a 65-year-old man who was walking by. Both were killed instantly. Another lady named Julia Moore jumped from the eighth-floor window the same year. There was no suicide note – she only had a bus ticket and a bankbook with $1800.
  • In 1985, serial killer Richard Ramirez stayed in a room on the top floor of the hotel. Ramirez would leave the hotel at night, brutally butcher his victims, then remove his bloody clothes and hide them in the dumpsters at the back of the hotel.
  • In 1991, serial killer Jack Unterweger also stayed at the hotel posing as a true-crime writer. The hotel staff had no idea he had already slain seven sex workers before moving to Los Angeles from Austria. He lured his victims back to the hotel, advising them to use the back fire escape, then strangled them with their bras before dumping their bodies in nearby alleyways.

4. She Was Playing The Korean Elevator Game


One of the whackier theories online is that Lam was playing the Korean elevator game. This game originated in Japan and South Korea and it’s believed if players follow the ritual of pressing buttons on an elevator in a certain order; they can reach another dimension.

The rules for the game state: “Getting back to your own world may be more difficult than it seems: You may become disoriented and forget which elevator in which you arrived; the elevator may seem to get further and further away from you as you walk towards it; and so on. Be vigilant, and keep your wits about you.”

This theory also believes that Cecil Hotel has altered the CCTV footage so the public could not see which numbers Lam had pressed.

3. Her Death Was A Sinister Homage To The Movie ‘Dark Water’

via: YouTube

In ‘Dark Water’ (2005), a mother and daughter start a new life together but are haunted by visions and eerie noises. They try to find out if everything that is happening to them is real or it’s all in their head.

Some believe that Lam’s death was a sinister homage to the horror movie as there are far too many similarities to ignore. These include:

  • The elevator footage in the video of Lam is eerily similar to the elevator footage in ‘Dark Water’
  • A child in ‘Dark Water’ gains access to the roof by going through a door that was supposed to be locked – the same way Elisa accessed the roof of Cecil Hotel
  • The child in ‘Dark Water’ is wearing a red jacket when she falls in the water tank – the same color jacket Elisa is wearing when she was captured on camera
  • They find the body of a girl who had been reported missing from the building a year earlier
  • Both the girl and Lam died in a water tank on a rooftop and guests complained about foul-tasting water

2. She Was Depressed And Feeling Suicidal

At the time of her death, Lam was on medication for bipolar disorder and depression. Lam’s blog can still be read online and she often posted about feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts. One quote from ‘Fight Club’ author Chuck Palahniuk reads: “You’re always haunted by the idea you’re wasting your life.”

In another blog post dated January 2012, she also described a bipolar relapse when she started a new school term.

According to the coroner’s report, her prescribed stimulant medication for bipolar disorder was found in her system but neither of her stabilizers. It is therefore believed that she took her own life during a manic episode in which bipolar sufferers can experience hallucinations or psychosis.

This theory however does not help explain how she could have possibly moved the heavy water tank roof back into position after drowning herself. Or why she would choose to lower herself into the tank instead of jumping from the roof?

Also, according to her family, she had no history of suicidal ideations or attempts.

1. She Never Existed And Was A Distraction From TB Testing


During the time Lam was staying at the Cecil Hotel, there was a severe tuberculosis outbreak on Skid Row and in most of the surrounding downtown area.

TB testing in the same area as the Cecil Hotel was named Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay or LAM-ELISA for short. Yet the most commonly used antibiotic for TB – Isoniazid – had harmful side effects that include confusion and abnormal behavior.

Therefore leading conspiracy theorists to claim that the entire Elisa Lam case was a fabrication to distract from government-sponsored TB outbreak and testing.

So if anyone was to search online LAM-ELISA they would be flooded with information about the strange case of Elisa Lam instead.