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What you need to know about the death of Elisa Lam

By Camille Santiago Published Jan 20, 2021 6:09 am Updated Jan 20, 2021 6:27 am

Almost eight years after Elisa Lam's death at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, California, true crime fans continue to dig for more information as "the most mysterious case of the 21st century" still remains unsolved.

In anticipation of the upcoming true crime documentary series by Netflix, read on to know more about the mysterious disappearance and death of Lam.

Who was Elisa Lam?

Elisa Lam was the daughter of emigrants from Hong Kong. She was born on April 30, 1991 in Vancouver, British Columbia and was called by her Cantonese Name, Lam Ho Yi, by her parents. Lam was a student at the University of British Columbia (UBC), but only managed to complete three courses during her three years at the university.

Lam was also an aspiring blogger. In 2010, she created a Blogspot page named Ether Fields where she shared photos of models in fashionable clothes as well as entries on her struggle with mental illness.

Two years later, she started a new account on Tumbler she named Nouvelle-Nouveau. Aside from fashion photos, she posted quotes, and a few entries using her own words.

What happened?

Lam went alone on a California trip on Jan. 26, 2013. She was traveling from San Diego to Santa Cruz, California, but made a stopover in Los Angeles. Two days after her arrival, she checked in at a budget hotel in Downtown LA called the Cecil Hotel, which is infamous for suicides and other violent deaths, and a home to several serial killers such as the "Night Stalker" or Richard Ramirez (who also happens to have a documentary on Netflix).

Reports say that Lam was initially assigned a shared room on the hotel's fifth floor, but was moved to another room because her roommates complained about a "certain odd behavior."

On the day of her supposed check out on Jan. 31, Lam was nowhere to be seen nor did her parents hear from her. This urged her parents to call the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), who then started a search operation.

On Feb. 15, the LAPD released footage—believed to be the last sighting of Lam—from the hotel elevator's surveillance camera on Feb. 1. In the footage, the UBC student can be seen acting unusual as she steps into the elevator and begins pressing every button. Before she exited the lift, she pokes her head out several times as if to check who was in the hallway. Toward the end of the video, Lam was waving her hands and making random gestures.

When, where, and how was she found?

Guests of the Cecil Hotel, now renamed as Stay on Main Hotel, were complaining about low water pressure, unusual taste and color. On Feb. 19, a maintenance person checked the water tank and discovered a dead naked body inside. Belongings of Lam, including her room key, medicine, watch, and clothing similar to the ones she wore on the footage were found floating inside the tank as well. This tank provides water to guest rooms, a kitchen, and a coffee shop.

The police issued Lam's death as accidental drowning, "with bipolar disorder as a significant factor." In her autopsy report, there was no evidence of trauma. Though incomplete, her toxicology tests showed a small amount of alcohol. Traces of medication were also found in her belongings.

What are the theories about her death?

While it is still unclear and no evidence has been reported as to what caused Lam's death, people have created theories on her death.

Because of Lam's history of depression and bipolar disorder, some believe she had a psychotic episode. Others believed that she commited suicide or took hallucinogenic drugs.

There were also some who believe that she was being followed and murdered, because in the footage, she appeared to be looking behind. While others think that Lam was playing the Korean elevator game, which is a "ritual of pressing buttons on a lift in a certain order to reach another dimension."

And lastly, others noticed similarities between Lam's death and the 2005 supernatural horror film Dark Water. The film follows the story of a mother and daughter who moved into an apartment building. Everything connected to Lam's death—elevator, discolored water, and the building's rooftop water tank—were involved, including the body of a girl who went missing from the building.