“You’re always haunted by the idea you’re wasting your life.” — Chuck Palahniuk quote used by elisa on her blogspot / tumblr
The body of Elisa Lam, also known by her Cantonese name, Lam Ho Yi, a Canadian student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, was recovered from a water tank atop the Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles on February 19, 2013. She had been reported missing at the beginning of the month. Maintenance workers at the hotel discovered the body when investigating guest complaints of problems with the water supply.
Her disappearance had been widely reported; interest had increased five days prior to her body's discovery when the Los Angeles Police Department released video of the last time she was known to have been seen, on the day of her disappearance, by an elevator security camera. In the footage, Lam is seen exiting and re-entering the elevator, talking and gesturing in the hallway outside, and sometimes seeming to hide within the elevator, which itself appears to be malfunctioning. The video went viral on the Internet, with many viewers reporting that they found it unsettling. Explanations ranged from claims of paranormal involvement to bipolar disorder from which Lam suffered; it has also been argued that the video was altered prior to release.
The circumstances of Lam's death, once she was found, also raised questions, especially in light of the Cecil's history in relation to other notable deaths and murders. Her body was naked with most of her clothes and personal effects floating in the water near her. It took the Los Angeles County Coroner's office four months, after repeated delays, to release the autopsy report, which reports no evidence of physical trauma and states that the manner of death was accidental. Guests at the Cecil, now re-branded as Stay on Main, sued the hotel over the incident, and Lam's parents filed a separate suit later that year; the latter was dismissed in 2015. Some of the early Internet interest noted what were considered to be unusual similarities between Lam's death and the 2005 horror film Dark Water. The case has since been referenced in international popular culture.
The circumstances of Lam's death have been compared to plot elements in the 2005 horror film Dark Water. In that film, an American remake of an earlier Japanese film of the same name based on a 1996 short story by Koji Suzuki, a mother and daughter move into a rundown apartment building. A dysfunctional elevator and discolored water gushing from the building's faucets eventually lead them to the building's rooftop water tank, where they discover the body of a girl who had been reported missing from the building a year earlier.
horrors at cecil hotel
Stay on Main (formerly Cecil Hotel, Hotel Cecil and informally The Cecil) is a budget hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, located at 640 S. Main Street, opened in 1927. It has 600 guest rooms. The hotel has a checkered history, but is currently being renovated and redeveloped into a mix of hotel rooms and residential units.
Timeline of suicides and other deaths
On November 19, 1931, Manhattan Beach resident W. K. Norton, 46, was found dead in his room after ingesting poison capsules. A week prior, Norton had checked into the Cecil under the name "James Willys," from Chicago. Norton's death appears to be the earliest known suicide at the hotel.
In September 1932, a maid found Benjamin Dodich, 25, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He did not leave a suicide note.
In late July 1934, former Army Medical Corps Sgt. Louis D. Borden, 53, was found dead in his room at the Cecil. He had slashed his throat with a razor. Borden left several notes, one of which cited poor health as the reason for his suicide.
In March 1937, Grace E. Magro fell from a ninth story window. Her fall was broken by telephone wires which were wrapped around her body. She later died at the now-demolished Georgia Street Receiving Hospital. Police were unable to determine whether Magro's death was the result of an accident or suicide.
In January 1938, Marine fireman Roy Thompson, 35, jumped from Cecil's top floor and was found on the skylight of a neighboring building. He had been staying at the Cecil for several weeks.
In May 1939, Navy officer Erwin C. Neblett, 39, was found dead in his room after ingesting poison.
In January 1940, teacher Dorothy Sceiger, 45, ingested poison while staying at the Cecil and was reported by the Los Angeles Times to be "near death." No further reports were published about Sceiger's condition.
In September 1944, Dorothy Jean Purcell, 19, was sharing a room at the Cecil with shoe salesman Ben Levine, 38. Purcell, who had apparently been unaware that she was pregnant, went into labor. Purcell later testified that she did not want to disrupt a sleeping Levine, so she went to the bathroom where she gave birth to a baby boy. Thinking the baby was dead, Purcell threw him out of the window where he landed on the roof of an adjacent building. Purcell was charged with murder. Three psychiatrists (then known as "alienists") testified that Purcell was "mentally confused" at the time of the incident. In January 1945, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
In November 1947, Robert Smith, 35, died after jumping from one of Cecil's seventh-floor windows.
On October 22, 1954, San Francisco stationery firm employee Helen Gurnee, 55, jumped from the window of her seventh-floor room and landed on top of Cecil's marquee. One week prior, she had registered at the hotel under the name "Margaret Brown."
On February 11, 1962, Julia Frances Moore, 50, jumped from the window of her eighth-floor room and landed in a second-story interior light well. Moore did not leave a suicide note. Among her possessions were a bus ticket from St. Louis, 59 cents in change, and an Illinois bank book showing a balance of $1,800.
On October 12, 1962, Pauline Otton, 27, jumped from the window of her ninth floor room after an argument with her estranged husband Dewey. Dewey had left the room prior to Otton's suicide. Otton landed on a pedestrian, George Gianinni, 65, killing them both instantly. As there were no witnesses, police initially thought Otton and Gianinni committed suicide together. However, it was soon determined that Gianinni had his hands in his pockets at the time of his death and he was still wearing shoes. Had he jumped, his shoes would have likely fallen off during the fall or upon impact.
On June 4, 1964, a hotel worker discovered "Pigeon Goldie" Osgood, a retired telephone operator, dead in her room. She had been raped, stabbed and beaten and her room was ransacked. Osgood was well known around the area and had earned her nickname because she fed birds in nearby Pershing Square. Near her body was the Los Angeles Dodgers cap she always wore and a paper sack full of birdseed. Hours after her murder, Jacques B. Ehlinger, 29, was seen walking through Pershing Square, the area in which Osgood fed birds, in bloodstained clothing. He was arrested and charged with Osgood's murder, but was later cleared of the crime. Osgood's murder remains unsolved.
On December 20, 1975, a still unidentified woman jumped from her twelfth-floor window onto the Cecil's second-floor roof. She had registered at the hotel on December 16.
On February 19, 2013, the naked body of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old Canadian student, was found inside one of the water supply tanks on the hotel roof. Lam had gone missing almost three weeks earlier, on January 31, 2013. Her decomposing body was discovered by a maintenance worker in one of the rooftop water tanks, after guests had complained about low water pressure and water that "tasted funny". Authorities later ruled Lam's death as an accidental drowning. Video surveillance footage taken from inside an elevator shortly before her disappearance showed Lam acting strangely, pressing multiple elevator buttons, hiding in the corner of the elevator, and waving her arms wildly, causing widespread speculation about the cause of her death. After the elevator video was made public, many theories arose about Lam's death. Lam was reported to have had bipolar disorder, for which she was prescribed various medications, which could have contributed to her death as well as her strange behavior in the elevator.
On June 13, 2015, the body of a 28-year-old male was found outside the hotel. Some conjectured he may have committed suicide by jumping from the hotel, though a spokesperson for the county coroner informed the Los Angeles Times that the cause of death had not been determined.
Thus it would appear that there have been at least 16 deaths at the Cecil, resulting from non-natural causes: either as a result of suicide, accident or murder. This excludes the 1940 case of Dorothy Sceiger who was reported to be in a critical condition after ingesting poison at the hotel. There is no further reportage as to whether she died as a result.
The Cecil has also been connected with several well-known murders:
Elizabeth Short, a murder victim dubbed by the media as "the Black Dahlia", is one of Los Angeles' best known unsolved murders. Short was reportedly seen at the Cecil's bar in the days shortly before her murder in January 1947. However, this information remains disputed.
The Cecil has been the reported residence for serial killers Richard Ramirez in 1985 and Jack Unterweger in 1991.
the case of elisa lam and the cecil hotel has haunted me since i read a thread about it on twitter. i had a nightmare about the hotel itself that i don't remember except for waking up repeating "cecil hotel" over and over. as i look further into the case and it just gets more and more strange. i feel like i can relate to elisa from her writings, and i was just as confused and depressed as she was at her age. as someone who also struggles with mental illness and likes to poke fun at her own illness i can relate to her in that way as well. reading her blogspot entries also made me realize what an intelligent, witty and thoughtful person the world lost.