There is always an outpouring of sympathy when it is shared publicly that someone has gone missing overseas. However, few international missing person cases have drawn as much attention—both compassionate and controversial—as that of 21-year-old Elisa Lam. In January of 2013, the Canadian college student had been making a solo trip around the West Coast of the United States, taking a break from her studies at the University of British Columbia. Having promised to check in with her family every day, concern grew when Lam failed to make contact on January 31st.
Disappearance at the Cecil Hotel
On the day that Elisa Lam disappeared, she had been scheduled to check out of her room at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. The Lam family contacted the Los Angeles Police Department, reporting Elisa missing. While the search at the Cecil that followed revealed no sign of the missing student, CCTV footage of Lam in one of the hotels elevators quickly triggered an escalation in the investigation.
The video, which was released by the police to the public, showed Lam behaving erratically, pressing all of the elevator’s buttons, and anxiously peering into the hotel’s corridor as if in fear of a nearby threat. After Lam exited the elevator for the final time, no trace of her was seen again. This video serves as a poignant reminder of the impact that such international missing person cases can have on society at large, having amassed tens of millions of views since Lam’s disappearance.
Confusion and Conspiracy
That Elisa Lam had vanished from the Cecil Hotel only added fuel to the fire of speculation surrounding her story. Since its opening in 1927, the Cecil had been host to sixteen non-natural deaths and a number of supposed paranormal occurrences. Two of America’s most notorious serial killers had called the hotel home; Richard Ramirez in the 1980s and Jack Unterweger in the 1990s. Perhaps most notorious of all, the Cecil Hotel was the scene of certain events leading up to the murder of actress Elizabeth Short in 1947, immortalized in the story of the “Black Dahlia”.
Testimony from hotel manager Amy Price revealed that while Lam had originally been booked to stay in a shared room within the hotel, complaints of “odd behavior” from her roommates had given cause for her to be moved to a single room. This led to the idea that Lam, who was Bipolar, may not have been effectively managing her medication. However, within the same time period, nearby bookstore owner Katie Orphan shared that Lam had been buying books and music to give as gifts to her family upon returning home, further muddying any clear sense of Lam’s frame of mind during the days leading up to her disappearance.
More Unanswered Questions
On the 19th February, nineteen days after Elisa Lam had gone missing overseas, an unwelcome break in the case finally arrived. Hotel maintenance worker Santiago Lopez received complaints of low water pressure from guests at the Cecil, and decided to make his way to the hotel’s roof to investigate. After taking the elevator to the 15th floor of the building, Lopez deactivated the rooftop alarm system and climbed up to inspect the water tanks. Upon reaching the top of a tank-side ladder, Lopez noticed that the hatch of the main water tank was open.
Within the tank, Lopez found the floating body and clothes of Elisa Lam. The Los Angeles Fire Department were called to cut open the water tank and retrieve Lam’s body, dashing all hopes that the young woman might be found alive. A full investigation was deemed impossible during the autopsy that followed because of water decomposition, however no indication of foul play was discovered. What remained baffling to all involved was that had Lam attempted to reach the water tanks by herself, the alarm would have been heard across the top two floors of the building as well as at the front desk.
A Mystery Unresolved
Several months after the discovery of Elisa Lam’s body, her parents David and Yinna Lam filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Cecil Hotel. However, because of the security system in place and the fact that Lam had been found in an area off limits to guests, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Howard Halm ruled that the tragic death was unforeseeable, and dismissed the suit. Although the final conclusion of the case of Elisa Lamb was “accidental drowning”, her story continues to perplex global investigators and amateur sleuths alike, as the world continues to grieve her loss.
Thomas Lauth and his team at Missing Persons Investigations Worldwide work tirelessly to raise awareness of people missing abroad, while providing support and guidance to those with a loved one missing overseas. As an expert in missing children and adults worldwide, international private investigator Thomas Lauth offers the highest caliber of assistance to those in need. If you require aid in locating a missing person, contact our team today.