Don't Drink the Water - Elisa Lam

So, when I first heard about Elisa Lam, I was studying abroad. And instantly became terrified of drinking any sort of water from any hotel. So, for this blog, I thought, why not start there?

As it often goes with unsolved murders, we're going to start with the discovery. The relative end of the story. Guests at the Cecil Hotel in the skid row Area of Los Angeles were having some issues with the running water of their room.

(Am I the only one who starts singing Little Shop of Horrors when I hear Skid Row?)

(Am I the only one who starts singing Little Shop of Horrors when I hear Skid Row?)

Customers complained of black water and low water pressure. The black  color would go away after running the water for a bit, but it would also have a strange, sickeningly sweet taste. Besides, no one feels good about brushing their teeth with black water. The hotel finally got the bright idea to go investigate the water tower... And found the body of Elisa Lam inside.

The thing is: it is extremely difficult to get into the water tower itself. The door to the roof is supposed to be locked and alarmed except for staff, and the ten foot tall water tower was also locked. She was in the tower, naked. Her death was eventually ruled an accidental drowning, but how does she end up in such a difficult place to get to, on accident?

Lam, originally from Canada, was taking a trip to visit California. She was staying at the Cecil Hotel, despite it's already dark past. It was a cheap option for a 21 year old woman exploring Los Angeles. She had a Tumblr, filled with art and fashion, as well as her meditations on depression. (Lam was bipolar, leading many to believe her disappearance is related to her stopping her medication.) She was last seen January 31st, 2013, which is when her parents reported her missing (she had called home each day) and February 19th, the police discovered her body.

(Click the image to watch the video)

(Click the image to watch the video)

What's so fascinating about Elisa Lam is the story almost feels supernatural at times. The police released a four minute video of her in an elevator in the hotel. She's acting erratically and keeps looking out of the elevator doors to try. Sometimes she's hiding, sometimes it looks like she's playing a game. She pushes the buttons for four different floors. The doors never shut, despite a door open button not being held down.

Theories around what happened, because this is the internet age, abound. Some people think it was drugs or alcohol (but her toxicology report came back clean) and others lean in to the supernatural angle, claiming it was possession. There was even a tuberculosis outbreak in LA at the time (the test for which is, eerily, LAM-ELISA). But she also came back negative for TB.

And, of course, the supernatural angle has even made it's way into pop culture. American Horror Story's fifth season seems to be inspired by Hotel Cecil, Producer Ryan Murphy even referencing a video of a woman getting into an elevator who was never seen again. Lam specifically comes up in the science fiction podcast, TANIS. In TANIS, Lam was playing an elevator game that would send her into the underworld/a darker dimension and back again. She clearly lost the game.

I love true crime, and you can ask me about a lot of unsolved cases and I'll come down on one conclusion. But Lam is one of the few where I can't say anything concretely. I don't possibly think whatever happened to her happened without some sort of outside interference. But still, if you nearly kill a girl, how do you lug her body up a tower to dump her in a water tower to finally drown? Elisa was rather tiny, but she would, quite literally, be dead weight. It took a team to get her out of the tower. 

Still, I don't think it's impossible for someone to get her unconscious body into the water tower. Either someone working at the hotel or knew someone working at the hotel could probably figure out their way up to the roof. (I mean, most of the dorms around GW aren't meant to have roof access, but students still manage to find their ways up.) People can end up where they aren't supposed to be. Again, this could mean Elisa got up on her own, but there had to be so many deliberate choices to get her naked in the tower. But those choices could have been on the part of another or on Lam herself.

See? I keep circling around and around to try and figure out what could possibly be the narrative. I can't settle on one theory, let alone try to figure out a suspect (if there is one). Maybe that's why people like swinging into the supernatural with her story. There's not enough real world evidence to try and put together a logical theory. If you try to do the logical, you end up with no answers. Which is what we're left with, for now, unless people come forward with more answers.

And just a future rule of thumb, if your hotel water runs black, even if it goes to normal, don't drink it. And make them check the water tower right away.

And seriously,  don't drink it.

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