Elisa Lam: The Hotel Disappearance that Horrified the Nation


The disappearance of 21-year-old Elisa Lam from a hotel in 2013 led to national headlines. Lam, a Canadian woman who was studying at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, disappeared from a Los Angeles hotel in February of 2013. Lam, the daughter of Hong Kong immigrants to Canada, had traveled alone to LA and checked into the Cecil Hotel in late January.

The Cecil is an infamous hotel near LA’s downtown district, not far from the much-maligned Skid Row. Lam herself suffered from bipolar disorder and depression, but her family never reported that she had any suicidal tendencies.

As such, her bizarre disappearance from within the hotel perplexed investigators and her family alike. The mystery became even more unnerving when the last video of Lam was released to the public.

Lam’s Infamous Video

In the last recording of Elisa Lam, she is seen entering the elevator in the Cecil, before then exiting and gesturing in the hallway. It is unclear from the footage if she is talking to someone or if the behavior is occurring as a result of her bipolar disorder.

The video further shows Lam reentering and exiting the elevator several times, attempting to operate it. Some viewers have noted that the elevator appears to be malfunctioning during the video.

At varying points, Lam appears to be attempting to hide from someone, or something, in the elevator. Many viewers have described the video as unsettling and disturbing, due to Lam’s bizarre behavior and the circumstances of her disappearance.

Disappearance and Investigation

On January 31, 2013, Lam failed to check in with her parents as she had done every prior day of her trip. This led to her parents worrying about her safety, and they flew to LA to help police look for her.

Police searched the hotel with dogs to seek out her scent, but were only able to check some areas of the hotel due to legal privacy reasons. This initial investigation did not yield any results, so police put up flyers with Lam’s image and information about her disappearance.

Later in the month of February, the aforementioned video surface. Not long after, guests at the hotel began to complain about the water pressure in their rooms. Some noted that the water was occasionally black, and others commented that it had an odd taste. This led investigators to search the water tank.


Lam’s body was found in the water tank nearly a month after she disappeared. She was undressed, and her clothes were floating near her body. The body was in a moderate state of decay thanks to the water tank’s wet, enclosed conditions.

Investigators determined that there was no evidence that she was assaulted, nor was there evidence of a suicide. There were no drugs in her system other than the ones she was prescribed for her bipolar disorder.

The official cause of death is listed as accidental drowning due to a psychotic episode brought on by bipolar disorder. However, investigators were never able to explain how she got into the water tank, which was closed when her body was discovered.

Moreover, she would have had difficulty accessing the roof, as the door to the top level of the building was locked, and the tanks themselves stood a full eight feet off the ground and required the use of ladders to access.

In the end, it is unclear what may have happened to Elisa Lam during her last day on Earth. The exact circumstances of her death may never come to light.