Elisa Lam theories: What could have happened at the Cecil Hotel to cause her death?

Some people think hotel staff were somehow involved


Within the first few minutes of the new Cecil Hotel documentary on Netflix we are introduced to the world of online sleuths and theories surrounding the death of Elisa Lam.

21-year-old student Elisa Lam was meant to check out of the Cecil Hotel on February 1st 2013. This was the same day she was reported missing. Investigators went to her room to search for evidence, but found staff had removed all her belongings. She’d left valuables, clothes, her medication, phone and her laptop behind.

Hotel staff had seen her in an area of the hotel where guests weren’t allowed to be, so they had asked her to leave. She walked towards the elevators and this was the last time anyone saw her alive. There were no cameras on the floor Elisa was staying at, but around a week after she went missing the strange, now viral, CCTV footage of Elisa in the hotel elevators was discovered. This helped police come to the conclusion that she was still at the hotel.

Elisa was found naked in a water tank on the hotel roof on February 19th. Guests had complained of the water tasting off, and being black in colour.

In the series, a number of web sleuths and YouTubers are interviewed. They discuss the number of theories that have been spread about what could have happened to Elisa Lam to lead to her death. Here’s what they are.

Cecil Hotel, Los Angeles, Skid Row

via Netflix

The official ruling of the death of Elisa Lam was that it was a terrible accident

The official cause of death in the Elisa Lam case was ruled as accidental drowning. Hotel workers reported finding her room in “disarray” but meaning that it was messy, there were no signs of forced entry. There was also not a lot of evidence which made detectives believe this was foul play. Detective Wallace Tennelle, who was the lead detective on the case, said at the time he believes she did actually accidentally drown. He had been told by Elisa’s sister that she had been taking four medications including an anti-depressant and a mood stabiliser.

He told CBC: “My opinion is that she fell off her medication, and in her state, she happened to find her way onto the roof, got into the tank of water. At the time, I think that water tank was maybe full. But as people used the tank, used water, unknown to her, the level was dropping to a point where she could no longer reach out and escape, and she died that way.”

Elisa Lam, death, theories, Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, Hotel Cecil, what happened,

A reconstruction of one of Elisa Lam’s blog posts, via Netflix

If Elisa had stopped taking her medication, this could explain her strange behaviour in the elevator CCTV footage of her. Many believed she was having an episode, pressing all the buttons, making erratic hand gestures, running her hands through her hair and counting on her fingers.

But one of the other main theories is that Elisa Lam took her own life

There are a lot of people who believe that Elisa Lam wished to end her life. Her Tumblr and Blogspot accounts are said to have mentioned her struggles with her mental health and with anxiety and depression. However, as reported by the CBC, the coroner said “a full review of circumstances” didn’t support the theory that Lam ever wanted to harm herself.

Elisa Lam, death, theories, Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, Hotel Cecil, what happened,

via Netflix

It was a murder case

Another popular theory is that Elisa Lam was murdered. The main questions raised in the case which have lead people to believe this are: Who was she gesturing at in the lift? Why did she look so disorientated and scared? Who was she hiding in the corner of the elevator from? How did she get up to the roof on her own? She was slim and petite, how did she lift the water tank lid off on her own? Why was she naked? And then, how on earth did she manage to put the water tank lid back on after climbing in? There are a lot of things that don’t seem to make sense.

There are lots of theories about who could have potentially harmed her. It’s been reported that before her death Elisa was seen entering the hotel with two men who gave her a small box. The men were never identified and the box was found to be from The Last Bookstore – which she visited on the last day she was seen alive. Whilst this seems to answer that small mystery, people still aren’t convinced. Elisa had also spoken on Tumblr about wanting to meet new people and explore. Had she come to harm from someone she met online?

The Cecil Hotel is located in Skid Row in LA, which is known as a dangerous place. Historians in the Netflix documentary address theories she could have been abducted or met someone at or around the hotel who may have caused her death. The hotel also worked as an apartment stay for people who cannot pay deposits. This meant it attracted criminals, people who were on the run or people who had just left prison and couldn’t live anywhere else. The hotel manager says in the Netflix series this meant the hotel faced lots of security and safety issues, and had “thousands” of 911 calls. A detective says they had around three calls a day to “hell on earth” scenes unfolding there.

Theorists have also linked the case to the plot of the film Dark Water. In the film a body of a girl is found in the water tank on the roof of an apartment complex after guests said the water was off and dark – just like what happened at the Cecil. Josh Dean, a journalist interviewed for Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, addresses this saying: “If you reduce the plot of Dark Water down to its basic elements, it’s almost the story of Elisa Lam”. People think someone was trying to mimic the film.

Dark Water, film, movie, Netflix

Dark Water, via Netflix

Other theories think that a hotel worker was somehow involved in the death of Elisa Lam

Right at the beginning of the documentary on Netflix, an internet theorist is heard saying they think hotel staff must have been involved. This has obviously never been confirmed, but people do wonder how Elisa managed to get to usually out of bounds areas of the hotel on her own and how alarms didn’t go off when she went up to the roof.

There are also people who believe the CCTV footage of Elisa Lam in the lifts has been edited, removing 53 seconds from the video. People think a hotel worker must have done this because of something the clip showed.

One of the more out there theories is that the death of Elisa Lam is linked to the creepy history of the Cecil Hotel

Elisa Lam, death, theories, Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, Hotel Cecil, what happened, murder

via Netflix

Whilst the Netflix series director has already said the case is not just a ghost story, the documentary does link to one of the theories that her death was something to do with the so-called “dark forces” at the Hotel Cecil. The hotel has a very dark history of suicides, accidental deaths, murders and violence – which has led people to think that something sinister is going on “within the walls” of the establishment. People think paranormal forces are there and lead people to do things they wouldn’t usually.

Just a quick Google of the Hotel Cecil will tell you that there have been around 80 deaths there just during the 10 years Amy Price managed the 700-room hotel. People asked why was the elevator not moving in the CCTV footage, and claim it looks like Elisa Lam was “conjuring a spirit” in the “dark and bizarre” clip.

Some theories also claim that Elisa Lam was a tuberculosis test subject

Ok this is a weird one, but according to Reddit people think she was a test subject for tuberculosis medicine. A Reddit post says: “After she was found, a huge outbreak of a unique drug-resistant TB occurred in the same area of her disappearance. How do you diagnose TB? With a LAM-ELISA test.” And yes, there was a 2013 TB outbreak in downtown LA’s Skid Row and one test for this is called LAM-ELISA. 

Elisa Lam, death, theories, Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, Hotel Cecil, what happened, Tuberculosis, TB, test

via Netflix

This is addressed in the Netflix documentary, and the hotel manager says the outbreak, just days after Elisa was found, was at the hotel too and guests needed to get tested. Theorists in the documentary say Elisa may have been a subject who “knew too much” so was killed. It is also pointed out that the university Elisa Lam was a student at has a large TB research centre.

The ‘Korean Elevator Game’ theory

Elisa Lam, death, theories, Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, Hotel Cecil, what happened, lift, CCTV, elevator, game

via Netflix

This one is the most out there and most unbelievable by far. The Korean Elevator Game is a mythical game where players enter a lift alone, press the buttons in a certain order and this opens up another dimension. The entire game is very creepy and confusing and includes ignoring strange women who will enter the lift along the way. Some believe in Elisa’s case, this game went wrong.

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is available on Netflix now. For all the latest Netflix news, drops, quizzes and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook. 

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