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The Hotel Cecil and the Tragedy of Elisa Lam

September 3rd, 2017 by Leah Myette

The Cecil Hotel before it was rebranded as “Stay on Main” in 2011.


Some have referred to the Hotel Cecil as the deadliest hotel in Los Angeles and that distinction is most appropriate. While all hotels are going to boast their fair share of suicides, accidental deaths and perhaps the occasional murder, given the sheer volume of people that go through it, the Hotel Cecil has a history that is so blackened with death, one can only conclude that there is some thing sinister that is interwoven within the bricks and mortar of the building. The paranormal activity that has occurred there signals that this is no ordinary haunting: it has all the signs of a building that is soiled and contaminated by evil. In fact, the hotel’s history is so riddled with darkness, one wouldn’t be surprised if the hotel was built on a fault line or two crossed ley lines or perhaps an old Chumash or Tongva burial ground. There’s a force at play there that humans don’t understand and the evil that resides there might be demonic in nature.

Vintage postcard of the Cecil Hotel (1950s).

Consider the following timeline of bad luck, suicides, eerie events, murders, accidentals deaths that have befallen residents or guests of the Hotel Cecil, as compiled by James T. Bartlett, author of the books Gourmet Ghosts v.I and v.II,

1926 Elderly resident William McKay dies in his room.

1927 Hotel resident Edmund Barrett Jr. was killed in an accident with a small plane.

The pilot survived.

1931 WK Norton (46) took poisoned capsules in his room.

1932 Benjamin Dodich (25) shot himself in the head in his room.

1934 Louis D. Borden (53) cut his own throat.

1935 Hotel resident Virgil Tallman (30) was hit by a car.

1935 Nick Damiano was shot by Harold Daniels after an argument.

1935 Louis D Borden (53) slashed his own throat.

1937 Grace E Magro (25) jumped to her death from a ninth floor window.

1938 Roy Thompson (35) jumped of f the top floor of the hotel, hitting the skylight of the building adjacent.

1939 Erwin C. Neblett (39) takes poison in his room.

1940 Dorothy Sceiger (45) consumes poison in her room.

1944 Dorothy Jean Purcell (19)throws her newborn baby out the window

1947 Robert Smith (35) jumps from his 7th-floor window.

1954 Helen Gurnee jumps from her 7th-floor window, hitting the hotel marquee.

1962 Julia Frances Moore (50) jumps from her eighth-floor window.

1962 Pauline Otton (27) jumps from her ninth floor window, killing George Gianinni (65) walking on the street below.

1964 Goldie Osgood, known as “Pigeon Goldie” as she often fed the birds at the nearby park, was found in her room at the Hotel Cecil, raped, cut and choked to death.

1976 Jeffrey Thomas Paley shoots at people with a .22 semi-automatic rifle from the roof of the Cecil. No one is hurt.

1984-85 Richard Ramirez, the famous Night Stalker serial killer, lived at the Hotel Cecil, during his rampage of 13 murders and countless other crimes.

1988 Robert Sullivan checks into the hotel after stabbing his girlfriend to death at their Huntington Beach Home.

1991 -Johann “Jack” Unterwerger checks into the hotel; kill three prostitutes while in LA.

2013 The Elisa Lam Tragedy: the body of Elisa Lam is found floating in the northeast water tank.

2015– Unidentified 28-year old man jumps to his death


Given all the suicides that have occurred at this hotel, it’s no surprise that this photo was captured in 2014, outside one of the hotel windows.

Faint capture of the moment before a suicide, frozen in time, from years past. The male figure appears to be standing on the window ledge, about to jump.

If you look at the top left corner of the window in this picture, you’ll see the left shoulder of a man, beneath the shoulder of the man his two legs extend, fading onto the windowsill. Above that left shoulder is the faint outline of a dark round head in the direct left corner of the window frame. This specter is no doubt a capturing of a ghost who committed suicide in the hotel.

The Elisa Lam Tragedy


So much has been written about Elisa Lam and with good reason. Her death was by far the strangest, most tragic and most confounding death that ever touched The Hotel Cecil. Elisa Lam was a student from Vancouver and she was traveling north up the west coast starting in San Diego. To make a long, troubling story short: Lam checked into the Cecil Hotel on January 26, 2013. She was last seen alive on the evening of January 31, 2013. On February 19th her naked corpse was found floating face up in one of the 1000 gallon water tanks found on the roof of the Cecil Hotel. Her clothing had been tossed into the tank with her. The only reason a maintenance worker had even checked any of the tanks was because residents had complained about weak water pressure and an odd taste, smell, and discoloration to the water supply.

The story of her death spread all over the world largely due to haunting security camera footage taken from the elevator of her the last day she was alive.


The LAPD ruled her death as accidental and the case was closed: the evidence pointed to a bipolar woman having a psychotic break with reality. The evidence, they claim is present in the elevator footage of Elisa Lam acting strangely and in the toxicology report. As Samantha Oliver summarized in painstaking detail on Reddit:

  • Elisa took at least one antidepressant that day
  • She had taken her second antidepressant and mood stabilizer recently, but not that day
  • She had not taken her anti-psychotic recently
  • She had no alcohol or common illegal drugs in her system

There is a very strong risk of mania associated with taking antidepressants alone (not in conjunction with an antipsychotic or mood stabilizer) for bipolar disorder.

As Josh Dean explains in his detailed article about the Cecil Hotel and the death of Elisa Lam: Elisa Lam was a paranoid woman looking to hide. The first evidence of this was her behavior in the elevator. She found an even better place to hide in the water tank as no one found her for two weeks.

There’s definitive logic at play here, but it would be worth knowing if Elisa commonly had psychotic breaks, and what her typical behavior was like during such breaks. Based on her blog, it looked like she suffered from crippling depression.

According to CBC News British Columbia, Lam was first assigned to a communal room (#506B) but that the other guests in the room complained of her “odd behavior”, thus forcing the hotel to move her to a different room. This detail fits in nicely with the theory that Elisa had a mere break with reality and climbed into that tank herself.

Main Problems with this Theory

It reeks of blaming Lam’s mental illness for her unfortunate death and is founded on the over-simplistic notion of well, crazy people do crazy things.

It ignores the inherent body language of the video: after much review, I think it’s clear that she’s playing a game with someone. This clip shows the elevator footage not-slowed down as it was when the LAPD released, and it looks more flirtatious and one can see her clearly smiling. Once you notice that, it undermines the idea that Elisa was just an anxious person breaking with reality looking for a place to hide.

It ignores the two men: Elisa was spotted on the hotel surveillance tape an additional time: “We did see her come in with two gentlemen. She had — they had a box, gave it to her,” he said. “She went up into her — to the elevator. We never saw them again on video.”

It ignores the fact that she’s wearing black-colored men’s shorts, size medium. Elisa’s online presence clearly shows that she was into fashion. This provokes the notion that perhaps they weren’t hers; perhaps they belonged to someone she met at the Cecil. In fact, one blogger even suggested that her outfit looked like post-coital apparel.

It ignores the fact that the autopsy states that Elisa had ““the anus is edematous and shows pooling of blood in the subcutaneous tissues surrounding the orifice.” This is a wound not uncommon to sexual abuse or trauma.

The online South African newspaper Daily Maverick spoke to three doctors: “…all of whom opined that the evidence was suggestive of trauma. One said it was ‘highly likely’ that there had been a sexual assault; a second said that it was uncertain, but at the very least, it warranted further investigation.” Daily Maverick reached out to forensics expert Dr. David Klatzow with a copy of Lam’s autopsy and his assessment said that given the lack of extended evidence, the autopsy had little context, and that it was challenging to determine what had happened.

Klatzow’s reading of the autopsy was a little more nuanced. He explained that in the absence of further evidence to give context, it was difficult to ascertain exactly what had happened. “It is strange that the cause of death was initially listed as unknown at presumably the first autopsy,’ he told Daily Maverick.” Klatzow did state that the bruising in the anus could have been a result of the body’s advanced state of decomposition and have a non-traumatic cause connected to it. So basically given the lack of further evidence it’s difficult to pin down where the perianal hematoma that Lam possesses came from.

It ignores that the physical evidence that was probably left at the scene of the crime was probably blown away by wind or washed away by rain. Detective Wallace Tennell who was assigned to this case and has had a career of over 35 years with the LAPD claims, “‘It was my opinion that she climbed in on her own,’ he said. ‘My partner and I tried to figure out how somebody could have put her in there, and it’s difficult for someone to have been able to do that and not leave prints, not leave DNA or anything like that. So she climbed in on her own.’” Right, her body was in that tank for almost three full weeks. Any physical evidence left at the scene of the crime was probably destroyed.

It’s in the best interest of the LAPD to rule her death as accidental, as they weren’t in any position to find her killer. Claiming that Elisa Lam climbed into that tank herself is the best public-relations answer. They don’t have to spend money, time and resources locating an elusive killer who will now be impossible to find given the lack of evidence, and the rest of the city can sleep peacefully, thinking there isn’t a psychotic killer on the loose.

Vintage postcard of the Cecil Hotel (1920s)

My Theory

The inherently dark energy of the hotel attracted yet another sociopath (perhaps one or both of the two men who gave her the box on the earlier surveillance footage, or perhaps the owner of the black shorts she was wearing) to the building. While it appears as though Elisa is having some sort of psychotic break in the elevator surveillance footage, she’s actually playing a game with her attacker. Let’s not forget that many sociopaths are charming individuals, and this charm is exactly what helped enable many of their crimes.

If you watch this video of the footage which has the exact speed at which it was captured you’ll see at 1:38 she counts to three with her fingers. To me this really suggests that she was playing a game with someone, such as hide and seek.

And yes, her movements at 1:29 are still weird, but again, we can’t see into the hallway. Maybe there’s someone else there that she is interacting with. Many old hotels don’t have surveillance cameras in the hallways: just in elevators and lobbies, so we may never know what was going on there for sure. But what looks like a psychotic break, is actually just a light-hearted game with her killer, before he lures her out to the roof.

This theory is supported by the two men on the surveillance camera seen giving her a box, the black men’s shorts she was wearing, the fact that she was found naked in the tank with her clothes thrown in there with her, and the perianal hematoma found in her autopsy.

I also personally believe that when life hands us mysteries, the universe provides clues. Often these clues take the shape of odd coincidences.

First clue from the universe:

Fecto Cunt Her Suma=

Latin: In fact, she was a cunt/Actually, she was a cunt.

The graffiti written by the water tank where Elisa’s body was found:



I don’t think this was left by Elisa’s killer—in fact, I don’t even think there is even the remoteest possibility that happened, particularly when you consider the following, also found on a remote part of that same roof.

This is the same graffiti, presumably tagged by the same individual/group, except in this one the phrase is out of order and it is dated: 2012. As we know, Elisa Lam’s body was found in the beginning of 2013. The graffiti is still unfaded and unweathered, so I don’t think it had been up there a full year, but clearly predates all activity related to Elisa.

I do, however, think that the fact that we have the “coincidence” that one piece of graffiti ended up so close to where Elisa’s body was found is a sign from the universe of foul play in connection with her, of a sexual nature. This is only heightened by the fact that on the last day Elisa was seen alive, she posted this on her tumblr:

Let’s take a look at this incident of synchronicity again, side by side:

It’s reasonable to interpret this incidence of synchronicity as the universe speaking out to us and giving us all a collective nagging feeling that the conclusions the LAPD reached do not make sense and that yes, there was certainly some foul play at work.

Second Clue from the Universe:

During the time when Lam’s body was still yet to be located, there was a severe outbreak of tuberculosis in downtown Los Angeles. The Los Angeles County Department of Health said it was the largest outbreak in over ten years. The standard test used to determine if someone has tuberculosis is called the LAM-ELISA test. It stands for Lipoarabinomannan (LAM) Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA). So this means that during Elisa Lam’s disappearance, tuberculosis test kits which bear the inversion of her name were being opened, used and analyzed a few blocks away from the scene of the crime.

So many people have wondered about the significance of this strange, strange coincidence and what it all means. And I agree, it truly is confounding.

Here’s how I interpret it: tuberculosis is present on LA’s skid row to some extent at all times. What’s significant is that during the time of Lam’s death and disappearance it went from being present to a full-fledged outbreak, so much so that the LAM-ELISA test had to be used repeatedly. So in my opinion, the universe isn’t putting emphasis on tuberculosis, they are putting emphasis on the test.

Where is there a test that plays a role in the mysterious death of Elisa Lam?

That would be the rape kit.

The Forensic consultant who performed the autopsy on Elisa Lam writes:

“I collected Hair, Fingernail, Pubic Hair, and Sexual Assault Evidence Kits. Coroner Investigator K. Yagerlener released the watch and hotel card key to the Los Angeles Police Department Detectives.”

On the following page, the autopsy confirms that a rape kit was collected and details it.

“1. Sexual Assualt Evidence Kit A) Oral Swab set and slide set. B) External Swab set and slide set. C) Vaginal Swab set and slide set. D) Cervical Swab set and slide set. E) Rectal Swab set and slide set.”

The results of the rape kit were never released to the public. To me that’s very damning. If the results of the rape kit were inconclusive, there is little doubt the Forensic Science Center would have stated exactly that. Instead, they said nothing as they swept this evidence under the rug. Some have argued that perhaps the rape kit was never analyzed, but given how high profile this case was, that would be either an example of pathogically bumbling incompetence on behalf of the Forensic Science Center, or willful denial/ignorance. For example, if the LAPD knew the rape kit was going to create more questions by showing the DNA of an attacker they had little hope in catching, it would be in their best interest not to analyze it.

However, given the circumstances, I bet the rape kit was analyzed and I bet it did demonstrate evidence of a third party.

How can we be certain of this?

The following findings mentioned in the autopsy report are enough to create reasonable doubt that Elisa Lam climbed into that water tank herself.

A “sand like particulate attached to the fabric.” Are we supposed to assume that there is sand on the inside of the water tank? To me, this paints a picture of a girl pushed down on the floor of the roof where her clothes picked up the debris contained there.

Consider the following excerpt which explains that it’s not just sand found on the clothing, but also “small, flat, whitish and fragile flecks of unknown materials were on or throughout all the clothing, and several dark hairs or fibers at least several inches in length were noted on a couple of the garments.”

If dark hairs several inches in length (and by now we know that Elisa Lam’s hair was much longer than that) were found on her clothing even after being submerged in water for three weeks, then one can only imagine what might have been found inside her vaginal cavity or under her fingernails.

If you have any lingering doubts about this theory, just consider this:

Jason B. Tovar and Yulai Wang, the medical examiners who performed Lam’s autopsy, were clearly ambivalent regarding the cause of death. They had to check one box and it looks like they initially selected “Could Not Be Determined” and then changed it, as their final answer was the one which would be more convenient for the city.

This theory still creates more questions than it answers, and the person who had a direct hand in Elisa’s death and the tossing of her body into the water tank is still unknown.

Even so, Elisa Lam’s name needs to be cleared as the story of her life is forever entangled in the story of her death. And no fiber of my being believes that she willingly climbed into that water tank. There was definitively foul play at work, and the LAPD is likely aware of that, as are Detectives Tennelle and Detective Stearns. These detectives and the entire Los Angeles Police Department were not in a place to catch her killer or the person associated with her death, and instead of acknowledging that, they gave the public and Lam’s family the answer that was easiest for them, even if it was heinously inaccurate.


And for that Elisa, I am sorry.