Lam had been already dead for about a month.
I. THE WOMAN IN THE ELEVATOR
Even if the name doesn’t sound readily familiar, you might have seen this video of her taken by a surveillance camera at the Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles:
It has been variously speculated that Lam was either mentally ill or “possessed by an evil spirit” during this bizarre tape. Given Lam’s Woolf quote (the author had committed suicide by drowning) and Lam’s own admission of depression on her blog, mental illness might seem like Occam’s razor explanation for her eventual fate…dead in a water tank at the top of the Cecil Hotel.
Then again, the possibility that “evil spirits” got the best of Lam is what has no doubt given her story “legs,” making it into an urban legend. And to make things just a bit creepier, the 2005 American horror film Dark Water (based on a 2002 Japanese movie) featured many plot elements close to the way Lam died…including a corpse of a dead girl found in a building’s water tank, and malfunctioning elevators, and names related to the Cecil Hotel.
The hotel was also the home-base of serial killers Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger, and the site of several past suicides (including one in which a passing pedestrian was struck and killed by a jumper). The building is so connected with creepy events, in fact, that supposedly “American Horror Story: Hotel” is loosely based on it and Lam. This might all explain why the Cecil Hotel was eventually renovated and renamed Stay on Main.
And just the circumstances under which Lam’s body was eventually found added to the morbid fascination with her death. She was submerged in that water tank for quite a while before found…the hotel guests drinking and bathing for days in discolored tap water tainted with her decomposing flesh.
So there you have it. Another creepy “dead girl” story, a story ready-made for horror movie producers and armchair psychoanalysts.
There are still a couple of things that bother me…
II. THE THINGS ABOUT THIS CASE THAT BOTHER ME
First: The official autopsy for Elisa Lam ruled her death an “accidental drowning” with bipolar disorder being a significant factor. So basically…the word is that Lam killed herself. This would fit in with her own words online about her mental health issues.
But drowning herself in such a fashion wouldn’t have been an easy task. The only access to the roof would have been 1) through stairways with key codes that only the hotel staff had or 2) climbing the fire-escape. Then she would have to get a ladder to climb up to the water tank and go through the trouble of removing all her clothes, dumping them into the tank along with her hotel key and watch. Then she supposedly jumped inside the tank and closed the lid behind her, essentially making her vanish off the face of the Earth (until the decomposition set in, obviously).
If Lam really wanted to kill herself, why not just drown in the bathtub of her hotel???
The water tank gambit seems, even for a person who might have been having a manic episode, like an awful lot of work.
Then there is the matter of her “crazy behavior” in the surveillance video. It turns out that the video that was seen in the media was played in a much slower speed than what actually happened, as well as being edited:
When played at normal speed, Lam’s behavior seems a bit different…no longer “possessed” and crazy, especially the arm gestures. What it looks like, frankly, is that she’s interacting with another person off-camera…almost as if a playful game of hide-and-seek.
Or, perhaps…maybe she did have a manic episode, hallucinated, etc. We don’t know.
But, crucially: watching the video in its correct speed robs it of the specific “creepy” factor that made it go viral in the first place. Had we all seen the video in its original format, the media and the online public might have reacted to this case far differently.
Question: did the creep/paranormal “factor” in how this case was handled by the media have at least a subconscious impact on how the case was investigated? And did her documented battle with mental illness online also have a impact on how thorough the investigation was? Was it just “easier” to rule it a suicide?
“…in the land of reality TV, a woman like Elisa Lam never had a chance. It happens all the time—pathology and personal tragedy are swapped for entertainment. Supersize vs. Superskinny, for example, where eating disorders are made two-dimensional for ratings. I Wanna Marry ‘Harry’, where loneliness (and stupidity) are paraded for hilarity. The Amityville Horror, a so-called “true story” which features a supernatural massacre and a house of evil (dum dum dum…)—the real back-story being, in fact, a traumatised child abuse victim who returned home to murder his parents in revenge for years of mistreatment. The list goes on. The problem with all of this is that there is more material online than can be counted about the case of Elisa Lam, but the real case of Elisa Lam—that is, that which goes beyond the medieval theories of demon possession or the Shakespearean dramas of sudden madness and drowning—remains elusive.”
So was the possibility that another person was involved in her demise not taken seriously enough?
Lam wrote a number of times on her blog and Tumblr about how she yearned to meet in real-life someone online through these platforms. In a post dated 11/24/11 she wrote:
“There is always the hope you run into someone IRL who has common sense and who isn’t a douche and is awesome as the people you come across on tumblr. Until then I am on the tumblr in my happy place. Maybe one day I will make a real human connection on tumblr and gasp meet in real life? I prefer avoiding reality and just lurking (no chance of being disappointed)”
Setting out on what she called her “West Coast Tour” at the start of 2013, away from loving-but-protective parents…did she finally get a chance to do just that? She asked her Tumblr audience several times for meet-ups during her visit to California. Did one finally happen in Los Angeles?
To me, it is a question that at least makes more sense than wondering if she was possessed by the devil (or killed by the Illuminati…but more on that later).
I actually had a far more detailed part of this post discussing my own meager research into Elisa Lam’s death, including inconsistencies that might point at murder than suicide. But going over the material again just now, I came to realize that even the inconsistencies I noted have inconsistencies. As the Daily Maverick piece points out…there seems to be more “info” on the death of Elisa Lam online than was probably even done in the investigation itself. And so I’ve decided to leave that part to far more obsessed online detectives than myself.
But what I do want to discuss here are some of the specific theories themselves:
III. THE “ILLUMINATI KILLED ELISA LAM” THEORY
Let’s just dive right into it. The crux of the “Illuminati Killed Elisa Lam” theory has to do with this creepy synchronicity:
Around the same timeframe as Lam’s disappearance, the CDC was conducting a mass tuberculosis test in the downtown Los Angeles area. The name of the test? (Wait for it…)
I’m not trying to make light of all this, but I mean…that’s pretty weird.
(Since my first version of this post, the Lam-Elisa entry on the CDC website has been scrubbed.)
So based on this coincidence and other factors, some people believe that Lam was somehow looped into a shadowy plot by the government or another organization, possibly for a biological warfare initiative connected to the TB test, or some sort of “ritual” killing. Those conspirators, the theory goes, knew that Lam had a reputation for being mentally unstable, and thus her death would likely be ruled a suicide.
(Now, that’s a pretty far-fetched theory…but you know what’s not that far-fetched? That somebody might have found out that Lam was particularly vulnerable and took advantage of that situation. And that’s because her life and struggles were laid out online for anyone to access.)
IV. THE MORBID FROM “DYNASTY OF DARKNESS” THEORY
Supposedly Morbid, founding member of the death metal band Dynasty of Darkness, had uploaded a video in 2012 showing him in the same room of the Cecil Hotel that Lam later stayed in. Then two weeks after Lam’s body was found, he uploaded a teaser for a new music video from his side project band Slitwrist called “Died in Pain”—which shows a woman being chased down and killed.
So of course, Internet Detectives put 2 & 2 together and people started accusing Morbid of killing Elisa Lam. Outrage! Even a Taiwanese news station ran the story of Morbid possibly being the killer.
In response, Morbid issued several statements denying his involvement in Lam’s death, including,
“This is ART. I am not a murderer. It’s impressive how people’s insanity can make them believe in so much stupid shit. But I guess this proves my video very effective.”
V. THE “RICKY” THEORY
I hesitate to give this one too much press, in that, as seen in the case of poor mister Morbid (and, well, a bunch of falsely accused people related to the Boston Marathon Bombing), Internet Detective-work can be a harsh and capricious mistress. That said, a blogger named “Angie” created a site called “Elisa Lam Exposed” in which she or he claims to have “cracked” the case of Elisa Lam with a “bombshell” find.
It concerns “Ricky” (not his real name), an apparent friend of Lam’s who was in the army and stationed in South Korea. Supposedly, if you study the social media accounts of Lam and Ricky (who this blogger
stalked researched), there are connections between the two that imply that not only might they have met up with each other while Lam was in Los Angeles, but that he might have even had access to her Facebook account and was posting upon it after she died.
The blogger claimed to be doing “12+ hours” of research on the case every day, has contacted witnesses for interviews, and even believed she was being targeted by someone unhappy about this renewed interest in the case:
“Something bizarre happened to me on my Instagram yesterday. It made me question myself…this blog… my research… It also really scared me. This, combined with a few other really weird coincidences since I began looking into this case, made me not want to leave my house yesterday. I want to dedicate a full blog post to the strange and very freaky things that have happened to me, in relation to this case, since I began looking into this.”
Was the webmaster of “Elisa Lam Exposed” onto something…or had she just fell down the Rabbit Hole?
We’ll never know, I guess…the website is no longer in service.
VI. THE HOAX THEORY
Because doubting every other tragic event is currently in vogue, why not have an “Elisa Lam’s death never happened” theory? Mark Kozelek—frontman of the folk-rock band Sun Kil Moon, who recorded several songs about Lam—apparently believes that the whole thing is a hoax.
Said Kozelek in a 2017 interview:
“…that story is a prank in my opinion. I was intrigued as Richard Ramirez stayed at the same hotel where this alleged person named Elisa Lam supposedly stayed. So during a trip to L.A. this past May, I spent the night at the hotel to get a vibe for the place. My feelings about the alleged case are captured in the album. After going down a little rabbit hole I’ve come to the conclusion that nobody died in the water tank. There’s no way to identify the girl on the elevator, as her face is pixelated. If I’m wrong and a girl named Elisa Lam died up there, it’s very sad and my heart goes out to her and her family.”
Well…at least he was open to the possibility that she did die & didn’t just accuse her parents of being “crisis actors” & dox them. So there’s that.
VII. SO WHAT *DID* HAPPEN TO ELISA LAM???
Anyway, as mentioned at the start of this post, Elisa Lam’s Tumblr continued to update for a full month after she died, with a few scattered posts throughout the rest of the year. This is seen by some Internet Detectives as somewhat sinister—did the theoretical killer, possibly with a cellphone she reported missing days before, make the updates?
But it would have been easy for Lam to just set up posts in her Tumblr queue. She spent the last few years of her life deriving comfort and camaraderie on Tumblr—sometimes castigating herself for spending too much time browsing her dashboard. It was only fitting that she continued to participate in the image-and-words stream beyond the grave; and indeed, her posts are still reblogged and commented on to this very day.
What happened to Elisa Lam? Did she commit suicide? Was she murdered? What really took place at that elevator? How do we explain all the eerie coincidences surrounding her death? Or are we looking way too hard for answers, willing to ascribe the most fantastic of motives to elements that Occam’s razor can so easily resolve?
Perhaps there are similarities between her death and the “Dark Water” movies because she herself had watched them at one point. Maybe, in some unfathomable, metaphysical way, she felt herself subconsciously “drawn” to visit that area of Los Angeles at that time specifically because of the TB tests being conducted that had her name—”like” being drawn to “like,” in the “quantum” sense.
Maybe her trip to LA was not what she had hoped it would be. Maybe she quietly dreaded the loss of independence returning to her parents. Maybe she met someone briefly there and it didn’t work out.
And maybe the Cecil Hotel did attract “bad vibes.” It was at the run-down part of town, and frequented by transients of all stripes. Maybe Elisa knew of its history and felt morbidly (sorry for the pun) drawn there. Or maybe, again, she subconsciously picked up on it; similar vibrations attracting each other, “like” attracting “like.” Coincidences meaningful only in terms of some sort of hidden, logical “science” that we haven’t fully cracked yet; a science devoid of demons, spirits, the mystic order of the Illuminati, and etc.
But all of this does not cancel out the possibility that in addition to Lam’s personal problems, in addition to the vague “bad vibes” generated by the infamous Cecil Hotel, in addition to whatever quantum shenanigans might have played their highly etherial part in her demise…she might have also been murdered.
And now, like the mysterious Karin Catherine Waldegrave, Lam is a part of the Internet Creepypasta…an “idea” known as “Elisa Lam” taking on a life of its own, to be endlessly speculated about, remixed, and reposted.
But that “idea” of Lam will never “be” her.