Tuesday, June 11, 2019

What Happened to Elisa Lam? // Part Two

If you’ve stuck with me up to this point, awesome. You rock. And you should know that here’s where stuff gets a little weird. Not that it wasn’t weird before. Perhaps you are familiar with a movie called Dark Water. It features a mother named Cecilia (reminiscent of the Hotel Cecil) and her daughter, living in a seedy apartment building where various spooky events take place. The water runs black and tastes foul, and a body is later found in one of the water tanks. An elevator even malfunctions. “Wow,” you must be thinking, “someone was inspired by Elisa Lam!” Those were my thoughts, until I realized that Dark Water came out EIGHT YEARS BEFORE Elisa Lam was found dead in 2013. So maybe the better question would be, “Was someone inspired by Dark Water?” Or maybe it’s just that life imitates art.

If that wasn’t weird enough for you, here’s another strange coincidence. Around the time all this was happening, there was a TB outbreak in Los Angeles, and the particular TB test doctors were using was call the Lam-Elisa. While there are theories regarding this, they require more mental gymnastics than I am willing to go into, and regardless, no evidence of TB was found in Lam’s lungs.

There are a few more salient points of interest worth touching on before we get into a full-blown discussion: The Cecil Hotel, which at that point had already been renamed the Stay on Main Hotel in a desperate attempt to rebrand, was so notorious for suicides that it was known to LA residents as The Suicide.

When Lam’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hotel, it was dismissed. However, the coroner waffled on the cause of death, initially calling it an unknown death, and then calling it an accidental drowning. It took four months for the autopsy to be released. My question on this one, with my limited autopsical knowledge (totally a word), is whether it was possible to tell from the water—or lack there of—in her lungs, whether she had died inside the tank or outside.

Several people have been murdered at the Cecil Hotel. On top of that, Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker), and the Austrian serial killer, Jack Unterweger, were permanent residents there at separate times, leading some to believe that the hotel is haunted or cursed.

Additionally, it has been reported, though not verified, that the Cecil Hotel was one of the last places the Black Dahlia was seen alive.

Now let’s do some hypothesizing.

Operating under the assumption that this was a murder, let’s break down the details. Say she got on someone’s bad side, maybe one of the people in the hostel room who complained about her behavior, maybe one of the hotel staff, someone with ready access to all the rooms in the building. A hotel seems like a pretty decent place to kill someone, a convenient way to frame someone else.

Having never murdered anyone myself, I can only guess at this, but I’m of the persuasion that the first rule of killing someone is making sure you don’t get caught. The best way to do this is to hide the body where it will never be found (please don’t arrest me). Given her increasingly odd actions leading up to her death, if she was murdered, I’d say it was premeditated, and that she might have gotten the sense that someone had it in for her.

Again, this is all conjecture. Bear with me. So if you’re planning to kill someone, and you’re trying to think of how to hide the body, I’m going to throw out a wild guess and say the hotel water tank is maybe one of the worst places to choose. Fun fact: Bodies rot, and they rot faster in water. In case you didn’t know, rotting bodies smell really bad; it’s kind of hard to miss. If you’re putting a body in water that people will be drinking, someone is going to notice.

It doesn’t strike me as smart, or all that feasible, to haul a body up to the roof, either up fire escapes or past two alarmed doors, climb a ten-foot ladder, and then drop her into the water. Lam may have been a fairly small woman, but if you think any of what I have just described is easy, then you don’t understand the concept of dead weight. A climb like that could have been disastrous, if not fatal, for the murderer. Arguably, it would have also been conspicuous. There are easier, safer, and more obvious ways to dispose of a body, or so I’m told.

On the other hand, the coroner found that Lam had a prolapsed rectum, with bleeding, although he did say that this could have happened in the natural course of decomposition. While a rape kit was done on Lam’s body, it’s been reported that it was never processed, because they felt there was no reason to believe she had been murdered.

It’s hard to tell how much hotel management’s decisions reflect on their culpability in the entire case. Here’s what we do know. Guests were still allowed to check in, even on the day the body was found, and were required to sign a form waiving their rights to prosecute if they became ill from drinking the water. The hotel was only required to provide bottled water for drinking, and several residents claim they were never informed about the body. To top it off, those who had already paid for their rooms before Lam was found were told they would not receive a refund.

To me, it seems unlikely that she did this herself. It’s an easy, tidy explanation to say this was caused by drugs or mental illness. With labels like that on hand, we can look nightmares like this in the face, sound in the knowledge that they will never happen to us. But Elisa Lam was never just a case file. She was a bright young woman with a rich inner thought life. She lived with a mental disorder that many people struggle with—it was an illness, not a plot device. She can’t speak up for herself now, but we owe it to her not to immediately assume that she was just another druggie or crazy person. If the evidence leads to these conclusions, then fine, at least there will be answers, but we need to at least look.

And even though murder is also an unlikely theory, that’s the one I tend to lean toward. Is it possible that someone killed her and kept her in their room until after the police had searched the place, before depositing her in the water? I can make conjectures all night, but really, the question that I keep coming back to is that, if she wasn’t murdered, and she wasn’t high, and she wasn’t off her meds, what really happened to Elisa Lam?

1 comment:

  1. This is a really strange case. I haven't heard of it, but what made you take interest? Also I do believe she wasn't in that water for three weeks because a body in water can poison it. You'll get very sick. It's like eating rotten meat water.