For 19 days, guests of LA’s Hotel Cecil showered in, brushed their teeth with, and drank corpse water. Prompted by complaints of low pressure and weird-tasting water, maintenance man Santiago Lopez went to the Cecil’s rooftop through an employees-only alarmed door to inspect the water tank. Its hatch was open. Inside was the decomposing naked body of Elisa Lam.
Her death was ruled accidental. There are only four ways to reach the roof of the hotel: three fire escapes and the one locked and alarmed rooftop door. She then would have had to climb up a ladder alongside the water tank and open the 20lb hatch. No clothes were found on the roof or in the tank, so sometime along this journey Elisa must have stripped before accidentally entering the water tank and drowning.
Elisa was a 21-year-old Chinese-Canadian tourist who had traveled alone from Vancouver to Los Angeles. She was taking Lamictal and Seroquel to manage her bipolar disorder and had been described as a lively, friendly girl. At the time, the seedy Hotel Cecil was trying to shake its century-long haunted reputation and was marketing itself as a “boutique hostel,” perfect for young travelers like Elisa. She had been bunking with strangers, but after three days of complaints from her roommates she was moved into a private room.
Her toxicology report indicates that she was taking her meds as prescribed and had no alcohol or drugs in her system. That report is hard to believe once you’ve seen the hotel’s elevator security footage of Elisa taken on the day of her disappearance. In the four-minute video, Elisa enters the elevator and immediately presses every button. She peeks into the hall and then hides herself in the far corner. She waits for a bit, but the doors don’t close. Then Elisa hops out of the elevator, does a box-step in the hallway, and carefully steps back in. She presses all the buttons again. After getting out a second time, she makes a series of gestures, stiffly extending her fingers and waving her arms around. She walks away. The doors close. The video’s youtube comments are full of amateur detectives and theories of demons, ghosts, the fourth dimension, and bad acid.
The Cecil has had a colorful 100-year history. Serial killers Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger both lived there. Some say it’s the last place the Black Dahlia was seen alive. At least nine people have committed suicide by jumping out onto Main Street below. It’s also been the site of stranglings, rapes, suicides by overdose, and even the occasional infanticide. When Elisa was still missing, one couple staying at Hotel Cecil reported the water from their sink coming out black and tasting bad, which they assumed was “normal for LA” (Angelino faucet water isn’t great, but not quiiiite corpse sludge). Somewhere along the way, some wise soul suggested a total rebranding.
If you’re ever in LA, there’s this great hotel called Stay On Main.