The curious case of Elisa Lam

On February 21st 2013, a maintenance worker responding to complaints by guests of the Cecil Hotel in East Los Angeles, discovered a decomposing body at the bottom of the hotel’s water tank. For 19 days hotel guests had bathed, brushed their teeth and drank of the water despite its “funny, sweet, disgusting taste.” The body dredged up from the rooftop water tank was identified as Elisa Lam, a 21 year old Canadian tourist on her way to Santa Cruz. Los Angeles robbery/homicide detectives are treating the still unsolved case as a murder.

After combing through hotel surveillance tapes, police uncovered an extremely disturbing video of Elisa taken from the night she died. One’s immediate response is to assume the young woman was either 1) being followed 2) on drugs (possibly bath salts) or 3) both.

The first impression one likely gets from watching the first minute or so of this video is that Elisa is hiding from someone. But this seemingly obvious explanation is complicated, perhaps undermined, by the remainder of the video, in which the woman’s behavior becomes increasingly bizarre. Strange gestures, erratic movements, waiting outside the elevator as though summoning something–none of these seem in keeping with the petrified terror one would experience if being stalked or followed.

Why go there? The skeptic asks. Answer…the Cecil Hotel has served as temporary home for no less than two serial killers: the legendary “Nightstalker” Richard Ramirez and Austrian Euro-ghoul Jack Unterweger.

In 1985, Ramirez paid $14 a night to stay on the 14th floor of the Cecil, where he killed 14 people. Six years later, Unterweger murdered several prostitutes while living at the Cecil.

The Cecil Hotel was also the scene of a 1962 suicide, in which 27 year-old Pauline Otten jumped out of her window and landed on a pedestrian, killing both. Two years later, Goldie Osgood, known by some as the Pershing Square Pigeon Lady, was found raped and strangled at the Cecil. It is also widely rumored that Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, patronized the seedy hotel and the bar next door shortly before her notorious disappearance in 1947.

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