Can you imagine your daughter suddenly disappearing, reporting this to the police the next day, and only finding her rotting body three weeks later? This is the tragic story of Elisa Lam and her family, who nine years later still can’t find justice for their daughter. Alisa’s mom was a Chinese Canadian student who was visiting Los Angeles when something odd happened to her inside the Cecil Hotel. To this day, the police reports remain ambivalent, and it is still unclear how Alisa died and who killed her. It’s a tragic story that deserves to be further explored.
That being said, let’s dive in. Elisa Lam was an only child and a quiet girl who was interested in fashion and literature. Her parents had come from Hong Kong, but she was born in Vancouver, Canada. Her parents opened up an Asian restaurant in Vancouver, then helped to keep up the popular Chinese restaurant Paul’s. As a teenager, Elisa was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression.
Bipolar disorder manifests itself as depression, alternating with moments of abnormally elevated mood called mania. She had a long list of prescription meds she had to take, but she lived a peaceful life with her family, and she was never violent, nor did she attempt to take her own life. In 20 10, 19-year-old Elisa started recording her struggles with mental illness alongside pictures of models. She had a blog named Ether Fields on Blogspot, and she kept it running for two years. One of her entries just said I spent about two days in bed hating myself.
Many of Elisa’s entries revolved around her depression. She was critical of herself for not running for overeating and for making excuses to do so. In a January 2012 blog post, Alisa wrote that relapse at the start of the current school term forced her to drop several classes, leaving her feeling so utterly directionless and lost. She titled her post You’re Always Haunted by the idea you’re wasting your life. After a quotation from the novelist, Chuck Palah knew it.
Alisa also used that disturbing quote as an epigraph for her blog. She worried that her transcript would look suspicious with so many withdrawals and that it would result in her being unable to continue her studies and attend graduate school. A little over two years after Alyssa had started blogging, she announced that she would be abandoning her blog for another she had started, this time on Tumblr called Novel Noovo. Its content mostly consisted of fashion photos, quotes, and a few posts. In Elisa’s own words, she used the same quote as an epigraph, but we must remember Alyssa as a human, not a diagnosis.
She was a smart girl who studied at the University of British Columbia and who had dreams of her future. Tragically, none of these dreams happened. In January 2013, she went traveling to the States, and her family never saw her again.
On December 21, 2012, Alyssa wrote about her plans to travel to Los Angeles and visit a school in Santa Clara where she wanted to get transferred. She even posted her itinerary on Tumblr and called out to any people who wanted to meet while she was on the road. On January 9, 2013, Alyssa posted that she had created a new Facebook page for the fifth time because of paranoia. She added that this is the start of her depression and that she feels very low. On January 22, Alyssa arrived in San Diego via Amtrak and inner-city buses after getting lost in an airport and missing her flight.
Throughout the following days, Alyssa visited the San Diego Zoo and posted pictures she’d taken there on her Tumblr. She also wrote a post saying, now and then I do something entirely impulsive and reckless like telling a guy I just met, I like him. On January 26, Alyssa arrived in La on the first night she wrote on her Tumblr that she went out with some friends to a speakeasy. On the 28th, she checked into the Cecil Hotel. Rebranded as Stay on Maine.
The Cecil Hotel was affordable in downtown La, which has a huge homelessness problem. While some floors were for visitors like Alyssa, others were for short or long-term accommodation for people who lived in this skid row area. Before Alyssa’s tragedy, the hotel already had a bad reputation. It was a place with a history of suicides, overdoses, and a place where several high-profile serial killers had stayed. It was even the inspiration for American Horror Story Hotel, which starred Lady Gaga as a vampire living in a penthouse.
Alyssa first checked into a shared room, but two days later her roommates complained about her odd behavior and the hotel manager had moved her to the fifth floor, a room she would have all to herself. On February 1, Alyssa was supposed to check out of the Cecil and head to Santa Cruz for the last leg of her journey, but Alyssa never checked out. Something horrible happened to her, and the full reality of it is still unknown.
When Alyssa left Canada, her parents established a rule that they would speak on the phone every day. Although she lost her phone once, Alyssa did speak to them every day until February 1. That day, Mr. And Mrs. Lam flew to La and filed a missing person’s report with the LAPD.
The police looked for hundreds of clues throughout the next few days, but they were grasping at straws. The last person who saw Alyssa was Katie Orphan, a bookstore manager who described Alyssa as very lively, very friendly as she was buying gifts for back home, the police searched all the rooms they could search. As Sergeant Rudy Lopez explained, they could only search a room if they had probable cause to believe a crime had been committed. After desperately searching for clues and finding nothing, LAPD went public on February 6 and invited everyone to be on the lookout for Alyssa as well. As come forward with any useful information.
Another dreadful week followed, with Alyssa’s parents getting more worried every minute and with the police getting desperate for results. On February 14, the police found a huge breakthrough in the case. A really strange security camera footage from the Cecil Hotel elevator. The video immediately got worldwide attention on the Chinese platform. Yuku.
It got 3 million views and 400 comments in just ten days. Many people found it too unsettling to watch. To the end, the footage shows Alyssa in a very agitated state, going in and out of a seemingly broken elevator. Was she having a bipolar episode? Had she forgotten to take her meds?
Was she running away from someone? The police were at a loss as to how this footage could connect to her disappearance, but they knew something was off. However, it wasn’t until February 19 that they could close the case.
It was February 19, and a hotel worker was notified of strange-smelling water and low-pressure faucets. So he went to the hotel rooftop and checked the water tanks. Inside was the floating, naked body of Alyssa Long. On the 21st, the coroner released a report saying that Alyssa drowned by accident and that this was mostly because of her bipolar disorder. However, by now, the case had gained worldwide attention and many people were not pleased with the coroner’s report, simply not believing that Alyssa had drowned by accident in a huge water tank on top of the hotel.
First of all, Sisil’s hotel guests didn’t have access to the hotel’s rooftop. The doors and stairs that access the hotel’s roof are locked, with only staff having the passcodes and keys, and any attempts to force them open would have triggered an alarm. So unless someone took Alyssa to the rooftop, she couldn’t have gotten there herself. And if someone did show her the way, it means she did not drown accidentally. Then there’s the issue of the CCTV elevator footage, which fueled hundreds, if not thousands of discussions on the internet.
Apart from the very disturbing sight of Alyssa talking to herself and being very agitated, many of the video’s viewers argued that a whole minute is missing from the footage, which means someone must have tampered with it to hide evidence. However, as the resolution is very low, it is impossible to prove if the minute is missing or not. Then there were claims that someone purposefully pixelated Alyssa’s mouth in the footage so that they could hide something she was saying. But then again, these claims were never addressed by the police. Then came the claims of supernatural forces possessing Alyssa’s body.
But to make these claims is to ignore Cecil Hotel’s horrifying history. In 1985, serial killer Richard Ramirez stayed at the Cecil Hotel and took the lives of 13 women. In 1991, Jack Unterwegger was arrested as a homicide suspect. Also inside the Sicile hotel, there were numerous cases of guests taking their own lives in the hotel rooms, too many of these people being from skid row who had given up on their hopes and dreams. The most frustrating part is probably that even though Cecil Hotel has a long history of death and murder, none of it can be linked to Alyssa.
To uncover the mystery of her death as drowning by herself in a water tank on a rooftop she didn’t have access to sounds pretty implausible. A theory that ran amongst most of the people following her case was as follows. Alyssa was followed by a stalker through the hotel, murdered, then dragged to the rooftop so that her killer could dispose of the body in a place where no one would look at the water tank. Throughout her old Tumblr post, Alyssa expressed her fear that her outspoken nature would get her into trouble. Writing My mouth will be my downfall and it will get me into trouble.
Once she wrote, I’m going out tonight, I hope no creeper comes near me. It would thus seem likely that Alyssa got into a fight with someone at the hotel and they decided to come after her most horribly. However, there is a lot of evidence against a murder theory. First of all, there were no signs of struggle or harm on Alyssa’s body. Second of all, none of her objects were missing, so there was no attempted robbery.