Murder, Suicide, or Something More Diabolical?

 Was it mental illness or demonic possession that eventually killed Elisa Lam?


You may have watched the YouTube footage featuring Elisa Lam, also known by her Cantonese name, Lam Ho Yi, a young woman who is caught on an elevator surveillance camera acting bizarrely in a Los Angeles hotel.

The footage has millions of views since it was first posted in 2013.  21-year old Lam, a Canadian resident, went missing on January 31st of that year.  Her disappearance had been widely reported and worldwide interest increased five days before her body was found.  Los Angeles police then released the video footage of the last time Lam had been seen on February 14th.


In the footage, Lam is seen entering, exiting, and re-entering the elevator at the Cecil Hotel in downtown L.A. and exhibiting strange behavior. Built in 1927, the hotel was once a great place to lay your head but, as time passed, became home to the transient population, and unsettling events that defied explanation.

The hotel had become home to Richard Ramirez, better known as “The Night Stalker.” He lived there from 1984 to 1985, during which he was actively murdering. Ramirez was a self-professed Satanist and was convicted of killing thirteen people in 1989.

It was also rumored that so many people had jumped to their deaths from the hotel’s roof that owners of the adjacent parking lot sued the hotel.

Another serial killer, Jack Unterweger, also stayed at The Cecil and murdered three women while living there. An Austrian native, Unterweger had already murdered several prostitutes in his home country before traveling to the U.S. By the time police caught on, he was on the run. He was eventually arrested in Miami and sent back to Austria, where he hanged himself in his prison cell.

In 1964, Goldie Osgood, known as the “Pigeon Lady of Pershing Square,” was raped and murdered in her room, an event that has never been solved.

The Cecil hotel was also, according to local legend, one of the last places Elizabeth Short, better known as The Black Dahlia, was seen alive. It was also rumored that so many people had jumped to their deaths from the hotel’s roof that owners of the adjacent parking lot sued the hotel. One such suicide killed a pedestrian passing in front of the hotel.

A patron of the hotel had also claimed to have photographed a ghost in the hotel’s hallway.  Novelist Steve Erickson, when writing about the goings-on of the hotel, once said, “The Cecil will reveal to you whatever it is you’re a fugitive from.”

Since the incident, the hotel was renamed “Stay on Main” in an attempt to avoid negative notoriety.

Elisa Lam was a tourist from the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby and was a student at the University of British Columbia. She had planned a sightseeing trip to California, her death interrupting those plans. She was initially assigned a shared room on the hotel’s fifth floor, but was moved after two days after her roommates complained about what the hotel’s lawyer would later describe as “certain odd behavior.” She had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and clinical depression. Yet they didn’t explain her behavior in the elevator.

Earlier in the day of January 31st, Lam had visited a local bookstore where the store owner described her as “…outgoing, very lively, very friendly.” She had been shopping for gifts to send home to her family. Since her disappearance and the later discovery of her waterlogged, naked body in the hotel’s rooftop water tank, thousands of theories have arisen and the video went viral.  One of those theories was that Lam had become possessed while staying at the hotel. There are similarities between her actions and evidence from other cases of demonic possession. Some claim the video was doctored to cover up the hotel’s role in the case.

In the video, as Lam first enters the elevator, there is a discernable mist hovering in the air around her.  One theorist went so far as to superimpose the face of Richard Ramirez into the mist, adding an additional creep factor.

It is also supposed that Lam heard voices that told her to go to the top floor, coincidentally the same floor that Ramirez had occupied during his murder spree. Still others have claimed that the video footage had been “doctored” to make it look as if she was insane and that a second person had been edited out of the video.

In one frame, it appears that her feet face in opposite directions, and later, she makes indecipherable hand motions before she moves off-screen.  It wasn’t until hotel guests began complaining about the taste of the hotel water that her body was found.

It was later learned by those mystified by the case that Lam had planned to visit all the shooting locations from the movie “Drive,” starring her favorite actor, Ryan Gosling. Coincidentally, one theorist compared her behavior to the movie “Dark Water,” starring Jennifer Connelly, who experiences paranormal events while living in an infamous apartment building on the east coast.  Connelly’s character, Dahlia, and her daughter Cecilia, move into the building, but only after daughter Cecilia finds a “Hello Kitty” backpack on the roof near the water tanks.  A much stranger coincidence is that the movie was filmed in 2005, a full eight years before Lam’s death, yet with startling similarities and foreshadowing.

Had Lam experienced the sudden onset of psychosis, which might explain her behavior? There was no evidence of foul play, so many postulate that Lam had indeed been possessed by an evil spirit, which often comes with inhuman strength, the only way a diminutive young woman could have climbed the outside of the tank (there was no fixed access), lifted the incredibly heavy metal cover, and managed to squeeze herself through the opening, where she drowned.  The clothes she’d been wearing were floating in the water alongside her. Police declined to speculate as to how she was able to get into the tank.

As recently as this year, there has been no further information or evidence in Lam’s case.  Authorities at first claimed her death was “Accidental,” but later recanted and called the cause of her death “Undetermined.” Many questions remain, and it’s possible we’ll never know exactly what happened.  Lam’s death inspired several horror films to date, including Hungry Ghost Ritual, made in Hong Kong, and The Bringing, a film under development stateside by Sony Pictures Entertainment.


1 Comment

  1. Jim

    March 30, 2017 at 8:29 am

    Check out this weird coincidence in the case –

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