Strange things happen in the world. Sometimes, crimes occur with no explanation.

Closed room murders, mysterious disappearances. They captivate people’s attention.

The lack of any evidence is sometimes far more compelling than the evidence that does exist.

It leads to a lot of wild speculation and theories that speak to the detective in all of us.

And sometimes, there is an answer, hiding in plain sight, as crystal clear as water.

Elisa Lam’s case has led to inspirations in the media and a general dread from the public ever since she died.

She was found dead in a water tank above a Los Angeles hotel, days after passing, and she was only discovered because guests of the hotel were reporting that their water was black and had a bad smell… and taste.

Nearly eight years later and there is still no single answer as to how she did it.

MSPhotographic /

10 /10 The Cecil Hotel

The site of Elisa Lam’s last location and her death was the Cecil Hotel, which is near L.A.’s dangerous downtown Skid Row neighborhood.

She arrived at the hotel after visiting the San Diego Zoo. The hotel featured an old water tank on the roof from its 1920s design.

It had been updated since but still worked just fine. Lam checked into the hotel on January 26th. It had shared and solo rooms.

Despite traveling alone, Lam was given a shared space until her roommates’ complaints forced the hotel staff to assign her to a solo one instead.


9 /10 Vanishing

Elisa Lam’s initial checkout was meant to be January 31st, 2013. When that date came and went without her being seen, her parents immediately called.

She was supposed to leave for Santa Cruz to start the trip home and call her parents every day as part of the deal for her traveling alone.

Elisa’s parents called the LAPD and launched an immediate investigation, which took nearly a month to complete before they found her.

8 /10 The Elevator Ride

On February 1st, authorities analyzed video surveillance footage of the last sighting of Elisa Lam as she rode one of the hotel’s elevators.

It showed her in a red sweater, which she was seen wearing before. She acted erratically and nervously.

She pushed multiple floor buttons, looked down the hall repeatedly when the doors opened before retreating inside, and stuck to the back corner of the elevator for the whole ride.

Eventually, she got out, turned down the hall, and was never seen again. On February 15th, that footage was released to the public, and it erupted into a media storm.

7 /10 Theories

People began sifting through all the visual data they had for the smallest details possible. At that point, Elisa Lam was a missing person for two weeks with multiple accounts of zero eye witness.

She never left the hotel; no one talked to her, no one who was there remembered seeing her beyond that.

She disappeared even before she wound up on video. Some analysts said that her behavior was indicative of being chased.

Others suspected her mental conditions were acting up and escalated into a psychotic episode. Her parents revealed she never had any suicidal thoughts or tendencies before.

6 /10 Dark Water

During the search for Lam through the hotel interior and surrounding areas, guests started reporting strange things with their water.

Most of the building was supplied with water from the tank on the roof. There were rotten smells, and the water ran black at low pressure.

Before the hotel could dispatch its staff, the police chose to investigate. That was where they found her body.


5 /10 Left Murky

Despite the best efforts of the police, they did not conclude. The internet was never satisfied with the answers, either. Because her body had decayed so much, many reports were impossible.

Rape kits couldn’t be used, and any detection of drugs in her system would have been either digested or washed away by the time she was found.

All of those causes were officially ruled out, but even the police don’t have a clear picture of what could have happened. Her death remains a mystery to this day.


4 /10 Lam Ho Yi

Elisa was the daughter of immigrants from Hong Kong. She was given a Cantonese name at birth and her “wester” name, a practice common to many native Chinese and East Asian households.

She was a college student and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression.

She took medicines for her condition but was still haunted by episodes of breakdowns and mental fatigue, which caused her to drop some of her course load. Her trip was mostly for her benefit as a solo vacation.


3 /10 Ether Fields

Lam was very active on Blogspot with her first personal blog, which she titled Ether Fields. It was mostly a personal fashion blog, where she would post images of clothes and accessories, life matters, and inspirational quotes.

She later switched it to a Tumblr blog called Nouvelle-Nouveau, where she posted much of the same.

She carried one quite over from the old blog, by novels Chuck Palahniuk: “You’re always haunted by the idea you’re wasting your life.”


2 /10 Search With No Answers

Elisa Lam seemed to have died on the last day she was seen. After leaving the elevator, she wound up in the water tank.

There are conflicting reports as to how, exactly, that happened, which spurred more public outcry. The water tanks were too tall to climb in and had heavy lids.

The ways up were all locked, aside from the fire escape. She was never confirmed to have gone there completely alone. It was ruled as accidental, predicated on suicide, which she never showed signs of before.

1 /10 Life Imitating Art

There are many references to Lam’s mysterious death in popular culture that came after it was reported.

Some police drama shows and murder mysteries had episodes based on the gruesome event only months afterward. However, the two films have similar circumstances.

A 2002 Japanese horror film, based on a short story called Dark Water, and a 2005 American remake of the same name featured ghostly hauntings caused by a young girl killed in the water tower of an apartment or hotel.

It’s uncertain if Lam ever got such an idea from a film, or if it was even on purpose. The mysteries run deep and may remain submerged forever…

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