Hello there! We are back again with our second true crime file case, that you, our readers, chose in the poll that we posted on Twitter straight after the previous post. I’m (D) calling it our first true crime blogcast episode, you can catch up with our thoughts on The Commonwealth V Michelle Carter case here. So, todays post is the mysterious one of Elisa Lam from way back in 2013.
On the 19th of February, 2013, the body of Elisa Lam, a 21 year old student, was found in a water tank on the roof of the infamous Cecile Hotel, LA after she checked in on the 26th of January. The staff at The Cecile hotel only investigated the tanks after their patrons complained of rank, darkened water coming from their faucets, they were drinking this water! After a forensic autopsy, the cause of death was labelled as ‘accidental drowning.’ We are going to discuss today, the ins and outs of this cold case – because no one has any clue what actually happened before or after the death of Elisa. It’s all very interesting. So stay with us as we tell you what we think!
The Cecile Hotel
Let’s start at The Cecile Hotel – recently changed to the even catchier name ‘Stay On Main’. This haunting hotel was designed and built by William Banks Hanner. When it opened in 1927, Hanner thought it’d be filled with a rich and famous clientele but it became a meeting place for drug users, runaways and criminals, mainly due to its location close to Skid Row. After only being open a couple of years, in the 1930’s, six suicides had been reported – from residents drinking poison, to an ex army sergeant slicing his own throat open with a razor and more. It could be said that this hotel has some bad stuff running through its veins. One of the most famous historic cases where The Cecile Hotel was a suspected feature was that of the death of Elizabeth Short famously known as The Black Dahlia in January of 1947. Elizabeth was found dead in close proximity to the hotel cut in half with a ‘chelsea grin’, sliced from ear to ear. If you hadn’t gathered already, this place is not the place to be, from suicides to serial murderers taking up permanent residency at the hotel in the past – this is a place that should absolutely have a 1 star on Tripadvisor. If you’re planning a trip to LA, perhaps avoid. That would be our suggestion!
The crime scene
We need a visual right? These are some of the crime scene photos that can be found. The first picture is of the crime scene where Elisa’s body was found. The second being an image of Elisa Lam in the elevator and finally the front of the infamous hotel. So, are you ready to get into the nitty gritty of it all? Yes? Us too!
What are our thoughts?
D – This case forensically just leaves me feeling absolutely flabbergasted. I’m not even sure where I can start. So, Elisa’s body was found on the 13th of February after the stenchy water became noticed. The last time she was physically seen was from the elevator CCTV footage on the 31st. This is where I first make the ‘huh, what?’ confused face. Elisa was travelling, she must have had a check out date, if she hadn’t checked out WHY wasn’t she checked on? The date of her departure wasn’t released, what date was she paid up until, did she pay prior or was the amount due to be paid on day of check out – like a rolling type contract? I need answers!
A – I’m no crime expert, although I do work in the criminal justice system, but I do know a little. Enough to know that something just doesn’t add up here. It is common knowledge that water aids the rate of decomposition, depending on certain circumstances of course. Now, you’re telling me that body was in the water for 2 whole weeks before the guests started to notice? Hmmmm, okay!
D – Elisa was a 115lb petite female, the lid of the water tank was 20lbs in weight. To get into that tank, Elisa would have had to climb a ladder, lift the lid and get in. If that happened, and she purposely got in to the tank would it be on purpose? A suicidal mission? See what I mean about a boggled mind. When she was found, her clothes were found floating by the side of her body, yet no sexual assault indicators were present – although this has been questioned due to blood pooling in her rectum which can be a sign of assault BUT can also be a outcome of the decomposition stage. There were only metabolites for during a toxicological analysis of Elisa’s blood but no drugs or alcohol.
A – If it was suicide or accidental as many people suggest, then it seems odd that her clothes were found floating in the water next to her. Taking my clothes off would not be something that I would even begin to think about if I was planning to take my own life or if I fell in there accidentally. Another question I actually have is whether she was found with water in her lungs, as that would determine whether she had be alive when she entered the tank. As D says, they did not find drugs in her system but they did find metabolites but these were attributed to the prescription she was taking for her bipolar disorder, and a very minimal amount of alcohol.
D – It has been a difficult one, there hasn’t been any available autopsy evidence really that we could find. That being said, if there hadn’t been any presence of water in lungs I’m sure they would have deemed it suspicious. Not only has there been limited forensic evidence found in this case, but the lid of the water tank didn’t even provide fingerprints but even if they did, Elisa had been in the water for such a duration that taking fingerprints would have been pretty impossible. Then when it comes to any DNA analysis on a body, let alone one that’s been submerged in water for a period that could range up to 13 days. Below is a chart that shows the disintegration of biological evidence in a ‘normal’ death. Maybe if the body hadn’t been left in water, more viable evidence may have been uncovered. Who knows.
A – I don’t have a great deal to say on the forensic side that D hasn’t already said (she’s the expert here, not me!).
D – I’m so conflicted in my conclusion, it’s an utterly mind boggling case. That being said, I think that due to the behaviour of Elisa in the elevator I think that she was possibly having a break from reality and her death was just a tragedy. There were no defence wounds or signs to suggest fowl play, just a girl who sadly drowned at a hotel with a ghastly reputation.
A – This one is both cut and dry for me. There is clearly a lot of missing information and having that information would clear up a lot of uncertainties. However, given what we know, I feel that accidental death and suicide are the most unlikely cause of death in the Elisa Lam case. Someone was involved. As to who, how and to what extent, there’s no way I could even begin to theorise!
What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on the case!
Love A & D
Poll – Next crime file case?
In 1983, Diane Downs shot her three children and drove them to the hospital. One of her daughters was pronounced dead upon arrival, her other daughter suffered a stroke, and her son was paralyzed from the waist down. Diane claimed a “strange man” tried to steal her car and then shot at everyone. However, police later found her secret diary which “detailed her obsession with a married man who did not want kids.” This ultimately led to her arrest. She was sentenced to life in prison, plus 50 years.
Mary Bell was 10 years old when she committed her first murder by strangling a 4-year-old boy. Later that year, in 1968, she strangled a 3-year-old boy. This time she had an accomplice. Both of them carved their initials on the boy’s body and cut off his private parts. Bell was sent to prison for 12 years, and in 1980, at the age of 23, she was granted anonymity. She now has a daughter and lives in England under a new name.
The death of Hugues de la Plaza sent the residents of Hayes Valley in shock since it was the first in the quiet neighborhood. Hugues was a French citizen who worked and lived in San Francisco. Because of the confusing crime scene and possibly less than stellar investigations, the case was established as undetermined. As such, the police report tends to imply that, he committed suicide by stabbing himself to death.However, Melissa his girlfriend and his neighbors tend to disagree with the idea of suicide. Though the police used lack of commotion as an indicator of suicide, other evidence begs to differ. Why would a guy come home after a great night out with friends, cook dinner and then step outside to stab himself? Moreover, police claim that the door was locked from the inside when the body was found. However, it is obvious that he was locking the door, to keep intruders at bay. The murder weapon was also not found at the scene, which means that the victim, took the time to dispose of it after he stabbed himself. Over a decade later, the killer is still at large.
Another one possibly linked to The Cecile Hotel: The Black Dahlia aka Elizabeth Short. On the morning of January 15, 1947, Short’s naked body was found severed into two pieces in Los Angeles. Short’s severely mutilated body was completely severed at the waist and drained of blood, leaving her skin a pallid white. This case was never solved.