I Stayed In The Cecil Hotel Before Elisa Lam’s Body Was Discovered In The Water Tank

One of the most bizarre stories I’ve ever heard is the still unsolved death of Elisa Lam. She was a 21-year-old student from Vancouver that was found dead inside a water tank on top of the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.

Elisa Lam’s body was discovered on February 19, 2013, after she had been reported missing a month earlier.

cecil hotel elisa lam death, i stayed in the cecil hotel before elisa lam's body was discovered in the water tank, weird news
The only reason she was discovered is because guests had complained that the water was coming out black and had a bad taste to it.

A few days before her body was discovered the police released a bizarre security camera video of Lam in the hotel’s elevator. Here it is:


Her behavior is certainly unusual, but many blamed it on her bipolar disorder, which might explain why she seems so paranoid and appears to be hiding from someone or something. But the discovery of her body raised many more questions that, as of now, still can’t be answered.

There was nothing shown in her toxicology report that would explain her behavior. There was also no sign of trauma to suggest that she was murdered. So how is it possible that she got into the water tank? The roof isn’t accessible to guests and if the roof door is opened, an alarm sounds that alerts the front desk as well as multiple floors of the hotel. And even if she did somehow get onto the roof, how did she get inside the tank? The hatch is huge, so she would have had to open it up, climb inside, then pull down the massive hatch with her inside.

The hotel certainly has a disturbing background. Serial killers Jack Unterwegar and Richard Ramirez both lived there at one point, which is never great for your brand. It’s also one of the last places where the Black Dahlia was spotted and multiple guests committed suicide by jumping out of their room’s windows. It was even the inspiration for the hotel season of “American Horror Story.” The hotel has since been refurbished and rebranded as the Stay on Main.

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In 2012, a few months before Elisa Lam checked in, I spent four days at the Cecil Hotel. It was actually my first trip to Los Angeles and I was going with my friend Matt, who had also never been. We were clearly unfamiliar with the layout of the city and assumed downtown would be a good, central location. Obviously, that was a mistake.

The hotel was one of the most eerie places I’ve ever been in my life. It’s located right around the corner from Skid Row, so it certainly doesn’t evoke a safe or secure feeling when walking up. The rooms still used actual keys and the whole place felt more like a haunted house than a working hotel.

Our room was outdated and seemed like no one had done anything more than make the bed for years. There was a TV, but no cable or even local channels. It was just static.

cecil hotel elisa lam death, i stayed in the cecil hotel before elisa lam's body was discovered in the water tank, weird news
cecil hotel elisa lam death, i stayed in the cecil hotel before elisa lam's body was discovered in the water tank, weird news
The elevator shook and was slow to open or close, as evident in the security footage of Elisa Lam, so we mostly took the stairs. All of those things were bad, but absolutely nothing compared to the bathroom. I’ve seriously never seen a hotel bathroom like it before.

Instead of having an actual tub or shower separate from the rest of the bathroom, there was nothing more than a showerhead coming out of the wall that sprayed all over the room. You could actually sit on the toilet and get soaked by the showerhead. The drain was in the corner, so after someone took a shower, no one else could use the bathroom until it had time to dry.

By the second night the drain had clogged and there was at least an inch of standing, stagnant water permanently on the bathroom floor.

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We called the front desk to tell them there was a problem, and they said they were aware of it and as soon as they could remedy it they would. Shockingly, they never fixed it. That meant you couldn’t even brush your teeth, let alone take a shower. Since we were leaving the next day we decided just to suffer through it.


It’s no surprise whatsoever that the hotel was attractive to murderers and tragedies. Given the location and the very clear indication that no one was putting any effort into it anymore meant that complaints would go unnoticed and even the most troubling or bizarre behavior wouldn’t draw attention.

It’s a very good thing the hotel was renovated. With such a lack of attention, there’s very little doubt that more crime and issues would have come from within the walls of the Cecil Hotel. Maybe if more care and effort were put into running the place, Elisa Lam wouldn’t have ended up in their water tank. We’ll never know for sure.