Theories That Might Explain What Happened To Elisa Lam

The death of Elisa Lam continues to mystify the public with its strange circumstances and unanswered questions. The 21-year-old student was traveling the West Coast alone and staying at the infamous Cecil Hotel when she went missing in 2013. An initial search of the hotel turned up nothing, save for elevator footage of Lam behaving erratically and seemingly speaking to someone off-screen.

About three weeks after Lam's disappearance, hotel guests began complaining of discolored, foul-tasting water, as well as low water pressure. Soon after, Lam's body was found in one of the rooftop water tanks. Her death was eventually ruled an accidental drowning, but some are still skeptical.

While plenty of websites and forums are filled with Elisa Lam theories, no single explanation ties up all the loose ends. Here are some of the most widespread theories surrounding Elisa Lam's death.


  • Some Believe Elisa Lam Took Her Own Life

    Elisa Lam shared in her Tumblr blog, Nouvelle-Nouveau, that she had bipolar disorder, and she used this blog to document her inner turmoil. Some have claimed that her writing's dark subject matter may have hinted at a desire to harm herself. 

    While staying at the Cecil Hotel, Lam seemingly experienced some sort of manic episode and began leaving angry notes for her roommates, who complained to hotel management. Lam was given a private room the same day she disappeared. She was also escorted out of a television taping earlier that day due to strange behavior. Hotel staff even recall Lam shouting in the lobby, "I'm crazy, but so is LA!"

    While some suggest that Lam's mental state factored into her death, police found no compelling evidence to suggest that she took her own life.

  • Lam's Death Was Officially Ruled An Accidental Drowning
    Video: YouTube

    Lam's Death Was Officially Ruled An Accidental Drowning

    Following an autopsy of Lam's body, her death was officially ruled an accidental drowning. The medical examiner determined that Lam likely climbed into the water tank and was unable to get back out. In an attempt to stay afloat, she probably removed her clothing, which was found at the bottom of the tank.

    While this explanation is perfectly rational - and official - some have speculated online that the medical examiner's report was tampered with in some sort of cover up. Skeptics point to an initial police statement indicating that the tank’s hatch was closed while Lam was inside. This would indicate a second person was present, as Lam could not have closed the hatch herself from inside the tank. However, Netflix's Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel later confirmed that the hatch was still open, meaning Lam could have climbed in without help.

  • Lam Could Have Been Having Problems With Her Medication Or Other Substances

    According to toxicology reports from the coroner's office, the only drugs found in Lam’s system were her regular prescription medications for bipolar disorder. However, some web sleuths have speculated that in the elevator footage, Lam looks as though she was under the influence of something that would cause hallucinations.

    They also point to her being found in the water tank as a sign of drug use. Self-described "body language experts" concluded that her odd behavior on the security camera footage mimics that of someone using narcotics. These same experts also felt Lam was not afraid of whomever she was talking to off-camera due to her somewhat playful demeanor.

    All that said, the toxicology report only showed her prescription medication, although the levels were much lower than what she was prescribed. Experts have theorized that under-medication could have contributed to Lam's behavior.

  • A Fellow Guest Could Have Been The Culprit
    Photo: Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel / Netflix

    A Fellow Guest Could Have Been The Culprit

    One of Lam's blog posts referenced a "creeper" at the Cecil Hotel she was hoping to avoid. Because of this post and the Cecil's reputation, some speculate that a fellow guest was responsible for Lam's death. Web sleuths even claimed that death metal musician Morbid was the culprit. While Morbid did stay at the Cecil Hotel, it was not at the same time as Lam.

    Those who believe the "creeper" theory also point out that Lam was found naked and her phone was missing; however, Lam's autopsy report shows no signs of trauma indicative of assault. Any abnormalities were likely due to decomposition after being in the water for three weeks.

  • Some Allege That A Hotel Employee Killed Lam
    Photo: Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel / Netflix

    Some Allege That A Hotel Employee Killed Lam

    There’s no conclusive evidence that Lam was murdered, but this hasn't stopped skeptics from questioning her cause of death. Over the past century, the Cecil Hotel has attracted a number of criminals, and some web sleuths wonder if a killer could have been on staff when Lam died.

    If such a person existed, they would have known that Lam was traveling alone and would have had access to her room. They also would have been able to bypass the alarm system that would have gone off when the door to the roof was opened. A staff member would have also known where all of the security cameras were located and possibly could have tampered with footage.

    Regarding Lam's excessive button pushing, self-defense experts recommend doing so when being attacked in an elevator.

  • Some Have Tried To Tie Lam's Death To The Cecil's Sordid History

    One reason Lam's death garnered so much attention was the Cecil Hotel's history of murderous guests. Throughout its checkered past, the Cecil gained a reputation as a place to commit a multitude of dark deeds.

    Amidst all the conjecture and speculation, it is true that at least two serial killers stayed at the Cecil Hotel: Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, lived at the hotel in 1985 while he terrorized the city of Los Angeles; writer-turned-serial killer Jack Unterweger also stayed at the Cecil in 1991 and murdered three sex workers on the premises.

    The proposed link between these figures and Lam is unclear, but this ambiguity hasn't stopped theorists from drawing connections between Lam and the hotel's dark past.