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 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.

  • The Circumstances Of Lam's Death Seem To Mirror The Film 'Dark Water'
    Photo: Dark Water / Buena Vista Pay Television

    The Circumstances Of Lam's Death Seem To Mirror The Film 'Dark Water'

    Lam’s death is eerily similar to the 2005 horror movie Dark Water, and some believe this is no coincidence. Web sleuths across the internet have claimed that Lam could have died at the hands of someone trying to imitate the film.

    Not only does Dark Water depict residents of an old, haunted building complaining of dark, foul-tasting water coming from their taps, but much like in Lam's case, the cause is a girl decomposing in the roof's water tank. If this connection weren’t strange enough, the film’s main characters are a mother named Dahlia and her daughter Cecilia, which people liken to the infamous Black Dahlia case and the Cecil Hotel.

    The movie also features elevator malfunctions, and young Cecilia can be seen talking to an "imaginary friend" in the elevator.

  • Conspiracy Theorists Claim That Lam Caused A Tuberculosis Outbreak On Skid Row
    Photo: Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel / Netflix

    Conspiracy Theorists Claim That Lam Caused A Tuberculosis Outbreak On Skid Row

    Days after Lam's body was discovered, a Tuberculosis outbreak ravaged Skid Row and even infected residents at the Cecil Hotel. Conspiracy theorists have pointed out that the TB test used in the area was the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, called the LAM-ELISA for short.

    Isoniazid is the most commonly used antibiotic for TB patients, and its side effects include confusion and abnormal behavior, which some have tried to link to Lam's conduct in the elevator tapes. Lam's toxicology screening didn’t find anything strange in her system, but many conspiracy theorists think the results were forged or somehow altered because of delays in the report's release.

    An even more outlandish theory posits that Lam was purposely infected with TB and sent into Skid Row to thin out the homeless population. According to the theory, she was then assassinated by the government. Conspiracy theorists pieced all of this together because Lam attended the University of British Columbia, which has a well-known TB research center.