Fashionably grand guignol
The body of Canadian college student Elisa Lam, also known by her Cantonese name Lam Ho Yi (born April 30, 1991), was recovered from a water tank atop the Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles on February 19, 2013. She had been reported missing at the beginning of the month. Maintenance workers at the hotel discovered the body when investigating complaints of problems with the water supply. Her disappearance had been widely reported; interest had increased five days prior to her body's discovery when the Los Angeles Police Department released a video of the last time she was known to have been seen on January 31st, the day of her disappearance, by an elevator security camera. In the footage Elisa is seen repeatedly exiting and entering the lift on the 14th floor, talking and gesturing in the hallway outside and then seeming to hide inside the car, which itself appears to be stalled. The video went viral on the Internet. Some viewers believed it was tampered with before being made public. Besides the obscuring of the timestamp, they claimed parts had been slowed down and nearly a minute of footage had been removed. This could have been done simply to protect the identity of someone who otherwise would be in the video but had nothing to do with the case, or to conceal evidence if Elisa's disappearance and death had been the result of a criminal act. Other explanations for her behavior ranged from claims of the paranormal (rumors persist she died as a result of the Elevator Game, a ritual with origins in Japan and Korea allegedly taking the player to another dimension) or demonic possession to mental illness. The circumstances of Elisa's death, once she was found, also raised questions, especially in light of the Cecil's history with other notable deaths. Her body was naked with most of her clothes and personal effects floating in the water near her. Her cell phone was never recovered. It took the Los Angeles County Coroner's office four months, after repeated delays, to release the autopsy report, which states no evidence of physical trauma and that the manner of death was accidental. Some of the early Internet interest noted what were considered to be uncanny similarities between Elisa's death and the 2005 horror film Dark Water (starring Jennifer Connelly as a divorcée named Dahlia whose daughter Cecilia has an imaginary playmate named Natasha that is actually the vengeful ghost of an abandoned girl who drowned in the water tank of the apartment complex where Dahlia and Cecilia recently moved). The case has since been referenced in international popular culture. Elisa, the daughter of emigrants from Hong Kong who opened a restaurant in Burnaby just outside Vancouver, attended the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, although she was not registered at the beginning of 2013. For her trip to California, she traveled alone on Amtrak and intercity buses. She visited the San Diego Zoo and posted photos taken there on social media. On January 26th Elisa arrived in Los Angeles and checked into the Cecil two days later. Elisa was initially assigned a shared room on the fifth floor - however, her roommates complained about what the hotel's lawyer would later describe as certain odd behavior and she was moved to a room of her own after two days. Elisa had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression. She had been prescribed four medications to treat her condition. According to her family, Elisa had no history of suicidal talk or attempts. She contacted her parents at home every day while traveling. On January 31st, the day before she was scheduled to check out of the Cecil and leave for Santa Cruz, they did not hear from her and called the Los Angeles Police Department and then flew to LA to help with the search. Hotel staff who saw her that day said she was alone. Outside the hotel Katie Orphan, manager of a nearby bookstore, was the only other person who recalled seeing Elisa that day. "She was outgoing, very lively, very friendly, while getting gifts to take home to her family. She was talking about whether or not what she was getting would be too heavy to carry around as she traveled," Orphan told CNN. Police searched the hotel to the extent that they legally could. They searched Elisa's room and had dogs go through the building, including the rooftop, but the canines were unsuccessful in detecting her scent. "But we didn't search every room," Sgt. Rudy Lopez said later "we could only do that if we had probable cause to believe a crime had been committed". On February 6th, a week after Elisa had last been seen, the LAPD decided more help was needed. Flyers with her image were posted in the neighborhood and online. It brought the case to the public's attention through the media. During the search for Elisa, guests at the hotel began complaining about low water pressure. Some later claimed their water was reddish black, and had a rancid smell and taste. On the morning of February 19th Elisa's body was found in one of four 1000-gallon rooftop cisterns providing water to the guest rooms, a kitchen, and a coffee shop. The tank was drained and cut open since its maintenance hatch was too small to accommodate equipment needed to remove her body, which was moderately decomposed and bloated. It was mostly greenish, with some marbling evident on the abdomen and skin separation evident. There was no evidence of physical trauma, sexual assault or suicide. On February 21st the LA Coroner's Office issued a finding of accidental drowning, with bipolar disorder as a significant factor. The full autopsy report, released in June, included toxicology tests – incomplete because not enough of her blood was preserved – showed traces consistent with prescription medication found among her belongings, plus the nonprescription drug ibuprofen. A small quantity of alcohol was present, but no other recreational drugs. The investigation had determined how Elisa died, but did not offer an explanation as to how she got into the tank in the first place. Doors and stairs that access the hotel's roof are locked, with only staff having the pass codes and keys, and any attempt to force them would supposedly have triggered an alarm. However, the hotel's fire escape could have allowed her to bypass those security measures if she (or someone who might have accompanied her there) had known. A video made after Elisa's death and posted to the Internet showed that the hotel's roof was easily accessible via the fire escape and that two of the lids of the tanks were open. Apart from the question of how she got on the roof, how she could have gotten into the tank by herself is unclear. All four are 4 by 8 foot cylinders propped up on concrete blocks, with no fixed ladder access to them. They are covered with heavy lids that would be difficult to replace from within. Police dogs did not find any trace of Elisa on the roof, although they had not searched the area near the tanks. The autopsy report and its conclusions have also been questioned. For instance, it does not say what the results of the rape and fingernail kits were, or even if they were processed. It also records subcutaneous pooling of blood in Elisa's anal area, which could indicate sexual activity; however one pathologist noted it could also have resulted from bloating in the course of the body's decomposition (her rectum was also prolapsed). In September her parents filed a wrongful death suit, claiming the hotel failed to inspect and seek out hazards in the building that presented an unreasonable risk of danger to Elisa and its other guests, and sought unspecified damages and burial costs. The hotel's attorney argued it could not have reasonably foreseen that Elisa Lam might have entered the water tanks, and that since it remained unknown how she got into one no liability could be assigned for failing to prevent that. In 2015, the suit was dismissed.
You will want to read Gone At Midnight: The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam by Jake Anderson (2020) for a complete accounting of all the macabre details in this case, how she revealed herself through social media postings and also about the influence of web- and crowd-sleuthing, the former best exemplified by John Lordan's YouTube true crime channel BRAINSCRATCH.
Let's add some Jungian synchronicity to the roux. The worst tuberculosis outbreak in LA in a decade occurred around the time of Elisa's death. It was particularly bad in Skid Row. The CDC estimated approximately 4500 people were exposed and sent medical staff to conduct examinations. The test for this particular strain of TB is called LAM-ELISA.
The Black Dahlia, before and after she was Glasgow grinned and hewn in twain by person(s) unknown.
The Cecil Hotel, located at 640 South Main Street in Downtown Los Angeles, was built in 1924 by William Banks Hanner as a destination for business travelers and tourists. Designed by Loy Lester Smith in the Beaux Arts style, the hotel cost one million dollars to complete and boasted an opulent marble lobby with stained glass windows, potted palms, and alabaster statuary. Hanner had invested confidently in the enterprise with the knowledge that several similar hotels had been well established elsewhere downtown (known then as the Wall Street of the West), but within five years of its opening the United States sank into the Great Depression. Although the hotel still flourished as a fashionable destination through the 1940s, the following decades saw the hotel decline as the nearby area became known as Skid Row and increasingly populated with transients. As many as 10000 homeless people lived within a four mile radius. By the 1950s the hotel had gained a reputation as a flophouse. The Cecil was rechristened Stay on Main in 2011, although still maintaining the original name signs and painted advertisements on its exterior. In 2014 the building was sold to NYC hotelier Richard Born for $30 million. Another New York based firm, Simon Baron Development, acquired a 99 year ground lease on the property. Company president Matt Baron said he was committed to preserving the architecturally and historically important components such as the hotel's grand lobby, but would completely redevelop the interior and replace the hodgepodge work that had been done in recent years. Besides renovating the guest rooms a rooftop pool, gymnasium and lounge were to be
The Night Stalker
Forest Lawn Memorial Park
Location: Area Tribute Heights Phase 2 Lot 8508 Crypt 2
Burnaby, Greater Vancouver Regional District, British Columbia Canada
The Austrian Ghoul
constructed, with work projected to be completed by 2021. In February 2017 the Los Angeles City Council voted to designate the Cecil a Historic Cultural Monument, being representative of an early 20th century American hotel and for its significance in the architect's oeuvre.
As the area around the Cecil began to decline, suicides and other violent deaths on the premises became more frequent. On November 19, 1931 Manhattan Beach resident W. K. Norton, 46, was found dead in his room after ingesting poison capsules. A week prior he had checked into the Cecil under the name James Willys from Chicago. Norton's death appears to be the earliest known suicide at the hotel. In September 1932 a maid found Benjamin Dodich, 25, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. He did not leave a suicide note. In late July 1934 former Army Medical Corps Sgt. Louis D. Borden, 53, was found dead in his room at the Cecil. He had slashed his throat with a razor. Borden left several notes, one of which cited poor health as the reason for his suicide. In March 1937 Grace E. Magro fell from a ninth-story window. Her fall was broken by telephone wires which were wrapped around her body. She later died at the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital. Police were unable to determine whether Magro's death was the result of an accident or suicide. In January 1938 United States Marine Corps fireman Roy Thompson, 35, jumped from Cecil's top floor and was found on the skylight of a neighboring building. He had been staying at the Cecil for several weeks. In May 1939 Navy officer Erwin C. Neblett, 39, was found dead in his room after swallowing poison. In January 1940 teacher Dorothy Sceiger, 45, took poison while staying at the Cecil and was reported by the Los Angeles Times to be near death. No further information was published about her condition. In September 1944 Dorothy Jean Purcell, 19, was sharing a room at the Cecil with her shoe salesman boyfriend Ben Levine, 38. Purcell, who had apparently been unaware that she was pregnant, went into labor. She later testified that she did not want to disturb the sleeping Levine, so she went to the bathroom and gave birth to a boy. Thinking the baby was dead, she threw him out of the window and he landed on the roof of an adjacent building. Purcell was charged with murder. Three alienists testified that she was mentally confused at the time of the incident. In January 1945 she was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Elizabeth Short, 23, dubbed by the press as the Black Dahlia, was spotted drinking at the Cecil's bar in the days before and on her notorious and to date unsolved brutal murder on January 15, 1947. That November Robert Smith, 35, died after jumping from one of Cecil's seventh floor windows. On October 22, 1954 San Francisco stationery firm employee Helen Gurnee, 55, jumped from the window of her seventh floor room and landed on top of Cecil's marquee. One week prior she had registered at the hotel under the name Margaret Brown. On February 11, 1962 Julia Frances Moore, 50, jumped from the window of her eighth floor room and landed in a second story interior light well. She did not leave a suicide note. Among her possessions were a bus ticket from St. Louis, 59 cents in change, and an Illinois bank book showing a balance of $1,800. On October 12, 1962 Pauline Otton, 27, jumped from the window of her ninth floor room after an argument with her estranged husband Dewey. He had left the room prior to Otton's suicide. She landed on a pedestrian named George Gianinni, 65, killing them both instantly. As there were no witnesses, police initially thought they committed suicide together. However, it was soon determined that Gianinni had his hands in his pockets at the time of his death. Had he been a jumper, this would have been highly unlikely. On June 4, 1964 a hotel worker discovered Georgina 'Pigeon Goldie' Osgood, a retired telephone operator, dead in her ransacked room. She had been raped, stabbed, choked with a rag and beaten. Osgood was well known around the area and had earned her nickname because she fed birds in nearby Pershing Square. Near her body was the Los Angeles Dodgers cap she always wore and a paper sack full of birdseed. Hours after her murder Jacques B. Ehlinger, 29, was seen walking through the park in bloodstained clothing. He was arrested and charged with Osgood's murder but was later cleared of the crime. The murder remains unsolved. On December 20, 1975 an unidentified woman, approximately 20 to 25 years old, jumped from her twelfth floor window onto the Cecil's second floor roof. She had registered at the hotel on December 16th under the name Alison Lowell and was staying in room 327. The Cecil was rumored to be the home of the infamous serial killer Richard Ramirez, nicknamed the Night Stalker. He had been a regular in Skid Row and according to a hotel clerk who claims to have spoken to him, stayed there for a few weeks during his killing spree in 1984 and 1985. Another homicidal maniac, Johann 'Jack' Unterweger a.k.a the Austrian Ghoul, while staying at the Cecil in 1991 strangled three local prostitutes to death with their own bras, picking up where he had left off in his native land. On September 1, 1992 a man was found dead in the alley behind the Cecil. Authorities believe the he either fell, jumped, or was pushed from the fifteenth floor. The decedent was five feet, nine inches tall and weighed around 185 pounds. He was wearing blue sweatpants and a black sweatshirt over a gray t-shirt. The Los Angeles County Coroner's Office placed his age between 20 to 30 years. His identity has never been established. On June 13, 2015 the body of another unknown man apparently in his late 20s was found outside the hotel. He may have committed suicide by jumping from the building, although a spokesman for the county coroner's office informed the Los Angeles Times that the cause of death had not been determined.