What Happened To Elisa Lam? A Timeline From Her Arrival In LA To The Official Verdict

Photo: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel, Netflix’s latest true crime documentary, involves the once inexplicable disappearance of college student Elisa Lam and a hotel so infamous for untimely deaths and counting notorious serial killers among its guests that it inspired American Horror Story.
The Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles is known to many as the city’s deadliest hotel, and in 2013, it became the backdrop of Lam’s disappearance. Four days after checking in, she vanished. There is no record of Lam checking out of the hotel. The only thing investigators had to go on was some unsettling security camera footage from one of the hotel elevators. Lam was acting strange. As if she was hiding from someone. 
This eerie clip sparked innumerable conspiracy theories from the plausible to the downright bizarre. The incident became a lasting cultural fixation in part for the strange security camera footage, but also because the case remained unexplained. Now, the four-part Netflix docuseries purports to uncover the truth.
Ahead, we’ve detailed the timeline of the events leading up to Lam’s disappearance and the ensuing investigation.

January 26, 2013: Lam travels to California

Lam was 21-years-old at the time and a college student at the University of British Columbia in Canada. According to a statement from the Los Angeles Police Department, she arrived in the city by Amtrak train from San Diego as part of a solo trip along the West Coast as a short getaway from her studies. Her intended final destination was Santa Cruz.

January 31, 2013: Lam moves hotel rooms

Three days into her stay at The Cecil, Lam was moved from a hostel-style, shared room to a private room on the same floor. In a statement given by hotel manager Amy Price found in court documents, Lam moved rooms after hotel guests sharing the room with her complained of “odd behavior.” This was also the last day she was reportedly seen alive by a hotel worker. Her parents, who said Lam called to check in every day during her trip, said this was the last day they heard from her.

Early February 2013: Lam was supposed to check out of the hotel

Publicly available documents do not list the exact day Lam was supposed to check out of the hotel, just that she had intended to check out sometime in early February. When she didn’t, and could not be found at the hotel, the police were notified. When Lam vanished, all of her possessions — including her wallet and I.D. — were still in her hotel room. Around this same time, her parents reported her missing, reports CNN. 

February 6, 2013: The LAPD releases details about Lam’s disappearance

Investigators release a statement with a brief physical description of Lam and any information they had about when and where she was last seen. In the press release, the LAPD said: “Her disappearance is suspicious and may suggest foul play.”

February 13, 2013: Police release surveillance camera video

Hoping that someone would recognize her, detectives released a four-minute video captured on February 1. In it, Lam enters the elevator and is seen pushing multiple buttons. She steps in and out of the elevator looking left and right as if looking for someone, and at one point, it appeared as though she was hiding in the corner. Toward the end of the video, Lam steps outside of the elevator and makes a series of strange movements with her hands before appearing to walk away. This clip has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on various YouTube channels by those captivated by the idea of figuring out what happened to her

February 19, 2013: Lam’s body is found inside a water tank on the hotel’s roof

After complaints from hotel guests of low water pressure, maintenance worker Santiago Lopez went to investigate the four water tanks on the roof and noticed that the hatch was open. While examining the top of the tanks, he discovered Lam’s body floating inside one of the cisterns. Los Angeles Police Sgt. Rudy Lopez said that detectives were treating the case as a suspicious death.

February 21, 2013: Investigators report Lam’s death as accidental

According to the autopsy report from the Los Angeles County Coroner, Lam’s body was found naked but ruled her death as accidental because examiners found no evidence of physical trauma. The circumstances of her death remain unknown, but many unofficially theorize that her death wasn’t accidental because of how restricted rooftop access is at The Cecil Hotel.
In the same statement given by Price, she said that there are only four ways to get on the roof. Three are fire escapes on the sides of the building and the fourth is through a locked rooftop door with an alarm that sets off when it's opened. Furthermore, accessing the four water tanks on the roof requires scaling a 10-foot ladder. To this day, no one knows exactly how Lam got onto the roof.

February 21, 2013: Investigators report Lam’s death as accidental

Lam’s toxicology report is released and its findings say that she exhibited no signs of drug or alcohol intoxication. 

September 2013: Lam’s parents sue The Cecil Hotel

David and Yinna Lam sued the hotel alleging negligence that led to the wrongful death of their daughter. The suit said that the hotel operators had an obligation to make the property safe for guests and “inspect and seek out hazards in the hotel that presented an unreasonable risk of danger to [Lam] and other hotel guests.”

December 14, 2015: The lawsuit is dismissed

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Howard Halm dismissed the Lams’ lawsuit against the hotel saying that their daughter’s death was unforeseeable because it took place in an area of the hotel where guests were not allowed.

February 9, 2021: Netflix Releases The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel

The docuseries attempts to close the book on Lam's death by exploring the most prominent conspiracy theories and the confirmed facts surrounding her death and disappearance.

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