Alright, everybody. Did you get off on the right floor? Do you see a red cross in the distance? If so, jump back on the elevator and sort out your dimensions. Then, go pour yourself a nice big glass of water, maybe brush your teeth, and we’ll put a ribbon on this sucker. As always we’ll begin with the Wet Blanket Revue (probably the most depressing edition yet, which is saying something) and then rinse our mouths out with some final craziness in the Venusian Conclusion.
THE WET BLANKET REVUE: ELISA LAM
I’ve mentioned that the weird coincidences surrounding this case are what really interest me in the whole business, but of course there’s really no reasonable explanation for those, mainly because it’s not really a question that’s open for logical discussion. Those of us who believe in this kind of thing can really only say “WTF?!” whereas a sceptic would argue that the coincidences are just that— coincidences. To a very straightforward person, the only weird thing about coincidences is that they’re statistically unlikely— but not even that unlikely. Really, when you gauge any event, even one like this, by looking at the number of potential coincidences compared to actual coincidences, there will always be probably millions of non-coincidences for every coincidence. So the squarest of the square out there can easily write off this aspect of the case entirely.
That leaves us with the more prosaic questions, particularly those dealing with what was going on with Elisa on that final night. Of these questions, most can be boiled down to two major issues: what was going on with the elevator? And how did Elisa wind up in the tank?
The LAPD report said nothing at all about the elevator, making no attempt to explain why it was functioning so strangely. This is probably because, as anybody with a close familiarity with any elevator will tell you, elevators are cranky idiot rope-boxes and the fact that they function correctly at all is often surprising in itself. Elisa jumped on that elevator and promptly pushed just about every single button, from the look of things. That in itself is more than enough to muddle the poor idiot brain of just about any elevator. The unfortunate, stupid machinery reacted just as you’d expect, by freaking out and failing to operate correctly. Probably the reason more people don’t report getting transported to an alternate dimension playing that Korean elevator game is that if you were to actually try it you’d probably get stuck between floors or get your head cut off like this Texas doctor.
As for getting into the tank, while it is true that the door to the roof was closed, locked, and alarmed, guests at the Cecil have reported that there are no such locks or alarms barring the way to the fire escapes, which go right to the roof, and which are apparently a fairly regular spot to hang out while staying at the hotel (which is, I presume, a violation of some kind of fire code, but whatever.) Once on the roof, Elisa could have probably gotten the tank open (even presuming it was locked to begin with, which it may not have been) and gotten herself into the tank, if that was her aim. In fact it seems pretty unlikely that anybody else could have gotten her in there, either by force or if she were unconscious, since the only way up is by a ladder.
And a pretty scary ladder, at that.
But why? This brings us to the issue of Elisa’s bipolar disorder, which is listed on her autopsy report under “other conditions contributing but not related to the immediate cause of death.” It is not unheard of for those who suffer from bipolar to commit suicide, either in a depressive state or (less often) in a manic state, which is what Elisa appears to be exhibiting in the elevator video. The issue of Elisa’s diagnosis is a tricky one which can easily veer into the disrespectful. Many investigators, for instance, have made a lot of the fact that Elisa’s parents initially refused to acknowledge that she had this disorder. For some, this was a sign of another apparent smokescreen by the authorities, an attempt to pin Elisa’s death on a fictitious diagnosis.
This argument can’t really be sustained. Even a casual browse through Elisa’s text posts on her various blogs will turn up several mentions of her disorder, about which she was quite candid. The question of why her parents didn’t acknowledge it directly has led to some vaguely uncomfortable suggestions that Chinese people, as a rule, don’t like to disclose medical details, preferring to keep any medical issues (particularly mental disorders) under wraps. This strikes me as a bit too broad a claim to make about an extremely huge group of people. But at the end of the day, it’s not anybody’s business. Medical details are private, and (unless it’s contagious / infectious) people aren’t required either to disclose those details or to explain why they won’t disclose them. That’s why I don’t need to ever tell anybody about my vestigial tail. DAMMIT!
Ultimately, if (as seems likely, if we’re going to be extremely by-the-books about this) Elisa’s bipolar disorder contributed somehow to her death, it is in fact verging on offensive that so many outlandish theories have arisen to explain the situation. To claim that Elisa was murdered by a government plot or zapped by aliens or slaughtered by a ghost is, in effect, to suggest that dying from a covert assassination or an ET or a deathless wight is somehow more likely than losing one’s life as the result of a mental illness, which is something that literally happens to people every fucking day.
That’s not to say that we can’t have some fun digging around in the Fortean aspects of all of this, but we have to remember that the real world counterpart to all of these shenanigans is something quite serious, and at the end of the day we need to recognize that Elisa had a real disorder which was, by any sane and sober analysis, much bigger and more real and more difficult for her than any of this weird crap we’ve been browsing through here. The last thing we want to do is to make the crass suggestion that she didn’t (and, by extension, others don’t) need to struggle with this very real challenge.
THE VENUSIAN CONCLUSION: ELISA LAM
Man, that was a bit of a downer, hey? Let’s get away from the official answer a bit and discuss some other options. Of all the alternate theories, the one that strikes me as actually being the most likely is the idea that Elisa was murdered, probably by someone on the hotel staff. To elaborate on this idea, I’d have to dig up some names of people on the Cecil’s staff and start accusing them of murder all willy-nilly, something which I could absolutely do, but it’d be a dick move and it’d probably also be in violation of some kind of libel law or something. So let’s ride that elevator back to Dimension Weird (remembering that we are, in this section, specifically going after nonsense theories which are very unlikely) and discuss one of the oddest possible conclusions that some have jumped to. What was wrong with the elevator? Nothing! How did Elisa get in the tank? She didn’t! Then what happened to her? Where is she now? NOWHERE! And why not? SHE NEVER ACTUALLY EXISTED!
Yep, despite the fact that Elisa had a Facebook account, two blogs, an instagram account, student records at UBC, and a passport, not to mention a grieving family, some people have made the bizarre assertion that there never was an Elisa Lam and this entire thing is an elaborate exercise in smoke and mirrors. Among these is a Reddit user who explained in the creepiest, most personal possible manner that Elisa is a figment of an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a water tank, far less real than the real person he is speaking to and the real details of their real life which he had just dug up, strictly as an object lesson, mind.
Why thank you for the kind lesson in internet privacy, SCARY AS HELL STRANGER
This knucklehead, who at one point referred to Elisa as “the Chinese Liberal Arts student equivalent of Obama in this regard [of being a fake person]” cites as further evidence the fact that the toxicology showed no drugs in her system (it’s physically impossible to jump in a water tank unless you’re high) and that the police never released to the public the forensic photos of Elisa Lam’s bloated, decaying body, so that we could all gawk at them on Reddit. Nor did they publically disseminate the video of the fire crew draining the tank through a hole in the bottom and pulling Elisa’s corpse out of it. Why wouldn’t they show us that? Is it because they have a basic sense of general fucking human dignity? Or is it because the tank was empty and this whole foolhardy charade was cocked up at great expense for no other reason than to antagonize the internet? YOU TELL ME, BUDDY!!
Of course, none of the above does anything to explain the Dark Water connection or the LAM-ELISA tests. As a result, I can come to only one conclusion on my own, a kind of synthesis of a few of the theories we’ve looked at. Elisa Lam was a time-travelling prankster, who planned her own ‘death’ and then interceded at certain points earlier in the timeline in order to mess with our heads. She was some kind of production assistant on Dark Water and she had some kind of hand in the naming of the LAM-ELISA tests. This all happened ‘after’ her life as a normal young person, during which she enjoyed blogging, but later she somehow invented time travel and decided to use her newfound powers to cause a big stir on the internet instead of killing Hitler or knocking Donald Drumpf down a staircase or anything difficult like that. Frankly, I’d probably do the same thing.
Ultimately Elisa Lam’s death is a kind of litmus test, that reveals more about the person asking the questions than it does about her tragic fate. How does a person react when confronted with the unknown? Do we assume underhanded government tomfoolery, or ghosts, or demons, or synchronicity? Do we rush to the biblical, or turn to folklore and urban legends? Or are we the kind of balanced, ethical folk who consider all the options and face the depressing reality that is the (probable) truth? There’s room for all of us in this world, even if many of us are nutjobs.
There are a lot of angles to this case, so please look through the below and do a little research of your own. It’s deeper than you might expect (that’s one last pun for the road, I’m so sorry.) Until next time.
This article from Vice sums up the story rather more thoughtfully than I have.
Here’s an article from Daily Maverick that delves into the issue of Elisa Lam’s bipolar disorder and the problematic aspects of pinning it on ghouls and goblins.
This insane person floated the invisible-soldier angle and the biblical-prophecy angle.
This article from Plexus provides a lot of really good detail to the whole case, including links to the official autopsy report and a chronology of events put forward by the LAPD.
This article from LA magazine, the work of a writer who spent a night there after Elisa’s death, documents the history of the hotel and what it’s like today.