Twenty-one year old Elisa Lam decided to take a break from college. She wanted to take a trip, out of Canada and down into the United States to see California. Her trip involved stops in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Santa Cruz.

Embarking on her trip in January of 2013, Elisa visited San Diego and then went to Los Angeles where she had booked a three day stay in the notorious Cecil Hotel, at that time known as the Stay on Main Street.

She shared a room with two roommates, but was moved after reports of ‘odd behavior.’ Having maintained contact with her family every day, they grew worried when on January 31st, she failed to call and they couldn’t reach her. Elisa was reported missing, and a fervent search began.

When no trace of Elisa could be found, police released surveillance footage from an elevator at the Cecil showing Elisa behaving erratically. The video sparked a wide array of theories, and a heated debate about whether Elisa was hiding from someone, or perhaps, on drugs.

Nearly three weeks after she vanished, Elisa’s body was discovered inside one of the water tanks on top of the hotel. Guests had complained of foul tasting, discolored water. How Elisa ended up in the water tank and whether or not foul play was involved has sparked controversy ever since.

What led to Elisa’s death? Theories abound including government cover-ups, an urban legend about an elevator game and rumors of a cursed hotel possessing her. Was it purely an accident, as the autopsy report would state? Did Elisa’s mental illness contribute to her death? Did someone murder the young woman and get away with it?

Join our friend Steven Pacheco in the 39th episode of Trace Evidence Podcast, as he navigates the baffling twists and turns of one of the most confusing and captivating true crime cases ever, examining the haunting question: What happened to Elisa Lam?

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