Cecil Hotel Employee Explains How He Found The Body Of Elisa Lam


In new court documents, the Cecil Hotel employee who found the body of Elisa Lam in a water tank on the hotel's roof in 2013 discussed how he ended up investigating the water tank, and what it would take for someone to get into the tank by themselves.

Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old tourist from Vancouver, was traveling down the West Coast in late 2013 via train and bus, checking into the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles on January 26. She went missing on January 31, and her family reported her as such shortly thereafter. Her body was found on February 19 in one of the hotel's water tanks after guests started complaining about low water pressure and a strange taste and smell to the tap water. It was unclear how Lam had gotten into the tank, and a surveillance video surfaced that showed Lam making bizarre hand gestures in the elevator the night she disappeared. Ultimately, authorities ruled her death an accidental drowning, saying that bipolar disorder contributed to her behavior and death that night. The details of how Lam got into the tank are not entirely understood, something lawyers for the hotel are now arguing as they push to dismiss a wrongful death suit filed against the hotel by Lam's parents.

In court documents, Santiago Lopez said he had begun working at the Cecil Hotel in 2010 as a maintenance employee, City News Service reports. He said that he only knew who Elisa Lam was because police had begun searching for her after her family reported her missing, and that he aided officers by opening the doors of various rooms in the hotel as they conducted their investigation. He was also the one who would eventually find Lam's body in one of the four 1,000-gallon water tanks on the hotel's roof. Guests were complaining about the low water pressure, so Lopez said he took the elevator to the 15th floor and took a staircase up to the roof. He had to first turn off the rooftop alarm, then had to climb up onto the platform where the four tanks sat. Then, he had to climb another ladder to get to the top of the main tank.

"I noticed the hatch to the main water tank was open and looked inside and saw an Asian woman lying face-up in the water approximately twelve inches from the top of the tank," he said.

Police had checked the roof during their investigation, but did not think to look in the tanks. Lopez said that he didn't notice anything wrong with the alarm on the door to the roof that day, nor had he heard it go off at any point during Lam's stay.

He said that to the best of his knowledge, no other hotel guests have ever been able to access the water tanks.

Pedro Tovar, the Cecil's chief engineer, noted that there are four ways to get onto the roof. Three fire escapes which you can get to via interior doors, and one staircase from the 14th floor. An alarm will sound if someone attempts to open the door to the roof if it is not deactivated first, something that typically only hotel employees would be able to do. If the alarm sounds, it is audible to the front desk, as well as the 14th and 15th floors.

Assuming one could get onto the roof undetected, Tovar said that you would first have to climb up to the platform the tanks sit on, then squeeze between them and other plumbing equipment. There, you'd find another ladder, which you could use to climb onto one of the four cisterns. Each has a heavy, metal lid, which you'd need to be able to open before you could get inside.

David and Yinna Lam, Lam's parents, filed a wrongful death suit against the Cecil Hotel in September of 2013. The hotel's lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the suit, saying that the hotel had no reason to think that someone would reasonably be able to get into one of their water tanks. They're also arguing something that many Internet detectives fascinated with the case have been arguing since it happened: that still, no one really knows for sure how Lam ended up in the tank.

The Lams' attorneys say that the hotel had a duty to "inspect and seek out hazards in the hotel that presented an unreasonable risk of danger to [Lam] and other hotel guests."

The dismissal motion will be presented in court next on December 14.

The Cecil Hotel, which was built in the 1920s and has 600 rooms, has since rebranded as Stay on Main. In addition to Lam's death, the hotel has been plagued with unfortunate occurrences for years. It was home to serial killer Richard "The Nightstalker" Ramirez at one point, as well as Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger. Because of the Cecil's dark past, the upcoming season of American Horror Story is, in part, based on the Cecil Hotel.