Netflix has a new four-part series that I would recommend as a behavioral classic.
“The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel” centers on a rather infamous downtown Los Angeles hotel located in Skid Row. The hotel has long had the nickname “Hotel Death” and “Hotel Creepy.” Its sordid past spans nearly a century, with dozens dying while staying there either by suicide, murder or drug overdose.
I will give you my takeaways. If you don’t want spoilers, revisit this post after viewing it yourself.
The series builds up the suspense by only gradually giving up bread crumbs concerning the disappearance 21-year-old Canadian tourist Elisa Lam (aka Lam Ho Yi) at the remodeled Beaux Arts hotel on Feb. 1, 2013. She booked a stay at the hotel as part of a solo trip touring Southern California.
After an exhaustive search for Lam by police, she was ultimately found by hotel maintenance staff, floating dead and naked inside a rooftop water tower on Feb. 19, 2013, following complaints from guests about low water pressure and darkened water with a foul taste.
Police investigators reviewed days worth of security footage from the hotel and believe the last moments of Lam’s life were recorded by an elevator security camera (shown below). Hoping for clues as to her whereabouts, they released the strange footage to public, and it went viral on the Internet.
Important to note is that this scene took place on the top 14th floor at midnight on the morning of Feb. 1. At the end of the hall, there is a fire escape that gives roof access. Two of the lids of the water tanks were open.
There is a blurry rolling time stamp in the lower of the frame. Internet sleuthers noted that nearly a minute of footage had been discreetly edited out. 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.
Notice that she hits a whole series of floor buttons. The last one at the bottom holds the door open for two minutes. She hits this button twice during the her time in the vicinity of the elevator. Then she steps out of the elevator and does a little step jig, including waving her hands. It looks like she is counting. This is called psycho-motor agitation, something I observed in a manic friend first hand.
This is not especially paranoia but more being delusional and in a trance-like state, almost like conjuring an imaginary spirit. She almost seems to be humoring herself in a very odd way. If anybody reading is bipolar, feel free to share experiences that might offer clues.
Several theories evolved to explain her actions. One was that Lam was trying to get the elevator car to move in order to escape from someone who was pursuing her. Others suggested that she might be under the influence of ecstasy or some other party drug, but none was detected in her body.
However rather late in the search, it was revealed that Lam had bipolar disorder. Except for an anti-depressant, the only traces consistent with prescription medications were found in her autopsy toxicology.
She had been prescribed four medications — Wellbutrin, Lamictal, Seroquel and Effexor —to treat her disorders. According to her family, who supposedly kept her history of mental illness a secret, Lam had no history of suicidal ideations or attempts, although one report claimed she had previously gone missing for a brief period.
The autopsy only showed one of her daily meds in her system, the anti-depressant. Without taking the mood stabilizer and anti-psychotic drugs, this could actually increase the intensity of a manic episode.
Thus, the theory that she was having a psychotic episode also emerged. That is my theory as well. I don’t see this as foul play.
My best friend in my college and young adult days was bipolar/manic- depressive and acted much like Ms. Lam. He would skip his meds because, in my view, he liked his wild manic phases too much. Not taking meds can result in a rapid swing from depression to mania. There can be a fine line between mania and psychotic break.
Lam in her online blog wrote in the days before her death that she felt tired and depressed and hoped she could snap out of it enough to enjoy her travels. Unfortunately, it looks like she skipped or lowered her doses and swung hard to manic and then psychosis.
My buddy was hard to deal with and to help, and when manic was often out of control. Lam was alone in a strange city. He, like Lam, would engage in high risk, careless conduct. He could be hostile during psychosis. It was a very sad experience for all involved, although he lived to age 60 before committing suicide.
During periods of depression, the individual may experience crying and have a negative outlook on life. The risk of suicide is high. Over a period of 20 years, 6 percent of those with bipolar disorder died by suicide, while 30 to 40 percent engaged in self-harm.
After checking in to the Cecil on Jan. 28, Lam was initially assigned a shared room on the hotel’s fifth floor. However, her roommates complained of “certain odd behavior,” such as leaving odd statements on Post-It notes on girls’ bunks.
Lam was moved to a room of her own after two days. She was also spotted shouting incoherently in the lobby. Camera footage does not show her with companions in the hotel during her stay.
When Lam’s body was discovered floating in the water tank, most of her clothes and personal effects were floating in the water near her. She had her room keys but not her cell phone. The water was cool, and she may have removed her clothes because of hypothermia and to stay afloat better.
The autopsy report, indicated no evidence of physical trauma, sexual assault, or suicide. A very small quantity of alcohol (about 0.02 g%) was present, but no recreational drugs. The autopsy cited drowning as the cause of death.
The first photo below illustrates how Elisa made her way to the top of the tank.
The second photo is from her Instagram account and shows she had a proclivity to do excursions of building rooftops.
I also theorize that Elisa got caught up in the dark legends of her environment. This hotel has a dark history, a cast of strange characters abound and Skid Row is nearby. Was this life imitating art with a heavy dose of bipolar mania overlaid?
To me, she doesn’t really look all that frightened in the elevator video but rather like someone playing a hide and seek game with an imaginary person. Was crawling into the water tank part of her delusional manic game playing? On the night she was the roof, she would’ve had enough light to see with 81% moon illumination and clear skies.
The circumstances of Lam’s death have been compared to plot elements in the 2005 horror film “Dark Water.” Was Lam familiar with this movie?
In a 2005 American remake of an earlier Japanese film of the same name based on a 1996 short story by Koji Suzuki, a mother and daughter move into a rundown apartment building. A dysfunctional elevator and discolored water gushing from the building’s faucets eventually lead them to the building’s rooftop water tank, where they discover the body of a girl who had been reported missing from the building a year earlier.
“Dark Water” trailer
For extra spooky midnight atmosphere for a bipolar girl to deal with (or anyone for that matter), the Night Stalker Richard Ramirez resided on same 14th floor of the Cecil during his murder spree in 1985. After committing some of the most brutal murders ever, he would come back to the Cecil. In the middle of the night, he would be in the back alley covered in blood, taking off his clothing, the series explains. Many nights, he would strip down to his blood-stained underwear before entering the hotel barefoot and go up to his floor and into his room. Apparently people chalked it up to “life on Skid Row.”
Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger stayed in the Night Stalker’s old 14th floor room at the Cecil for a time in 1991 in a twisted homage to Ramirez. During that time, he posed as a journalist and killed at least three sex workers, all while taking advantage of his rapport with the police garnered during ride-alongs. Unterweger was later convicted of the murders and hanged himself in Austria.
Takeaway: A perfect storm of spooky, “Shining,” “Room 1408” psychosis scenery and mental state of mind increased the likelihood of harm for a bipolar individual.