Tuesday the body of a missing Canadian tourist ended up at the bottom of a water tank on the roof of downtown Cecil hotel, after guest complained of low water pressure. A maintenance worker at the 600-room discovered the body. The 21-year-old Elisa Lam has been missing for days.
For days, residents of the Cecil Hotel thought something was amiss. At least one said there was flooding in one of the fourth-floor rooms, while others complained about weak water pressure.
Lam traveled to California alone on Jan. 27 from Vancouver, British Columbia. Hotel employees last saw her on Jan. 31st, 2013.
“We’re not ruling out foul play,” said LAPD Sgt. Rudy Lopez, noting that the location of the remains “makes it suspicious.”
Investigators were trying to determine whether there was foul play in the woman’s death or “a very, very strange accident” occurred, police spokeswoman Officer Sara Faden said.
Police initially called her disappearance suspicious. Investigators are now considering the possibility of foul play because of the location where the body was found. It was unclear what water from the tanks was used for.
An autopsy could be performed as early as Thursday to determine the cause of death.
Los Angeles police investigators searched the roof of the Cecil with the aid of dogs when Lam was reported missing about three weeks ago. Lopez said he didn’t know if the tanks were examined.
“We did a very thorough search of the hotel,” he said. “But we didn’t search every room; we could only do that if we had probable cause” that a crime had been committed.
“The location of the water tanks is very small and configured in a very tight way so it’s a little more difficult to get the body out,” Faden said. The body was discovered at about 10 a.m., but officials spent much of the day struggling to remove it from the water tank.
Hotel surveillance footage showed Lam inside an elevator pushing buttons and at one point sticking her head out the doors and looking in both directions.
The hotel is located in downtown Los Angeles, which has long struggled against the creeping destitution of nearby Skid Row, where drug addiction and homelessness is rampant. At the time of Lam’s disappearance, police said it appeared suspicious.
The Cecil also became a magnet for criminal activity. Most notably it was the occasional home to infamous serial killers Jack Unterweger and Richard “Night Stalker” Ramirez. Even after a multimillion-dollar makeover in 2008, police said they frequently respond to the Cecil for calls relating to domestic abuse and narcotics.
In 2010, the hotel was the scene of a bizarre incident in which a Los Angeles city firefighter who had been honored as paramedic of the year said he was stabbed while responding to a distress call. But police found inconsistencies in the story and no assailant was ever located.
A call to the hotel seeking comment was not immediately returned. It was built in the 1920s and refurbished several years ago. Police said there have been reports of crime at the site.
A locked door that only employees have access to and a fire escape are the only ways to get to the roof. The door is equipped with an alarm system that notifies hotel personnel if someone is up there, Lopez said.
Lam was traveling to Santa Cruz, about 350 miles north of Los Angeles, and officials said she tended to use public transportation. She was in touch with her family daily until she disappeared