How the Conspiracy Theories About Elisa Lam Spiraled Out of Control
After weeks — and eventually months — passed following the death of Elisa Lam, the online conversation spread out of the comment threads on crime boards and began to sprout up elsewhere.
The story’s curious nature, magnified by the web, got the attention of writers for numerous websites that focus on the paranormal: Punchnel’s, Conspiracy Club, The Ghost Diaries and more. Not surprisingly, most chose to focus on the most salacious and tenuous aspects of the case.
Further dissemination of the story’s worst elements only fueled the cranks and crackpots who add nothing to the conversation, but whose suggestions — often tethered to some partial fact by the most gossamer filament — somehow persuaded others.
The sub-Reddit “conspiro” is one magnet for such people. There, you’ll find threads devoted to the “Elisa Lam/Raytheon connection,” as well as government mind control experiments — the idea that someone or something (possibly relating to the Masons) took over Lam’s mind, compelling her to climb to the roof and get into the tank.
You’ll find repeated references to something called the “Invisible Light Agency” (ILA) in Elisa Lam conspiracy threads. Sample quote: “It’s meant to be a top-secret program about cloaking soldiers.” According to these people, Google Maps — at least for a while — listed a company by that name as based at the Cecil Hotel, and this company, according to theorists, was at work on cloaking technology. (I know.) A real person whose name I won’t drag into this was reported to have worked for ILA, before moving on to an actual military contractor, Raytheon. Users linked to his actual LinkedIn profile, which mentions Raytheon, but not ILA. (Because, you know, it’s secret!)
That’s just the beginning, however.
“I think the more plausible theory is that she was possessed by some supernatural energy,” said one poster on Reddit. “This would explain her behavior on the elevator which appeared as if she was having hallucinations, like something might be controlling her mind and body, and also explains how her fingers become misshapen as she waves them frantically. It seems as if she is looking at something that isn’t there, talking to something or someone not there. She tries to hide, goes in and out of the elevator and then leaves.”
I was consistently surprised by the volume of discussion about the possibility of supernatural involvement in Lam’s case, but at least that idea is undergirded by religion. Much of the validation for the cloaking and mind control theorizing, on the other hand, can be traced back to a single Tweet that Elisa Lam sent on January 13, shortly before embarking on her vacation.
Then, there was the idea that this was a sinister case of life imitating art — a notion focused specifically around the uncanny similarities between Lam’s death and the movie Dark Water, a Japanese horror film remade by Hollywood in 2005. The movie’s plot centers on Dahlia, a woman who moves into an old apartment building with her young daughter, Cecilia, only to discover that the building is haunted. The ghost manifests itself in a malfunctioning elevator, and in dark water that drips from the faucets, bath, and ceiling. When the building’s inept handyman is unable to stop the leak, Dahlia tries to fix it herself, and ends up on the building’s roof, where she sees the same dark liquid leaking from a water tank. When she opens it up, the body of a missing girl is floating inside.
The overlaps with Elisa Lam’s story — the plot, the character names, the details — are so strange. It’s easy to see how they capture the right mind, one that’s open enough to unusual possibilities.
The name Dahlia, of course, calls to mind Black Dahlia, another young woman traveling through LA who was found dead and subsequently became the subject of furious speculation. And Cecilia, well — delete the last two letters and read what remains. Weird, right? You can find any number of dissections of this connection online. Here’s a representative example, which lays out man other “coincidences”, some flimsier than others (for instance, that the Japanese original had an Asian cast and Elisa was also Asian.) Proceed at your own risk.
It’s easy to get sucked down the rabbit-holes of these silly theories and off-base investigations, and to lose sight of the fact that this isn’t entertainment. This is the death of a real human we’re talking about, and it’s surprisingly easy for amateurs pecking at keyboards to share thoughts that have real-world impact.
At one point, an actual resident of the Cecil, alleged to be a registered sex offender, was named as a person of interest in a popular forum, complete with links to his identity. He was never an actual suspect.
The lowest point, however, came when a brief witch-hunt broke out over a death metal singer who calls himself Morbid.
Morbid is the stage name of Pablo Camilo, a native of Mexico, and the singer and guitarist of the band Dynasty of Darkness — an objectively terrible metal band that also includes guys who call themselves Hellhammer, Pzy-Clone, and Attila Csihar. He had, around the time of the furor over Lam’s case, also started a side project known as Slitwrist.
Suspicion around Camilo seems to stem from a video that Morbid uploaded to his YouTube channel, since deleted, in which he pretends to shoot people on the street below from his room at the Cecil, a hotel he admits he likes and stayed at whenever he was in LA.
That video was posted more than a year before Lam’s death, but someone out there found it, as well as a teaser video for Slitwrist’s first single. The song is called “Died in Pain,” and in the video a young girl is chased down and apparently killed. It appeared a few days after Lam’s death, at pretty much exactly the worst time possible time, when thousands of people were combing the Internet for clues.
Overnight, Morbid became a “suspect” of amateur sleuths and was attacked in various places, including on Facebook, and on the Chinese website, Baidu.
Lest you think that a handful of people hurling unfounded accusations at a marginally well-known musician who plays in bands with stupid names is harmless, consider that the rumors spread far and fast enough to become news in China, where Morbid’s name was reported as a suspect in the China Daily, which suggested that Lam may have had “a crush” on the musician, as well as on the evening news in Taiwan.
Camilo was forced to issue a series of statements, in which he managed to assert his innocence while still coming across as a callous asshole who couldn’t bother to learn and correctly spell the name of girl he was accused of killing.
“Well apparently some strange coincidences are making people believe that I murdered a girl named Elise Ham,” he wrote. “Last year I posted a video while chilling at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. Apparently some time after I was there someone killed a girl in that same place. I posted this music video preview of my band Slitwrist where a girl appears to be dead, and now people are playing Detective and trying to tie me into the murder case…This is ART. I am not a murderer. It’s impressive how people’s insanity can make them believe in so much stupid shit. But I guess this proves my video very effective. \m/”