From the very early days of Elisa Lam’s disappearance, the Cecil Hotel was as much of a main character as the woman who’d gone missing. Once Lam was found dead, many stories hinted — if not outright suggested — that the building itself played a role.

“Hotel with corpse in water tank has notorious past,” was the headline on a CNN.com color piece published along with the news story about the discovery of Lam’s body. “Since its construction in 1927, it’s been the focus of suicides, murders, mystery disappearances, and serial killers,” an Australian news site said of the hotel…


It started out as a routine missing persons case. But by the time the internet was done with her, Elisa Lam had become a macabre celebrity, a conspiracy magnet—and the inspiration for a TV series.

Look for the highlights and *footnotes

On January 27, 2013, 21-year-old Elisa Lam stepped off a train from San Diego in downtown Los Angeles, gathered her belongings, and walked to a hostel on Main Street. It was, like most every mid-winter day in LA, sunny and in the mid-60s, the kind of weather that makes people never want to leave. Under such conditions — when a warm, low-angle winter sun softens the entire landscape — it’s possible to not fully absorb the reality that this 54-block section of LA is one of the city’s most troubled districts.

Josh Dean

magazine writer. asker of questions. currently at work on a book about spies.

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