Deposition Sheds Light on Elisa Lam Case, Inspiration for AHS

LA Detective Wallace Tennelle weighs in.


One of the most mystifying and unsettling unsolved crimes in recent years is the case of Elisa Lam in 2013; the Canadian college student disappeared from the Cecil Hotel near LA’s “Skid Row” before being found, almost a week later, in a water tank on the roof.  The release of hotel security footage, showing Lam in an agitated state while using the elevator, has been the source of endless speculations, including supernatural theories.  The fact that The Cecil already had a somewhat notorious history made Lam’s case especially captivating, and the story has been cited as inspiration for the current season of American Horror Story (Hotel).


The most gruesome aspect of the case has to do with circumstances surrounding the discovery of Lam’s body in the water tank.  A maintenance worker was investigating low water pressure when he found the deceased Canadian floating (face-up) about a foot beneath the surface.  In the days leading up to Lam’s recovery, Cecil guests had complained about water that was either discolored, tasted “funny”, or smelled bad.

Last September, David and Yinna Lam, Elisa’s parents, filed a lawsuit against the Cecil Hotel claiming that management and staff had not done enough to limit guests’ access to the roof, therefore contributing to the student’s demise.  In response, lawyers for The Cecil submitted the deposition of LA Detective Wallace Tennelle.  Considering Tennelle has over 35 years of experience, I think his theory should carry significant weight:

“My opinion is that she fell off her medication, and in her state, she happened to find her way onto the roof, got into the tank of water.  At the time, I think that water tank was maybe full. But as people used the tank, used water, unknown to her, the level was dropping to a point where she could no longer reach out and escape, and she died that way.”

Separating Fact from Fiction

Many of the most compelling “facts” in the Elisa Lam case are actually untrue (or only half true).  While the security footage from the elevator is certainly disturbing, it’s impossible to gleam any useful information from its contents.  Let’s take a moment to examine the situation with a mind towards separating truth from fiction.

  • The Elevator Video: While it appears that Lam is conversing and/or hiding from an unseen person or persons (or entity), she had recently gone off medication she took to manage symptoms of bipolar depression. Going off her meds can definitely explain this unusual behavior.
  • Roof Access: Cecil staff has attested that all stairways that access the roof were locked at the time of Lam’s disappearance; if Lam had gone on the roof, they argue, alarms would have sounded. While this may be true, the roof of the Cecil could also be accessed by one of 3 fire-escapes.
  • The Water Tank: It has been reported that the water tank Lam’s body was discovered in was locked from the outside, meaning she could not have entered it on her own. This is simply false.  While the lid of the water tank was somewhat heavy, there is no lock—never was.  It has also been stated that Lam was not tall enough to climb onto the tank by herself; not true.

When details of a crime are nebulous, it’s natural for our minds to fill in the blanks; there’s a compulsion that drives us to find explanations for things that perplex us.  While the number of unanswered questions surrounding the case of Elisa Lam make speculation almost impossible to avoid, we must never forget that Lam was a real person—and her family is still mourning her loss.  Keep this in mind whenever “real life events” are used as the basis for fictional entertainment.

Source: Huffington Post.

Have you been intrigued by the story of Elisa Lam and the Cecil Hotel?  What is it about the case that you find so compelling?  Sound off in the Comments section!

Follow me on Twitter @josh_millican for quality horror articles worthy of your attention.




3 Comments on this post.

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  • Professor P. Rick
    3 November 2015 at 7:53 am - Reply

    There is no mystery here. Never was. It’s simply just a matter of the media at large taking advantage of the hotels rather ghoulish reputation. I’ve seen people acting the way Ms Lam does in the cctv footage and it’s simply down to mental illness.

  • J4EL
    29 March 2017 at 1:24 am - Reply

    Here are just a few reasons to question this case’s official ruling:

    The elevator footage released to the media and public

    1/ Why was the timecode scrambled?
    2/ Why was the video slowed down? This has been proven by superimposing actual real-time timecode against the released video’s scrambled timecode
    3/ Why include the lengthy latter part of the video after she leaves the picture?

    4/ If she “found her way onto the roof”, then why not show the surveillance camera footage showing this? There are cameras pointing to the fire escapes and the stairs going to the rooftop access (the one with the alarmed door). This footage would be proof that she went up there alone. Instead, a doctored video was released, very conveniently painting the picture that she went on a solo psychotic episode.

    5/ There are countless accounts of foul play originating in that hotel. It’s criminal-ridden. Shady characters actually live there.

    6/ There are also countless accounts from social media and hotel reviews of former hotel guests, of being stalked, messed with (noises, knocks on their door but no one with there), even watched in the bathroom, by unknown individuals

    7/ Why was the autopsy report changed from “unknown” to “accidental”?

    8/ Supposedly, Elisa was acting strange according to roommates in her initial room, which is why she was put in her own room. Where is their deposition? Was this verified information or a story made up to match the “she was acting crazy” explanation?

    9/ Why did the police dogs not pick up Elisa’s scent around the water tanks? Why did the police not get fingerprint evidence from the water tank ladder?

    There’s no reason to scramble the timecode, unless there’s something to hide. There’s no reason to slow down the video, and include useless footage of an empty elevator going down the floors. There’s no reason to omit footage of her using the fire escape or the roof stairs (and yes, there are/were cameras there at the time). No reason for all of this – UNLESS some people are trying to paint a particular story, in order to cover up foul play. Speak to any former guest at that hotel and I bet a large majority of them will pick foul play over accident if they had to guess.

    The above questions aren’t about paranormal activity, ghosts, etc.. They are legitimate questions based on unbiased, hard facts (unless proven otherwise), and they all point to a clear deduction: that there was a cover-up.

  • Jamie
    31 March 2017 at 5:11 am - Reply

    This coincidence in the case is extremely bizarre –