Police are trying to determine if the death of a Canadian woman who was missing for weeks before her body was found wedged into a water tank atop a Los Angeles hotel was the result of foul play or an accident.
The body of 21-year-old Elisa Lam was discovered Tuesday by a maintenance worker at the downtown Cecil Hotel after guests complained of low water pressure.
Lam, of Vancouver, travelled to California alone on Jan. 26 and was last seen five days later by workers at the hotel.
Police initially called her disappearance suspicious. Investigators are now considering the possibility of foul play because of where the body was found.
Lam's body was located at the bottom of one cistern that was about three-quarters full of water, Los Angeles police Sgt. Rudy Lopez said.
The opening at the top of the cistern is too small to accommodate firefighters and equipment, so they had to cut a hole in the storage tank to recover Lam's body.
The cisterns are on a platform at least three metres above the roof.
To get to the tanks, someone would have to go to the top floor then take a staircase with a locked door and emergency alarm preventing roof access.
Another ladder would have to be taken to the platform and a person would have to climb the side of the tank.
Lopez said there are no security cameras on the roof.
The tanks provide water for hotel taps and would have been used by guests for washing and drinking.
British tourist Michael Baugh and his wife said water had only dribbled out of the taps at the downtown Cecil Hotel for days.
On Tuesday, after showering, brushing their teeth and drinking some of the tap water, they headed down to the lobby and found out why.
"The moment we found out, we felt a bit sick to the stomach, quite literally," Michael Baugh, 27 said. "Especially having drank the water, we're not well mentally."
Los Angeles police Sgt. Rudy Lopez said the county Department of Public Health had tested the water and deemed it safe. Department officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
A call to the hotel also went unreturned.
Vancouver resident Elisa Lam was last seen by Cecil Hotel staff Jan. 31.Vancouver resident Elisa Lam was last seen by Cecil Hotel staff Jan. 31. (LAPD/Associated Press)
An autopsy could be performed as early as Thursday to determine the cause of death.
"We do all the death investigations involving accidents, suicides or homicides or natural deaths where there's not a doctor in attendance," said Ed Winter with the L.A. County coroner's office. "We are conducting an investigation into the death of Miss Lam."
Winter said Lam's family is in Los Angeles.
The coroner's office is not releasing any details about the circumstances surrounding Lam's death.
CBC News has obtained a letter to hotel guests asking them to vacate the premises and advising them not to drink or use any water at the hotel under any circumstances "due to an unexpected emergency."
"The hotel has been asked by local authorities to ensure that the water services at the premises be immediately terminated," the letter reads. "There will be no drinking water, nor water suitable for washing, bathing, showering or use for any purpose whatsoever over the next two to four days.
"Should you remain on the premises, you do so at your own risk and peril."
Lam intended to travel to Santa Cruz, about 560 kilometres north of Los Angeles. Officials said she tended to use public transportation and had been in touch with her family daily until she disappeared.
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 Cecil had once been the occasional home to infamous serial killers such as Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker, and Austrian prison author Jack Unterweger, who was convicted of murdering nine prostitutes in Europe and the U.S., the Los Angeles Times reported.
I've watched this video a couple of times. This just seems really strange. Don't know if she's high/drunk, or if someone is standing outside (out of camera range) holding the elevator door open. If someone killed her, I think it could have been the hotel staff.
Whoa, that video definitely increased my anxiety levels for a few minutes. I don't know what went on and haven't read enough about this case to come up with my own theory. But my goodness that video was scary
The first bit looked like someone was after her and she was hiding, the last bit where she steps out looks like she's on drugs.
Strange and disturbing all at the same time! Why weren't the elevator doors closing? Don't they usually remain closed except to let people on or off? I thought maybe someone was holding it open but then considering how frightened she seemed to be I don't think she would go back out so willingly! I wonder where this is going to go!
I wonder if she was drugged. Comments also say she usually wears glasses. She seems like she is trying to avoid or get away from someone.
I wonder if, in the video, we're seeing the progression of the effects of a drug... She starts off tense, nervous and somewhat disoriented and progresses to agitated and very disoriented (not even walking straight). I'd also wonder if an employee is involved... Given that the elevator was obviously disabled somehow...
She's on something or is having some kind of mental disturbance judging by the way she's waving her arms around and appears to be talking to somebody/something when she is off the elevator. I guess she pushed the hold elevator button? I'm just wondering why the door never closes.
Yeah, this totally reminded me of that horror movie with Jennifer Connelly. Wonder if this happens more than we know. I mean how often do they check the water cisterns on top of these old buildings?
I've read about this and was wondering about this said video. She looks drunk/drugged (the stagger, random punching of buttons, gesturing to nobody, etc..) and in the condition seen on the video I would not think she could have gotten herself into a tank, much less up a ladder and into a locked area of the roof but stranger things have happened. She was not even able to figure out the "door close" button on the elevator to get the doors to shut and did not seem distressed or worried enough to press the emergency button, if anything it looked like she was waiting for someone. I hope no matter what her family receives some kind of explanation. The thought of showering/drinking that water is beyond disgusting.