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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Did Elisa Lam have a Second Life AV?

(I swear this post will eventually get around to the topic of Second Life. Just bear with it.)


I've been haunted all weekend by the story of Elisa Lam.

You've probably heard this story – or at least part of it – by now.

In a nutshell: Elisa Lam, 21, of Vancouver, B.C., takes a solo trip to California. Her friends and family members say they're not quite sure why. A few friends say she told them she was going to take a job on a farm in Santa Cruz. Some of them find this reason strange and hard to believe – Who hears about a random job on a farm in California and travels from Canada to take it? Other friends say Elisa struggled with sometimes-crippling depression – for a time she had dropped out of school because of it – and had wandered off the grid before. They assumed this trip was another depression-fueled wander.

Regardless of the reason behind it, Elisa mentions the trip on her tumblr. She lists the cities she plans to visit – San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and possibly San Luis Obispo – and invites her tumblr followers to offer travel suggestions or plan a meet-up with her. Finally, she heads off to Cali on Jan. 26.

She starts in San Diego, kicks around for a couple of days and then takes a bus to Los Angeles. She checks in to the unbelievably seedy Cecil Hotel. It's a couple of streets away from Skid Row, where homeless people live in tents on the streets. It's filthy and dismal, with shared bathrooms and public showers. It has several floors of single occupancy residents. In fact, serial killer Richard Ramirez lived there for 14 months. Actually, I could devote a whole post to the hotel's dark past – so many murders there, so many suicides – but this post is about Elisa.

Many of us who are now borderline-obsessed with this case wonder why in the world she would choose such a nasty hotel, particularly since she was traveling alone. Some us think she was misled by the hotel's website, which shows marble floors and ornate decor. Some of us think someone may have suggested it to her. Some of us think she picked it because she was on a budget and it's only $65 a night to stay there and close to a hip, artsy section of downtown L.A.

Meanwhile, she checks in with her family every day of her trip. And then one day she stops checking in. Her family gets concerned. Days go by. Elisa misses her Feb. 1 check-out date. Her parents and sister fly from Vancouver to Los Angeles to hold a Feb. 6 press conference with the Los Angeles Police Department about Elisa's disappearance. More days go by.

And here's where it gets creepy and disturbing as hell.

On Feb. 14, in the hopes that someone will recognize her, police release this Jan. 31 surveillance video footage of Elisa in one of the hotel's elevators. It is, hands down, one of the most chilling things I've watched in a long time:



Is she hiding from someone? High? Hallucinating? In the midst of a mental break? Goofing around with someone? Possessed? Seeing the paranormal? I AM HAUNTED BY THIS VIDEO. I had horrible dreams about this video. I woke up thinking about this video. I will probably think about it every time I get in an elevator now.

On Feb. 19, in response to complaints of low water pressure from guests at the Cecil Hotel, a worker checks the hotel's water tanks on the roof and discovers the decomposing nude body of a woman floating in one of them. It is later identified "by body markings" as the missing Elisa Lam. Authorities later determined the body had been there for at least 19 days.

The subsequent news stories were unfortunately not so much about Elisa as they were about the fact that the Cecil Hotel's residents had been drinking, showering in and brushing their teeth with water in which a decomposing corpse had been floating for weeks. It explained why some guests had complained that their shower water was black and their drinking water had a "sweetly, disgusting" taste to it. . . .

OK, I have to break the serious tone of this post for a minute to say SHEEEEEEEEZUS that could be the grossest thing I've ever heard. I'm sorry, but WOW. I would probably puke for WEEKS if I was one of those people. "We're not well mentally," said British tourist and hotel guest Michael Baugh, 27. YOU THINK?

On Feb. 20, officials issue a "do not drink" order to guests and residents of the hotel. (Um, too late?)

An autopsy on Feb. 21 was frustratingly "inconclusive." Now those of us who are emotionally invested in this story are waiting six to eight weeks for toxicology reports. And wondering. Was she murdered? Was it a drug-induced accident? Was it suicide? Was she in L.A. to meet someone whom she met online – someone who turned out to be a sicko?

Anyway, so here's why I wanted to talk about Elisa and Second Life.

So many people out there on various forums are speculating about this young woman's life, trying to find out who she was and if she'd be prone to suicide, drugs or weird, crazy gestures in elevators.

As for me, one way I really got to know Elisa was by reading her blog Ether Fields. In it, she talks very openly about her struggles with depression and her frequent inability to leave the house or get out of bed. When she did, it was an accomplishment. I know how she feels. She also talks about connecting with people online. A pretentious guy on one conspiracy theory forum described her blog as "boring, not particularly interesting." I wanted to tell that guy that a-holes like him probably contributed a helluva lot to her often-bleak outlook on life.

Some excerpts:

"I spent about two days in bed hating myself.
Why don't I simply do the things that I know will make me feel better?
It isn't rocket science. It isn't that difficult. Get out of bed. Eat. See people. Talk to people. Exercise. Write. Read. "
"Things are going fairly well in that I am leaving the house and got myself a part time job. My room is still a mess. I haven't actually done any school work and I berate myself for being such a lazy person."
"I feel I am wasting my time compared to my fellow peers. I had a relapse at the start of the term and had to drop 2 of the 3 courses I was taking. Now I am down to one course and I have missed 3 weeks of classes since my sleeping pattern is completely reversed." 
"I haven't felt 'fine' in over 3 years. This relapse makes me feel as though I haven't made any progress at all." 
"I'm very disappointed in myself for breaking down during the term forcing me to withdraw from courses. I've been at university for 3 years and I've only managed to complete three courses. That means I've been a first year for three years and this September it will be for the fourth year because I require 30 credits in order for second year status."
"I just wish...someone around me could understand what it really means to be depressed." 
"Bless the internet. All those who wish to find a way to express their sadness can go there and feel less alone. So many of the tumblrs I follow seem to carry the same grief as me in some way or another.  . . . I simply have no motivation to do anything, let alone leave my bed. My computer and the internet is my one lifeline, one link to the world and reminder to look beyond my immediate situation because there is always more. Always. "
"On one hand this helps me deal with the sadness but on the other hand I basically become a potato. On the outside I look like a catatonic hobo on my bed in front of a glowing screen (no sleep schedule whatsoever but this appears to be a norm for the jobless and the people on the internet) and not eating/sleeping/functioning like any "normal" person. And I shout at anyone saying "Maybe.... you should try getting off the computer?" Leave me alone, I'm happy, this makes me feel better, I need this, this is the one thing that makes me sane, I can't deal with people, just leave me alone, this is something I can actually do, nobody is judging me, I feel less lonely because all these people think like me. "
". . . despite the overwhelming majority of tumblr-ers who seem to be your soulmate, the actuality is they are the minority of the world. And perhaps, they only exist on their computers and they are a muted version of their online selves in real life. And maybe I'm looking at them through the rose-coloured glasses (pixelated screens I think there's a funny analogy in there somewhere) and seeing the person they aspire to be."
Does any of this sound familiar? Doesn't it sound like so many of our blogs and conversations? I know it sounds like a lot of mine. Hell, I could have written these things – just substitute "jobs" for "courses" and change "not getting out of bed for days" to "years."

People might disagree with this opinion, but I think she fits the profile of so many people in Second Life: dealing with depression or isolation, connects better with people online than in RL, sees the Internet as somewhere to escape, recognizes the power of expression and reinvention that an online identity can give.

At one point in her blog, she talks about not wanting to blog under her real name:

Why am I writing about issues that I know people f*cking freak out about? What kind of a narcissistic twit am I anyway to think my little voice will add anything useful to the blogosphere? Why do I feel the need to do this at all? What have I already published that people could use against me? What if there are already crazies out there Googling me? 

Oof, if only she knew just how much some of us would be Googling her. :(

And her mysterious trip to California – well, it reminded me of so many of my SL friends who finally took that leap and traveled somewhere in RL to meet an SL friend or partner. You just can't tell most people in RL about a trip like that because many people wouldn't understand and many would think you had lost it.

I think Elisa Lam would have liked Second Life. She was passionate about fashion and loved to express herself visually as well as verbally. It just makes me wonder if she had an AV here. I remember the weird panicky feeling I got when one of my SL friends up and vanished a few years ago. I remember just feeling helpless because I really didn't know who she was in RL. I sat around wondering if she had been in an accident or if she had just decided to make a run for the border.

Do any of you have an SL friend who mentioned a trip to California and vanished? Do any of you know someone who recently went from being regularly active to suddenly gone (besides me, LOL)? If we give her name to Linden Lab, would they check? Probably not.

The problem with forming an online community is when you lose a member, sometimes you never find out why. And vice versa – when something horrible happens out there in the real world, sometimes you never know which, if any, of your virtual friends are affected by it. Sometimes people just disappear, and all the searching in the world never brings any clear answers.

Anyway, I can't get away from the word "haunt" here. Her story haunts me. I am haunted by the sickeningly ironic fact (sing: "Isn't It Ironic?") that when she finally managed to get out of bed and make an effort to get a fresh perspective on life, she came to a horrifying, gruesome end. I am heartbroken for her family – how horrible, not only to lose a daughter and a sister, but to lose her in such a macabre, public way. She's not Elisa anymore – she's a rotting corpse that contaminated a hotel water supply for days. She's a weird girl doing creepy things in an elevator. Depending who you ask, she's on drugs, insane, plain stupid or suicidal. Nobody's talking about the tragedy of a bright life that was suddenly taken. Nobody's talking the fact that she loved "The Great Gatsby" and Harry Potter, that she had a wonderful eye for fashion, that she was often bravely trying to find her way back from the brink and allowing so many people to share that journey, that she rejoiced in the feeling of being madly in love and loved back, that her Instagram album was pretty cool.

She has been reduced to a morbid mystery. :(

Elisa, I wish I would have found your blog while you were alive. I would have told you that so many people can relate to what you were going through. SO MANY. And if you didn't know about SL, maybe I would have told you about it. We take care of our own here. Or at least we try.

Rest in peace.

39 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your post. Definitely a haunting story and so tragic. Your research has really provided a lot of insight into who she was and what motivated her, which was frustratingly missing from most of the news I've read.

Tashi Core said...

Your post makes me sad. I don't know Elisa or if she was ever in SL, but I can connect to her story on quite many levels. There is so much I want to say, but it's kind of pointless atm. I pray she goes to a better place.

Alexx Usbourne said...

Wow...just, wow. You've written such a wonderful piece about her. I hadn't been able to read up on her as much as you have. It's a shame that she and so many like her just haven't gotten the help to get out of the deep "rut" of depression.
Hopefully what you've written here will make us all stop to think about those around them in sl and in rl.

Anonymous said...

She sounds bipolar to me. I'm shocked that people who knew her didn't recognize that there was a problem and help her find help. Mental illness has so much stigma attached to it, those who suffer from it rarely want to seek out help or accept it when offered. That needs to change.

Thank, Em, for writing this post. Maybe it will help open the lines of communication about mental illness. *hugs*

Daila said...

Great, great, great post! I had followed the story a tiny bit in the news, but I enjoyed reading your take and comments on it!

Anonymous said...

What's even more creepy... the test for TB is called the LAM-ELISA test. There has been a recent outbreak of TB in that area where she died... WTF!!!

Jeff said...

.... she sounds .... just like me...

Elisa... had I only found you earlier. I know I could've helped you.

since the first time I saw the news about her, I was drawn to her, obsessed in finding out more about her. I didn't know why then.

the more i know of her, from her various online sites, the more this became eerie... as though i'm looking into a mirror.

the difference? i have been standing on my own two feet without medication my whole life. i still go through the manic depressive episodes every now and then. but i've learned not to fight the depression, but to embrace it.

if only.... if only.... we met earlier, Elisa.

I'm so sorry.

Anonymous said...

So sad :(

Something eerie though... For anyone who has checked out her Tumblr... there is a new post dated today, March 1st, at 3 am...

I am not too familiar with using Tumblr, but who would be posting?



Emerald Wynn said...

Hi everyone and thanks for the comments!

Anon, regarding her Tumblr, there are three theories floating around out there:

1) she has it set to auto-post certain items
2) the person who killed (??) her took her phone and is updating it (I'm not feeling this one)
3) Maybe that's actually not her tumblr (although it uses the same pic as her Twitter feed, and her blogspot blog links to it.)

or

Maybe her sister has taken over it?? (but wouldn't she post something to that effect?)

There's a forum called WebSleuths.com where they talk about this case extensively - I read someone's rather lengthy explanation over there of how they could tell her tumblr was set to auto-post.

But I have no idea. :\

Emerald Wynn said...

Attempting to post correct WebSleuths link:

WebSleuths

Anonymous said...

One thing that puzzles me a little comes from this post:

http://nouvelle-nouveau.tumblr.com/post/39940752951/i-just-got-my-flightbookd-vancouver-jan-18

She makes it sound as though she was either coming straight from another trip, or not living in Vancouver.

Emerald Wynn said...

That IS weird! And so is the TB thing!!

I found this on the WebSleuths forum - someone who was able to translate an article in Chinese posted it -

"THIS IS ALL MY OPINION: I'm an internet researcher and I found a website in Chinese where it looks as though they have pulled all of Elisa's photos and posts from her actual Facebook page and posted them on their site. I conclude this because the only things in English that I could read without a translation program were her posts from the last 5 months or so. If the posts were actually written by Elisa and I believe they are due to so many specific people and places she mentions and the tone of the posts.

"From what I read, (AND I AM PARAPHRASING) Elisa had been on another trip a month or 2 before this USA trip and her family was bugging her about packing and prepping for this CA. trip. (why all these trips and no school?) She mentioned days where she didn't feel so good ( mentally) and how she couldn't wait to fly out of there (home, I guess)."

So . . . she was still in the other (first) location and the person's translation was a little off or . . . ?????

SO MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS!

Noreen said...

Thank you so much or writing such a great an insightful piece. I was so moved and feel deeply saddened for her family and friends. You're right, I hope people will remember Elisa for all the things she did, rather than how her life came to a tragic end. May her soul rest in peace.

Alexx Usbourne said...

Emerald - I was in a hotel over the weekend (thankfully, it was a nice one!) but every time I got in the elevator I thought about this.

Websleuths is a great forum. I've been over there since the Laci Peterson case. There are some really inquisitive people who put a lot of time and energy turning over every rock to sleuth things out.

Emerald Wynn said...

Yeah, people are REALLY passionate over there, especially in Missing Persons cases, God bless them. I have lost myself in those forums for hours at a time.

Anonymous said...

I too am haunted by this case. I scour the internet daily for more information. I am disturbed there is so little information in the media and suspicious as to why .
There seems to be a confluence of the macabre and the paranormal at work here.
I cannot rest until this mystery is solved.

Anonymous said...

as for her Tumblr if someone stole her phone can't it be traced ?

Anonymous said...

I hope that the person who stole her phone/found it at the speakeasy didn't look through her emails and find her itenerary. They could have even found information on her phone like check in info for what room she would be staying in and at what hotel. Easily she could have met an unsavory character at the speakeasy who stole her phone with full intentions on finding her trip info to stalk and also to have an excuse to meet up with her later to give her back her phone.

Emerald Wynn said...

ohhhh that's chilling, Anonymous. I saw an article over the weekend that speculated that she had met online and was there to hang out with that guy Morbid there - he had a small YouTube following, I think? :\

Sam said...

Excellent post, Emerald. I also believe that there's much to be learned about Elisa Lam's (EL) motivations and state of mind in her blogs (Tumblr, Blogger, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) In response to some of your points in your original post, the WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) volunteer opportunities are popular with young people in Vancouver, Canada. EL also mentions in her Tumblr that she was thinking of taking an introductory computer science class at U.C. Santa Cruz extension (which she states is in Santa Clara.) Although EL was a bright and a good student in high school (she received an $800 Rotary Club scholarship for some form of environmental studies,) at some point in college it appears that she was going through some psychological issues, as she states early/mid 2012 that she was diagnosed with hypomania, bipolar disorder, ADHD. She's prescribed some medication as a result. The reason for no school is explained in her entry regarding after 3 years of college, she had only completed about 3 classes. I'm thinking the comp sci class at UCSC could have been an attempt to start anew in her academics.

BlackJena said...

It's comforting to read something with new, or insightful information regarding Elisa. I too am captivated by this tragedy, and am rather frustrated by the lack of information or press releases regarding progress in the case, (aside from the eagerly anticipated toxicology results). Why isn't this story getting better, and more responsible coverage? I am sick about the so-called professionals in American news media acting like this is something funny. It's incredible to me that people are entertained by this, rather than realizing a horrific crime was perpetratef against this woman. At least your blog talks about HER, and your commenters are the most intelligent and respectful I've seen so far. Let's hope level heads prevail and we remember a life has ended, and we MUST know why. Thanks for adding your thoughts and the links.

Anonymous said...

Don't elevators have emergency phones and a "door close" button? I think you can stop them between floors too.

Anonymous said...

While walking in street in downtown LA mid February, I was handed a flyer "have you seen ..." with a picture of Elisa on it. I still have the flyer.

I thought the elevator video curious, but I would not assign too much interpretation of nefarious nature to it.

Reason is reminds me of time I was staying somewhere with very slow elevator. When I walked in and pushed the button the doors would stay open a long time and apparently nothing happening. At the time, I thought someone else didn't see the open door and pushed the cue button, thus keeping my door open. After a while, I popped my head out the open door to look if someone was pushing button.

doors still open; i was getting impatient and walked out to push outside button to call other elevator.

Back in elevator and thinking the floor button i pushed defective, I tried other floors and tapped the 'close' button repeatedly.

I don't know if such simple explanation is what happened with this girl, but if there was video of me in that elevator would look odd i am sure.

Another thing: i cannot confirm directly, but an overseas friend of mine said they saw on their coverage interview with someone who lived in building across from this HOtel. Supposedly this person said that from time to time would see people on the roof hanging out or in some cases having a what they thought was secret 'tryst'.

Chaimae Dennis said...

Great post!! thanks for the links to her blog. I find myself quite intrigued by her mysterious death, not sure why. I know many people do. One thing that irritates me is the sudden stop of news in her regards from the beginning of March, I can't find any update about the investigation whatsoever! I hope we find out what really happened to her, because I am sure she didn't take her own life.

Emerald Wynn said...

Chaimae (AWESOME NAME),

I hope so too! I have a Google alert going so if anything pops up I'll get an email. Surely her toxicology reports will come back soon!!

Gav said...

Ah I got really sad when I started reading her blog. I am also a UBC student, and keep wishing that I had stumbled upon her blog - I would have definitely tried to contact her.
I've also found some interesting info regarding the video footage released of her:
Elisa Lam - What are they hiding?

Priscilla said...

On her tumblr blog that you linked us, apparently, there was a post on April 1st?

What in the world? Its a reblog of a video

Emerald Wynn said...

Gav - thank you for sharing that link! Very good stuff!

Priscilla - I KNOW, what???? I read in a couple of places that she set her Tumblr to auto-post while she was traveling and that's why random posts occasionally pop up. It's unsettling. :\

Anonymous said...

They were lovely things for you to say about her. I'm sure if she could see this, she would have felt blessed to see how many people cared about her enough to wonder what happened to her.

I've watched the footage, and have to say, it does look a lot like how people behave when they're hypnotized. I've seen shows where they get people out of the audience to do bizarre things and it is a little like that when you watch the footage - even when she looks dizzy for a moment. It would explain how she had no drugs in her system and no marks on her.

RIP Elisa Lam. You and your family deserved better than that. The only good thing that came from your passing is that we all can see how many people in the world, look for the truth. And truth will always prevail.

Anonymous said...

I saw an extensive discussion about this on PuffSky too. No one has any definitive answers though, expected for a case like this.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps she was somehow aware of her impending doom and was struggling against it.

Brian S. said...

Thanks for posting this information. I heard about the story months ago and just remembered it after reading a different woman's body was found in a water treatment plant near LA recently. I'm dismayed to just find out they don't have much information on Elisa's case.

I also find the Second Life world you describe to be interesting. It sucks that some people would just up and quit it. But to be honest that happens in real life too. Not completely the same I know, but it's just one of those things you have to come to terms with as you get older that some people will just up and leave without a proper goodbye.

It's the worst when people get married.

But thank goodness for online communities where people can help and support each other. Being Asian myself, I know firsthand that Asian families aren't the best with talking over feelings and problems. My friends become my therapists.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how I stumbled upon Elisa Lam. But my heart reaches out for her. The family never had closure on what happened. Such stories are really brain-numbing. Somewhere in the other end of the world, we all feel so perturbed and sad because of her story. I cannot even fathom what her family went through. I hope her soul rests in peace.

Jannie said...

I know I'm a little late to the party, but I just wanted to say that I heard about this just yesterday (I live in scandinavia and it didn't really get publicity here) and have been feeling like you ever since:
Googling, thinking, watching the video like 20 times completely freaked out, I even dreamt about it last night! And as soon as I woke up, I was back to the research.
This case is so wierd. I don't know what happened to her, but the video is so, so sad.
Maybe you're right about the SL-thing.

Anonymous said...

something had control over the elevator and mabey even her which is extreamly curious!

Anonymous said...

i found some things.

http://nouvelle-nouveau.tumblr.com/post/41786151020/i-have-arrived-in-laland-and-there-is-a

http://nouvelle-nouveau.tumblr.com/archive

why is she active dec 2013?? (shown above)
here is the post;

http://nouvelle-nouveau.tumblr.com/post/69573101846/skeletales-by-alessandro-gottardo

Taz Dale said...

.........That's not her tumblr. She died January 31st, and the last post of that blog was a month ago. Great job.

Anonymous said...

Poor girl. My heart goes out to her family. I wanted to say that first off. I heard they were suing the hotel and rightfully so since someone wasn't doing their job. Unfortunately no amount of money will bring back their daughter, sister, family member, etc. I know how it feels to lose someone though not to these types of circumstances so I understand.

As for the person who wondered if she had bipolar, you're correct, she did indeed have bipolar disorder and this behavior is common for some cases with bipolar [not all cases but some]. I know, I actually have a friend who is bipolar and he has these episodes himself.

Again, my heart goes out to her family and friends. I can't imagine what they're feeling.

Emerald Wynn said...

Hey Taz -- Apparently she had several posts prepared in advance that were scheduled to post on certain dates, according to a friend of hers who contacted me here. I'm not that familiar with Tumblr, but I guess it's something you can make it do? Not sure.