A Strange Way To Die

Several years back I was enthralled with the case of Elisa Lam. The case ultimately seemed to amount to a mentally ill woman who got herself into a very strange predicament that cost her her life. Whether or not that is the whole truth we may never know. But it took some time for me to accept the validity of such an explanation. It just seemed absurd that a person, even if suffering from some mental break, could end up the way Elisa had.

The trouble is, such cases may not be as rare as one would think. I have begun to notice a pattern, one I will illustrate in 5 cases below, of people (in this case all women) who began exhibiting signs of erratic behavior before ultimately meeting tragic ends. Several had previously been diagnosed with bipolar (which Elisa also suffered from). Whether or not all of these strange deaths can be attributed to breaks from reality due to mental illness I cannot say. All that I can say is that if you or a loved one is struggling with mental illness, I urge you to seek the help that you need.

 

Wanda_jean_mays

In 1986, 26 year old Wanda Jean Mays was described by her loved ones as having a “chemical imbalance”. What precisely they meant is unclear, but it can be guessed from other descriptions that she suffered from panic attacks and “emotional distress” that she may have had a mental illness. On May 11th Wanda was spending the night at her aunt and uncles lakeside home. She headed into the guest bedroom at approximately 10:30pm. The next morning her relatives discovered (after breaking into the locked room) that Wanda was gone. The bed had not been slept in, her possessions were still on the dresser, and the large Venetian glass window had been smashed out from the inside, as if someone (presumably Wanda) had leapt through it. Outside, Wanda’s ripped, bloodsoaked nightgown was found laying on the end of the families dock, and some time later police located a bloodied canoe adrift on the water. But Wanda was gone. Despite the bizarre circumstances of her disappearance, police could find no evidence that anyone else had been in the bedroom with Wanda, nor that any actual crime had taken place. It seemed as if Wanda had leapt out the window herself. It was not until October of 2003, 22 years after her disappearance, that Wanda’s remains were discovered at the foot of a cliff about two miles away. But by then Wanda was only bones, and Police maintained their opinion that no foul play was involved.

Patricia_Meehan_missing_person_flyer

Patricia “Patty” Meehan was a 37 year old animal lover living on a ranch in Bozeman Montana. In the days leading up to her death her loved ones had noticed some unusual behavior, but nothing could have prepared them for the events of April 20th 1989. That evening Patty was involved in a car accident, due to her driving down the wrong side of the road. Patty and two other witnesses exited their respective cars to assess the situation, but the others were unnerved at Patty’s behavior. One of them described Patty as “staring” as if in a trance, and looking through them, not at them. After a moment Patty abruptly climbed a nearby fence and hopped down to the other side, where she again stood for a moment and stared. She then wandered off into a darkened field, never to be seen again. The other motorists were haunted by her behavior, and wondered if she had received a head injury in the crash. The trouble was, when police arrived they uncovered more evidence suggesting that Patty had been acting strangely before the crash took place. On a camera in her car they found the last photo ever taken of her, an unsettling self portrait in which Patty stares out of the same glassy eyes described by witnesses.

pattymeehan

Why did Patty take this unsettling selfie?

After the accident, there were hundreds of reported sightings of her, across the country. A few seemed to hold water, including one of a woman matching Patty’s description who sat in a diner for hours staring into space. Despite all the follow up and years of searching, Patty has never been found. Though she may well be alive, I included her case for its grim similarities to the others in this list.

resized_matrice

Mitrice Richardson was 24 year old with a bachelors in psychology living in Covina California. She was known by her loved ones as a free spirit and a tough cookie, and was an out and proud lesbian. In the days leading up to her disappearance, Mitrice had reportedly suffered from insomnia. On september 16th 2009 police were called to a Malibu California restaurant, Geoffrey’s. A customer there had been acting very strangely and was now attempting to leave without paying her bill. Witnesses reported that Mitrice had joined several different groups of people without invitation, and was acting flirtaciously as well as possibly intoxicated. At one point she claimed to a Geoffery’s employee that she was from Mars, and later she stared for a long time at a computer screen as if in a trance. Police issued a sobriety test and found that Mitrice was not on any drugs or alchohol. They took her to the station and booked her on minor charges. Her car and belongings were impounded.

mitrice

Mitrice’s booking photo which I find eerily similar to Patty Meehan’s final selfie.

At some point Mitrice’s mother, Latice, found out about her daughters strange behavior. She was assured by police that Mitrice was safe, and if she was to be released then they would notify Latice to pick her up. Latice was relieved; she had been concerned that her daughter would be let out in an unfamiliar area with no phone or car. Later on, after midnight, Mitrice asked to leave the station. As she was exhibiting no unusual signs to them and they had no legal way to hold her against her will, they agreed, but asked her to call her family. Mitrice agreed, and called her grandmother Mildred. At least, she said she did. Mildred never spoke to Mitrice that night, and though the calls were made they were not recieved, and it seems that Mitrice had babbled away for some time to a dial tone. Then Mitrice walked out into the darkness. At aound 6 in the morning, police received a call from a man in a rural area six miles from the station. There was a young black woman sitting in his backyard. Police didn’t arrive until some time later, and by then the woman was gone. It was the last time Mitrice Richardson was seen alive.  Mitrices-Map.jpg

Mitrice’s body was found completely by accident 11 months later, by police searching for illegal pot farming. Her naked body was in a remote area called Dark Canyon, and her clother were strewn around a wide radius. Her body was partially mummified, unusual for corpses in that area, especially after a rainy season. Despite this, police had her body removed before the area was properly processed as they did not feel it was a crime scene. In their opinion Mitrice had wandered into the night and died of exposure.

jamieminor

Jamie Minor was a beautiful 26 year old working at the Trace Restaurant located in the W Hotel in downtown Austin. She had been previously diagnosed with bipolar, but was leading a normal life until May 23rd 2011. On that evening, fellow employees noticed a change in Jamie. They described her behavior as “erratic”, and whatever she did it was bad enough that Jamie was terminated from her job on the spot. Friends concerned about her state of mind called her a ride, but Jamie wandered off before it arrived. She walked several blocks away to another restaurant, Perry’s Steakhouse, that she knew either from previous employment or a currently employed friend. However rather than entering through the front, Jamie was spotted on CCTV trying to force open the locked back and side doors of the establishment. After failing to gain entry, Jamie went up three floors of the adjacent parking garage and located an air duct leading into the building she was trying to access. While there is no footage of Jamie entering the ventilation system, some of her belongings were found on the ground at its entrance. Over a month later Jamie’s body was discovered lodged in the ducts a floor down. She appeared to have become trapped, and expired due to hyperthermia, as the vent was about 115 degrees inside. Some sources claim that MDVP (the active ingredient in bath salts) was found in her system, but the truth is unclear. Why Jamie was attempting to enter the building at all is unknown.

telekapatrick

Teleka Patrick was a 30 year old working as a psychiatry resident at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Though not diagnosed with a mental illness, Teleka did have a history of unusual behavior, including her obsession and stalking of a minister from Grand Rapids whom she was convinced she would marry. For her job Teleka worked long hours and sometimes went days without sleeping. In the days leading up to her disappearance, Teleka began exhibiting some disturbing warning signs. She claimed to some that she had begun hearing voices in her head, and posted strange things on her social media accounts before deleting them altogether. December 5th 2013 started as a normal day at the hospital, with no one noticing any odd behaviors from the troubled woman. But when her shift let out she approached a colleague, claiming she needed a ride and to borrow some money. The truth was Teleka had a car at the hospital, and she had purposefully left her wallet and phone in her locker for unknown reasons. Her coworker gave her a ride to her requested destination; a downtown Radisson hotel. They also lent her $100. Hotel employees and CCTV witnessed Teleka come in and try to get a room, however she was turned away (likely due to not having a card with her they could put on file). Teleka next went out to a shuttle and hitched a ride back to the hospital. The driver, the last person to see Teleka, described her as seeming anxious, as if she was being followed. From there Teleka got into her car and drove over 110 miles. Where she was going is anyones guess, but she never got there. Several reports came in to police stations about a car matching Telekas driving erratically on the highway, including crossing into oncoming traffic. Her car was found crashed in a ditch in Indiana, near Porter, minutes later. But Teleka was already gone. Search dogs traced her scent back up to the highway where it ended, and police presumed she had hitched a ride. Just in case, they had also searched the lake adjacent to the highway with sonar, and found nothing. It seemed unlikely the woman who had just crashed her car would scale a barb wire topped fence to get to the Charles Lake. And yet, on April 6th of 2014 her body was found in that very lake, $100 still in her pocket. Her cause of death was determined to be drowning, despite being in only 3ft of water.

Screen shot 2017-03-07 at 4.17.36 PM

Approximate location of the crash.

What was it that truly killed each of these women? Mental illness? Drugs? Bizarre accidents? I have even strongly considered the possibility of sleepwalking as a culprit. Its frightening to imagine that a person can seem perfectly fine one day, then completely wrong the next. Were these women suffering from mental breaks which lead to bizarre behavior they were not fully in control of? Were they hallucinating in the time leading to their deaths? Were their illnesses causing sleep disorders and possible sleepwalking? The truth is, we may never know. Unfortunately mental health has a strong negative stigma attached to it that leads to many not seeking treatment for illness, and leads to some being treated improperly. Hopefully one day we can better understand the vast unknown territory that is the mind, and learn to better treat the disorders that affect it.

Advertisements

What Happened to Elisa Lam?

 

(Updated August 2016 with new information)

This past winter (2014), around the one year anniversary of her death, I discovered the mysterious case of Elisa Lam, and became a bit obsessed (to say the least). First I was drawn in by the creepy, seemingly supernatural events surrounding her demise. But once I learned more I simply became desperate to, in some small way, help Elisa. To share her story…to spread awareness…to remember her. I couldn’t believe how passionately I felt about a woman I had never met; and it broke my heart to know I never would.

I feel like Elisa and I could have been friends. She was sweet, idealistic, and full of love.

elisalam

Elisa was a 21 year old student from Canada who was visiting Los Angeles as a tourist in the winter of 2013. She loved fashion, Harry Potter, and Ryan Gosling (it is speculated she was in LA trying to catch a glimpse of the location of a movie he had filmed in the area). She also suffered from bouts of mental illness including depression and bipolar, but both were said to have been managed with medication (Wellbutrin, Lamictal, Seroquel, and Effexor) by her loved ones.

In January of 2013 she was staying in the Cecil Hotel, near Skid Row, alone.

Screen-Shot-2015-12-08-at-1.58.13-PM

The Cecil Hotel, now rebranded and called Stay on Main, has a long and sordid past, to the point that it influenced American Horror Story: Hotel. Since being built in the 1920’s, at least three murders have been committed there, as well as an undisclosed number of suicides (particularly jumpers). Some of the jumpers even struck and killed pedestrians on the street below. The hotel was so infamous in the 60’s it was nicknamed “The Suicide”. In 1947 the Black Dahlia Elizabeth Short was allegedly seen at the Cecil’s bar before her murder. In the 80’s the Night Stalker Richard Ramirez lived for a time in the Cecil. In the 90’s another murderer, Jack Unterweger, called the Cecil home.

According to Cecil Hotel statements, Elisa originally rented a shared, hostel-type room on the fifth floor. However after complaints from her roommates about “odd” behavior, she was moved to a private room on the same floor on January 31st.

Elisa Lam was last seen on the night of the 31st at the Cecil on an elevator camera. The Police did a light search of the hotel but found nothing, even bringing search dogs up on the hotel’s roof. There was no evidence of her whereabouts found.

elisalam2

In February guests of the Cecil Hotel began to complain about their water pressure, as well as its smell and taste, and on the 19th a maintenance worker climbed up a ten foot tall rooftop water cistern. Inside he found the naked and decomposing remains of Elisa Lam. The worker said that the hatch of the tank, which did not have a lock, was left open. Elisa was floating face up, about a foot below the hatch opening. It cannot be explained why police and search canines did not hit on or check the tanks, or why there was not some noticeable odor from the open hatch.

Elisa’s clothes were found in the tank as well, and were consistent with what she was wearing in the last known footage of her. There was trace amounts of ‘sediment’ on her clothes, as well as hair or fibers. Neither were expounded upon further.

An autopsy revealed no illegal drugs and negligible amounts of  alcohol in her system (or at least none that could be detected, considering the fact her body had been submerged in a water tank for weeks). Trace amounts of her prescription medications were found, although the amounts indicated a possibility that she hadn’t taken the proper amount. Though her death was initially labeled as unable to be determined on her autopsy report, the form was later edited to the final ruling of “accidental drowning” with her bipolar listed as a “possible contributor”.

One of the most controversial pieces of evidence is the surveillance tape from the night she went missing (and most likely died). There has been an incredible amount of speculation about what exactly is happening in the tape, which can be viewed here:

Many people are initially frightened and disturbed by the footage. Some suggest there is something paranormal occurring , that Elisa is talking to something not on camera, and the elevator seems to be acting strangely (doors not shutting…a ghost?). A theory that Elisa may have been sleepwalking circled the web for some time as well.

I would like to take a moment to examine those theories while adding some more info about what can really be garnered from the strange video. First off, the elevator panel looks like this :

we6I2JX

And after many people analyzed the video obsessively for a long time, a consensus was reached that Elisa did not press all the buttons or random ones, she pressed a specific sequence: 14, 10, 7, 4, M, B, and Hold Door. The first button pressed, 14, does not light up, indicating that was the floor she was on. The elevator doors do not close because she pressed the hold door button. Someone went to the Cecil to investigate and found the hold button keeps the elevator for an unusually long two minutes, so that mystery at least is solved.

Youtuber Cody Fry made a video  outlining their belief that the elevator video has actually been edited, slowing it considerably as well as inexplicably cutting out nearly a minute of time. Why this edited video was released and not the original has never been discussed by police or the Cecil. Some have speculated that the original may have contained key information such as a second person.

But onto the next obvious question, why did she press those buttons?

Elisa was staying on the 5th floor, so was up on the 14th for some other reason. The 14th floor) technically the 13th as there is no ’13th floor’) is an apartment floor, not a hotel floor, and is one floor down from the roof, which is easily accessible to anyone by the fire escape (not behind security doors like in news reports). Some have suggested that pressing multiple buttons is a suggested way to escape someone unwanted following you, as they cannot track what floor you get off on, and in the beginning of the video Elisa does seem to be frantically running from someone.

Yet, according to a body language analyst, Elisa is not showing signs of fear or distress, but playful anxiety, as if she is actually playing some sort of hide and seek game.

Here is a floorplan for a better idea of the halls outside the elevator:

cecihotelelevatorfloorp

Elisa can be seen in the video looking down the halls outside, as well as apparently looking at/adjusting herself in a mirror across from the elevator. It seems as if she may be waiting for someone. When interviewed, no one in the hotel could remember seeing Elisa with anyone else at any point.

The police used the elevator video to ID Elisa, despite it being blurry and dubious at best. She had been staying at the hotel for days and there surely would have been better, clearer frontal shots. Was this one used solely because it was the last known footage of her? Was she acting strangely in any other videos? Visitors to the hotel in the years since her death have confirmed the existence of many other cameras in the Cecil.

Redditor aj0219 commented on one thread about the alarming “synchronicity” of this case. The first of these is the bizarre coincidence of a bad outbreak of Tuberculosis which hit Skid Row near the Cecil around the time of her death. The name of the test used to determine if a patient has TB is called LAM-ELISA.

dark-water

The next example is the cases striking resemblance to a Japanese film called “Dark Water”(2002) which was about a body found in a rooftop water tank and the spirit of that girl haunting an apartment building. It also involved tenants who drank said water, and themes involving the  haunted apartment elevator. There was a 2005 American remake, which is important in that the character names relate to the case. The mother (played by Jennifer Connelly, is named Dahlia. Her daughter is Cecilia. Again, this movie came out in 2005.

The tank in the movie:

486grudge-2-cool

 

The tanks in the Elisa Lam case:

YmsQJqK2hqawjt

 

Also at one point in the 2002 film the main character also wears an eerily familiar outfit….

5q3tptG

What this could all mean, if anything, evades me.

There is one conspiracy theory that suggests Elisa never existed or was purposefully murdered so that the name LAM-ELISA would be hard to search for/obscure besides the bizarre case, for nefarious government cover-up reasons. Others think she was murdered by people trying to copy the plot of the horror film. Many are more convinced that Elisa was murdered by someone of importance, and the LAPD covered up her death.

By now you might be thinking this is just too weird. Honestly these are some of the tamest of conspiracy theories. Others involve the Illuminati, Government cloaking technology, a Cult founded by Aliester Crowley, and of course Aliens.

Coming back to what we actually know, Elisa had a tumblr on which she blogged often about her feelings and activities. She mentions her mental trouble frequently, but also seems to have hope for the future, talking about her future grandkids and such.

“But I am so very full of…I suppose the term would be, as Dumblydore says, love

because last night was evidence that I do have amazing beautiful things in my life 

and even though everyone is busy and going off doing great things,

they do care about me.

I’m not a profession depressed person. I am so much more than that and these people are my reminders that I am very lucky. Life is long and difficult and people will always be stupid and complain

but it is worth it so long as you have special moments. There will be lots of these moments in the future and there have been a lot in the past. So what if everything is shit and all the plans have gone to hell. If I ask for help, someone might even be willing to spare a hand. 

Thank you friends, family and tumblr. The world is just awesome.”

She also shows herself as being an idealistic and naive person as well though, and would sometimes go out to clubs and meet men:

”After all, I like my home comforts and every now and then I do something entirely impulsive and reckless like tell a guy I just met I like him…….I do like people watching at the hostel.”

(It should be noted to those not familiar with Tumblr that her blog had posts queued up to post in the months after her death. This is common among bloggers going for a consisten aesthetic and amount of posts. There is nothing suspicious or bizarre about her Tumblr.)

Elisa’s parents filed a lawsuit against the Cecil Hotel, alleging that it was an unsafe environment and the easily accessible roof and unlocked water tanks were essentially an accident waiting to happen. Their lawyer stated that the family truly believes that Elisa did in fact have a psychotic episode that somehow ultimately led to her ending up in the water tank. Further evidence of this are a postcard Elisa sent to a family member sometime during her trip, the contents which though not publicized, gave some cause for alarm about her mental health. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2015 by Judge Howard Halm, who felt the hotel could not have anticipated such a bizarre accident.

To sum everything up, Elisa Lam apparently suffered from a psychotic episode while staying at the Cecil, a portion of which was caught on hotel camera. She then went up to the roof and crawled into a water tank where she died. Lack of mention of bruising or cuts to her hands in the autopsy indicates that she likely did not struggle in the tank (ie banging for help or trying to claw out to escape). It can therefore be determined that if this is the true sequence of events, Elisa did not suffer or struggle, and if she was conscious when in the tank, she drowned quickly. I have not been able to find any statements about Elisa’s swimming ability, but she would have been in at least 6 feet of water which while not much would still have been over her head.

If Elisa was capable of swimming, why she did not try to get back out of the tank, which according the maintenance worker was open and only a foot above her, eludes me.

r-ELISA-LAM-large570

The fact is, we will probably never know exactly what happened to Elisa Lam. All we can know is that a beautiful life was cut tragically short.