LOS ANGELES – Canadian tourist Elisa Lam had been missing for about two weeks when officials at the historic Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles found her body in a water cistern on the hotel roof.
Guest complaints about low water pressure prompted a maintenance worker to make the gruesome discovery Tuesday, and officials were trying to determine if the 21 year old was killed or if her death was just a bizarre accident.
The discovery of Lam's body called into question the safety of the hotel's water. She was found in one of four cisterns that provide guests with water for washing and drinking. Los Angeles County Department of Public Health officials issued a do-not-drink order while a lab analyzes the hotel water, said Terrance Powell, a director coordinating the department's response. The results of the lab tests were expected to be released Thursday.
Powell said the likelihood of contamination is minimal given the large amount of water the body was found in, but the department is being extra cautious.
LAPD Sgt. Rudy Lopez called Lam's death suspicious. Before she died, hotel surveillance footage showed her inside an elevator pushing buttons and sticking her head out the doors, looking in both directions.
Lam, of Vancouver, British Columbia, traveled alone to Los Angeles on Jan. 26 and was last seen five days later by workers at the 600-room hotel near Skid Row.
The cisterns are on a platform at least 10 feet 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.
Lam intended to travel to Santa Cruz, about 350 miles north of Los Angeles. Officials said she tended to use public transportation and had been in touch with her family daily until she disappeared.
The $65-a-night Cecil Hotel was built in the 1920s and refurbished several years ago. The hotel is on Main Street in a part of downtown where efforts at gentrification often conflicts with homelessness and crime. It had once been the occasional home of 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.
By noon Wednesday, the Cecil Hotel had relocated 27 rooms used by guests to another hotel, but 11 rooms remained filled, Powell said. Those who chose to remain in the hotel were required to sign a waiver in which they acknowledged being informed of the health risks and were being provided bottled water, Powell said.
British tourist Michael Baugh and his wife said water had only trickled from the tap for days before the body was found.
"The moment we found out, we felt a bit sick to the stomach, quite literally," Baugh said.
County health inspection records show the hotel had minor violations over the past year for mold from the rim of a bath tub and a broken window in a laundry room. There also were complaints on two occasions of bed bugs, but inspectors didn't find any.
Baugh and his wife, who were on their first trip to the U.S., had planned to go to SeaWorld on Wednesday. Instead, they were trying to find a new hotel. Their tour agency placed them in another downtown hotel with a less than sterling reputation, from what they heard.
"We're just going from one dodgy place to another," Baugh said, resigned, "but at least there's water."
Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams. Shaya Tayefe Mohajer contributed to this report.