Review: "Gone at Midnight: The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam"
Updated: Dec 31, 2020
Jake Anderson's book takes a deep dive into the cold case that became an Internet phenomenon.
© Cody Loves Horror
On February 19, 2013, twenty-one-year-old Canadian college student, Elisa Lam, was found floating in a water tank on the roof of the Cecil Hotel after residents and guests complained of foul smelling, discolored water. Located near downtown LA's skid row, "Gone at Midnight: the Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam" author, Jake Anderson, calls the Cecil "a playground for predators and criminals" with an average of one or more people dying there each month. While Elisa's death was officially ruled an accident, Anderson presents an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggests foul play and a police cover-up starting with a questionable autopsy report which can be found here. Anderson not only provides expert-level insight on the Lam case, he also takes the reader along on especially intriguing tangents into the cultural stigmatization of mental illness, the field of web-sleuthing and a long history of corruption within the LAPD.
If you're a true crime aficionado like myself, "Gone at Midnight" is a must-read.
A Playground for Predators & Criminals
"Gone at Midnight: the Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam" takes an extensive look at the sordid history of the Cecil Hotel, including its many suicides and ties to serial killers who once called its 700 rooms home, like Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger. Three hoteliers by the name of Charles L. Dix, Robert H. Schops and William Banks Hanner opened the Cecil Hotel in 1924 as a destination for tourists and business travelers. Designed in the Beaux Arts style, the Cecil's original finishings were quite elegant for the time: stained glass windows, an opulent marble lobby and an alabaster statuary kept the hotel fashionable in its early days. Adjacent to Skid Row, the neighborhood took a nosedive sometime around the Great Depression at which point the Cecil's clientele shifted from businessmen and budgeting tourists to transients, substance abusers and sex workers.
(Below) The last place Elisa Lam was seen alive outside of the Cecil Hotel
© Cody Loves Horror
Suicide, Serial Killers and the Cecil Hotel
On November, 19 1931, a Manhattan Beach resident by the name of W.K. Norton committed suicide inside his room at the Cecil Hotel by ingesting poison. This would become the first in a bizarre pattern of suicides to occur at the hotel throughout the next several decades, ending with an unidentified woman registered as "Alison Lowell" who jumped from her 12th floor window on December 20, 1975. In total, twelve people would commit suicide at the Cecil Hotel between 1931 and 1975. Most jumped from the window of their tiny room. A few swallowed poison, one shot himself and Army Medical Corps Sergeant Louis D. Borden slashed his throat with a razor. In September 1944, 19-year-old Dorothy Jean Purcell went into labor at the Cecil Hotel while staying with her boyfriend. Apparently unaware that she was pregnant, Dorothy snuck into the bathroom to give birth before throwing her newborn baby out the window. The baby landed on the roof of an adjacent building and died on impact, according to the medical report. Dorothy Purcell was later found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a psychiatric institution for the remainder of her life.
Richard Ramirez & Jack Unterweger at the Cecil
The infamous Night Stalker or legally known as Richard Ramirez, terrorized Los Angeles until he was captured by an angry mob of East Angelinos in 1985 and he was living at the Cecil Hotel throughout most of his murder-spree. Ultimately convicted of 13 counts of murder and 11 counts of sexual assault, Ramirez committed his first known murder of 9-year-old Mei Leung in San Francisco before moving to Los Angeles and shacking up at the Cecil Hotel. Inspired by Ramirez, Jack Unterweger chose the Cecil Hotel when a writing assignment took him to Los Angeles in 1991. While at the Cecil, Unterweger strangled three sex workers to death with their own bras. Prior to strangling them, he assaulted all three women - Irene Rodriguez, Peggy Booth and Shannon Exley - with tree branches. In all, Jack Unterweger would murder roughly 15 sex workers in at least 3 different countries.
© Cody Loves Horror
Disturbing Elevator Video Surfaces
Just days after she was found floating dead in a water tank February 2013, a video of Elisa Lam in the Cecil Hotel elevator surfaced online and went viral. Web sleuths around the world picked over the video, thinking it might hold the key to solving her case. Anderson points out some discrepancies in the elevator video, suggesting it was either tampered with by hotel admin, the LAPD or both. According to Anderson, the Cecil Hotel and Los Angeles Police Department have a long history of working together to bury unwanted evidence. They conveniently forgot to process Elisa Lam's rape kit, among other questionable moves surrounding her murder investigation.