A Los Angeles hotel with a haunting history. A missing young woman. A disturbing video followed by a shocking discovery. A cold-case mystery that has become an internet phenomenon—and for one determined journalist, a life-changing quest toward uncomfortable truths.
Twenty-one-year-old Vancouver student Elisa Lam was last heard from on January 31, 2013, after she checked into downtown L.A.’s Cecil Hotel—a 600-room building with a nine-decade history of scandal and tragedy. The next day, Elisa vanished. A search of the hotel yielded nothing. More than a week later, complaints by guests of foul-smelling tap water led to a grim discovery: Elisa’s nude body floating in a rooftop water tank, in an area extremely difficult to access without setting off alarms. The only apparent clue was a disturbing surveillance video of Elisa, uploaded to YouTube in hopes of public assistance.
As the eerie elevator video went viral, so did the questions of its tens of millions of viewers. Was Elisa’s death caused by murder, suicide, or paranormal activity? Was it connected to the Cecil’s sinister reputation? And in that video, what accounted for Elisa’s strange behavior? With the help of web sleuths and investigators from around the world, journalist Jake Anderson set out to uncover the facts behind a death that had become a macabre internet meme, as well as a magnet for conspiracy theorists.
In poring through Elisa’s revealing online journals and social-media posts, Anderson realized he shared more in common with the young woman than he imagined. His search for justice and truth became a personal journey, a dangerous descent into one of America's quiet epidemics. Along the way, he exposed a botched investigation and previously unreported disclosures from inside sources who suggest there may have been a corporate conspiracy and a police cover-up. In Gone at Midnight, Anderson chronicles eye-opening discoveries about who Elisa Lam really was and what—or whom—she was running from, and presents shocking new evidence that may re-open one of the most chilling and obsessively followed true crime cases of the century.
An Excerpt from Dark Waters
One day in 2013 a friend emailed me a link. Opening it, I found myself watching a grainy video recorded by a hotel’s elevator surveillance camera. I didn’t know it at the time, but in opening the link I had opted into an obsessive quest that would change the way I think about the world and myself. I spent the next five years trying to solve a puzzle that is still missing most of its pieces.
The footage was from inside the Cecil Hotel in L.A. At that time the view count was several hundred thousand, but it has since ballooned to over 22 million.
The blurry, pixelated video showed a young woman with shoulder-length black hair in a red hoodie and black cargo shorts entering an elevator and leaning over to inspect the button panel. She pushed several of the buttons and then stood waiting. The doors remained open. The video description read: “Elisa Lam, the Vancouver woman who disappeared in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, is seen acting strangely in new video released by police on Thursday.”
The young woman became interested in something outside the elevator, as though she’d heard a noise or voice in the hallway. Her body language became nervous, hesitant. She lurched through the doors, peering down the hallway to the right. Whatever Elisa saw (or heard) caused her to retreat back into the elevator in what looked like an attempt to elude someone.
Moments later Elisa wandered back out into the hotel hallway. She began gesticulating, as if conversing with an unseen figure. Was she sleep walking? Possessed? Finally, Elisa shoved off out of frame of the surveillance camera. The elevator doors closed.
I felt the terror frozen in those pixels, and it became clear to me.
She was hiding from someone. And now she’s missing . . .