Autopsy inconclusive on woman found in hotel water tank

Joe Valle, 42, of Los Angeles walks past a memorial for Elisa Lam, whose body was found inside a water tank on the roof of the Cecil Hotel.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

More tests need to be performed before a cause of death can be determined for the Canadian tourist whose body was found inside a water tank atop a downtown Los Angeles hotel, coroner’s officials said Thursday.

The body of Elisa Lam, 21, was pulled from a tank at the Cecil Hotel on Tuesday. Lam, who authorities said traveled to California from Vancouver on Jan. 26, was last seen Jan. 31 at the hotel.

Los Angeles County coroner’s spokesman Ed Winter said the autopsy was completed. He would not say whether the medical examination found visible signs of trauma on the body.


But Winter said toxicology tests, which will take six to eight weeks to complete, would help determine if Lam was taking medication or another substance at the time of her death and, if so, whether it was at therapeutic levels. He did not elaborate.

Winter also did not reveal whether coroner’s investigators had determined how Lam got into the water tank or how long she may have been inside. The matter is being treated as a death investigation, he said.

Law enforcement officials familiar with the case said that although foul play is a possibility, they are examining whether Lam’s death might have been an accident.

The body was discovered by a hotel worker checking out complaints of weak water pressure, police said.

Lam was reported missing about three weeks ago. Last week, police released video of her inside a Cecil Hotel elevator. In surveillance footage, Lam is seen pushing buttons for multiple floors and at one point stepping out of the elevator, waving her arms.

The only ways to get to the roof are via a locked door that only employees have access to and a fire escape. The door is equipped with an alarm system that notifies hotel personnel if someone is on the roof, Los Angeles police Sgt. Rudy Lopez said.

Also Thursday, health officials said there were no traces of disease-causing bacteria in the Cecil Hotel’s water supply.

A do-not-drink order implemented Tuesday was expected to be in place through the weekend until the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health determines that the water is suitable for drinking, said Angelo Bellomo, director of environmental health.

Officials tested for disease-causing coliforms at different places inside the 15-story Cecil Hotel.

“The tests came back negative, meaning that if they were in the water they are no longer viable,” Bellomo said. The test didn’t take into account water conditions before samples were taken Tuesday, Bellomo said. But the chance of disease-causing bacteria surviving was “very unlikely” because of the chlorine in the water.

The Cecil Hotel is expected to drain and flush its tanks and water lines before sanitizing them, a process that could take two or three days. The Department of Public Health will then conduct another series of tests before deeming the water safe to drink.