(TMU Op-Ed) — Back in 2013, I became obsessed with a true-crime case that was very popular online. And very strange. You might be familiar with it.
A surveillance recording of a young woman in a red hoodie—who can be seen acting bizarrely, almost as if she is hiding from someone, in an elevator inside the infamous Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles—went viral on YouTube.
That same young woman, 21-year-old Chinese-Canadian tourist Elisa Lam, was found nearly two weeks later in one of the hotel’s rooftop water tanks. Her naked body was removed with relative difficulty by firefighters, who had to cut into the side of the cistern with lasers to extract the corpse.
The conditions were extremely suspicious. Though no one could quite explain how Elisa would have ended up on the alarm-triggered roof in the first place, much less drowning naked in a difficult-to-access water tank, LAPD detectives closed the case without criminal charges. They concluded there was no foul play and that Elisa had accidentally drowned due to complications resulting from bipolar disorder.
I subsequently spent five years researching this tragic, extraordinarily eerie, one-of-a-kind case and wrote a book, GONE AT MIDNIGHT: The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam.
The case had personal resonance for me early on. I read Elisa’s voluminous online writings, which detailed her battle with severe depression and bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder—which drastically increases suicide rates—had taken the life of my aunt and threatened the lives of several close friends; and depression had been an ongoing battle in my own adult life.
The spectacle of seeing millions of people online trying to divine whether Elisa’s death was the result of hypomania, human predation, or some paranormal demon struck me as particularly apropos of our current Internet-mediated reality.
In the process of investigating the case, I turned up new information that will interest readers and web sleuths on a number of levels.
People who aren’t particularly familiar with the case will be introduced to the eerie Cecil Hotel via a biography that explains why it’s so incredibly synchronistic that this tragedy played out at this location. An extensive history of the Cecil Hotel (renamed Stay On Main) reveals an almost unbelievable number of unexplained deaths, suicides, and murders starting in the 1930s and continuing to the present day.
Incredibly, a manager claimed on camera that someone has died in all 600+ rooms of the hotel.
A former tenant revealed to me that employees had used their master keys to enter guest rooms and sexually assault women. At least two different prolific serial killers, Richard Ramirez (the “Night Stalker”) and Jack Unterweger, lived on the upper floors of the Cecil (Ramirez on the same floor where Elisa was recorded) during their respective murder sprees.
There’s a reason why tenants called it “The Suicide Hotel.” Main Street pedestrians have periodically glimpsed bodies of “jumpers,” the many souls who jumped to their deaths from the upper floors. One had a nervous breakdown upon the ghoulish sight of a woman strung up in the cable lines and had to be admitted to a hospital; another was actually killed by a suicidal Cecil tenant who landed on his head.
Many insist to this day that a resident evil looms within the very walls of the building. After staying there by myself twice during my research, I can attest that it’s a lodging experience you will never forget (though you will want to).
People who are familiar with the case, and who have been waiting for some answers, will be relieved to know this book contains exclusive new interviews and evidence that has not (yet) been leaked online. In the book, I spend a great deal of time going over the history of Cecil Hotel’s internal corruption, as well as recent LAPD scandals, to lay the foundations for why I’m convinced there’s been a criminal coverup in this case.
I also take great pains to state why I don’t view mental illness and foul play as mutually exclusive. In fact, I spend several chapters discussing the multitude of neurological, genetic, and psycho-social factors that must be addressed before someone can even intelligently discuss mental illness, much less try to approximate what was going on in Elisa Lam’s head on January 31st, 2013.
In other words, there may be multiple colliding realities of what was going on that night.
The new evidence I gathered includes: eyewitness testimony regarding the discovery of Elisa’s belongings; new forensic analysis of the autopsy by an independent coroner that contradicts the LA Coroner’s Office stated cause of death; a payment made by the Cecil Hotel to one of the employees who discovered Elisa’s body, who likely perjured himself in a civil deposition and subsequently left the country with his family; and an LAPD informant who has firsthand knowledge of a possible quid pro quo between Cecil Hotel executives and the LAPD. And more.
I hope to catch the notice of the California Attorney General because this case desperately needs an independent audit.
I went into the writing of this book wanting to counter the stigmatization of mental illness in today’s society. Ultimately, I encountered a police department willing to use a victim’s mental illness to scapegoat a botched investigation.
GONE AT MIDNIGHT: The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam will be released by Kensington Books (Citadel) on February 25th, 2020. You can pre-order a copy now. You can also enter a Goodreads giveaway to win a free copy. For updates, follow me on Twitter @OverTheMoonSF.
Scientists Horrified as Over 27,000 Leaking Barrels of Toxic DDT Discovered on Seafloor Near LA
Over 27,000 barrels of the toxic insecticide DDT have been found so far on the seafloor about 12 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, in what could be one of the greatest examples of industrial pollution uncovered in recent memory.
The barrels have been leaking, and researchers fear that there could be up to a few hundred thousand barrels of DDT waste in total. Over 100,000 total objects have been found in the area by researchers at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
The barrels cover an area roughly spanning double the size of Manhattan and lie off the coast of Santa Catalina Island, which is home to dozens of endemic species that exist nowhere else in the world.
DDT waste has been linked to cancer and widespread disease among humans as well as mass die-off events in the natural world. It is likely that the vast trove of illegally dumped DDT could be linked to the widespread cancer faced by sea lions along the West Coast.
“Unfortunately, the basin offshore Los Angeles has been a dumping ground for industrial waste for several decades, beginning in the 1930s. We found an extensive debris field in the wide area survey,” said Eric Terrill, chief scientist of the expedition and director of the Marine Physical Laboratory at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said in a statement.
Los Angeles Times reports that shipping logs from a disposal company implicate Montrose Chemical Corp. of California, a company that produced DDT, in likely dumping some 2,000 barrels of DDT-laced sludge each month from 1947 to 1961 into a designated dumpsite.
Additionally, logs from other entities show that several other industrial concerns in Southern California used the basin as a dumping ground until 1972, when the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act was enacted.
Rep. Matt Gaetz’s “Wingman” Wrote Letter Admitting Both Men Paid for Sex With Teen
Joel Greenberg, the former Florida county tax collector and longtime “wingman” of embattled Rep. Matt Gaetz, admitted in a letter that both he and the disgraced GOP congressman paid for sex with a number of women – including a minor.
The confession letter was written during the waning day of the Trump presidency, long before the scandalous conduct of the Florida congressman gripped national headlines, in a bid to win a pardon from President Donald Trump, reports the Daily Beast.
In the letter, which was handwritten, Greenberg reveals that both he and Gaetz allegedly were “involved in sexual activities” with a girl who was 17 at the time.
“On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District and myself,” Greenberg wrote in reference to the minor.
Continuing, he noted that various forms of payment were made to the teen to secure sexual favors.
“From time to time, gas money or gifts, rent or partial tuition payments were made to several of these girls, including the individual who was not yet 18,” Greenberg wrote.
“I did see the acts occur firsthand and Venmo transactions, Cash App or other payments were made to these girls on behalf of the Congressman.”
Greenberg alleges that the teen had deceived the pair over her age, and that he and Gaetz were under the false impression that she was 19 when they paid her for sex.
“There was no further contact with this individual until after her 18th birthday,” he claimed.
The letter was written after notorious Trump ally and “fixer” Roger Stone was asked for a pardon by Greenberg.
Gaetz, 38, has been facing an investigation over whether he paid a 17-year-old for sex and facilitated her travel, which would violate sex trafficking laws.
It is also believed that the investigation encompasses the possibility that the congressman paid a number of women recruited online for sex.
Gaetz has denied ever paying for sex or having sex with a 17-year-old, and he hasn’t yet been changed.
Video Shows Officers Stop Fellow Cop Who Was Punching Handcuffed Woman
The conviction of former Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd has drawn mixed reactions from law enforcement officers across the country. While many police departments and associations have responded positively, some officers have also reacted with quiet resentment – and even the fear that they, too, may one day be held accountable for excessive use of force.
This may have also been the case in an altercation caught on video where two police officers in Orange County, California, could be seen stepping in and preventing a fellow officer from continuing to punch a handcuffed woman during an arrest.
In dramatic video from Wednesday captured via mobile phone in Westminster, the handcuffed woman – Ciomara Garcia, 34 – can be seen between two officers sitting on the curb. As one officer stands up, the woman does too before an officer pushes her down to the ground. The woman then attempts to kick the officer in the crotch before the officer begins punching her.
The two other officers then quickly intervene to restrain the officer and shove him away, preventing him from further beating Garcia as neighbors reminded the police in Spanish that they are filming the arrest.
The officers were initially dispatched to the neighborhood by a call over an alleged assault with battery claiming Garcia assaulted an Asian woman who was trying to fetch her dog running loose in the street.
A witness, however, told KTTV that Garcia was walking her dog when a bicyclist approached closely, causing Garcia to fear that her dog would be harmed. An altercation between the residents soon unfolded. Five minutes later, the bicyclist returned with the officers, alleging that Garcia struck her. The witness claims no such attack occurred.
Garcia has been booked into Orange County Jail on a bench warrant, while the officer was promptly placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
One wonders whether some officers are changing tack in their relations with the community, and with the so-called “bad apples” in their own ranks, following Chauvin’s conviction on all counts for the murder of George Floyd.
Meanwhile, the three other former officers who took part in last May’s fatal arrest – Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao – could face serious jail time for aiding and abetting Chauvin in the slaying of the Floyd.
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