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What Happened to Elisa Lam, Dorothy Jean Purcell, And Why You Should Never Play The Elevator Game

Netflix”s captivating documentary Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is primarily an assortment of limited criminal investigation and internet speculation. It investigates Elisa Lam’s brief time at the Stay on Main hotel, inside the Cecil Hotel. Unfortunately, it also documents her mysterious death. The Cecil Hotel has a long and tragic past. It has claimed many victims, including Elisa, and probably will claim even more. Like a spider ensnaring its victim, the hotel preys on the most vulnerable and consumes them body and soul. Who or what keeps claiming lives? Is it a supernatural force, restless spirits, or the mysterious Elevator Game?

In 1924 the Cecil hotel was built by William Banks Hanner in Los Angeles, California. The rich history is storied and disturbing. Elizabeth Short, known as the “Black Dahlia,”  is L.A.’s most famous unsolved murder. She was reportedly spotted drinking there in the days before her murder. The Cecil also housed serial killers Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger during their bloody trot across the United States. In fact, Ramirez made the hotel his base of operations for some time during his killing spree.

W.K. Norton ingested poison capsules and died via suicide. Ben Dodich, a maid of the hotel, died via a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Mrs. Osgood was raped, beaten, and stabbed in her room, and the crime remains unsolved. Dorothy Jean Purcell gave birth and threw her baby out of the window in one of the rooms. All of this well before The Cecil claimed Elisa Lam.

The Elevator Game
Episode 1 of Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. c. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

What happened to Dorothy Jean Purcell?

In 1944 Dorothy Jean Purcell was a 19 yr old girl staying at the Cecil Hotel with her boyfriend. She gave birth in the bathroom after having abdominal pains. She had no idea at the time that she was even pregnant, and her boyfriend didn’t know either. After delivering a baby boy, she thought her baby was dead and decided to open the window and throw him out. He landed on the rooftop of a building next to them.

An autopsy of the baby revealed he had air in his lungs at the time of death and therefore was not dead. Afterward, she was charged with murder and found not guilty by “reason of insanity.” She never gave a reason for tossing her baby from the window other than she thought he was stillborn. Three separate criminal psychiatrists, or alienists as they were known at the time, testified that she was mentally confused.

What Happened To Elisa Lam?

Perhaps out of the many deaths, including several not mentioned above, one stands out among the rest. Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old Canadian student, was found dead in 2013 inside one of the hotel roof’s water supply tanks. Lam has been missing for nearly three weeks when a maintenance worker checked on the water tanks after guests had complained about low water pressure and a sweet disgusting taste. The water was a sickly black color, leading to the immediate investigation. Authorities ruled her death as an accidental drowning, but video surveillance from inside the hotel elevator tells a different story.

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Prior to her death, Elisa was a blogger, often writing openly about her mental health battle. She had been diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder and had been prescribed medication to help stabilize her mood. In some instances, skipping high doses of antidepressants can lead to episodes of mania, a behavior that is mimicked in the last video Elisa can be seen in. During the autopsy, it was revealed that she still had some amount of her prescription within her, along with a small amount of alcohol, not nearly enough to induce a drunken stupor or a poorly timed dip in the water tank above the hotel. Ruling out an episode of mania, we are left with more questions and possibly a game to play in the dark.

Footage from an elevator at the Cecil Hotel from shortly before she disappeared shows Lam acting strangely. She is seen pressing several elevator buttons, hiding in the corner, and moving about frantically. Some rumors argue she died playing the “elevator game.”

The Elevator Game

According to several dubious posts online, this game transports the player to another dimension, one distinct from your own. Cursing your own stupidity, you watch as the doors open, revealing an all too normal fourth floor, then the second, sixth, second again, the tenth, and then the fifth. According to several witnesses across the internet, upon arriving on the fifth floor, the doors will open, revealing a young female dressed in black. She will step on to the elevator with you. She may speak or act out. All previous players tell you not to talk with the woman, for she is not what she seems. Arriving once again on the tenth floor will reveal the other world, pitch black except with a glowing red cross in the distance. This then completes the game.

It’s generally acknowledged that the game first hailed from east Asia, with The Ghost in My Machine reporting its first known appearance on the internet in Japan back in 2008. There is reason to believe that Japan is the origin of this game, thanks to some evidence from two years before.

The game isn’t just an innocent urban legend like saying Bloody Mary three times in a dark bathroom. It’s not a creepy thought experiment like Red Door Yellow Door, which can, but be shouldn’t be played alone but a potentially dangerous game that at the very least will annoy other hotel guests. Elevators can be deadly. A fatal elevator accident took a high school boy’s life in the City Heights Takeshiba condominium complex in Minato Ward, Tokyo. 16-year-old Hirosuke Ichikawa was crushed to death in one of the two elevators made by Schindler Elevator K.K. in the 23 story building. The elevator rose with the doors open while Hirosuke was getting off with his bicycle. Several accidents during the time occurred similarly, causing panic and fear around elevators. This is likely the origin of the game.

Although the reason behind her death is uncertain, the Elevator Game and the infamy that came with it persist to this day. Be sure to check out Netflix’s The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel for more information about this scary story.