Elisa Lam: Mystery Gross Over TIme

A young woman of Chinese descent, raised in Canada, spending time in Los Angeles, found dead in a water tank on the roof of a notorious hotel.

There is a reason to think that Elisa Lam’s mystery would gather international attention.

Lam, a 21-year-old Chinese-Canadian, was found face-up in a rooftop water tank atop the Hotel Cecil in downtown Los Angeles in February 2013, and how she got there and how she died is still a mystery, despite a thorough investigation and even the viral elevator video featuring Lam inside the hotel.

The death has captivated many in the four short years since it occurred, as the official autopsy report called the death an accidental drowning, but there are so many questions still unanswered, namely:

  • How did Elisa get into the tank in the first place?

Elisa would have had to climb out the window of her room, up the fire escape, then up a ladder to the top of the tank (which was about eight feet high), then lift the 20-pound lid, climb in, then close the lid behind her. Not to mention, she was found naked in the tank.

  • What was going on in the elevator video?

Elisa has captivated many with the elevator surveillance video, which the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) released to the public just days after Elisa’s body was found. Known to have bipolar disorder and depression, Elisa was seen to be acting oddly in the video, cowering in the corner of the elevator at one point, and at another point seeming to be talking to someone in the hallway – though there was no other person seen. Was she having an episode, or was she really talking to someone who just happened to be outside of camera view?

  • Was there drugs or alcohol involved?

This question is only partially settled in that the official toxicology report showed that there was no drugs or alcohol in Elisa’s system. However, does that mean the three or four known medications she was supposedly taken were not in her system either? Actually, we’re not sure of that because there was no report of blood work done on Elisa’ body, which would have confirmed the existence of these medications as well as any other foreign substances.

And no, the body showed no signs of trauma that might have suggested a homicide, and there seemed to be no real evidence that Elisa died as a suicide attempt (the Hotel Cecil has a reputation, but all those suicides were executed by jumping off the building, not drowning in the tank). Elisa’s personal effects and some of her clothing was found floating next to her in the water, and her body was only found after maintenance crews responded to guest complaints about low water pressure and/or muddy water.

The real tragedy here is that Elisa’s family, especially her parents back in Vancouver, British Columbia, has many of the same unanswered questions, and also does not have the closure that they would need to understand what happened to their girl.

It is a death that has inspired episodes of shows and even short films – which makes sense since it was right in the backyard of Hollywood.

Elisa Lam’s death is truly an L.A. Confidential.

 

The Sodder Children: Fire Or Mafia Statement?

Was it just a tragic accident, or was there a nefarious purpose?

Was it a tragic loss of life, or a cover for a kidnapping?

Was it just a matter of a grieving family’s grasp for hope, or were five children truly taken and were actually still alive?

The sad story of five of 10 Sodder children in West Virginia in 1945 eventually caught the compassion and attention of the nation in the months and years following.  The story is a clash between what has been “officially” determined about their fates, and the story pushed forward by the Sodder parents, who were never convinced that their children died in that house fire Christmas Eve night in 1945.

The fire started from the fuse box at a two-story house where the Sodder family of George and Jennie Sodder and thei r 10 children lived. Five of the children, aged 5 to 14, where in the two attic bedrooms when the fire broke out, and the staircase that would have led downstairs was engulfed in flames, so the children had to find another way out.

George Sodder, the father, tried to get up to the bedroom window from the outside of the house to rescue the children, but could not because a ladder that would have been used was missing (later found dumped in a nearby ravine). He tried as best he could, but could not reach the children, and was left to hopelessly watch the fire consume the entire house, and presumably the five children with it.

The next morning, Christmas Day, there was a brief inspection of the fire scene (about two hours, when normal inspections will take days), and there were no human remains found on the property. The cause of the fire was officially recorded as due to faulty wiring, but George Sodder questioned that because he had an electrician re-wire the house recently, and the Christmas lights on the tree were still on and working while the fire burned around it.

With no remains recovered, and the ladder missing and found later in an area that made no sense, the Sodders begin to think that the fire was used as a ruse to have the children kidnapped from their bedrooms, as some sort of retaliation by the Italian mafia in response to George’s public rants against Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Sodder had become a pillar of West Virginia society as an owner of a small trucking company, so his anti-Mussolini rants were well-known among the Italian communities in the Eastern U.S., as there were a number of Italians who supported Mussolini – including most of the mafia that operated.

George Sodder, in his haste to erase the memory of the fire, bulldozed the site soon after the initial investigation and buried everything under five feet of dirt, making all future investigations nearly impossible. Several investigations were undertaken in the years following, as there were eyewitness accounts of seeing the children leaving the house in a vehicle at the time of the fire, with even one waitress at a nearby diner serving breakfast to a “family” of children with a man on Christmas morning, with a car in the parking lot having a Florida license plate.

Seventy years later, the youngest of the Sodder children, Sylvia, was the last surviving member from that home (she was about 2 at the time). She had continually pressed the issue about knowing the whereabouts of her siblings, and even passing the story down to her own children to pursue until final answers can be determined.

There is a belief that death in the fire is most plausible conclusion, but there is also the belief that the kids were kidnapped and sent back to Italy. To this day, there is still no hard evidence on any website to support either result, so the mystery continues.

This Is The Weird Case Of Norway’s Isdal Woman

In Bergen, Norway, there is a span of land called the Isdalen Valley, parts of which are also sometimes nicknamed Death Valley (no copyright infringement intended). Perhaps it might come as little surprise, then, that someone would choose to dump a body there in 1970. When a man and his daughters were hiking the Isdalen Valley that year, they stumbled onto charred remains of a young woman who would leave Norway–and an international audience that would speculate on what had happened for years to come–with the mystery of a lifetime.

The body was home to a boatload of evidence that would amount to very little in the way of determining how she came to that place. Judging from the materials on her body, she was may have been a drug addict. There were about a dozen sleeping pills on her person, an empty bottle of liquor, and two bottles of petrol that were likely used to start the fire that left her–and her passport–burned to a crisp.

The autopsy concluded that she died of carbon monoxide poisoning. She also had upwards of fifty sleeping pills in her system. Had the stream of evidence ended there, it might have been concluded that she committed suicide by a variety of means. Alas, the stream of evidence did not end there.

The fire had left her face unrecognizable. She showed signs of being in a recent struggle because of bruising on her neck. Someone used sandpaper to make her fingerprints disappear. Although it seems like someone went to quite a bit of very gruesome trouble to ensure that no one identified the body, they seem to have missed one tiny detail–her teeth. They indicated that she had probably had work done as far away as Europe or South America, although the exact location could not be identified.

This was only the tip of the iceberg.

Investigators went on to find two suitcases thought to belong to the Isdal Woman at the nearby Bergen railway station. They found money, clothing, a lotion prescription, partial fingerprints, and diary entries that pointed to cities the woman had perhaps visited. Labels were absent from the clothing, as were the signature of the prescribing doctor and the date during which the lotion was prescribed. It seemed that every new avenue led to a dead end in the case.

Investigators located a man who had provided the woman with a car ride and also joined her for a dinner. Although he provided them with details about the cover story he was given, it was readily apparent those details were fabricated. Eventually it was learned that the unidentified woman had traveled Europe with no fewer than eight fake passports, and that those who met the woman knew she spoke many languages.

Later, a man came forward to tell investigators that he had seen her hiking with a couple of men just days before her body was discovered. He believed she had been about to speak, but that those same men interrupted her and kept on moving. It is unknown if this story is true.

This case is still a source of intense international curiosity, and even today agencies operating in Norway are openly seeking new information to find out more about the woman and the factors surrounding her death. So far, this is all we know–and perhaps it is all we ever will.

Why Is The Mystery Of The Somerton Man So Appealing?

Humans have a naturally inquisitive disposition. We like to question, we like to share information, and we often say that knowledge is power. If that is true, then perhaps the lack of knowledge is weakness. In the case of mystery, it shows. Anything that occurs out of the ordinary tends to attract more attention, even when a closer look might reveal that the details aren’t as odd as they seem–but the Somerton Man mystery might be right on the money. It is just as weird as it looks.

On the first of December in 1948, the body of a John Doe was found on Somerton beach near Adelaide in South Australia. This is also called the Tamam Shud case because a torn page from Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (a book of poetry) had the phrase printed on it. The phrase is usually translated as “finished” or “ended.”

There are many details of the case that cause our curiosity to flare. When the rest of the book from which the page was torn was finally found, police noticed a phone number, numbers, and a possibly encrypted text inside. Since it was found, authorities have never been able to discover the meaning behind the text or numbers.

The phone number belonged to a woman who went by the name of Jessica Thomson (an alias, as she was born with the name Jessie Harkness). The woman denied all knowledge of the Somerton Man. In the most recent interviews conducted with Thomson, it was suggested that she seemed uncomfortable when answering questions (although after so many years of people questioning her about the same subject, that’s probably not a huge surprise). Thomson’s daughter eventually revealed that she believed her mother did indeed know the John Doe.

Just these odd circumstances were already enough to elicit fears that the John Doe could have been the victim of international Cold War paranoia that was escalating around the same time period. The corpse was never identified, was associated with an encrypted code, and the man died under questionable circumstances. Was he poisoned? Some people seem to think he was. Even the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation scanned their databases for fingerprint matches. The FBI discovered nothing (that they made available to the public, anyway). Dental records showed nothing either.

There were several witnesses who may have seen the man at the same part of the beach where his body was later discovered, in various stages of movement. Some believed he may have been drunk, and so they decided not to lend the possibly dying man any help. In 1959, someone else claimed that they had seen one man carrying another along the same beach. A report was made, but the credibility was probably questioned immediately.

The coroner in charge of the man’s autopsy deduced that the likely cause of death was an undetectable poison. Other than that, the corpse belonged to a man who was in perfect physical shape.

Most theories about the Somerton Man’s death involve espionage. As with most mysteries that have persisted so many decades, though, we will probably never discover the truth as to who the man was or how he really died. Even today, military agencies and hobbyists around the world struggle to understand the numbered code written in the book of poetry. Is it real? That’s another question to which we’ll probably never find the answer.

The Genesis Of The Term “Bobbit”

If social media existed in the early 1990s, this would have been a viral meme.

And a term would be in the current Urban Dictionary and would be used thousands of times, maybe even in contexts that don’t fit – but might be scary.

In the 1990s, it was about “Don’t get Bobbitted.” Or it was, “Before you go all Bobbitt on him …”

Guns are considered dangerous weapons, but not kitchen knives in the hands of a crossed woman?

You’d want the gun, if there was a chance that woman was as ticked off as Lorena Bobbitt. She became a verb in the English vernacular.

For those not in the know, Lorena Bobbitt was the husband of John Wayne Bobbitt in 1993, who infamously sliced off her husband’s – um, membership – while he slept in their home in Manassas, Virginia. Lorena had enough of John’s abuse, including a claim that he had raped her earlier that night while he was drunk.

After verbal, physical, emotional and sexual abuse through most of their marriage, Lorena finally had enough. She waited for John to fall asleep, then she went to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and cut off the entirety of John’s membership and took off in her car with it, finally throwing it into a nearby field.

A short time later, Lorena came to her sense and called 9-1-1, and authorities searched for the appendage and put John through more than 9 hours of surgery to re-attach it. John later appeared in an adult movie in an effort to prove that his membership was still functioning.

The trial in 1994 was a media circus and a ratings bonanza unlike any seen to that point (until the O.J. Simpson murder trial a year later), as many were glued to the reports about the details of the incident and the backstory. Lorena’s defense brought forth many witnesses to John’s character and his abusive nature toward Lorena, showing justification and a self-defense angle to what she did.

Lorena was found not guilty due to insanity, but she was put in the national media for weeks as a poster woman for victims of spousal abuse, and in some circles hailed as a hero or stepping up in favor for abuse victims who often don’t have a voice.

One of the legal issues that came to the fore as a result of the trial was the topic of spousal rape, whether it was a thing and the penalties for such a charge. There was a quick push across the country for spousal rape to be added to criminal codes as a charge related to, but separate from, domestic and sexual abuse.

For a while there, men were much more tentative around women who seemed weak but had an inners strength and passionate emotion that could drive them to do such an act. Men who seemed dominant suddenly were perceived as being equalized by a crossed woman and a kitchen utensil.

And it went to show how powerful the “fight or flight” instinct can be, even in those who are perceived as being too weak to have their own voice.

And it made some men afraid of going into their kitchens for a while.

Sandy Drummond Has Scotland Perplexed

Even a TV documentary couldn’t help.

One of the more frustrating cold cases in Scotland’s long history has been deemed so “unsolvable,” that even a television documentary series that highlighted this case, didn’t generate enough new leads to break the case open.

Nearly 15 years after the documentary aired, and more than 25 years since the act took place, the murder of 33-year-old Sandy Drummond is as mysterious as ever.

Drummond, a laborer, was found dead in June 1991, on a farm road just outside his cottage home in the village of Boorhills in Scotland, and investigators have reviewed the case several times over the years with no successful prosecution of a suspect.

There was a claim made by an investigative reporter in the UK a few years ago that he had seen some investigative notes about the case and noted that the police did have a suspect in mind, but by the time they went to him to question and/or arrest him, the person was already dead – also murdered, it turned out. That event changed the direction of the investigation, in that the murder suggested that there may have been accomplices to the murder, or that this suspect was an accomplice of the actual murderer.

Drummond was found strangled, oddly just a few days after he reportedly withdrew all his money from the bank and quit his job. There is no evidence of this being a robbery or mugging gone bad but the timeline was certainly curious.

In 2003, a TV documentary series was created to highlight some of the most prominent unsolved cases in Scotland, and the Drummond case was one that had an entire episode of the series devoted to it. While some leads were generated from airing the details of the case, nothing concrete came of them, and it faded back into obscurity.

But then, about 10 years later, as forensics have evolved at an ever-increasing pace, Fife Police in Scotland began a full review of the case, taking another look at the evidence and facts. With that scrutiny, they were hopeful to use more advanced forensics – such as being able to establish DNA from small skin or blood samples even 20 years old and somewhat decomposed –

The investigative reporter stated that in his research of the facts, the forensics seemed to indicate that Drummond was killed by some “ju-jitsu stranglehold,” claiming the the injuries suffered were consistent with some kind of martial-arts move. These usually do not use hands, which means forensic evidence like hand prints, fingerprints and dirt or blood under the nails would be reasonably ineffective according to the website.

As we are writing about this being an unsolved mystery even 10 years after a review, probably tells you that the Sandy Drummond murder remains high on the list of the most mysterious unsolved crimes currently on the books, one of the bigger mysteries in recent history – now moving ahead of Al Capone’s vault. So maybe the Fife Police should finally send Geraldo Rivera a thank- you card.

Too bad that won’t solve the mystery that is so mysterious, even massive public awareness didn’t solve it.

Scotland’s Overtoun Bridge And A Rash Of Dog Suicides

You probably wouldn’t think that man’s best friend was ever feeling so depressed that he might want to take the big plunge, but dog suicide is apparently a thing–whether they intentionally trip and fall or not. In West Dunbartonshire, Scotland lies a quaint little bridge designed by H.E. Milner. It’s popular not because of its beautiful architecture, though. The bridge has, for whatever reason, led to a number of dogs falling to their deaths. The international media, naturally, has taken a keen liking to this bridge and the phenomenon of dog suicide it seemingly perpetuates.

You might come to think that dozens of poor pooches are leaping to their graves every year, but the number is closer to one annually. Still terrible, but things could always be much worse. While that isn’t so high when you compare the number of human jumpers at other famous bridges across the globe, it’s still worth noting when considering a somewhat less depressed animal–like the canine.

After jumping, there is a fifty-foot drop to the waterfalls below. Researchers have since put a lot of thought into discovering why exactly these dogs are so attracted to the grim reaper and have found some interest factual tidbits that may or may not be related. First, dogs almost always jump from the same side of the bridge. Second, they usually do it when the weather is clear (granted, maybe people just tend to be more likely to take their dogs for a walk when it’s nice out–correlation does not necessarily equal causation, but you’ve probably heard that all before). Third, the dogs all have long snouts.

Animal experts aren’t doing much better when trying to find a reasonable explanation. David Sexton decided to focus on the factors of sight, sound, and smell when investigating but decided to go with the latter factor when mice and mink were discovered underneath the bridge. He eventually concluded that the dogs were probably attracted to mink urine, but a resident hunter says no. According to him, there are no mink under the bridge and never have been. How they were discovered when they’ve never been there is a question for later. In any case, it does seem likely that the dogs who have leaped to their deaths from the edge of the bridge likely smelled something they liked. Dogs see with their noses, and when you like what you see, you go for it. Right?

Sadly, strangeness surrounding the Overtoun bridge isn’t limited to dog suicide. In 1994, a man tossed his only two-week-old son off the bridge because, hey, that’s what you do when you think your just-born kid is the devil personified. The son was killed, but when the man tried to commit suicide the same way, he failed, later trying again in a more old-fashioned wrist slashing. He survived.

Eventually, a sign was put up warning dog owners of the potential dangers of the wonderfully aromatic Overtoun bridge. Please, if you visit the famous bridge, do keep your dogs leashed. If you think your children are possessed by Satan, on the other hand, you should probably just take them to church and say a quick prayer.

What Is The Dyatlov Incident?

Nine hikers died on February 2, 1959 in the Ural Mountains–but no one knows why. After a lengthy investigation, researchers on the case concluded only that an “unknown compelling force” led to their deaths. The details of the case only get weirder from there on out, but first and foremost, know this: these weren’t first-timers. The nine hikers were experienced, and they knew what they were doing.

So what did the scene look like when the nine hikers were found?

First, they did not all succumb to death in the same way. While most died of hypothermia, three died of physical wounds, and those wounds only lead to more questions. One of the dead hikers had cranial damage. Another had no obvious trauma to the skull, but suffered brain damage. A third female hiker seemed to have had her eyes and tongue ripped out. One had a crushed chest. On top of these strange injuries, one must consider the circumstances under which they fled from the relative comfort of their tents. It was snowing heavily at the time, and temperatures were well below zero. Experienced hikers would have known to stay indoors.

Did a yeti attack take place?

It sounds absurd, but some theorize an animal attack may be the most likely explanation. Others believe that the military had a part in the nine deaths. There are other possibilities. A fierce avalanche could explain some circumstances of the scene, while infrasound-induced panic could explain others. No matter what one concludes, the mystery simply cannot be neatly unpacked and wrapped with only the evidence we have right now.

Here’s what we do know.

When they fled the tent, they were either in socks or barefoot. Investigators believe the tent had been cut open from the inside, although when they arrived on the scene the tent was partly on the ground and covered from snowfall. That’s not too surprising since the attack likely happened before February 12, when the group expected to be back, and rescuers only descended on the camp on February 26.

Two bodies were found at the edge of a nearby forest, in only their underwear. Before they succumbed to nature’s wrath, they had managed to keep a small fire going. Three more bodies were discovered in between the camp and the forest, at varying intervals. The other four were not located for months. Nature had dumped four meters of snow over their bodies. They had managed to make it 75 meters farther than the first two who died at the edge of the forest.

Take it for what it’s worth, but a different set of hikers fifty kilometers away saw orange spheres in the skies where the Dyatlov incident took place. These same spheres were reported being seen nearby during February and March of the same year. These weren’t just crazy-people sightings, either. Both the military and meteorology services operating in the region confirmed the strange phenomenon. Whether it has anything to do with the Dyatlov incident is of course a big fat unknown.

What did happen? We don’t know, and probably never will. All current theories seem to have been disproved. While someone might initially say to themselves, “it was obviously drugs,” that wasn’t the case either. Nothing like that was found in the remains of the tent, not even a drop of alcohol. The group even refused to smoke cigarettes while on their hike. This mystery is one for the record books.

No Longer A Fresh-Bruin Case

If this had happened during the days of Robert Stack and Unsolved Mysteries, we might have a resolution this particular case. After all, the UCLA campus is a large campus with lots of people, and it’s in one of the largest cities in the world other than New York, so there are potentially hundreds or thousands of witnesses to any one person’s activities.

And yet, 18 years later, a disappearance case has gone completely cold and the victim is presumed dead, even without a body.

Bruinland has been able to keep quiet the case of one of its freshman students, who disappeared from his dorm room in the early-morning hours of a day in December 1999 following a dorm party. And yes, we mean disappeared in that his wallet, keys, and shoes were left behind in his dorm room, untouched.

After a night of partying and playing some video games (this was the late 1990s, so it was not the video games we’re used to) with a friend, Michael Negrete gave a couple high-fives, entered his dorm room at about 4 a. m. and was not seen or heard from again.

It was as if he walked right into a Sliders wormhole and didn’t have the remote to get back from the alternate universe.

Negrete was on a music scholarship, a good student and had no history of anything like depression, drugs or gambling. All reports were that he was well-adjusted and friendly. His roommate made the missing person report that morning, and a police dog was able to track Negrete’s scent to a bus station a few miles away – which was curious since he had no keys to drive a car and had no shoes to be able to walk very far. The trail went cold there.

There was a report of a white male in his mid-30s who was in Negrete’s dormitory the night of the party, who was reportedly wearing a shiny gray jacket. There should have been a general curiosity about a man in his 30s in a college dorm during a party wearing a jacket that could easily have been from the 1970s. However, police investigators were never able to find him, despite a piece of surveillance video that seemed to capture him, and a composite sketch by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office that was distributed.

What is even more mysterious is that in the last 17 years, there has been no activity on any bank accounts and there has not been contact from Michael to his family or friends. And yet, so far nobody has turned up. And there has been no physical evidence, zero witnesses, no DNA, nothing on security cameras, and he disappeared from a dorm room in a dorm building with hundreds of college students.

It’s hard to imagine college students all being drunk and/or asleep at the same time. Someone had to have heard, seen, smelled or know something. And yet we are here almost two decades later with just as many questions as before as to the whereabouts of Michael Negrete.

The Blair Bewitching Project?

Blair Adams was an … um, interesting guy. If only we knew much more about him.

There are some rather unusual, freaky, unexplainable crimes that have been committed over the years, and Blair Adams’ case is one that is about as mysterious as they come – especially the way he died and the fact that the case has gone cold.

Was Blair Adams paranoid? Or did the person he thought was following him, find him and did exactly what he thought would happen? Or was this some rather random, bad-karma situation in the old Confederacy?

The real mystery was Blair Adams’ death, though the events leading up to it were quite mysterious in themselves – we have nothing to go on since the primary witness to his behavior is him – and he’s not with us anymore.

Adams was found in a parking lot a half-mile from a hotel in which was supposedly staying – though he hadn’t checked in yet – in Knoxville, Tenn.  The autopsy revealed that he died because of a punch to the gut so powerful that it ruptured his internal organs.

Adams, a Canadian, got to Knoxville through a drive from Seattle – though he bought a plane ticket to Washington D.C. while in Seattle. He got into Seattle through the Canadian border, though it was his second attempt, as he was turned away the first time when he arrived at the border crossing with a briefcase full of money and no other bags and whatever possessions he could stuff in his pockets.

He had cleaned out his bank accounts and his safe-deposit box in Canada prior to this journey, claiming that he needed to leave Canada because he thought someone was trying to kill him. After being turned away the first time, he went back home.

The next day, he quit his job and asked a friend to smuggle him into America, but only after he had bought a plane ticket to Germany but changed his mind. When his friend decided that being caught as a human smuggler was not her idea of fun, she refused to help him. Out of desperation, Adams got a rental car and was successful in crossing the U.S. border a second time, and then he committed to moving on from Seattle.

He drove to Tennessee – not sure why exactly, other than it wasn’t a straight-line trip, which means he was behaving as if he was being followed – and entered a gas station in Knoxville. There, witnesses said he told the attendant that he couldn’t start his car. Turned out that he had the wrong keys, but the car was able to be driven to that gas station. He hitchhiked to a hotel and paid for a room but never went to it. He immediately left the hotel upon paying the money, and then his dead body was found hours later in that parking lot a half-mile away – with his pants removed.

As far as we know, that is all we know about Adams’ death, and this was more than 20 years ago. Was he mentally disturbed and wound up with a self-fulfilling prophecy? It seems we may never know