"The water did have a funny taste"

Josh Clark

When I was a kid growing up in Toledo, Ohio, my parents took me to a weird Catholic church downtown every Sunday. There was a fleabag hotel nearby and it seemed that very frequently there were paramedics removing a dead body from one of the hotel's rooms after being murdered the night before. As a result, I developed a well-honed view that being murdered in a rundown hotel was a pretty bad way to go.

So I feel really bad for Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old girl from Canada who stayed at a cheap hotel called the Cecil while visiting Los Angeles and was murdered there. I also feel badly for her parents who reported her missing in early February. I also feel pretty bad for the people who stayed and ate at the Cecil Hotel since the beginning of February, because Elisa Lam's body was found on February 19 in one of the four 1,000 gallon cisterns that supply the hotel with water.

Which means that the hotel guests, as CNN puts it:

"bathed, brushed teeth and drank water from a tank in which a young woman's body was likely decomposing for more than two weeks"

Lam's body was found when a maintenance man went to the roof of the downtown hotel to get to the bottom of why the hotel's water pressure had declined. He found that Lam's corpse was the reason for the low water pressure, as well as the reason why black water poured out for the first few seconds whenever a hotel guest turned on a faucet.

A British couple who were staying at the hotel when Lam's body was discovered provided CNN and Huffington Post with some comments:

"We never thought anything of it," the British woman said. "We thought it was just the way it was here."

And her husband:

"The moment we found out, we felt a bit sick to the stomach, quite literally, especially having drank the water, we're not well mentally"

People who visited the coffee shop located in the hotel didn't fare any better, as it too is supplied water by the cisterns so the water made its way into the food, coffee and ice people ate during that time. The hotel is being ordered to sanitize all of its food-related machinery before it's allowed to reopen. The owners appear to not be all that forthcoming about the incident, telling incoming guests just to not drink the water; one hotel guest learned of the the source of the water contamination from a CNN reporter.

*Here are links to some episodes of the podcast where we discuss what happens to a body after death: What is a body farm? and What causes rigor mortis?

**Also, hats off to Huffington Post for their editorial decision to include the names of everyday people who are victims in their headlines, rather than reserving that just for celebrities.