Sunday 2 July 2023

Nerd Church - Internet Pitchforks: The Cases of Elisa Lam and Nicola Bulley


Title: Internet Pitchforks. Sub-title: The Cases of Elisa Lam and Nicola Bulley

Warning: this post discusses sensitive topics, including but not limited to - missing people, unexplained death, accidental death and drowning, murder, internet harrassment, mental health problems

Links may also contain distressing content.

Disclaimer time: I am not any sort of scientific, legal, sociological, or psychological expert. I'm a chick with an internet connection.

In late January 2013, a young woman named Elisa Lam went missing.

Elisa was an Asian-Canadian woman, aged 21, who had been travelling - alone - in the US. 

She had been staying at the Cecil Hotel in LA, and contacted her parents daily. 

When she failed to phone them on January 31st, they contacted the LAPD to report her missing.

Sadly, her body was found in the water tank on the hotel roof in February 2013.

It was eventually determined that Elisa's death was accidental - that she was suffering a Bipolar episode, and died after going swimming in the tank.

Elisa's story may sound (relatively) straight-forward but... it was weird.

There were numerous weird coincidences, things that didn't add up, and questions about how exactly she ended up in that water tank.

Not least the infamous 'elevator video' - grainy CCTV from inside the elevator at the hotel - which you may or may not have seen, where Elisa is acting... very strangely. 

...Not inconsistently with a hallucinatory Bipolar episode, in my opinion as someone who's witnessed a family member with Bipolar, but without audio or other camera angles, and with the poor picture quality creating some odd optical illusions, it's... unnerving.

The oddness of Elisa's disappearance, and the subsequent discovery of her body, caught the imagination of the internet sleuths and true crime buffs

 - who back in the innocent days of 2013 were a fairly niche, but rapidly growing, phenomenon.

In the absence of any real answers - certainly of any satisfying answers, ones which left no loose ends - people spun every little detail into conspiracy-board levels of speculation.

Someone who literally had nothing to do with Elisa's disappearance was a 'horror musician' named Morbid, aka Pablo Vergara.

Morbid had no connection to Elisa Lam whatsoever.

He had once - about a year before - stayed at the Cecil Hotel, and posted a video of himself online, which showed him there, at the hotel.

He also made extremely dark music and videos/art projects that dealt with incredibly dark themes.

Some of his art had coincidental timing and themes with Elisa's disappearance - hardly the only weird coincidence around the case, and one of the most tenuous.

He also - before anyone gets any ideas - was 100% verified as being in Mexico at the time of Elisa's disappearance. 

He didn't know her. He never met her. He was not in LA at the same time of her. He was not even in the US at the same time as her.

So why am I bringing him up?

Well because the internet, in its infinite wisdom, ruined his goddamned life.

People took the two coincidences - his video at the Cecil, his artwork with some very vague similarities to the case - and decided that he had killed Elisa Lam.

Imagine the worst internet pitchfork moments that you've ever seen. 

All directed at one man who literally has no clue what they're talking about.

For the full story of the utter hell this man went through, I recommend the Netflix series 'Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel' - where he tells his story (in episode 4 in particular.) Be warned: there is discussion of attempted suicide.

What happened to Pablo Vergara was inexcusable. I really hope he's doing OK now.

In late January 2023, a woman named Nicola Bulley went missing in the UK.

It was... odd.

There were odd details - she was out walking the dog, and seemed to simply disappear into thin air.

The prevailing theory was that she had fallen in the river, because of where her phone and the dog were found, but the dog was dry...

It was just odd.

Much like with Elisa Lam, there were too many weird details for people to be satisfied that there wasn't something more going on here.

And a lot has happened - both in the world and on the internet - in the ten years between the two women's disappearances.

If the pandemic didn't prove that people can be total jacka**es, nothing will - so, imagine, pandemic-level jacka**ery creating a digital maelstrom around the friends and family of a missing woman.

Before her body had even been found, the blame for her supposed murder had been placed on pretty much everyone who had given an update or an interview to the press - especially her partner.

(And of course, there were the wilder conspiracy theories, as there was with Elisa, but I'm not even going there.)

The actions of members of the public seriously hampered the police - and don't get me wrong, I don't think Lancashire Constabulary handled this particularly well, and they also definitely need some basic PR training.

...But the public lost their goddamned minds and sense of propriety. Mostly on TikTok, apparently.

Missing people cases are not tourism opportunities, and you are not Sherlock Holmes. 

In a... bizarre... twist, Nicola's body was eventually found, in February 2023, in the river - after huge and complex searches by police and dive specialists - by a psychic medium.

Unlike most of the members of the public who inserted themselves into this case, though, Jason Rothwell seems to have acted with respect and consideration - both for the law and, y'know, common decency.

...And he didn't, for example, post footage of the recovery of her body online, like one b**t**d did.

Nicola Bulley's death was ruled an accidental drowning, with cold shock contributing, by the coroner.

(In case you were wondering, British river water in February can create cold shock very easily, and cold shock is often fatal to even experienced swimmers.)

It's human nature to speculate. Anyone who pretends otherwise is lying.

With Elisa Lam and Nicola Bulley, there's too many odd little occurrences for our hooman bean brains to accept without questioning, imagining, considering...

Curiosity is what's kept us alive as a species, and our brains are programmed to find patterns quickly - even where there are none.

It's safer to mistake the leaves for tigers than to mistake the tigers for leaves.

But the internet is public. 

Some chats etc. are private, sure, but even then there's a time and a place, y'know?

But general socials? They're public. 

Anyone might come across the random sh** you were saying when you were drunk last Friday - you know what I'm talking about.

And while it all might seem harmless to you - please, exercise a shred of empathy, and consider what it feels like for the people involved.

Have some goddamn responsibility for your actions and words - your affect on the world.

Misinformation has real world consequences for real people's real lives - especially when it's such a personal circumstance.

And - and I will repeat this until I no longer have to - you can damage the case by speculating online.

In the UK, you can get arrested for Contempt of Court. The charges may even get thrown out if the defendant in a case can show that they're unable to get a fair trial.

Do you want that? Because that's what could happen.

I'm not saying you can never talk about a case in the news ever again.

But think about what exactly it is that you're posting.

We all have a responsibility, when we post things online, to consider what it is we're putting out into the world.

We won't always get it 100% right, but we should still try.

Social media has given us all a platform - for better or worse - so try to use yours responsibly.

Have you heard of these cases?

Had you heard of Pablo Vergara?

Talk to me! 💬

You can follow me on Twitter @CeeDoraReads, on Pinterest, and on Dora Reads @ BlogLovin. For more ways to support me, check out the Support Me page

Previous Nerd Church Posts:

Sharing and commenting really means a lot!

← Previous Post


  1. I have heard of the Elisa Lam case because of the connections to Canada. I think I've mentioned this before but I think those interested in true crime need to tread very, very lightly. The internet's interest in being their own forms of detectives can seriously cross ethical boundaries.

    1. I think that there def. needs to be responsibility and compassion taken with things like this - especially amongst people who are, let's be honest, chasing clout. Some people are just awful.


Comments? I love comments! Talk to me nerdlets!