‘Crime Scene: The Vanishing At the Cecil Hotel’: The Theories About Elisa Lam’s Death

Elisa Lam was a 21-year-old student and tourist found dead at the Cecil Hotel near the infamous Skid Row section of Los Angeles. Crime Scene: The Vanishing At the Cecil Hotel, Netflix’s latest true-crime docuseries, examines Lam’s death and the theories surrounding it. 

Water tower where Elisa Lam's body was found
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel | Netflix

The police deemed Elisa Lam’s death an accidental drowning 

Lam was last seen on Jan. 31, 2013. Authorities found Lam’s body in a water tank on top of the Cecil Hotel on Feb. 19, 2013. Allegedly, the tank was behind locked, alarmed doors. But the evidence presented in the Netflix series says otherwise. 

Lam had bipolar disorder and depression. According to toxicology reports, she was taking medications for those and took them up until her death. Given Lam’s mental health and the psychotic break she appeared to have in the elevator footage, the police deemed her death an accident. 

Was the supernatural involved? 

In the elevator footage, Lam appears manic and as though she’s trying to hide from someone or something. Some Reddit theorists believe Lam may have attempted the Elevator Game, which supposedly allows players to open a portal to another dimension by using an elevator in a specific pattern.

Others believe Lam’s inexplicable connection to the occultist Aleister Crowley had something to do with her death. The founder of the Thelema religion, Crowley believed in interdimensional travel. Crowley frequented The Cecil in London, where he penned a poem about the sacrificial death of Selia — something many conspiracy theorists have connected to Lam’s case as an anagram of Elisa. 

One theory says someone murdered Elisa Lam

The elevator footage of Lam has others thinking someone was stalking Lam. The Cecil’s reputation for unsavory guests aided in this theory’s evolution, as did one of Lam’s blog posts. She documented much of her travel on her website. In one entry, Lam talked about being followed by a “creeper,” but there has been no further evidence that backs this claim. 

Oddly enough, when authorities found Lam’s body, there were signs of anal bleeding. Despite this evidence, Lam’s autopsy didn’t include a rape kit test.

The theory she was a biological weapon

The Cecil Hotel isn’t far from the infamous Skid Row. In February 2013, the LA Times reported a massive tuberculosis (TB) outbreak. Fortunately, the antibiotic Isoniazid was prescribed to those diagnosed with the disease. 

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What does all of this have to do with Lam’s death? A LAM-ELISA test, or Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent assay, is the name of the tool used to test for TB. Some people believe a terrorist group sent Lam to LA as a biological weapon meant to infect the homeless population near Skid Row. 

Some people consider Elisa Lam’s death an unsolved mystery 

The Netflix series Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel heavily documents the evidence surrounding the Cecil Hotel and Lam’s tragic death. Still, some people consider Lam’s case unsolved.  

“People still want to selectively tell the story by leaving information out like the hatch [on the water tower],” creator Joe Berlinger told Entertainment Weekly. “To me, it’s a solid case. The preponderance of the evidence makes me very confident in the idea that it was a tragic accident.” 

For Berlinger, Lam’s death was a tragic accident. “This was somebody who was having a mental health episode and a tragic set of circumstances collided,” he added. “She thought she would be safer by crawling into that tank and she became trapped.” 

Form your own opinion — stream all four episodes of Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel on Netflix.