Who Is Elisa Lam and What Is ‘Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel’ About?

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is the latest true crime docuseries to hit Netflix. Here’s what to expect from the series and more about Elisa Lam. 

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel | Netflix 2021

Who is Elisa Lam? 

Lam was a 21-year-old Canadian tourist who sought adventure. She traveled to Los Angeles in 2013 and rented a room in the Cecil Hotel.

Lam was last seen on Jan. 31, 2013. Her parents reported her missing in February, and her body was discovered on Feb. 19, 2013. A maintenance worker found Lam nude in one of the hotel’s covered rooftop water tanks located behind locked, alarmed doors. The LA Police Department concluded Lam accidentally drowned. They cited her bipolar disorder and mismanaged medications as the leading cause of her death.

Later, in elevator footage obtained after her death, Lam appeared frantic. She pressed multiple buttons and nervously checked the hallways. At one point, she seemed to be hiding from someone in the unmoving elevator.

When this footage leaked, many people assumed Lam was playing the “Elevator Game.” Others attributed her behavior to her bipolar diagnosis and lack of medication. To this day, Lam’s death remains an unsolved mystery.

There are several theories about the death at the Cecil Hotel 

There are a lot of theories surrounding Lam’s death. Some ideas say the LAPD was involved in covering Lam’s death up. Others say something supernatural killed Lam. Still, others think she may have been a biological weapon or her death was truly an accident. 

Perhaps the strangest part of Lam’s death is how long it took anyone to find her. Her body was found in a water tank that provided the hotel with water. As such, some of the Cecil’s guests complained about the water smelling bad and tasting funny. Some of them even reported it to be a dark color. 

What’s more, Lam’s death shares a narrative almost identical to the horror film Dark Water, which came out in 2005. In the movie, a woman and her daughter move into an apartment building where a young girl’s body is found in the water tank. 

The Netflix series Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel examines Elisa Lam’s death with dignity 

Joe Berlinger worked on other Netflix series like The Ted Bundy Tapes and Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich. His latest work looks at Lam’s wildly popular disappearance, but without disrespecting the tragic nature of the story. Regardless of the theories surrounding Lam’s death, Berlinger made it his goal to respect the young woman through his storytelling. 

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“One of the critical issues with the true crime genre is that some stories are done irresponsibly,” he told Entertainment Weekly, continuing:

I never want to take on a story where I’m wallowing in someone’s tragedy just for the sake of telling that story. I always want to widen the lens and have some social justice message or some kind of social commentary, a larger reason to tell the story.

We wanted to dissect the truth and not to dismiss her tragedy as a demonic possession, or a haunted house story, or that something supernatural has befallen her. To me, that is very disrespectful to the victim by not honoring the truth.

To learn more about Lam’s death, stream Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel on Netflix now.