Anyone familiar with True Crime stories is surely familiar with the terrifying and mysterious death of Elisa Lam. A new Netflix docuseries airing in February will explore in depth the disappearance of Lam and the mysterious way her body was found. Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is a look into one of True Crime’s most captivating and chilling mysteries. 

Who is Elisa Lam?

Lam was a 21-year-old Canadian college student, on holiday from classes. Lam, a likeable and studious young woman, was taking the opportunity of a solo trip around the country on Amtrak to stretch her legs and take a breath between semesters. Although Lam’s parents were worried about the young woman traveling alone, Lam promised to and did check in with them regularly so they could be reassured that she was safe.

In late January, Lam checked into the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. Although Lam was scheduled to check out on the 31st, her parents became worried when she missed a regular check-in, and called the police. 

The police searched the hotel, but couldn’t find any sign of where Lam had gone. In order to aid their search, the police pulled surveillance footage from the hotel, and that’s when the story took a turn from concerning into the truly chilling and bizarre.

Surveillance footage of the hotel’s elevator raises far more questions than it answers. In the footage, Lam can be seen entering the elevator alone. Dressed normally, Lam’s behavior starts normally and ends oddly.

Lam enters the elevator, bends over to press a button, then looks confused as the elevator doors don’t close. The 21-year-old leans out of the elevator to look both ways, then tries exiting and entering several times. The elevator doors oddly don’t try to close. 

At one point, Lam exits the elevator and stands just off camera, her silhouette apparently facing down the hallway as she stands there. Lam eventually gets back on the elevator, holding her hands high and wide as though she’s feeling disoriented or dizzy. 

The college student presses many buttons, then exits the elevator again. This time, as Lam stands in the hallway, her behavior turns truly bizarre and she begins waving her hands around in the air, making strange gestures, her hands stiff. 

After a few more chilling and strange gestures, Lam exits the camera’s line of sight and isn’t seen again, but the elevator doors close and open several times before the footage ends. 

What Happened to Lam at the Cecil Hotel?

Cecil Hotel

The question of what happened to Lam after she exited the elevator remains a mystery. Police released the footage in the hope that someone would be able to help them find Lam. However, 2 weeks later, the question of where Elisa Lam had vanished to was answered in a horrible way.

Guests in the hotel complained about low water pressure and a strange taste in their tap water, and a maintenance worker took a peek at the water tank on the roof to see if he could figure out what was going on. What he discovered was the body of Elisa Lam. On February 19th, 2013, Lam’s body was removed from the tower with no clear answer as to cause of death.

Lam’s body was unclothed, her clothing in the tank with her. The tank was so difficult to access that they had to drain it and cut a large hole in the side to remove her body, which leaves questions as to how Lam’s body was placed there in the first place.

The coroner labeled the death an accidental drowning, but True Crime sleuths aren’t so sure. 

Theories abound. Some True Crime sleuths ask how Lam could have accidentally drowned in such an inaccessible location. And even if she managed to get in there – why would she have been there in the first place? 

An incomplete autopsy may have answered some questions, but raised others. A toxicology report showed that Lam had consumed no illegal substances, and only had medications in her system that she should have – including medications to treat bipolar disorder and depression.

AllThatsInteresting shares, “Soon after the toxicology report came out, amateur sleuths began poring over any information they could find in hopes of solving the mystery behind the death of Elisa Lam. For example, one summary of Lam’s toxicology report was posted online by a Reddit sleuth with an obvious interest in medicine.

The breakdown pointed out three key observations: 1) Lam took at least one antidepressant that day; 2) Lam had taken her second antidepressant and mood stabilizer recently, but not that day; and 3) Lam had not taken her anti-psychotic recently. These conclusions suggested that Lam, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression, may have not been taking her medications properly.

It is an important finding to note given that the use of antidepressants to treat bipolar disorder can risk inducing manic side effects if done without caution. Some sleuths have understandably latched onto this detail and suggested it was a likely explanation behind Lam’s strange behavior in the elevator.”

However, none of that explains Lam’s hard-to-access location of death. 

Although Lam’s parents have filed suit against the Hotel that says they should have inspected and prevented access to the water tanks, the Hotel countered that there would have been no reasonable expectation that someone could get into the tanks. 

Netflix Docuseries Looks to Explore Lam’s Mysterious Death

The Cecil Hotel has long had a dark and mysterious reputation, and Lam’s death certainly hasn’t absolved the place. Netflix’s docuseries will dive not just into the death of Lam and possible ways the young woman could have met her chilling and untimely end, but it will also explore the hotel’s history.

Airing on February 10th, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is a long-awaited chance for True Clime sleuths to revisit Lam’s disappearance and death through the lens of modern technology and perhaps answer some questions left unanswered. While court documents from the Lam’s lawsuit and expert testimony suggest that Elisa almost certainly was experiencing a mental health episode, many questions still surround the circumstances of her death. True Crime fans are eager to watch the docuseries and see what questions – if any – Netflix‘s Josh Berlinger is going to answer. 

Berlinger is the mastermind behind the well-received Netflix docuseries on Ted Bundy; Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes

Marie Claire shares Berlinger’s thoughts on creating The Vanishing; “‘As a true crime documentarian, I was fascinated in 2013 when the elevator video of Elisa Lam went viral and legions of amateur detectives used the internet to try to solve the mystery of what happened to her, a 21-year-old Canadian tourist on her first trip to Los Angeles,’ said Berlinger.

‘So, when journalist Josh Dean, who is also a producer on the project, brought us his research into this case, we realised there was as an opportunity to do something different by not just telling the story of Elisa’s disappearance, but to create a series that explores a particular location’s role in encouraging or abetting crime—or the perception thereof.’”

The docuseries will air streaming on Netflix on February 10th. 

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