'The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel' Explores Elisa Lam's Unexplained Disappearance


Jan. 26 2021, Published 7:30 p.m. ET

the vanishing at the cecil hotel
Source: Netflix

Netflix’s latest true crime documentary takes a look at one of the most perplexing, still-unexplained news stories in recent memory. 

Any true crime buff could tell you the basics surrounding the disappearance of Elisa Lam, a Canadian student who was found dead at a Los Angeles hotel back in 2013, but Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel provides a more detailed look at this unsettling case. 

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The creepy, real-life disappearance caught the attention of amateur crime sleuths all over the world, and the Netflix series details a number of conspiracy theories and details from the case that just don’t add up. 

If you find yourself intrigued, keep scrolling to learn more about the true story that The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is based on.

twitter post of a missing Elisa Lam
Source: Netflix
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The true story behind 'Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel' remains unexplained.

The Cecil has a rather notorious history, to say the least, and Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel explores the hotel's dark past before getting into the details of Elisa's specific case. 

Built in the 1920s, the Cecil has been linked to some of Los Angeles’s most well-known serial killers, including the "Night Stalker," Richard Ramirez. The hotel was also the setting for the infamous murder of actress Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia, and served as the inspiration for American Horror Story’s hotel-themed season.

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel chronicles a more recent case that took place at the Cecil: the bizarre and hair-raising disappearance of Elisa Lam. 

The Canadian student was staying at the downtown LA hotel alone when she went missing in 2013, leaving behind all her possessions including her wallet and identification.

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Elisa was first reported missing by her parents in Canada who abruptly stopped hearing from her the day she was supposed to check out of the hotel. A police search provided no answers and two weeks later, the case gained notoriety when the authorities brought it to the public’s attention, hoping to get more leads.

missing poster of Elisa Lam
Source: Netflix
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First, the LAPD released footage of Elisa’s last known sighting, which was taken by one of the hotel’s elevator cameras. The footage drew worldwide attention because of Elisa’s strange behavior. In the video, the young woman is seen entering the elevator and selecting a number of different floors. 

She’s also seen peering out of the elevator when the doors don’t close, entering and leaving the elevator for no apparent reason, and waving her arms around in a way that makes it seem like she’s communicating with someone, although no one else is there.

The footage circulated widely and online detectives began positing a number of theories to explain Elisa’s behavior. Some said it looked like she was trying to run away from someone, others said her erratic behavior was a clear indication that she was on drugs, and still others suggested that she was having a psychotic break. 

Nevertheless, the video footage yielded no concrete results for the police investigation. 

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As authorities were still searching for Elisa, the Cecil started to receive complaints from their guests about low water pressure in the bathrooms. Some guests also said that the water was discolored and had a strange taste to it.

In a subsequent maintenance check, Elisa's body was discovered in one of the Cecil's 1,000-gallon water tanks on the roof. The coroner issued a statement saying their findings showed that Elisa's cause of death was an accidental drowning, and noted that bipolar disorder was a significant contributing factor.

elevator footage of Elisa Lam
Source: Netflix
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However, there were still a number of details that did not add up. 

Although Elisa's cause of death had been determined, there was no explanation as to how she got into the tank in the first place. Only hotel staff had keycards that allowed access to the hotel’s roof and additionally, each tank had a heavy lid that was almost impossible to open, let alone close from inside the tank.

If you’re already hooked and need to know more about Elisa and her disappearance from a hotel with a decades-long history of strange deaths, stream Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel when it premieres Feb. 10 on Netflix.

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