Canadian college student Elisa Lam was just 21 when she died. Her cause of death has been marked as accidental drowning, after her body was found in a water tank on the top of the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles, but exactly how or why she got there remains unanswered.
Now in a new Netflix miniseries, the case is to be explored once more, with Emmy Award winner Joe Berlinger chatting to those working in the hotel more broadly about the infamous past of the building, as well as those who have worked on and delved into the Lam case specifically.
You can check out the trailer for Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel below:
As showcased in the teaser for the documentary, Lam's case fuelled intense online speculation about what happened on the night of her disappearance. The last time she was seen was on video footage recorded at the Cecil Hotel's elevator, where she acted in an incredibly strange manner. Some say it felt paranormal, whilst others suggested she may have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.
Whatever the case may be, it looked like she was scared for her life, fighting to survive; but against who or what has never been revealed.
So, exactly where does the truth lie? First, we have to go back to where it all began.
On January 26th, 2013, Lam arrived in Los Angeles via Amtrak train from San Diego, as part of her solo trip around the West Coast of America. She was taking a break from her studies in Vancouver, and despite her family's worries about her travelling alone, she embarked on what was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime.
Due to her parents’ concerns, Lam would check in with them on a daily basis. So, the pair found it odd when on January 31st, they received no call or text. Instead, they were met with complete silence. Knowing that there must be something wrong, they got in touch with the Los Angeles Police Department, who searched the Cecil Hotel but found nothing.
The investigation quickly took an eerie turn when the authorities released video footage from the Cecil Hotel, showing what would soon be known as the final moments Elisa Lam was seen alive. You can see the footage for yourself below:
Though Elisa appears to be innocently scanning the elevator's list of floors at first, so she can travel to a different area of the hotel, the lift refuses to move and she steps swiftly out of the elevator, appearing to check if somebody is following her. From this point, her actions only get stranger. She steps in and out of the elevator a number of times before exiting it completely, with strange, non-fluid movements.
Eventually returning to the elevator, she presses multiple floor buttons repeatedly, before then quickly checking and stepping out into the corridor once more. Whilst there, she makes some odd hand movements that almost look as if she’s trying to explain something to someone who we can’t see in-frame. She then moves away from the camera, with the elevator eventually moving to a different floor.
Two weeks after the video was published, on February 19th, hotel worker Santiago Lopez found Elisa Lam's dead body floating on the roof of the hotel, in one of the water tanks. He had been following up complaints from customers about low water pressure and a strange taste coming from the water in the taps.
The tank had to be drained completely and then cut open from the side for Lam’s body to be removed. Still wearing the clothes she had on in the camera footage, police spoke to hotel staff who confirmed whenever Lam had been seen, she had always been alone. Nobody knew - and still nobody knows - exactly how or why her body made it to the water tank.
Following an autopsy, it was discovered that Lam had consumed a number of prescription drugs for her bipolar disorder. There were no indications of any illegal substances or alcohol in her body, leading to even more questions about her death.
Having taken antidepressants, which can risk inducing manic side effects, some believe that Lam was having an adverse reaction to the pills she had consumed before the footage we see from the elevator. Comments from hotel manager Amy Price backed this theory, after claiming Lam had to be moved from a shared room with other patrons, to a private room after complaints of "odd behaviour".
Further comments from the man who found her body, Lopez however, cast more doubt on Lam making her way up to the roof and getting inside the tank. He explained how much effort and energy she would have had to exert to make it all the way there, climbing up platforms and ladders to even get to the roof. His comments suggest it would have been near-impossible for Lam to climb to the top of the tank without being noticed. Still, with just a hint of possibility, it’s what most theories have pointed to.
So, what happened to Elisa Lam? We’re not sure anybody will ever know for certain. One thing is for sure however. This was an utter tragedy and a shining light of a life snuffed out way too early.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel comes to Netflix on Wednesday, February 10th, 2021.
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