Netflix’s ‘The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel’ Explores the Disappearance of Elisa Lam
If you’ve already binged Netflix’s recent true crime offerings (such as Night Stalker and The Ripper), don’t worry, we have your next fix. A fresh docuseries, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, launches February 10.
The series follows the strange and perplexing case of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old college student from Vancouver, who disappeared in 2013 during her stay at the infamous Cecil Hotel (known for its suicides and other deaths) in downtown Los Angeles. Her naked body was later found submerged inside a water tank on the hotel’s roof.
The series, directed by Joe Berlinger (The Ted Bundy Tapes), dives into the mystery surrounding Lam’s death and the investigation that followed. Police detectives describe the difficulty in finding answers, while members of the hotel staff, and guests staying at the Cecil at the time of Lam’s disappearance, share their accounts of the disturbing turn of events.
“[Elisa’s] story is an integral part of the Cecil Hotel’s history,” says Berlinger. “I didn’t want to invent dialogue or create speculative situations, so everything she says via voiceover in the show comes directly from her online posts.”
Since 1931, the hotel has been linked with tragedy. In one episode, it’s even alleged that serial killer Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker himself) used the Cecil as a place to clean up and relax after committing his crimes.
At times, the series presents the hotel as an eerie, almost supernatural place, more akin to American Horror Story, which based its fifth season on the Cecil. However, the doc also spends time breaking down this mythology by looking into what truly led to the hotel’s diminishing reputation.
“The Cecil was a jewel in L.A. when it was built in 1924,” Berlinger explains. “We wanted to examine how it fell into disrepair, which is directly related to the social and cultural changes that happened in Downtown Los Angeles over the course of nearly a century.”
There’s also unsettling elevator security video that shows Lam’s finals movements. That footage quickly went viral and became conspiracy theory fodder for amateur web sleuths.
The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is sure to spur on even more speculation about what really happened, but it’s also a warning on conspiracy theory obsession and the dangers that come with it.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, February 10, Netflix