Netflix Ruined My Favourite True Crime Mystery
The resolution doesn’t always provide satisfactory closure in the case of Elisa Lam.
Arguably one of the most compelling and eery mysteries of modern time, the disappearance of Elisa Lam has remained a staple case for lovers of true crime. That is until the four-part Netflix series Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel comes along and tries to neatly tie up all of the leads that made the case so compelling.
The docuseries takes us on a journey through a variety of conspiracy theories and possible resolutions. Taking us also through the dark and weird history of the hotel, which we are led to believe that in some way will be mirrored through the narrative to link with the disappearance. Yet in the final act of the series, we’re presented that all of the mysterious activity that makes the case of Elisa Lam so compelling to true crime lovers across the globe can be explained away in a simple rationalisation. Elisa Lam was suffering from bipolar and was experiencing a psychotic episode and somehow ended dead in a water tank atop the Cecil Hotel.
Yet, I’m still unconvinced.
Many elements of the case still remain unsolved and were not fully explained against the wrapped-in-a-box conclusion that Netflix provided. Sure, it is possible and likely that Elisa Lam was suffering, and through a tragic accident ended her life. But for me, there are too many unusual circumstances for me to just avert away from as much as Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel would like me to.
If you aren’t familiar with the case, you are likely familiar with the footage of Elisa Lam’s unusual behaviour that took place in an elevator inside the infamous Cecil Hotel which went viral back in 2013 and has been circulating online ever since. I must have seen the video about fifty times. It opens so many unanswered questions and I remember first being shown the video by a friend and having to read more about Elisa.
The video lasts around two and a half minutes. Elisa enters the elevator. She highlights a line of buttons, but the elevator doesn’t budge. Instead, Elisa starts to hide in the corners and bobs her head in and out of the door. It appears almost as though she is hiding from someone but it’s unclear who or why. Around the two-minute mark, I get goosebumps every time she gestures her hands through the air, as though she is feeling for something in front of her, or perhaps signalling someone (or something) away, or perhaps being attacked.
It’s hard to fathom any sense of logic from it, yet that’s not even the most unusual part of the video. Something that is unexplainable is the elevator door never closes. The entire time it remains open. Even as Elisa stands nowhere near the sensors, it doesn’t even attempt to close. Is someone outside holding the doors open? Or is there something paranormal that relates to Elisa’s bizarre hand wavering and movements? If all of that wasn’t enough to digest in just one short but utterly bewildering clip, it’s almost certain that the video has been tampered with. Firstly, the timestamp at the bottom of the video is blurred out and doesn’t appear to be accurately measuring the passing seconds, at points notably jumping as though portions of the video have been removed. Secondly, there are points in the video where you can clearly see the elevator door about to close before jumping to a later clip. It’s predicted that around one minute of footage has been cut out of the video. So, the question still remains, edited this video, and why?
It’s worth noting an elevator game that may have originated in Korea. The game is a dark dangerous ritual that can lead you to another world if played correctly. According to the guidelines, if the elevator then descends to the first floor, the player must exit immediately. If it goes up, the player has apparently been admitted to another world .
Was Elisa playing this game? Does that explain the strange behaviour in the video and even her death? I don’t see myself giving it a try anytime soon.
Another unexplained feature is how Elisa ended up in the water tank in the first place. A video (see below) tries to explain that that is would be easy for her to make her way to the deadly container. However, for Lam to have entered the tank alone, she would have needed to navigate to the roof of the hotel passing through a locked and alarm activated door or climb a fire escape ladder that hangs dangerously across the side of the building, then scale onto the tank platform climbing a 10-foot ladder at the side of the tank and open a heavy metal opening to the container, all while in an apparent episodic mental state. It’s worth noting that Elisa also ended up undressed so at one point would have had to remove her clothes before entering the tank. No alarm was ever triggered to suggest that Elisa had opened the door to the roof, an area that guests were not allowed. I just find the whole story hard to chew. If Elisa was in fact in such a mental state that would firstly explain the elevator footage, and in such a state she would take her own life, I don’t see how she would have made it through such a complex journey up onto and into the water tank.
A main compelling piece of evidence that leads us through the first three episodes is that the opening to the water tank that Elisa’s body was found in was reported as closed. This being clear concrete evidence of foul play, as it would have been near impossible for Elisa to close this herself from the inside once in the water. Until the final episode sweeps the rug from beneath us by informing viewers that the entrance to the water tank was in fact open when the body was discovered. Ruling out the only factual evidence of foul play. But something about this still felt all too convenient for me to chew. It was first reported the door was closed, then it was open. That’s a big mistake to make. Something doesn’t sit right. And as soon as this is revealed in the big unmasking conclusion to the series, all other theories appear to be thrown out of the window. The whole case was riding on whether or not this water tank door was or wasn’t open when Elisa Lam died. It was as though the police were searching for the fastest reason to close the case as accidental. This leads me to the police handling of this case.
It took the police literally weeks to discover the body. In one episode the detective on the case talks about how they are searching the hotel from top to bottom in extensive searches. Yet it wasn’t until nineteen days later that the body of Elisa Lam was found in the water tank. For a case that was so widely populated, there’s something just that doesn’t feel right in that timeframe. It took so long that guests of the hotel were drinking the water for days from the tank that Lam’s body was found.
Let’s just talk for a second also about the manager of the Cecil Hotel at the time Amy Price. I don’t know if she or the hotel were involved, but she sure as hell does not help herself by appearing in this documentary. Nothing she really says specifically links her to this case, but her casual talk about Elisa Lam and the various graphic stories of the events at the Cecil Hotel feels unusual. I don’t specifically think that Amy Price is involved in this case, but there’s the darkness from the history of the Cecil Hotel that seems to be represented through Amy Price.
Whilst we’re on the topic of Cecil Hotel. There’s something about Elisa Lam being found at this particular L.A. hotel. The hotel has a history of suicide and is known for a dark past with a total of 16 sudden or unexplained deaths that have occurred in or around the hotel. The hotel had even changed its name to Stay on Main to try and disconnect from its past. From watching the documentary and listening to an array of podcasts and videos, there’s something that doesn’t seem quite right about the hotel and the connection to its dark past. For me, a theory that hasn’t really been fully explored is there is someone else involved, most likely an employee of the hotel who either was on the roof already or let Elisa onto the roof, which could explain why the alarm on the door didn’t come up.
One of the most bizarre things that literally I just cannot get my head around. In the area of the Cecil Hotel, aka Stay on Main, there have been outbreaks of tuberculosis in the area. How do you diagnose TB? With a LAM-ELISA test. Yes. You read that correctly. I honestly don’t quite know what to make of this fact. It’s almost too much of a coincidence for this to be real.
Overall, I still remain unconvinced. Elisa Lam for me is still an unsolved mystery that even four episodes of Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel cannot clearly conclude. And maybe part of me wants to believe that there is a little mystery still left in the world. Maybe that explains the boom in the true crime genre. Maybe we find comfort in uncovering some the stories can’t be solved.
The hotel is due to reopen later this year. Will you be booking a trip soon?