Crime Scene: The Vanishing of Elisa Lam is a 2021 Netflix series.
6 out of 10 stars. I was very surprised that this was produced by Ron Howard because much of it is tabloid journalism and shock TV. If you watch the last episode that’s everything you need to know. Ignore the “web sleuths”. Most of them are idiots seeking attention.
Who was Elisa Lam?
Elisa Lam was a 21 year-old Canadian girl who decided to take a trip along the western coast of the United States in 2013. At 21 she was an adult and her parents really couldn’t stop her, but it’s a shame she went alone because that’s the real reason she died. Elisa had bipolar disorder and on several occasions had stopped taking her medication and had paranoid and psychotic episodes. She was even hospitalized for this on at least one occasion. Her parents were immigrants and she was first generation Asian-Canadian. That language barrier led to several misunderstandings between Elisa’s family, the media, and the police.
The Cecil Hotel
The Cecil Hotel is a century old hotel in downtown Los Angeles right on skid row. In fact, skid row evolved because of the Cecil Hotel. It’s basically a flop house. It has housed at least two serial killers (Austrian Jack Unterweger and American Richard Ramirez). Ramirez was otherwise known at the Night Stalker and is a pedophile on death row. He raped children who were six to eight years old, but this was never publicized for the sake of the victims. He also raped and murdered several men and women in the Los Angeles area and would come back to his room at the Cecil Hotel covered in blood. Over the decades there have been many murders, rapes, and disappearances from the Cecil Hotel.
Stay On Main Hotel
In 2011, the owners of the Cecil Hotel rebranded it and created a new entrance with a second lobby which they called Stay On Main. It was advertised as a trendy hotspot and budget hotel for traveling students. With ads that made the place look like a Soho boutique, they attracted a lot of guests. One of those was Elisa Lam. She had no idea that she would be staying in a hotel with rapists, murderers, and pedophiles who lived there. When Stay on Main was created, it was three floors in the middle of the hotel sandwiched between the residents of the Cecil Hotel. They shared the staircase and the elevator.
Elisa Lam’s Disappearance
In July 2013 on her fourth day at the Cecil Hotel, Elisa Lam disappeared. She was last seen inside the Cecil Hotel. So the police searched the hotel with more than a hundred police officers, all 700 rooms. However, they failed to search the water tanks on the roof. One of the hatches was open and Elisa was inside, floating face up nude with her clothes at the bottom of the tank. So what happened?
How Elisa Lam Died
The police released video footage of Elisa inside the hotel’s elevator. She was obviously distraught and having an episode. She is seen panicking and pushing several of the buttons in the elevator, including the DOOR HOLD button, so the elevator doors don’t close. When that happens she peeks outside expecting to find someone holding the elevator button, but there is no one. She runs from the elevator toward the fire escape. In fact, when the police searched the building the scent dogs ran to the fire escape but then lost the scent. She apparently was having a paranoid attack and thought someone was after her, so she looked for a hiding place on the roof and climbed into one of the water tanks. Once inside there was no way out and she drowned.
So let’s dispel some of the myths surrounding this death. Myth 1: The water tank. Web sleuths described the water tank lid as weighing 20 pounds and not attached to the tank, just sitting on top of it with a lip. That’s not true. The water tank has a hatch that was usually closed. Elisa opened it when she went inside the water tank and it was found still open weeks later when she was found. Myth 2: The singer. Coincidentally there was a Mexican death metal musician staying at the hotel at the same time Elisa disappeared. Web sleuths stalked him, harassed him, and had all of his social media accounts closed calling him a murderer. He had nothing to do with her disappearance. Police are for investigating crimes, not idiots sitting at their computers. Myth 3: The staff. The manager of the Cecil Hotel at the time Elisa disappeared was a real piece of work. She’s cold, ruthless, and was responsible for the rebranding that led Elisa to stay there. It’s easy for people to blame her for Elisa’s death because she saw Elisa’s erratic behavior and did nothing about it. When Elisa checked in, she was assigned a room with two roommates. She began handing them written notes that were scary telling them to get out of her room, so they reported it to management and Elisa was moved to a room with just her. Elisa had also made several scenes in the lobby. At that point, the manager should have done something. She didn’t. So a conspiracy theory developed among the web sleuths saying she and the staff killed Elisa. They didn’t. Myth 4: She was murdered. The water tank is on a pedestal with three other water tanks on the roof. The only access to the water tank is past a small catwalk. The only access to the roof is a fire escape. There is a door but only three people have the key: the manager and two maintenance staff. So in order for someone to have murdered Elisa they would have had to chase her onto the roof via the fire escape, kill her there, carry her body over several narrow planks to get back to the water tank, open the hatch, and somehow drop her inside. Even a very strong man would have difficulty with this and there would have been evidence on the roof. There wasn’t. The autopsy showed that she had ridiculously low levels of her four medications, meaning she’d gone off her meds several days before she died which explains her erratic behavior. Myth 5: She was raped. This myth evolved because Elisa was found naked. The water in the tank was cold and she obviously had hypothermia before she died. Hypothermia results in the person feeling hot so they undress and take their clothes off. It’s called paradoxical undressing and is a real phenomenon.
6 out of 10 stars. This was a tragic event. I almost didn’t watch all four episodes because the first episode plays like tabloid TV. It’s a shame the “web sleuths” were given so much time in this documentary because they detracted from the investigation and the truth and caused the family a great deal of pain.