Netflix's docuseries Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel sheds new light on the tragic death of Elisa Lam and the sordid history of one of LA's most infamous hotels. The four-part series introduces the detectives who originally covered Lam's case, the hotel staff who came under fire during the investigation, and a group of web sleuths whose interest in the case may have impeded the investigation. Former guests of the Cecil and local historians give insight into how the hotel became the site of so much human suffering.
It takes a while to understand the intent of the Elisa Lam documentary, but it's ultimately about setting the record straight regarding Lam's death. Wild conspiracy theories emerged on the internet during the Lam investigation. As it turns out, Elisa Lam's death was much more heartbreaking than any theory found online.
The Docuseries Concludes That Lam's Cause Of Death Was Accidental Due To Drowning
The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel at first comes off as sensationalist, exploring the numerous conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Elisa Lam. In the final installment of the four-part docuseries, viewers learn that Lam's official cause of death was ruled an accidental drowning rather than foul play.
The medical examiner who performed Lam's autopsy theorized that once she jumped into the water tank atop the Cecil Hotel, she was unable to get back out. She likely removed her clothing in an attempt to stay afloat, or as the result of hypothermia. It can also be assumed that she drowned the night of the infamous elevator footage because the clothes she wore in the video were also found at the bottom of the water tank.
Lam Was An Avid Blogger; The Docuseries Includes Many Of Her Tumblr Posts
A major focus of the docuseries is Lam's Tumblr, Nouvelle/Nouveau, where she showcased her talents as a writer and described the challenges she faced in life. As Lam herself put it in one post, "I suppose we roam on the internet because we aren't able to find in our physical lives the human connection we need for survival."
Over the course of the docuseries, viewers learn that Lam wrote candidly about her struggles with bipolar disorder and also documented the early days of her trip up the West Coast. One of her last posts reads, "Have arrived in La-La Land... and the rest is to be written."
In describing Lam, one participant in the docuseries laments, "I think we got cheated out of a brilliant writer in the making." It's appropriate then that the final words spoken in the series are Lam's.
Lam's Parents Attempted To Sue The Hotel
After the LA Medical Examiner's Office officially ruled Lam's death an accidental drowning, her parents sued the Cecil Hotel for failing to protect their daughter. The Lams' attorneys argued that guests shouldn't have been able to access the roof, and that someone should have contacted Lam's family when her behavior turned erratic. The hotel's lawyers maintained there was an alarm on the door to the roof, and there were no regulations regarding the fire escape that led to the roof.
A judge eventually dismissed the case in favor of the hotel. In terms of notifying the family, Amy Price, former general manager of the Cecil, says in the docuseries that Lam's "behavior was bizarre, but not enough to be, you know, calling officials in." Price adds that because of the high crime rate on Skid Row, it's unlikely officers would have responded to any call she made on Lam's behalf.
The Series Shines A Spotlight On The Ex-Manager Of The Cecil Hotel, Who Had A Very Hard Job
Throughout the docuseries, Amy Price, general manager of the Cecil Hotel from 2007-2017, speaks candidly about her time there. In addition to overseeing extensive renovations of the hotel, Price had to manage the constant issues that arose among the Cecil's long-term tenants and guests. Price had to call police one to three times daily during her decade as manager, and estimated that 80 people died in the hotel while she worked there.
Despite the scrutiny that Price came under during the investigation into Lam's case, and the overall stress of managing the hotel, she remembers the Cecil with fondness. While discussing the current plans to turn the Cecil into a combination of low-income housing and luxury hotel suites, Price said, "I know she can be a showstopper again."