The Cecil Hotel

The Cecil Hotel

Brandon Chan, Staff Writer

Netflix’s newest documentary, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, discusses the mysterious disappearance of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old tourist from Canada who wanted to visit Los Angeles, in January of 2013. This trending show has a total of four episodes that explain how internet sleuths, Skid Row, and the previous residents of the Cecil Hotel may have contributed to her death as she was found inside a water tank on the roof of the hotel. However, even after this show aired, the mystery of who killed Elisa Lam has still not been solved. 

The reason people stayed at the Cecil Hotel in the first place was because the price was around $80 a night in the early 2000s, which is very cheap, and there were plenty of rooms—700 to be exact. However, this is a perfect example of quantity not being better than quality. 

One conspiracy theory is that since serial killers lived in that hotel, one of them may have killed her. A notorious serial killer who preyed on people in Southern California in the 1980s was known as the “Nightstalker” (Netflix also has a documentary on him). The show describes how the “Nightstalker” lived on the top floor of the Cecil Hotel and would walk through the hotel with blood on his clothes, but it was relatively unalarming to the manager and the residents because that area was so dangerous. Even though the “Nightstalker” was not present at the time Elisa Lam was staying at the hotel, he was part of a bigger problem that existed for decades. There were plenty of people who were intoxicated, drugged, homeless, etc. in the Cecil Hotel.

“It’s the place where serial killers stay,” said tour guide Richard Schave.

The reason the Cecil Hotel was not a pleasant place to stay was because it is located right in the middle of Skid Row. Skid Row is an incredibly rundown neighborhood in the middle of downtown Los Angeles and is one of the poorest areas in the whole country. This can be attributed to poor government involvement and lack of resources allotted to the people living there. 

An important part of this documentary was the role that internet sleuths—people on the internet who try to solve a crime—played. They took a video of Elisa Lam—still on YouTube—acting weirdly in an elevator that wouldn’t close, and tried to deduce if she was having a psychotic breakdown, if someone was following her, or if she was just drunk and not aware of her surroundings.

These internet sleuths even ruined Morbid’s life. Morbid is a musician whom they believed killed her because his music referenced a girl that he killed. However, because there was no real and sufficient evidence that he had committed this murder, Morbid said they only blamed him due to his lyrics and because the police weren’t able to find the real murderer. 

“The documentary features an endless parade of YouTube videos and Facebook post voiceovers, representing the army of amateur investigators making multiple unsubstantiated, or ultimately easily explainable, claims,” wrote Alessa Dominguez of BuzzFeedNews. “For instance, that the timestamp in the video is suspiciously scrambled, or that it looks like there’s someone else’s foot outside of the elevator.”

Police were also under scrutiny because they had lied about whether or not the lid of the water tank was closed or open when they got to the crime scene. Since the lid of the water tank was unhinged, which meant it wouldn’t shut by itself after being opened, someone must have been there to close the lid again. 

Even with this documentary and tons of people wanting to find the killer, this case remains unsolved.


Photo courtesy of GETTY IMAGES