'Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel' Trailer: What Happened to Elisa Lam?

On January 26, 2013, Canadian student Elisa Lam came to Los Angeles. She eventually checked into the run-down Cecil Hotel located in Downtown Los Angeles. But by January 31, 2013, she had vanished, seemingly into thin air. There was no record of Lam checking out of the hotel, and all the police really had to go on was mysterious security camera footage from one of the hotel’s elevators that showed Lam behaving oddly. The case went cold – until February 19, 2013, when Lam’s body was found floating in one of the hotel’s rooftop water tanks. Lam’s disappearance and death – and that disturbing elevator footage – created a wealth of conspiracy theories – some plausible, some ludicrous (the prospect of the supernatural came up, for instance). Now, the Netflix docuseries Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel tries to uncover the real story.

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel Trailer

Crime Scene is a new series from Netflix that aims to “deconstruct the mythology and mystery surrounding infamous locations in contemporary crime.” The first season comes from acclaimed documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger, and focuses on the Cecil Hotel, the infamous spot where student Elisa Lam died in 2013. Lam’s official cause of death was ruled as an accidental drowning, but the details of the story were so strange – and that infamous elevator security footage so creepy – that the tale took on a life of its own.

The four-part series doesn’t just cover Lam’s death. It also covers the history of Downtown Los Angeles, specifically the Skid Row area, and the Cecil Hotel, as well as examining the viral life the story took on thanks to web sleuths. Here’s a synopsis:

From director Joe Berlinger (CONVERSATIONS WITH A KILLER: THE TED BUNDY TAPES, PARADISE LOST), CRIME SCENE: THE VANISHING AT THE CECIL HOTEL is the first season in a new documentary series that deconstructs the mythology and mystery surrounding infamous locations in contemporary crime. For nearly a century the Cecil Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles has been linked to some of the city’s most notorious activity, from untimely deaths to housing serial killers. In 2013 college student Elisa Lam was staying at the Cecil when she vanished, igniting a media frenzy and mobilizing a global community of internet sleuths eager to solve the case. Lam’s disappearance, the latest chapter in the hotel’s complex history, offers a chilling and captivating lens into one of LA’s most nefarious settings.

In press notes for the series, Berlinger stresses that he didn’t want to sensationalize and only focus on lurid details. “The idea was to have a central story, in this instance Elisa Lam’s case, that takes viewers from episode to episode, but to also balloon out and give larger context to the crime itself based on the location. Her story is an integral part of the Cecil Hotel’s history, and it was important to us that we not just tell a story about Elisa’s untimely death, but also to highlight the impact that she had on people,” the filmmaker said. “We also spoke to a number of professional experts who had direct involvement in Elisa Lam’s case — members of the Los Angeles Police Department, former employees of the Cecil Hotel, local journalists, and medical experts. As with any good crime story, you have to be a good steward of the responsibility given to you, because for the people involved, this is not just a story.”

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel debuts on Netflix February 10.

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