The Netflix Law Review: ‘The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel’
Disclaimer: Trigger warning for mental health issues, suicide and violence (also Spoilers)
About a week ago or so now, I sat down to watch The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. So for anyone who needs context; in 2013 a young girl, Elisa Lam (21) was travelling through the United States on a West Coast tour. While she was in Los Angeles she stayed at the infamous Cecil Hotel, which, unbeknownst to her was known for some shady things, but constantly attracted travellers due to its low prices. While there, Elisa was declared missing when she did not call her parents to check in as she always did, everyday, as a precondition for her being allowed to travel alone.
During her disappearance a video was released by the police to help the public identify her or get any tips as to her possible whereabouts. This video instantly went viral and I’m sure many of you have seen it. She enters the lift, presses all the buttons and then hides in the corner. She seems to be scared or running away from something or someone and we see her frantically checking the corridors and potentially speaking to someone that is out is out of frame. The strange thing about this was that the doors of the lift never shut in this entire almost 4 minute video until Elisa leaves the lift and walks down the corridor.
The docu-series follows all the same clues as the LAPD back in 2013, interviewing the hotel manager, the detectives on the case and other residents of the hotel but I have to be honest guys, I just don’t buy it. The conclusion was reached that Elisa had forgotten to take her medication and had a bipolar episode that caused her to be extremely paranoid ( hence why she looked scared on the lift) and had run out to the roof to hide. While on the roof, the theory is, she decided to go into one of the water tanks to hide and had accidentally drowned and or caught hypothermia.
The reason I simply don’t buy it is that too many things are not adding up. Firstly, in the video that was released, a full minute disappeared according to the time stamp; if there was no foul play why would anyone tamper with the video? Now if we run with this tampered video theory the next questions to ask are who and why? Well first the who – who would not only have access to the CCTV footage but also had any motive to mess with it in the first place? My answer; someone in the hotel staff. I think that someone was following her that night, which more than likely made her paranoia sky rocket, explaining her frantic behaviour that night. I think whoever it was, followed her out to the roof, and either made her so desperate to hide that she got inside the water tank or potentially pressured her into it.
The reason I say this is because at the beginning of the case, when she was initially found in the tank it was reported that the latch was shut, which can only be done from the outside. By the end, the janitor changed his statement and claimed that it was open when he found her body. I don’t believe it at all. I believe that someone in the staff closed that latch behind her, went to check the CCTV and when they saw something that could’ve incriminated them they messed with the footage before handing it over to the police.
The why is something I’m not quite sure of. I feel like there is an endless amount of reasons why someone from that hotel would be involved in something so evil. Downtown LA and specifically that hotel is known for gang violence, drug abuse, murder, prostitution and countless other crimes. It is very much possible that Elisa stumbled across something she wasn’t meant to see and was simply a loose end. It is also very possible that someone targeted her as a fresh faced 21 year old all alone with money and prescription drugs at hand.
Some would call this a bit of a stretch and maybe I’m fishing for a story where there isn’t one but I think one thing most of us, if not all of us, can agree on is that had she not stayed at that hotel Elisa would be alive today.
Elisa was mentally ill, but she was not suicidal. That hotel took zero notice of her behaviour, didn’t check in on her when he had to be moved from her room, did nothing when she seemed unsettled and panicked in the lobby, and nothing when she went missing. They also had very easy access to a rooftop that a) was unsafe and b) had water tanks that evidently were very easily opened. To me, it sounds a lot like negligence across different departments, starting with the manager down to the janitor. When Elisa’s check-out day arrived and she didn’t show up, no-one attempted to contact her, the staff even cleared out her room, tampering with the evidence. To give them some slack it was common practice for that hotel due to how many people would skip out on checking out and paying or maybe… that’s exactly what someone was counting on.
I’m going to stop theorising here because I could go on and on. I definitely do not believe we have the full story. Maybe Elisa did suffer from a really bad episode but I doubt that was the only thing that caused her death.
My thoughts go out to her family and I hope they are holding strong and living life to the best of their abilities. My thoughts also go out to anyone suffering from mental health issues. I understand that sometimes it may feel like you are alone but I promise you, you are not. And I know that sometimes its hard or virtually impossible to reach out for help but I need you to know that it is okay, you are okay and you are strong. You are beautiful, you are talented, you are intelligent and you are loved and valued.
If you or a friend ever need help here is a link to NHS reccomended websites and helplines to contact; Get help from a mental health charity helpline – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
Samaritans Suicide Helpline; 116 123 (Samaritans | Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy | Here to listen)
Warwick Students Helpline; Warwick Nightline | Contact Us
LBGTQIA+ specific helpline: Switchboard LGBT+ Helpline
You are never alone <3