Netflix's new docuseries Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel re-examines the mysterious death of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old student from Vancouver who disappeared during a solo vacation to Los Angeles in early 2013. Two weeks after she went missing, the LAPD still had no concrete leads, so they posted a surveillance video of Lam behaving oddly in the hotel elevator online in hopes that someone would come forward with information. Instead, the video went viral, capturing the attention of amateur web sleuths across the world.
In the footage, Lam enters the elevator wearing a red hoodie, black shorts, and sandals (the same clothes that were found in a water tank on the roof of the hotel along with Lam's dead body just days after the video was shared). She pushes a number of buttons and seemingly hides in the corner of the elevator, repeatedly sticking her head out and even stepping into the hallway. She then reenters the elevator, once again pushing a number of buttons before stepping outside another time, gesturing and moving her hands and arms around in an odd and trance-like fashion. Finally, she exits the elevator and walks down the hallway.
The surveillance video has become central to Lam's case — and the conspiracy theories that have surrounded it — both because it was the last time that she was seen alive and because of its peculiar nature. Lam's own behavior in it is strange, but that isn't the only suspicious thing. Some believe the footage was tampered with, insisting the video was slowed down in some parts and that the time stamp was obscured in others. There are also a number of unanswered questions. Why did the hotel doors remain open for so long, despite Lam visibly pushing a number of buttons trying to get the elevator to move? Was Lam talking to someone who was out of view of the camera, or was she experiencing some kind of hallucination? And most importantly, what happened after the events of the video that led to Lam ending up dead in a water tank?
The case is now technically closed, having been ruled an accidental drowning by the LA County coroner. But the video remains a subject of fascination among the community of people who think there's more to the story.