The Cecil Hotel is notorious for being a cursed hotel. Located next to “Skid Row” in Los Angeles, the once-glamorous hotel is now frequented by people who have to resort to crime and violence to survive. However, this hotel has a particularly sinister past. The Cecil Hotel is even the inspiration for American Horror Story: Hotel. This infamous status is most likely why the disappearance of Elisa Lam at the hotel caused such a global sensation. Elisa Lam is the victim featured in Netflix’s Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, but the main character is the hotel, and its evil personification may have affected the solving of Elisa Lam’s case.
So where does this reputation come from? The Cecil opened on December 20, 1924, and the first reported death at the Cecil occurred within the hotel happened just over 2 years later on January 22, 1927, when a man died by suicide in his hotel room. This was the first of 16 reported deaths that have happened at this hotel. Twelve of those deaths have been reported as suicides, and nine of the victims fell from the building. The Cecil was also the last place that the Black Dahlia was seen alive.
Not only were there deaths occurring within the building, it became a sanctuary to not one but TWO renowned serial killers. From the summer of 1984 to the summer of 1985, Richard Ramirez, also known as The Night Stalker, lived on the 14th floor of The Cecil. He committed heinous crimes and would retreat to The Cecil. He was convicted of 13 counts of murder, five attempted murders, and 11 sexual assaults, but it can be speculated that he may have committed more without being caught. Six years later, in 1991, Jack Unterweger checked into The Cecil. He fled his native country of Austria after being convicted of murder in 1976, and during his stay at The Cecil, he allegedly killed at least three sex workers.
All of this deadly history could have led to the sensationalization of her case. The last evidence of Elisa Lam is an elevator video of her pressing all the buttons, peaking in the hallway, and jumping back into the elevator, and she ultimately gets off of the elevator, never to be seen again. In the video of Elisa in the elevator acting strange, it’s clear that she is not in her right mind. As soon as the internet sleuths caught wind of the location of her disappearance, it made it very easy to make connections that ultimately may have misled police or other internet sleuths.
An example of how this case got out of hand is the million-person-mob sent after a metal singer named Morbid, who had posted a video of himself at The Cecil exactly a year before Elisa Lam stayed there. The internet sleuths believed wholeheartedly that this evil-looking person would go to this disturbing location to commit disturbing acts. In their defense, Morbid’s lyrics explicitly describe murder and subjects of the like. However, no one checked the time stamp on his video, and he received thousands of death threats a day. The link between the hotel, this man, and Elisa seemed so obvious, but it was completely incorrect.
Elisa was staying in the hostel-style suites with a few other girls. The other girls started complaining that Elisa was yelling at them and leaving them nasty notes. Elisa was moved to a single room. Later in the documentary, we find out that Elisa had a history of mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. Elisa’s sister later reported that she had been known to stop taking her medication, which would result in Elisa having mental episodes. Additionally, the autopsy revealed that she was not taking her medication regularly. This explains her behavior in the video as well as why she would get into the water tank before drowning.
Elisa’s body was found in the water tank 19 days after she went missing. In that time, the video of her went viral, as did conspiracy theories. The location of her disappearance has a life of its own, which gave the case a life of its own as well. Unable to wrangle it back under their control, detectives struggled through first finding Elisa, then finding the cause of her passing. Had she gone missing at a different hostel, this case may not have been as infamous as it is today. Conversely, however, the absence of public pressure may not have led to the solving of her case. Although, the dirty water in the hotel might have been a dead giveaway. Morbid pun intended.