The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel: What the Elisa Lam CCTV video reveals

Suspicious CCTV footage plays a key part in Joe Berlinger's latest Netflix docuseries.

Cecil Hotel

Joe Berlinger’s new true-crime Netflix docuseries takes a look at the Cecil Hotel, a hotel in downtown Los Angeles that is famous for having connections to several high-profile murder cases.

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In particular, the series investigates the case of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old Canadian student who was found dead in a water tank above the hotel shortly after going missing, while she had been staying as a guest in 2013.

Lam’s death was ruled as an accident, but not before several internet sleuths had begun to theorise about what happened to Elisa Lam – and one of the key pieces of evidence referenced by those amateur detectives was some suspicious-looking CCTV footage.

What did the Elisa Lam CCTV footage show?

Released by the LA police on 15th February 2013, just a few days before Lam’s body was recovered, the footage is the known sighting of the student prior to her disappearance.

The footage dated from 1st February and showed Lam behaving oddly in one of the hotel’s elevators. In the video, Lam enters the lift and appears to press several different buttons before stepping back into the corner before putting her head through the doors to have a look around.

Later, she suddenly steps out into the hall looking from side-to-side and the back into the elevators, the door of which remains open. She then re-renters presses several more buttons and continues to pace around the lift while the doors remain open.

It is not clear exactly what Lam is doing, but the clip became a viral sensation after it was posted on the Chinese video-sharing site Youku, where it got 3 million views and 40,000 comments in its first 10 days online.

What did the footage reveal?

After the footage spread online, several Elisa Lam theories were posited about what was going on – with many people believing that Lam was attempting to escape from an unknown pursuer and others claiming she was under the influence of drugs. An even more outlandish suggestion – and one with no basis in reality – was that Lam was playing the ‘Korean elevator game’, in which a player attempts to gain access to another world.

Joe Berlinger himself has said that the footage was unsettling, telling RadioTimes.com and other press: “The elevator footage is quite bizarre. I remember seeing it in 2013  and was fascinated by it. I mean she is acting strangely… the hotel had its history so of course that fed into it.”

However, there was no evidence for any of the aforementioned theories and precisely why Lam was behaving in this fashion remains unclear. A more likely suggestion is that the behaviour was connected to Lam’s bipolar disorder, which was given as a significant factor in her death by the coroner’s report.

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Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel will launch on Netflix on February 10th, 2021 at 8am. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide