The latest Netflix true-crime documentary series from Joe Berlinger explores the case of Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old student who went missing while staying at the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
Several days after her disappearance was made public, Lam was found dead in a water tank on the top of the hotel, and the mysterious circumstances around the incident led many internet sleuths to attempt to get to the bottom of what happened to Elisa Lam.
Despite many Elisa Lam theories spreading – including some floating the possibility of a supernatural connection – Lam’s death was eventually ruled as an accident in the coroner’s autopsy report.
Read on for everything you need to know about what happened to Elisa Lam.
Who was Elisa Lam?
Elisa Lam was a 21-year-old from Canada, who had been a student at the University of British Columbia. She travelled to California for a solo trip in January 2013, travelling across the West Coast via Amtrak before checking into the Cecil Hotel.
During her stay, Lam had been assigned a shared room on the fifth floor but she was moved to her own room when her roommates complained about “certain odd behaviour” after two days.
She had been due to check out of the hotel on 31st January, but when she never did, her parents contacted the LA authorities, who unsuccessfully attempted to look for Lam on the hotel’s premises.
When they were unable to find her, police reviewed security footage from the hotel and found an Elisa Lam video – which would soon go viral – of her behaving bizarrely in an elevator, before her body was eventually recovered on 19th February.
Lam had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression and had been prescribed various medications to treat the disorder, while during her life she had also kept various blogs that included details of her mental health struggles.
What happened to Elisa Lam?
While it is still unclear exactly what circumstances led to Elisa Lam’s death, one thing that we can definitively rule out is the supernatural explanation – and indeed Joe Berlinger hopes that the new docuseries can stop these rumours from taking hold.
“I think it’s very disrespectful to the victim of the tragedy to dismiss it as a ghost story,” he told RadioTimes.com and other press recently.
The docuseries also explores the possibility that Lam could have been murdered, a theory that was promoted heavily by internet sleuths after the case was reported.
Many people were quick to point the finger at Pablo Vergara, a death metal musician who had been staying at the hotel, despite the fact that there was absolutely no evidence to suggest that Vergara was involved. And Berlinger has said that he also hopes the series will cause people to think twice about making these kinds of accusations without evidence.
“He’s actually a sweet guy who was deeply hurt by all this and it ruined his life,” Berlinger said of Vergara, who makes music under the stage name Morbid. “That’s the whole point of cyberbullying and that’s the whole point of jumping to conclusions based on circumstantial evidence.”
So what actually did happen to Elisa Lam? Well, the short answer is that we don’t really know for sure beyond the fact that the authorities found no evidence of physical trauma, nor any evidence of alcohol or drugs in her body other than the medication she had been taking for bipolar disorder.
The official cause of death given by the LA coroner’s office was accidental drowning, with her bipolar disorder suggested as a significant contributing factor – there are several Elisa Lam theories that circulated the internet before Berlinger’s documentary.
What happened to Elisa Lam’s Tumblr?
Within the first few minutes of the new Netflix doc, viewers are shown recreations of Elisa Lam logging on to Tumblr where she documented her travels and stay at the hotel.
In Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel it states that Elisa used Tumblr almost as a diary. She posted so much on the blog, the police used it in their investigations to retrace her steps.
On it, Elisa spoke about her wish to travel and meet people saying she’s “excited” to see new places and meet strangers along the way.
Many might be surprised to hear the Tumblr account belonging to Elisa, which she named nouvelle-nouveau, is still online and available today.
It includes memes, quotes, clips from films and photography.