Netflix’s latest foray into true crime follows the case of Elisa Lam and her tragic demise at the Cecil Hotel. Throughout the four episodes, the series delves deep into Lam’s death and the internet frenzy that surrounded its stranger circumstances. While the series covers the case pretty thoroughly, the one thing they touched on but mostly left out is how the Cecil hotel and its deeply creepy history impacted the case and the frenzy surrounding it.
The documentary series focuses on the salacious details of the case, especially the infamous elevator video and goes over some of the questions that “internet sleuths” have posed in the eight years since Lam’s death.
The elevator video is by far the most recognizable aspect of the case, but it’s not the only deeply bizarre occurrence that had people convinced that something else was afoot with Elisa Lam. There were also questions of how she got up there, with explanations from a steep exterior fire escape to somehow bypassing a stairwell alarm, or an employee being in on the job. Contributors also debated ad nauseam how Lam could have gotten into a 10ft tall water tank with a 20-pound lid on her own, and whether a psychotic episode could have contributed to her fate. Every contributor has a different story but each one seems more questionable than the last.
The internet sleuths glommed onto the many questions of this case, and the bizarre nature of the evidence and took a strange tragedy and turned it into a case of national and international interest, or at least, that’s what this documentary series posits. What they didn’t dig too deeply into, though, was how the Cecil Hotel and its history factored into the complete frenzy surrounding Elisa Lam’s water tank demise.
The Cecil Hotel started out in the 1920s as a perfectly respectable travelers hotel. It was—and remains—absolutely huge with 700 rooms. When the Great Depression hit, the Cecil was hit right along with it. As Skid Row rose up around the hotel, its reputation and quality slowly declined. It became a place for people who wanted to spend as little money as possible and stay as long as possible.
The documentary included testimonials from real guests both past and present who give first-hand accounts of what staying at the Cecil was really like. By all accounts, it was hardly the Ritz.
Here’s where we come to what the documentary glossed over just a bit. While ultimately the case of Elisa Lam seems fairly explainable as a tragic accident, what the documentary tells us, but in no great detail, is that the Cecil hotel seems to be the source of a great many of these tragic happenings.
The first documented suicide at the Cecil Hotel took place in 1931 after the hotel began its decline. W.K. Norton poisoned himself in his room. Suicides continued throughout the ’40s and ’50s to end up at a total of 12 over the years, which is an incredible amount of suicides for one location. If you add in unexplained deaths, like the death of Elisa Lam and others, the total is up to 17 deaths, and that’s before we even get to murder.
In 1964, Goldie Osgood, a local woman known for feeding the pigeons in Pershing Square was stabbed, strangled, and raped in her room. Despite the gruesome nature of her death, the case remains unsolved.
In addition to the murders that actually took place on the property, the Cecil Hotel was also, albeit briefly, home to at least two serial killers. Both Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger resided at the hotel while they were actively killing. If that wasn’t strange enough, Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia, was seen drinking at the hotel bar just days before her murder.
These remarkably numerous incidents are part of what fueled the rabid conspiracy about this mysterious disappearance; how could one hotel be the site of so much pain?