Don't Forget Crime Scene: The Fading Harrowing Case Against Conspiracy Theories at the Cecil Hotel's
If in early 2013, you were aggressively online, then you recall the first time you saw the footage of the Elisa Lam elevator. It was that big of a moment, and that's why the Netflix Crime Scene: Cecil Hotel's Disappearing is a must-watch doc show. Tt immerses himself in a mystery we all know, illuminating what had happened before and after the viral video. But unlike many other true crime docs, such as Unsolved Murders, there is no mystery here at all.
There is a good cut and dried end to the disappearance of Elisa Lam and the eventual discovery in a water tank on Cecil's roof. The real mystery at the heart of this series, one that remains unresolved, is why the Internet cared so much, so much that at least one person's life was deliberately ruined by "web sleuths"?
SPOILER Warning for Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, but if you haven't watched it yet, you need to watch "The Hard Truth" in Episode 4. "The Hard Truth" shows the true hows and whys of the Elisa Lam case after three episodes of build-up. All was so straightforward: Elisa Lam was dealing with bipolar disorder, and she started taking her medication, as she had a few times in the past. The autopsy confirmed this, as did the hotel workers accounts.
She behaved erratic, got kicked out of a TV recording and left offensive notes on the pillows of her Cecil roommates asking them to leave. Her family said that in the past, when she went off her meds, she always felt she was being hunted. Elisa Lam goes off her meds (proven), believes someone to be after her (proven by the video of the elevator), and hides on the roof in a water tank? This makes sense. Even the very real phenomenon known as "paradoxical undressing" describes her being nude. Case closed.
However, the case that is still open includes internet conspiracies that work into a tizzy for individuals. The social media became thoroughly fascinated with this disappearance due to the viral nature of the elevator video in 2013 and the uniquely millennial nature of this whole case (Elisa Lam was a frequent Tumblr user). And then when the rest of the internet turned to Doge or hot dog legs or something else we exchanged in 2013, a group remained behind at the Cecil Hotel, and in a few instances, I mean literally.
To find justice for Elisa Lam, the web sleuths dedicated a lot of time and dollars, and they sought justice in bizarre ways. A psychopath recreating the 2005 Jennifer Connolly horror movie Dark Water, Elisa was assassinated. Elisa was a government agent linked to a tuberculosis epidemic, or a terrorist. Elisa was used to spread tuberculosis as a biological weapon.
Toss in ghosts as well, zip codes, the Illuminati, and a funny death metal musician. At times, admittedly, the coincidences were bizarre (the tuberculosis test is called a LAM-ELISA, which... wow), and those bizarre coincidences only inspired this online group to do something dark.
The web sleuths tied the death of a real person to a real death metal artist called Pablo Vergara, a.k.a. Morbid, because of the need to use up their supply of red string. About why? Since a year before Elisa, he remained at Cecil. Yeah... a year earlier, but, you know, he sure looks scary!
This group became persuaded that Elisa Lam had been murdered by Morbid and started to threaten him regularly. In the international press, he was named a suspect, his social media accounts were flagged and taken down, and he met with regular death threats. No amount of evidence, no hotel records or a flight itinerary showing that he was in Mexico in February 2013, could have stopped the harassment. Because of this nonsense, nonsense brought on because he remained at Cecil once, he admits he tried to take his own life. It doesn't matter to them to be honest," says Morbid in the Doc." "They want you to be killed. They hate you there.
And when the autopsy came out, how did the group react? No surprise, it was greeted with unending cynicism. YouTubers who "saw a lot of autopsy reports" cried out foully. Suddenly, everyone was an authority on hypothermia.
They were persuaded that the report was doctored, because they could not tell a "5" from a "8." The sleuths invested so much effort into the case, and they needed the result to validate their zeal retroactively. It wasn't significant enough to explain all the hours of research until it was proven that Elisa died during a psychotic episode. Between the LAPD and the hotel, there had to be a big coverup and who knows who else, because the findings didn't go the way they wanted.
Does it sound familiar here? No doubt Crime Scene plays differently than planned by the filmmakers, being released after the January we just had in February 2021. The disinformation world the web sleuths lived in 2013 feels like an unsettling reference to the hell of today's #StopTheSteal.
I would think that if today at the Cecil Hotel the Crime Scene team were to start production on Disappearing, they might wisely reframe the whole series to be about the online phenomena that took over so many minds and destroyed one life undoubtedly, forever. Conspiracies online and their dangerous proliferation? This is the true mystery, not what happened to Elisa Lam here. The case of Lam was solved, but online radicalization has only escalated. Before we are a Planet of Morbids, this mystery needs to be solved.