Watching Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel? Here's a Timeline of the Elisa Lam Case

Episode 3 of Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. c. Courtesy of Netflix © 2021

The bizarre circumstances around Elisa Lam's 2013 death have drawn much attention to her case. As they were presented, the facts did little to provide definitive answers and raised more questions about possible criminal activities. The investigation around Lam's disappearance was sometimes muddled because of miscommunications between police and the media, preconceived notions about the Cecil Hotel, and bizarre speculations from conspiracy theorists.

Netflix's Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel aims to provide a thorough look at Lam's case and the context of her death through interviews with experts, in addition to hotel staff members and guests. So what really happened during the 21-year-old Canadian student's travels? Ahead, we've put together a timeline of Elisa Lam's disappearance and death to straighten out the facts.

  • Jan. 28: Lam checks into the Cecil Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Traveling through California, she resided in the hostel-style part of the hotel called Stay on Main while in Los Angeles. At first, she lodged with other guests, but they complained about her odd behavior, so the hotel moved her to another room.
  • Jan. 31: Lam is last seen. The day before she was supposed to check out of the hotel, she visited The Last Bookstore. This is the last time anyone sees her alive. Her family was concerned that she hadn't called them since she routinely phoned them every day. The Lams contacted the LAPD, eventually flying down to Los Angeles from Canada to help with the search to find her.
  • Feb. 6: The LAPD holds a press conference regarding Lam's disappearance with her family present. The family did not comment.
  • Feb. 13: The LAPD releases footage of Lam in an elevator. Police published the infamous four-minute security video (captured on Feb. 1), hoping that the public would recognize her. They were sure that Lam never left the hotel since they saw no footage of her exiting. The clip went viral and led to speculations about everything from foul play to ghosts. People also voiced concerns about how the video appeared doctored, leading to theories about a potential coverup by the hotel or police.
  • Feb. 19: The hotel finds Lam's body in one of its water tanks. Guests complained about the water — how the pressure was low, how it tasted funny, and how it appeared dark and discolored. A maintenance worker named Santiago Lopez checked the water tank. He noticed that the hatch was open and found Lam's naked body floating when he peered down. Health officials immediately place a "do-not-drink" order at the Cecil.
  • June 20: The coroner's office issues a finding of accidental drowning, with her bipolar disorder as a significant condition. By the time that the hotel discovered Lam's body, it was moderately decomposed. The medical examiner, however, was still able to run some tests. From the physical evidence available, it didn't look like Lam was physically attacked. The toxicology report did reveal that she was likely undertaking her medication, which could account for her odd behavior at the hotel. Experts believed that she experienced a psychotic episode around the time she appeared in the elevator. They inferred that she probably climbed up the fire escape ladder to the roof and entered the water tank in this state of mind before she drowned.
  • Sep. 20: Lam's parents, David and Yinna Lam, file a wrongful death suit against the owners of the Cecil Hotel. They sought unspecified damages as well as burial costs, claiming that the Cecil had responsibilities to "inspect and seek out hazards in the hotel that presented an unreasonable risk of danger to (Lam) and other hotel guests." A judge dismissed the negligence lawsuit in 2015.