Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel

TV review by
Melissa Camacho, Common Sense Media
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel TV Poster Image
Lurid crime docu is sensational and disturbing.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 3 reviews

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 5 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Series discusses details surrounding Elisa Lam's death, the questions that remain about it. However, this is contextualized within the cult history of the hotel itself. Some conversations focus on the police investigation, others concentrate on the investigations and "evidence" introduced by amateur sleuths and other social media figures interested in the case. 

Positive Role Models

Lots of conversation about types of people who stay at the hotel, ranging from people who are poor, drug addicted, mentally ill, convicted sex offenders, and serial killers. Elisa Lam was Chinese Canadian. Images of people living on Skid Row or living in the hotel decades prior are mainly of Black and Latinx individuals. 


Series is about a murder. Images of guns. Stories about violent predators and violent acts taking place at the hotel, including domestic violence, rape, murders, suicide. 


A side glimpse of a woman's bare breasts and an image of a woman in her underwear are briefly shown during the opening credits. Prostitution is referenced. Elisa Lam's dating history is discussed as part of the investigation. 


Curses like "s--t" and "f--k" are occasionally uttered. 


Tumblr is discussed, and a Facebook group dedicated to investigating the murder is briefly referenced. The Last Bookstore, a local L.A. shop, is frequently featured as a result of the investigation. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Drinking, smoking, drugs, and drug abuse are discussed, and also made visible in reenactments. Speculation that Elisa Lam was under the influence of drugs prior to her disappearance. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the docuseries Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel centers around the investigation of a young woman who died while staying at an infamous Los Angeles hotel. It contains lots of discussions about violent behaviors and other disturbing events, including gun violence, murder, suicide, and drug activity, all of which are briefly shown in reenactments. There's some occasional cursing, brief partial nudity, and references to prostitution. Social media sites like Tumblr are shown, and some L.A. haunts, including The Last Bookstore, are featured. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byKKH February 27, 2021

Just So So

The first two episodes were good. However, in the third episode it goes downhill fast. 1.3 was all speculation and covers the obsessions of an internet sleuth a... Continue reading
Adult Written byYsb04 February 21, 2021
Teen, 14 years old Written bymilford10999 December 17, 2021


so this show is based on true advents
Teen, 15 years old Written byalexb05 June 16, 2021

Disturbing, very eye-opening

I love true crime documentaries, and this one is one of my favorites. The story is fascinating, but the series also gives lots of information about LA at the ti... Continue reading

What's the story?

CRIME SCENE: THE VANISHING AT THE CECIL HOTEL is a documentary series about the disappearance and death of a Canadian woman, and its connection to an infamous Los Angeles hotel. Elisa Lam, a 21-year-old college student, checked into the Cecil Hotel, a historic, low-budget hotel on January 28, 2013, for a three-day stay. But when her family doesn't hear from her and she fails to check out, the Los Angeles police suspect that she's a victim of foul play. Former members of the LAPD associated with the case, including retired detective Tim Marcia, discuss details about the investigation into her sudden disappearance, while maintenance worker Santiago Lopez describes what the police searches were like, and what happened when he discovered her body in one of the hotel's rooftop water tanks three weeks later. Meanwhile, former hotel manager Amy Price talks about what life was like inside the hotel, and about some of the strange and often disturbing events that have taken place at the site. Throughout it all, archival media footage, and interviews with journalists, web sleuths, and others interested in the story, reveal how Lam's mysterious death is now part of the hotel's bizarre legacy. Brief reenactments of different moments in the story are also featured. 

Is it any good?

This sensational four-part documentary series examines the highly publicized disappearance and death of Elisa Lam. However, much of the focus is on how her death relates to the Cecil Hotel's grim history, which is full of violent stories about multiple murders, suicides, and alleged ghost hauntings. The fact that some of California's most notorious deviants, like serial killer Richard Ramirez, are associated with the hotel adds to the hype. Also fueling the cult-like interest in Elisa Lam's death is security footage of what many believe are her final moments, the public release of which has led to endless speculation about what happened to her and why. 

While amateur sleuths and conspiracy theorists use social media to investigate and share their opinions about the subject, some of which include accusations of police cover-ups and concerns about the hotel's supernatural forces, those directly affiliated with the case assert that there are more obvious and logical reasons that can explain what happened. But Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel creates the sense that no one has real answers, and that the hotel somehow played a role in Elisa Lam's demise. While this may feed some people's appetites for dark mysteries and conspiracy theories, die-hard crime investigation fans will find it lacking. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the reasons why the story of Elisa Lam's death is frequently discussed in popular media. What is it about her death, or about the way the investigation was handled at the time, that has fueled interest in this case? Are the TV and social media discussions about the case informative, given the amount of misinformation it distributes online?

  • When do shows like Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel risk going from being informative to being sensational?  What impact do sensational media stories about crime victims have on how we understand and react to violence?

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love true crime

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