July 1, 2022

‘Cecil Hotel’ Elevator Video, Explained: What’s the Hotel Manager’s Story?

Though it traffics in outlandish conspiracy theories, Netflix’s latest true crime hit Crime Scene: The…

‘Cecil Hotel’ Elevator Video, Explained: What’s the Hotel Manager’s Story?

Though it traffics in outlandish conspiracy theories, Netflix’s latest true crime hit Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel arrives at a definitive conclusion. By the end of the fourth episode, director Joe Berlinger makes it clear that the online sleuths that puzzled over every detail of the mysterious death of Elisa Lam, a 22-year-old Canadian student, in 2013 were almost entirely off-base with their rampant speculation. In the case of musician Morbid, who sleuths have baselessly accused of being a murderer, the unchecked online theorizing even led to real-world harm.

The fourth episode clarifies that Lam’s death was declared an accidental drowning and suggests there’s little reason to believe foul play was involved. But there is one detail that remains eerily unresolved: How do you explain the gaps in the time code in the security footage released by the police? The unsettling video, which shows Lam exiting and reentering the elevator, has a blurry time code discrepancy that sleuths have puzzled over for years. Is there missing footage? Did someone tamper with the tape?

In the documentary, one of the detectives interviewed denies tampering with the footage and in a new interview with E! News, Amy Price, the Cecil Hotel manager featured in the documentary, has spoken out about speculation that she tampered with the footage before handing it over to the police. 

“That’s absolutely false,” said Price. “I was a little surprised to hear that. I really hadn’t heard that before the documentary. I’m not surprised people feel that way based on the momentum that a lot of the sleuths have.” 

Price, who no longer works at the hotel and is now focusing on her interior design and jewelry businesses, goes on to say that she cooperated with the police 100{d54a1665abf9e9c0a672e4d38f9dfbddcef0b06673b320158dd31c640423e2e5} during the investigation. “There wasn’t even a chance to even look at the tapes myself, I just handed them over,” she told E! News. “I provided a room for them to review them and that’s exactly what they did.”

So, if the tapes weren’t tampered with by the hotel management or the police, what’s the most logical explanation for the alleged discrepancies? As presented in the docuseries, the look of the time code feels strange. In an interview with Parade, Berlinger said he didn’t have a “clear answer,” but he did provide some helpful context. 

“These are old cameras, some of the cameras weren’t functioning,” he explained. “The time code issue being blurred, I haven’t got a definitive answer, but the police story is that they blocked out time code footage because they don’t want to give things away like time of day because it’s still an open case. The footage was slowed down, and that makes sense because the cameras themselves were slowed down, or they slowed it down to make it easier to recognize the person in the footage.”

These are the type of ambiguities that attract true-crime obsessives who often find meaning in coincidences or unexplained discrepancies. Part of the success of Crime Scene, and what has likely earned it some negative attention as well, is the way it dramatizes how enticing these mysteries can be. In an interview with the New York Times, Berlinger says he wanted to be “self-reflexive in using the conventions of true crime” in order to ultimately “turn it on its head at the end.” By showing you the appeal of playing amateur sleuth, he also shows you the potential dangers. 

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