They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. British philosopher Alan Watts elaborated, saying that all the good people in the world, whether they do it for themselves or for others, are troublemakers. Of course, Watts was specifically referring to Anglo-Saxon white Protestants and their age-old campaign to impose Western values on the rest of the world in an effort to improve the world. In the ill-advised rush to transform entire cultures, no one stopped to assess the damage that was being done or to think about how those targeted for change might respond to the imposition.
Sometimes doing good to others and even doing good to yourself is incredibly destructive, Watts said at one of his famous talks.
While watching Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, the well-known aphorism on the road to hell continued to resonate in my mind with just one line of dialogue from an episode of the second season of The Simpsons. In the episode Itchy & Scratch & Marge, Marge utters her own maxim: I guess a person can make a difference, but most of the time, they probably shouldn’t.
The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel premiered February 10 on Netflix. This is the first season of the new documentary series Crime Scene. The series intends to deconstruct the mythology and mystery surrounding the infamous places of contemporary crime. To kick off the series, director Joe Berlinger chose the Cecil Hotel, also known as Hotel Cecil and Stay on Main, at various points in its long history. The Cecil is a 19-story hotel in downtown Los Angeles with 700 rooms. It opened in the middle of the Roaring Twenties. Hoteliers William Banks Hanner, Charles L. Dix and Robert H. Schops funded the business, hiring Loy Lester Smith to design a Beaux-Arts-style building. The construction, led by WW Paden, cost $ 1.5 million.
Despite the fact that upon opening the hotel an aura of opulence and beauty exuded, the Cecil is now known for its reputation for violence, suicide and murder. This unfortunate reputation was further accentuated by an event that took place in February 2013 when student Elisa Lam, a guest staying at the hotel, disappeared. In Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, Berlinger examines the case methodically, focusing both on the official police investigation and on the role played by a global internet detective community. He interviews law enforcement officers involved in the case, employees and guests who were at the Cecil during Lam’s disappearance, and armchair detectives armed with podcasts, YouTube channels and worst of all. good intentions.
Surprisingly, Berlinger isn’t as critical of these budding gumshoes as he could be.
In 2019, Berlinger garnered a lot of attention with two projects focusing on infamous serial killer Ted Bundy, including the Netflix doc series Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and the Extremely Wicked, Shocking, and Vile film, featuring Zac Efron. . In the latter case, Berlinger spent less time exposing Bundys ‘degree of depravity in favor of the hypothesis that Bundys’ sensationalist trial paved the way for the true fixation of the crime that has dominated the media in recent times. It’s a reminder that Oliver Stones broached the same subject in Natural Born Killers, a film billed as an indictment of a fame-loving, crime-obsessed, and media-addicted society.
In Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, Berlinger extends this motif, although he does so in a less direct and disapproving manner. In fact, he walks a narrow path between embracing and rejecting the more outlandish theories put forward by those drawn into the mystery of Lams’ disappearance.
Berlinger guides viewers through the history of the Cecil, a hotel that suffered a major decline in the second half of the 20th century as the Skid Row area developed around it. A long list of suicides and deaths at the hotel dates back to the 1930s, with more than a few victims dying to their deaths from the upper floors. Serial killer Richard Ramirez, known as the Night Stalker, stayed at the hotel for a few weeks during his string of murders between 1984 and 1985. Austrian serial killer Jack Unterweger was staying at the Cecil in 1991 when he arrived. killed at least three sex workers.
While Berlinger acknowledges the reputation of hotels, he never directly suggests that the past had a role to play in Lams’ demise. Through interviews with law enforcement officers, the location of the hotel, especially its proximity to the environment with high crime rate and the availability of illicit drugs nearby, is taken into account.
The Cecil Hotel is a specific place, but there is a universality to the way it is viewed, everyone knows that house down their street where terribly scary things happened, and The Cecil Hotel is the one in Los Angeles, explains Berlinger in his production. Remarks. It took on an urban legendary quality to have a long history of mysterious events and crimes, including housing two notable serial killers: Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger. The location offers a very interesting entry point to tell real crime stories, and to look at these places from a historical perspective and deconstruct how infamous they came to be. The Cecil was a gem in Los Angeles when it was built in 1924, so we wanted to examine how it deteriorated, which is directly related to the social and cultural changes that have taken place in downtown Los Angeles during nearly a century. And our entry point into this larger story is through the case of Elisa Lams.
It wasn’t until the Los Angeles Police Department, hoping to jog the memory of potential witnesses who might have seen Lam in his final hours, released video footage taken by a security camera located in one hotel elevators. The footage, taken the day she went missing, shows Lam behaving strangely. She walks in and out of the elevator several times, pressing several buttons on the control panel. The door remains open for an extended period. She appears to be talking and gesturing in the hallway outside the elevator. She even seems to be hiding in the elevator at one point.
The video has gone viral on the internet. Viewers found this disturbing and began to articulate explanations ranging from homicide and drug abuse to the involvement of supernatural entities and dimensional portals. People are fascinated by puzzles and crime, and Lams’ disappearance has given them a chance to channel their passion into solving a case in real time.
Unfortunately, most of them became so obsessed with Lam that they quickly gave up deductive reasoning in favor of collective ineptitude. In online communities, conspiracy theories began to develop. Wild theories were forced on the LAPD, threatening to drown out legitimate leads. Unfounded accusations were laid. Lives have been disrupted.
There is no doubt that their intentions were good, but when an internet lynching mafia whose members have no real experience investigating a crime seeks justice, someone innocent will find themselves labeled a criminal. .
The latest episode reveals how unwanted help from armchair detectives can interfere with a case. Berlinger questions an individual who some Internet detectors have wrongly called a murderer, and how his life was damaged by the experience. Berlinger also reveals the tragic truth about Lams’ disappearance, concluding the story with a poignant and honest discussion of mental health issues.
Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel is both elegiac and addicting. Divided into four episodes, it’s a fascinating and sad look at the downward spiral of a woman who has unfortunately gone unnoticed by those around her. It also presents a subtle condemnation of society’s predilection for reporting crime and those unrelated to the case insist on getting involved by cooking up half-baked theories. In interviews with them, Berlinger emphasizes right and wrong, emphasizing their strong and genuine desire to help solve the case as well as the fanaticism that can gradually lead them to data bias, to baseless assumptions. and wrong logic. It’s the same reliance on the evidence instinct that leads conspiracy theorists to value inexperienced opinion over factual peer-reviewed testimony.