Professor Judy Ho Gavazza Featured in New Netflix Docuseries Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel
Judy Ho Gavazza, associate professor of psychology and chair of the Institutional Review Board at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology, is featured in the new Netflix docuseries Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, a program that explores the mysterious death of Canadian college student Elisa Lam during her tourist visit from Vancouver to Downtown Los Angeles in January 2013. In the series, Ho Gavazza, a licensed and triple board-certified clinical and forensic neuropsychologist with tenured professorship at Pepperdine University, provides commentary about Lam’s possible state of mind immediately preceding her sudden disappearance. Since its release on February 10, 2021, Crime Scene has continually ranked in the top 10 most watched films and series among Netflix users.
Noting that Lam had previously been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was likely in a manic episode with psychotic features at that time, Ho Gavazza notes that people with this diagnosis “may feel like they are superhuman, have a lot of lofty goals, may become more impulsive and take more risks, become very agitated, see and hear things that aren’t there, and develop misconceptions of their reality, such as delusions of persecution, like people are after them and want to harm them.”
In examining the psychological reasoning behind our fascination with true crime and the compulsion to seek answers in situations lacking conclusivity and closure, Ho Gavazza believes that we are all conflicted with the idea that we are in control of our own lives.
“When bad things happen to good people, we want an explanation so we can believe that the world is good and protect ourselves and our loved ones. We need closure for ourselves, and we want those cautionary tales to apply to our own lives,” she explains. “This is especially riveting to people when criminals and killers profiled in these types of programs are seemingly people who would be your best friend, neighbor, or family member. We want to know how they went down the dark path they did to help enhance our own understanding of how the world works, and how we can protect ourselves against bad things and bad people.”
Ho Gavazza further expresses that feeling like we were able to solve a crime alongside law enforcement provides us with a sense of purpose because it enhances our own self-esteem and confidence while allowing us to contribute to the greater good. It also helps provide the closure that she says all humans need following a major event.
“When there is such coverage in the media about a case, people feel like they personally know the victim. This is especially the case with Elisa, who left behind such an extensive trail of her personality,” Ho Gavazza says. “Closure helps with the grieving process, and people are grieving Elisa as if she were a personal friend. They want answers as to why her life was taken so early and so tragically.”