“Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York” by Elon Green; Celadon Books, 2021. (288 pages, $27).
Published early last year, Last Call by Elon Green is a terrific, harrowing, true-crime account of an elusive serial killer dubbed “the Last Call Killer” who preyed upon gay men in New York in the ’80s and ’90s with all the hallmarks of the most notorious serial killers. Due to the sexuality of his victims, the sky-high murder rates, and the AIDS epidemic, his murders were largely forgotten. This gripping true-crime bestseller not only gives account of the Last Call Killer and delves into the decades-long chase to find him, it also paints a portrait of his victims and a vibrant community navigating threat and resilience. It should go without saying that this true crime book delves into dark and bloody topics not recommended for the faint of heart.
Richard W. Rogers Jr., a Staten Island nurse, a.k.a. “The Last Call Killer”, likely committed his first murder in 1973, having killed his housemate with a hammer. He claimed self-defense in that case and was ultimately acquitted, but his fingerprints collected for that case would serve as his undoing decades later. It wouldn’t be until January 2006 that he would be sentenced to life in prison for the serial murder and dismemberment of two gay men. Prosecutors believed him responsible for at least two more murders, but they only found enough evidence to solidly prosecute him on the two that they did, so they focused their court case upon them.
A green plastic trash bag dumped 14 years ago off Route 72 in South Jersey contained the head of a man. Another green bag held his torso and severed arms, while his legs were found in a third. Ten months later, more bags surfaced. The police in Manchester Township, about 55 miles east of Philadelphia, found six bags near a dirt road, filled with the body parts of another man. One victim was identified as Thomas Mulcahy, 57, a computer sales representative who was bisexual, and the other was Anthony Marrero, 44, identified as a prostitute. Mr. Mulcahy, prosecutors said, was visiting Manhattan on business in July 1992.
Rogers might never have been caught if not for the bags and the faint fingerprints they held. His crimes were meticulous, unobserved affairs hatched in the dark inebriated haze of NYC’s upscale gay bars. After over a decade of work, investigators say Rogers’s motives still remain a mystery. The Townhouse Bar, on East 58th Street, between Second and Third Avenues, was one of his favorite haunts during the early 1990’s. Little at the bar has changed over the years, according to employees, and on any Saturday night well-dressed regulars sipped cocktails among paisley-print armchairs and bouquets of fresh lilies. Rogers, age 55, stopped going to the Townhouse around the same time that Mulcahy’s body was found in New Jersey. Mulcahy had been at the Townhouse shortly before he disappeared.
Mulcahy’s death suggested a pattern. A year earlier, on May 5, 1991, the mutilated body of Peter S. Anderson, an investment broker from Philadelphia, was found wrapped in green plastic garbage bags along the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The police determined that he, too, had been at the Townhouse before he was killed. By the fall of 1993, two more bodies of gay men had been found: Anthony Marrero, who often solicited men near the Port Authority Bus Terminal according to court documents, and Michael Sakara, 55, a Philadelphia typesetter whose head and arms were placed in bags and left by Route 9W in Rockland County. His torso and legs were found wrapped in trash bags nine miles north, in Stony Point. He had frequented another gay bar in downtown NYC that Rogers was also known to visit. Regulars at the Townhouse claimed gossip of the slayings spread wildly among gay men. The murderer became known as the Last Call Killer, since the victims were drunk to the point of incapacitation when they were stabbed.
To learn more about this serial killer, his victims, and the years of efforts put forth by the community and police alike to find justice, I highly recommend reading Green’s amazingly written book. Green shows a great deal of respect for the victims of these heinous murders by shining a light upon their complicated lives as well as exploring the community they were part of. The victims and the heroes, rather than the killer, are at the center of Last Call, as I feel should more often be the case in true crime stories such as this.
Donavon Anderson is a library assistant in reference at May Memorial Library. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.