New Book Aims To Remember These Forgotten Murders

True crime documentaries, like Don’t Fuck with CatsAbducted in Plain Sight, and Making a Murderer are delivering huge viewership numbers for Netflix. Podcasts like Serial and Dirty John leave listeners spellbound waiting for the next episode to drop. Our appetite for anything true crime-related is growing into an obsession, myself included!

I am also fascinated with gay history, especially gay life in NYC in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. So when I came across a story about a serial killer stalking gay men in the early 1990s that I – and almost everyone I mentioned it to had no knowledge of – to say I was shocked would be an understatement. The story barely received any media attention nor is mentioned in the canons of queer history. 

Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York’ by Elon Green aims to remedy that and shed a light on a story that many have forgotten, or did not even know existed. The non-fiction book, released earlier this year, has been met with glowing reviews, with many reviewers noting the meticulous research conducted by Green. Lambda Literary had these comments about the book,

“A stunning addition to the gay corner of the true-crime genre… As an investigative crime writer Elon puts in the work, with a sense of sensitivity and compassion… The care, the research, the investment on display in Last Call signals to me, at least, that Elon Green rises above the function of a dispassionate observer. He writes like a communal friend.”

Author Green, an editor at Longform, himself discusses how little known this case was. Speaking to Kirkus Reviews via zoom, he had this to say,

“I came across an old issue of the Advocate from, like, October 1994. The cover story was about anti-gay violence, eight or nine pages, and buried halfway through were three paragraphs about this case. What really caught me were the descriptions [of victims] Peter Anderson, Tom Mulcahy, and Anthony Marrero, and maybe Michael [Sakara] was mentioned—I was really struck by the different stories. And my first thought was, how do I not know this case?” 

The case Green is referencing is the murders of at least four men attributed to the work of convicted serial killer Richards Rogers, Jr., a nurse from Staten Island. He found his victims in the gay bars of Manhattan, including The Townhouse, a legendary piano bar on the Upper East Side, where two of his victims were last seen. The title of the novel – last call – references how and when Rogers, Jr. would approach his targets. 

The Townhouse//nighttours.com

Green takes readers to a specific time in New York City when AIDS was already ravaging the queer community to paint the picture of a community forgotten: the perfect place for a serial killer looking for victims. He credits the Anti-Violence Project (AVP) for getting involved in the case when the police did not seem to care, 

“Here’s this activist group [that’s] taken it upon themselves to get people to give a shit about the case. The story of AVP was really the story of the criminal justice system and how it treated queer New Yorkers. It allowed me to write about the violence and indifference that were being faced by people. I needed [readers] to understand the stakes and why people were so angry about this not being solved. It was part of a much, much larger series of decadeslong injustices. And AVP was created to finally say, ‘Enough.'”

Green reiterates how very few people knew about, or remember this story, 

“I interviewed a lot of people, and a lot of [them] were living in Manhattan at the time, in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and gay. I met one person in three years, not connected to the case, who knew about it. And he remembered it because it affected how he conducted his dating life. It made him way more cautious, and that caution stuck with him his entire life. And that was it.”

In researching this story I asked numerous friends that lived in the city during that time if they had any recollection of what I was talking about. Most did not. A few had some fleeting memories. Vincent P, 70, a visual artist in Greenwich Village, however, spoke to me about gay New York City at that time and recalls,

“A heightened sense of dread and paranoia permeated gay life in NYC in the early 1990’s. It was before the advent of the Protease Inhibitor drugs that would change the course of the AIDS epidemic. Gay men were dying in great numbers. It didn’t help that there was the specter of a possible serial killer on the loose preying on the community. Gay men had been targeted in the past. Memories of the shooting at the Ramrod bar were still palpable.”

I mentioned to Vincent how as soon as I heard about this story I flashed back to a young college-age me, closeted, somehow being in a dorm room or house where the Al Pacino movie “Cruising” was being watched. I still to this day am scarred. {From what I remember Al Pacino goes undercover in the underground gay leather bar scene to catch a serial killer. I blocked most of it out.} To a young gay man with no gay references or no sense of gay life (remember this is the late 90s), it took me months and months to get up the nerve to walk into a gay bar for the first time after seeing that film. If you have never seen it, I don’t recommend watching it. Light entertainment it is not. 

In a shift from many true crime novels, Green makes it a point to give the victims the voice that they were robbed of. Each man is seen as a person, a human, someone with family and friends that loved them and miss them to this day. We should know their names and not the names of their murderer,

“One of the reasons that it was so attractive to write about these guys is that they were all so different. Peter was HIV-positive, a banker from Philly who was in the National Guard. Tom worked for an international computer company in Massachusetts; he was Catholic, he was married, and he had kids. Anthony was a sex worker. Michael was the only person who was really comfortable in his own skin; he was an out gay man who worked at the New York Law Journal and had been thrown out of the military for being gay. It was an opportunity to write about this overlooked generation of gay men, when they’re just on the cusp of being able to live the lives they want, but they can’t.”

Richard Rogers, Jr, denied all requests to be interviewed for this book. He still maintains his innocence and is currently serving time at a New Jersey state prison. “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York” is available now. 

 

 


Sources: Kirkus Reviews

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