Sunday, April 04, 2021

Last Call by Elon Green

 Last Call by Elon Green chronicles the Last Call Killer who preyed on gay men in New York in the '80s and '90s and the book tells the story of the men who were killed and of violence against the gay community. 

Last Call starts in 1991 during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Gay people during this time were being targeted with violence, and police often responding with apathy. Many did not report crimes against them as they didn’t believe the system would protect them and they didn’t want to be outed. If someone was arrested and prosecuted for violence against gays, there was a common defense, going back to the '60s, of "gay panic." Defendants charged with murder or assault would claim that the shock of finding out someone gay drove them to temporary insanity. AIDS then increased anti-queer violence and in New York City, incidents of violence against gay people grew by 83% between 1985 and 1986. 

Amid this backdrop that he describes in Last Call, Green writes of a body being discovered in trash barrels off the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1991. The dead man was Peter Stickney Anderson of Philadelphia and he had been killed after visiting a gay piano bar, the Townhouse, in New York City. Then in 1992, the New Jersey State Police contacted Pennsylvania State Troopers after they found a body stuffed in garbage bags and put in a trash barrel by the side of the road. The dead man was Thomas Mulcahy of Sudbury, Massachusetts. He had been in New York on business and also visited the Townhouse. In 1993, two more bodies of gay men were found in garbage bags by the side of the road. Anthony Marrero was a sex worker in New York City who was found by a New Jersey road and Michael Sakara, a Manhattan resident who was a regular at the Five Oaks gay bar in New York was found in trash barrels outside the village of Haverstraw, New York. The gay community was angry that more not being done to solve these murders and a task force started with members of various police departments and then after no success was quietly disbanded. 

In 1999 the widow of Thomas Mulcahy retained a retired trooper to investigate the still unsolved murder of her husband and he and the widow contacted a member of the New Jersey State Police, Thomas Kuehn, who pledged to work on the cold case. In April of that year another New Jersey policeman watched a television show that noted a fingerprinting process called vacuum metal deposition, a way to lift hard to find prints off garbage bags. He told Kuehn about it, and Kuehn reached out to the Toronto Police Service as they had the technology to do this and said they would be willing to help. Kuehn and other members of a newly formed police task force sent to Toronto the garbage bags that Thomas Mulcahy and Michael Sakara were found in, and the evidence of the Mulcahy murder was in good condition, and prints lifted from the bags. Those prints were matched to Richard Rogers, a nurse living in Staten Island who in 1973 was arrested for the murder of his college roommate, Fred Spencer, and then acquitted. Then in 1988 he took someone home from a New York gay bar who accused Rogers of tying him up and drugging him, with Rogers in 1990 acquitted in court.

Rogers then was arrested after his prints found on the garbage bags and subsequent investigation into him and charged, tried, and convicted for the murders of Thomas Mulcahy and Anthony Marrero. He was not prosecuted for the murders of Peter Anderson and Michael Sakara, but evidence from their deaths was part of the trial and Rogers received two consecutive life terms. The book details the lives of the men and the gay community and how it treated and feels an important work.