The fourth and final part of director Anthony Caronna’s superb documentary series “Last Call” (based on the book of the same name by journalist Elon Green) drops tonight, Sunday, July 29th, 2023, on HBOMAX. A serial killer preys on gay men in New York City in the early nineties – one of the NYC rags gave him the sobriquet “The Last Call Killer.” Two of the victims (Thomas Mulcahy and Peter Anderson) were middle class, married with children, and in the closet. They were last seen in the midtown cabaret bar, The Townhouse, which still caters today to older, richer, and closeted gays. The killer drugged his victims first by slipping a Mickey Finn in their drink just before they left the bar together around Last Call, and later, upped the ante with an injection of Versed, a capsule of which he always kept handy – it later transpired that he was a nurse who worked at a prominent NYC hospital. After killing and dismembering his victims – the place where these horrors took place was never discovered since the killer remained silent for the duration of his trial, and his house in Staten Island was immaculate, except for the capsule of Versed the police found underneath the living room couch, and the killer’s questionable taste in gay entertainment which included a VCR of “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte” and the entire collection of “The Golden Girls” – he put the body parts in plastic bags and deposited them on the side of country roads in rural New Jersey or in Anderson’s and Sakara’s cases, in rural Pennsylvania and rural New York State, respectively.
The third victim (Anthony Marrero) did not fit the pattern of the first two. He was a male prostitute whose family was originally from Puerto Rico. Always cognizant of the fact that their brother was different and lived a secret life after his body parts were discovered, the family’s reaction was that, whatever happened, he deserved it!
The fourth victim (Michael Sakara) was the only one of the four who, before his death, was a visible member of New York’s LGBTQ+ community. Living downtown, in the Village, he was a nightly fixture at the Five Oaks Piano Bar, where he usually closed the evening with his rendition of “I’ll be Seeing You.”
Giving us minimal coverage of the killer (until the final episode) and concentrating on the lives of the four and, later, a fifth victim, Caronna gives these five men back their dignity, something they were stripped of when they became the victims of a horrific crime. Crimes that, because the victims were gay men – and it was insinuated by the killer in his courtroom defense that his original victim was also gay – were treated as a kind of joke by the NYPD and the original jury that acquitted him. Eventually, thanks to the tireless work of gay men and women in New York and the New Jersey Police Department, the killer, whose name is Richard Rogers, was finally convicted, in 2005 in the jurisdiction of New Jersey, of the murders of Mulcahy and Marrero and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. It turns out the killing spree went back another 20 years, but because of internal homophobia, the killer was never convicted. His first victim was his college roommate, Fred Spencer, whom Rogers killed in the summer of 1973, striking him on the back of his head eight times with a hammer and then smothering him with a plastic bag. Claiming that Spencer had made a pass at him, Rogers used the infamous GAY PANIC DEFENCE and got off scot-free. This defense tactic is still on the books in over half the States today.