'Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York'

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday July 4, 2023
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a scene from 'Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York'
a scene from 'Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York'

It was a terrifying time in New York City. As the AIDS crisis was raging, a serial killer began targeting gay men in the city in the most horrifying way imaginable. The victims were all being dismembered. Their body parts were stuffed into plastic bags and left in trash cans in New Jersey, their personal belongings found on the ground not far from where their bodies were dumped. It was the early 1990s and the community was terrified, and angry.

This sobering true-life tale is the subject of "Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York," a new four-part documentary. The first episode premieres on HBO on Sunday, July 9 at 9pm. Subsequent episodes will premiere on each Sunday for three weeks thereafter. The series will also stream on HBO/Max.

As the story begins, Thomas Mulcahy, a well-dressed middle aged businessman from Massachusetts, is in New York City. He stops in at The Townhouse, an upscale gay bar on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Mulcahy, who is remembered by his daughter as a loving father who enjoyed old Hollywood glamour and splashy Broadway musicals like "La Cage Aux Folles," leaves The Townhouse with another man. A few days later, Mulcahy's body is found cut up into bits. Soon after, a middle-aged man named Peter Anderson meets the same fate. Like Mulcahy, Anderson met a man at The Townhouse.

The LGBT community is terrified, and angry. The Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, a New York based non-profit which combats anti-LGBT hate crimes, gets involved. Matt Foreman, Bea Hanson and David Wertheimer, all formerly of the Anti-Violence Project, participated in the documentary and recall a New York City police department not giving a high priority on these killings. One NYPD cop, now an out gay man, was interviewed for the series and speaks of a department where coming out wasn't safe. He remembers a fellow officer who refers to "fuckin' faggots" and threatens violence against any cop who turns out to be gay.

Then there was a third killing, only this time the victim wasn't on the Upper East Side. Anthony Marrero, a gay sex worker who frequented the Port Authority bus terminal, was killed in the same manner as Mulcahy and Anderson. Marrero was a person of color who is recalled by his brother as a man who kept secrets. More killings follow.

Foreman and Hanson speak of their efforts to keep the community safe. They found that while the NYPD doesn't seem all that interested in solving the case, the police in New Jersey are much more cooperative. Even today, one former police detective who spoke on camera put his anti-gay bias on full display. "Why are you focusing on the gay?" he asked the filmmakers.

Director Anthony Caronna has done a superb job of telling this terrifying tale. The attempts by police to track down the killer are documented. He is eventually found to be a nurse living on Staten Island. The next step is to decipher his past, a quest that leads back almost thirty years to a murder in Maine.

The story, as told by Caronna, underscores a sad and infuriating reality that many people in New York were all too familiar with, that the deaths of gay men weren't considered important. Homophobia is rampant, yet the community is urged not to stop living their lives but to take precautions, such as introducing the person you're leaving a bar with to your friends.

A number of people who knew the victims speak on camera, not just family members but friends and former lovers. Viewers learn a great deal about who each victim was. Viewers will also get an idea of just how stressful it was for the community to deal with these murders while also facing the AIDS crisis. Gay activists take to the streets demanding justice. They stand toe-to-toe with anti-gay activists, who spew their hate with glee while further inflaming anti-gay bias.

This is not an easy series to watch. Yet it stands as an important historical document of a time that should not be forgotten. The series is a reminder of how much work still needs to be done, especially today when homophobia is once again on the rise.

'Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York' on HBO; also streaming on HBO Max. www.hbo.com www.max.com

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