Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York
Journalist Elon Green’s true-crime book Last Call is a chilling account of the murders of gay men in the ’80s and ’90s.
But this is more than a run of the mill account true crime account of a cunningly elusive serial killer. The author’s stated purpose for wanting to write the book is so that the victims would be remembered for who they were before they became one more statistic in a voyeuristic psychological profile of a deranged murderer.
The true lives of the victims—their youth, their achievements, their families—are the primary narrative focus of the book. The book also delves into the circumstances of a little discussed subject of middle-aged men, who had wives, children, and position and who lived double lives on the downlow for gay sex.
They were patrons of a discrete piano bar in New York called The Townhouse and other shadowy pick-up spots that attracted businessmen looking for younger hustlers. It was also a place that their killer could observe them anonymously until he profiled them.
Most of these men remained in the closet in a post-WWII era that was aggressively homophobic and condemning of any expression of what was deemed deviant from a heterosexual norm. The challenge was for Green to explore the aspects of their lives that they took great pains to hide. Yet Green brings dimension in revealing who they were and dealing with their complex sexuality with sensitivity.
Green’s interviews with the spouses, adult children, colleagues, and friends of the men are illuminating. The observations from family members particularly moving, as they express their loss and understanding of what these men endured emotionally in having to live a secret life.
These men were stalked and profiled for their vulnerabilities by their murderer, Richard Rogers, who was a nurse and medical worker. Green’s profile of Rogers is objective and gripping as he pieces together his movements, tactics, and behavior to commit and cover up any traces of his contact with the victims.
The gruesomeness of evidence of the murders, with body parts of the victims found in remote areas of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, were found over the course of several years. Green reveals the ruthless methods a serial murderer who was knowledgeable about how to vivisect a human body and leave virtually no traceable evidence.
The book is a page turner as the different investigations in various locations remained sketchy, and the crime spree could have continued if it were not by accidental discovery of evidence by people who came across key bits of evidence by accident and contacted the police, which eventually led to Roger’s arrest.
Green collates all the events and timelines with detailed analysis of police records, forensic evidence, and, mostly, detailed interviews with people who saw the victims around the time they disappeared.
Inevitably, the book also reveals the methods of a merciless and disturbed man, but admirably Green does not dwell on the gruesome details more than is necessary to tell the full story. Even when Roger was suspected, in one case being questioned in a murder that remained unsolved when he was in college, years went by without any solid evidence to to arrest him.
Last Call also revisits a gay Manhattan in crisis as the AIDS epidemic raged, and blatant hostility against the LGBTQ+ community by the police, who routinely looked the other way at increased incidents of bias crime violence against gay New Yorkers.