For gay New Yorkers in 1991, there were still plenty of reasons to not put much faith in law enforcement.
Just 22 years after clashes with police outside the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village opened a promising new front in the ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ rights, AIDS was decimating the queer community and hate crimes were on the rise, in no small part due to the tragically widespread misperception of the virus as a gay disease and lack of understanding about how it was transmitted.
And in another nightmarish turn of events, someone was using NYC's vibrant gay nightlife scene as a hunting ground.
Last Call: When a Killer Stalked Queer New York, a four-part HBO series premiering July 9, delves into the grisly murders and a not-so-distant past when blatant homophobia was still the norm and queer bars, as one activist puts it in the show, "were one of the few places in the community where we could come and feel safe."
And even then, adds Bea Hanson, who served as a liaison between the NYC Gay & Lesbian Anti-Violence Project and police, "There was always this sort of 'you've got to watch your back at the same time too' sort of feeling."
Who were the victims of the Last Call killer?
The first of four victims authorities publicly linked to the killer was Peter Stickney Anderson, a 54-year-old banker whose mutilated body was found May 5, 1991. Looking at first like "a loaf of bread," the maintenance worker who found him told investigators, the remains were cocooned in eight trash bags and dumped at a rest stop along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Lancaster County.
Anderson had been beaten and stabbed numerous times, and his penis was severed postmortem and stuffed in his mouth, according to Elon Green's 2021 book Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust and Murder in Queer New York, the basis for the HBO series. The victim was 5-foot-4 and slight, enough so that state police, while trying to identify him, contacted a nearby racetrack to see if their victim might have been a jockey.
Tony Brooks, a 26-year-old candidate for city council at the time, told police he and Anderson had gone into Manhattan together the night of May 3 to attend a fundraiser at the Central Park West home of Robert Browne, a prominent gay rights activist.
Investigators soon learned Anderson left the fundraiser with Tony Hoyt, an old flame he'd run into at the party, and they went to the Townhouse, a bar on East 58th Street that was billed in a local guide as a "hangout for the Eastside professional."
Hoyt shares in the HBO series that he and Anderson first met in New York in the 1960s and he felt a connection, "but we didn't talk about it, because you didn't talk about those things." Then Hoyt got married, moved to Long Island and started a family. Six or seven years later, he was out drinking in the city and called Anderson to ask if he could stay at his place, leading to their first sexual encounter and subsequent relationship. Which, he added, "could never see the light of day."
"Where I grew up," Hoyt explains, "everybody was straight. One wasn't gay. One was not a homosexual. One grew up, went to school, went to college, got out of college, got married, had babies and died. That's what nice people did."
Anderson got married in 1970, divorced, and then remarried, fathering a son with his second wife.
On the night they reunited, Hoyt recalls, a bartender at the Townhouse gently informed Anderson that he'd had one too many. Hoyt says he then booked his friend a room at the Waldorf Astoria, put him in a cab and never saw him again.
Investigators confirmed Anderson made it as far as the Waldorf's front desk.
Hoyt recalls finding out the "terrible" news about his friend. He says in the series he still thinks Anderson may have forgotten he'd just been kicked out of Townhouse and took a cab right back to the bar.
Former Pennsylvania State Police trooper Jay Musser, who worked the case from the beginning in 1991 but left the force for another job the following year, says in HBO's Last Call that they didn't visit the bar where Anderson spent part of his evening.
"In hindsight," he says, "maybe it would've been a good idea to follow up with the Townhouse...At that time, we didn't know it was a gay bar. I don't know anything about where all the gay bars in New York are. I don't know anything about the community. 'Cause really it was irrelevant. All we know is that we got a body."
But then the trail went cold—until July 10, 1992, when sanitation workers found a head wrapped in trash bags and stuffed in a barrel along Route 72 in Burlington County, N.J. More remains were found hours later at a rest area on the Garden State Parkway. All told, the body had been cut into seven pieces.
The victim—Thomas Mulcahy, 57, a married father of four from Massachusetts—had been seen a few days prior at the Townhouse in Manhattan, investigators learned.
Mulcahy's daughter Tracey O'Shea, who was 18 when her father was killed, describes him in Last Call as gentle, kind and funny "in a quirky kind of way." She recalls thinking he seemed different from other dads, "but not hugely."
On July 7, 1992, Mulcahy went to New York on business. He gave a presentation at the World Trade Center, had some beers at Market Street Bar nearby and ended up at the Townhouse, according to investigators.
"Sometimes he went for male companionship," recalls former New Jersey State Police Detective Nick Theodos, who notes in the series that Mulcahy's murder was the first case that brought him into close contact with the gay community. (According to Green's Last Call, the seasoned homicide detective had previously worked on the Green River and Jeffrey Dahmer serial murder cases.)
Matthew Kuehn, a detective with the New Jersey State Police's major crimes unit, told Green that patrons of the Townhouse weren't particularly forthcoming when they were investigating Mulcahy's murder. "The homosexual community wasn't very open about what they were doing in their private lives," he said.
On May 10, 1993, six trash bags containing the remains of 44-year-old Anthony Edward Marrero were found off Crow Hill Road in the New Jersey township of Manchester. He had been stabbed to death and cut into seven pieces.
Authorities identified Marrero as a sex worker who serviced customers in the men's room at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan to support a drug habit, according to the New York Times.
"He never stayed in one place," Marrero's brother Louis told the paper, explaining that Anthony was never the same after the breakup of his marriage (and that he continued to date both men and women). "He went to Washington, to California to see our mother. He went to New York and came back. Sometimes we didn't know where he was."
The fourth victim authorities linked to the murderer who'd been dubbed the "last call killer" was Michael J. Sakara, an openly gay 56-year-old who frequented the Five Oaks piano bar in the West Village, where he was last seen alive on July 30, 1993, according to investigators.
The next day, his head and arms were found in a trash can in Haverstraw, N.Y., in Rockland County. The rest of Sakara was discovered 10 miles away in Stony Point. He'd also been cut into seven pieces, but an autopsy determined that, though he'd been stabbed five times, cause of death was bludgeoning, the Times reported.
Three days after Sakara's manner of death made the news, according to Green's Last Call, New Jersey state police showed up to talk about the new case, and their ongoing investigation into the Mulcahy homicide.
How did authorities catch the Last Call Killer?
After Mulcahy's body was found by the Garden State Parkway in 1992, investigators also found bags containing a keyhole saw and a package of latex gloves. They were able to trace the purchases of those items to, respectively, Pergament Home Centers and CVS, both in Staten Island. The CVS (the only one in the borough) stocked trash bags very much like the ones the body parts had been wrapped in right across from the gloves, recalls Camden County Sheriff's Office Chief Thomas Macauley, formerly a detective with the NJ State Police.
Unfortunately, former NJ State Police detective Theodos notes in the series, there wasn't the in-store camera presence 30 years ago that there is today.
They also tried lifting fingerprints off the bags, Macauley says in Last Call, to no avail. But, he continues, "lucky for us, every homicide that we had, we were required to submit it into VICAP [the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program], no matter what."
The national database, which finds commonalities among crimes in different locations, alerted investigators on the Mulcahy case to the murder of Anderson in 1991.
But a possible motive continued to elude authorities, with Kuehn recalling to Green, "We had no idea. I mean, due to the way [Mulcahy's] body was dismembered, we felt that he really pissed somebody off."
A decade after the killings, however, fingerprint technology had improved.
On May 30, 2001, New Jersey authorities arrested a suspect whose prints had been found on a plastic bag from a victim dumped in Ocean County and matched through a database to evidence from a 1973 murder case in Maine. The man had been acquitted at trial, pleading self-defense.
Who was the Last Call Killer?
Richard W. Rogers Jr., who's serving two consecutive life sentences in New Jersey for the murders of Mulcahy and Marrero, was a 50-year-old registered nurse working in the cardiac care unit at NYC's Mount Sinai Hospital, where he'd been employed since 1979, when he was arrested for those crimes in 2001.
While the Last Call killings already had some eerie parallels to Jeffrey Dahmer's murder of at least 17 men and boys committed mostly between 1987 and 1991, like Dahmer (who found many of his victims within Milwaukee's queer community), Rogers had also been arrested on suspicion of harming someone years before he was ultimately caught.
Fifteen years after he was acquitted of killing a fellow graduate student at the University of Maine with a hammer and dumping his body by the side of the road, Rogers was charged in 1988 with drugging, tying up and injuring a 47-year-old man in his apartment, the Staten Island Advance reported in 2001, after his arrest. He was acquitted in a nonjury trial.
"This is someone who should never have been out on the streets: 15 months after his second acquittal, he killed his first victim," Last Call executive producer Howard Gertler told NBC News in a recent interview. "So, unfortunately, to understand how that poison operates, you have to explain it, show it and include it in the show to understand the forces that were sort of arrayed against justice in this case."
Rogers turned down a plea deal and went on trial for the murders of Mulcahy and Marrero in October 2005.
"They found DNA on the victims that didn't match mine—big surprise," he wrote to a friend from jail in 2003, per Green's Last Call, "and they didn't find any evidence of a crime scene in my house or my apartment that I was living in at the time."
But prosecutors leaned heavily into the fingerprint evidence. "Thomas Mulcahy, 16 fingerprints, nine different fingers," Ocean County Prosecutor William Heisler said in his opening statement. "Anthony Marrero, two fingerprints on the bag containing his head, and another palm print. Peter Anderson, 17 fingerprints and a palm print. Michael Sakara turns up dead 27 hours after he's seen with him."
Though he ultimately wasn't charged with the murders of Anderson and Sakara—both homicides that technically remain open to this day—authorities expressed belief then and now that Rogers killed them both, and the judge at his 2005 trial allowed prosecutors to introduce evidence from those cases.
Rogers did not testify on his own behalf. The jury found him guilty of murder after a few hours of deliberations.
Mulcahy's daughter Tracey sent a presentencing statement to the judge, in which she called her father "a good man who worked hard, and he deserved the best from life. For me...that's what made what Richard Rogers did all the more tragic."
Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York premieres Sunday, July 9, on HBO at 9 p.m. and will be streaming on Max, with episodes dropping weekly.