A serial killer in New York City sounds like an atrocity that would dominate the headlines. Men were disappearing; days later, their body parts would be found in trash bags outside the city. These were grisly deaths. Yet because Richard Rogers, known as the Last Call Killer, murdered gay men in the 1980s and ’90s, during the height of the AIDS crisis, you may not have heard of him or his victims.
In Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York, author Elon Green recounts this particularly frightening chapter in New York, contextualizing it within the city’s history of anti-queer violence. Weaving together multiple histories and jumping back and forth in time can be hit-or-miss as a narrative structure, but Last Call does it well, thanks to Green’s original reporting conducted with law enforcement, politicians, victims’ families and patrons at gay bars where Rogers lurked.
True crime too often focuses on the “bad guys,” as if repeatedly mulling over their motives may eventually explain evil. In Last Call, Green instead foregrounds Rogers’ known victims. He shows us the people they were and the lives they left behind. Their lives mattered, and Last Call is a testament to how homophobia shaped these men’s lives and, eventually, their deaths.
Readers should be aware that there’s a lot of gore in Last Call; after all, Rogers dismembered his victims. Regular readers of true crime may not find the violence unexpected, but the cultural context of the AIDS panic adds additional weight to this brutality. To his credit, Green never lets us forget the amplified threats that existed for gay men during this era. However, because Last Call shows how the passage of time often changes culture for the better, it’s ultimately uplifting—if a book about a serial killer could, in any way, be called “uplifting.”