A Serial Killer Mystery that Sees A Much Scarier Crime


Say their names: Thomas Mulcahy. Peter Anderson. Anthony Marrero. Michael J. Sakara. Frederic Spencer. These men fell victim to a serial murderer dubbed the “Last Call Killer,” a predator that stalked LGBTQ+ men during the 1990s in New York City.

Interviews with the families and friends of said victims make up the bulk of the runtime of Last Call, the new HBO docuseries that chronicles the search for the killer. True-crime fans should take note: this is not your usual whodunit.

For the record, viewers of Last Call do find out ‘whodunit’ over the course of the series’ four episodes. As directed by Anthony Caronna (Pride), however, the show doesn’t follow the traditional clue-by-clue mystery format that invites an audience to solve the crime as they watch. Caronna instead takes a different approach: one focusing more on the lives of the victims, and on a community forsaken.

Watching the debut episode, it first seems like Caronna has fallen into the trap of so many recent docuseries: stretching a too-thin story over multiple hours to meet an episode quota. The show opens with police recalling the discovery of a human head along rural Route 72 in New Jersey. It belonged to Thomas Mulchay, a Massachusetts businessman, husband, and father. A search by law enforcement turns up the rest of Mulchay’s remains, dismembered, packed in plastic bags, and stretched out over several miles.

An analysis of his movements the night he disappeared reveal that he’d stopped at a posh New York City bar, The Townhouse, just prior to his death. At first, investigators don’t see any significance to the location. Interviews with bar patrons, however, turn up something unexpected: The Townhouse is a clandestine gay bar, catering to wealthy closeted and married men.

At this point in the series, Caronna takes a hard left turn in his narrative. Whereas any other big true-crime show — 20/20, To Catch a Predator — would have focused solely on the investigation, with family and friends weeping for the cameras, Last Call jumps into biopic territory. Mulchay’s adult daughter, Tracey O’Shea, remembers her dad, speaking of his parenting skills, his favorite activities, his personality quirks. Queer community activists then enter the frame, discussing their relationships with police, and how they set out to warn the community about a killer on the loose during a period of extreme public homophobia. It seems like a digression from the show’s main focus—finding the killer.

Not What It Seems

Last Call When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York documentary on HBO

When Caronna uses a similar approach in Episode 2, discussing the murder of Anthony Marrero, a gay sex worker, it becomes clear that the director has a different story in mind. Last Call doesn’t want to titillate viewers with a real-life murder mystery and all the salacious detail that comes with it. Caronna wants his audience to get mad.

Every frame of Last Call teems with anger — as much rage against the killer as against a homophobic police department ill-equipped to aid a community in need. In the 1980s and 90s, even in a city as liberal as New York, LGBTQ+ people lived life constantly glancing over their shoulders to avoid violence. Yes, Greenwich Village (home of the fabled Stonewall Inn) had a reputation as an oasis for queer people looking to live openly among other members of their community. That didn’t stop outsiders — or police — from harassing residents on a regular basis.

Related: Best True Crime Documentaries on Max

At one point in Last Call, a community activist holds up a map of The Village, with tiny purple dots indicating the location of attacks in the first few months of 1992. That the dots look like a giant blood stain feels appropriate: there were over 600 acts of violence against LGBTQ people in the first three months of the year alone. Virtually none of those crimes were ever prosecuted. Young people — in particular young queer folks — should take note. Never say older gay and trans people didn’t have it hard.

Homophobia Is the True Crime

Last Call When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York documentary

Caronna devotes so much of Last Call to this backdrop, we suspect, because the director knows the murders committed by the Last Call Killer are not the most egregious crimes in this story. During one interview, two investigators ask Caronna why it’s such a big deal that the sexuality of the victims was important to the case. In another, the brother of a career hustler insists his deceased sibling couldn’t possibly have been gay. When Tracey O’Shea weeps for her father, she doesn’t cry because he had a secret life. She cries because she understands the kind of shame that forced him to have one.

The biggest crime here is homophobia, pure and simple.

Caronna avoids making his narrative overly didactic by finding a perfect balance of plot threads. Friends remember victims, community organizers vent their anger with law enforcement, police and other investigators share their frustrations with investigating the murders, and so on. The four episodes of Last Call feel cyclical in that way. That approach also gives the show an eerie quality. The viewer knows that another murder always lurks around the corner.

Related: The 10 Greatest Serial Killer Movies of the 2010s, Ranked

An Angry Call

Last Call When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York

The fourth episode of Last Call details the break in the case that finally leads police to the Last Call Killer. Here, Caronna avoids heavy-handed psychoanalysis. Instead, he interviews longtime friends of the killer. It will astonish viewers how of their testimony echoes that of the family members of Last Call Killer’s victims: how they had no idea that he led a double life, how they suspected he was gay though he denied it, how they had no clue that amid his extensive video and photo collection, he’d drawn blood and wounds over images of muscular men.

Caronna intimates that the same homophobia which compounded the investigation into the Last Call Killer, on some level, also motivated his crimes. In that way, the director almost evokes sympathy for his villain. Almost.

Caronna devotes the final minutes of Last Call to the rash of hate crimes against queer people that exploded in the 1990s, and draws parallels between the homophobic rhetoric of the time with the current anti-LGBTQ words of American politicians. He makes the case that public demonization of queer Americans stokes the violence that claimed the lives of the Last Call Killer’s victims, as well as that of Marsha P. Johnson, Brandon Teena, Matt Shepherd, the victims of the Pulse Massacre and so many others. Last Call is not the usual siren call of crime-as-entertainment.

Last Call is a cry of anger.

Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York premiered its first episode Sunday, July 9th, with the next three episodes airing Sunday nights. It can be streamed on Max.

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