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Last Call: by Elon Green

The narratives of unsolved murders, pulled from cold case files, are now popular fare for both television and books. In most cases, the stories of the murders remain situated in the past while solving the case becomes a second, accompanying narrative. Elon Green takes a refreshing perspective in Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York. His determination to tell the stories of the lives of those who were murdered creates multiple layers with a sense of the real human consequences of murder and its aftermath.

Green writes in the book’s epilogue that he stumbled upon the story of the “Last Call Killer”―so named by New York Daily News columnist Mike McAlary―by accident, clicking onto a different webpage than what he intended. He learned that between 1991 and 1993, four gay men were killed and dismembered, their body parts left in plastic garbage bags. Because the remains were found in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and because the murder of gay men was not considered a high-profile crime of news interest, only gradually were connections made for police to realize the murders were the work of a serial killer.

Not only could Green not forget the killings, he could not forget the victims either. Nearly 30 years after the death of the first victim, Peter Anderson, Green set out to learn more about Anderson and the other victims of the Last Call Killer, so they would be remembered as more than just victims. Last Call is also a story of advocacy to end violence against gay men, the bureaucracies of police departments and the dedication of officers and detectives fighting for justice, as well as an array of stories of family and friendship.

The extent of Green’s research is subtly evident throughout the book. He read trial transcripts and stories from newspapers and magazines, but also interviewed dozens of acquaintances, neighbors, and others who had a role in the lives of the victims. The stories he pieces together feel authentic: evidence of a skilled and devoted reporter.

Even minor characters are vividly described: the turnpike maintenance worker who found the bags containing Peter Anderson’s remains is “a strong five foot six” who had “never had a problem emptying the barrels in his six years on the job.” Lisa Hall, who was a bartender at the Five Oaks in New York and one the last people to see her longtime friend Michael Sakara alive, is “a short, mouthy blonde who acted and sang.”

Green crafts the life story for each of the victims. For Thomas Mulcahy, who was killed in July 1992, Green details the results of the autopsy, then recounts Mulcahy’s marriage, career and history of alcoholism. The story stretches back to his mother, Mary, who emigrated from Ireland in 1920, raising her son as a Catholic. Here too, Mulcahy’s education at Boston College High School fits into a larger cultural picture as among those who graduated with him were men who would eventually be part of the devastating child sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church.

These life stories also tie in to the homicide investigations, as detectives worked to learn about the victims and try to determine any motives for their murders. Police work is an intriguing thread throughout Last Call. That Green spent time talking with many of the officers who worked the cases is evident from the firsthand knowledge that is easily included in the stories of their investigations. As so much of this narrative seems not to have been collected and recorded until now, the unprecedented partnership between the New York City Police, the New Jersey State Police, and the Pennsylvania State Police along with the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office and the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office deserves the space that Green affords it. The task force formed between these agencies worked diligently, but quickly ran out of leads and were called back to work on cases in their own jurisdictions.

Although the task force was disbanded, a friendship that formed on the task force led to the eventual conviction of the Last Call Killer. In July 2000, seven years after the murder of Michael Sakara, New Jersey State Trooper Matthew Kuehn, who led the Mulcahy investigation called Stephen Colantonio, the detective from Rockland County who had worked on the Sakara case. Together they gathered evidence from the various murders and drove to Toronto, where a new procedure was lifting fingerprints from plastic bags like those used to wrap and discard the remains of the murdered men. Their work eventually led to the killer’s conviction. Green writes this closing section of the book with the suspense of the best crime fiction writers, but always reminding the reader that this is a true and devastating story.

Summary
Green’s determination to tell the stories of the lives of those who were killed creates multiple layers with a sense of the real human consequences of murder and its aftermath.
78 %
Vivid and engaging

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