As we launch into October there are many things to celebrate. It’s LGBTQ+ history month, we’re just a few days before National Coming Out Day on October 11th, and also October serves as the original ‘Pride Month’. But all of that aside, what we really care about is Queer True Crime and October is Your Queer Stories True Crime month. So we thought what better way to kick the month off than to start with the underrated serial killer The Last Call Killer. Before we begin we want to put out a trigger warning for the entire month of October. We will be discussing blood, gore, violence, assault, sexual abuse, homophobia, queerphobia, transphobia, and more. So if you’re not up for any of that then please check out some of our past episodes. Last year’s Halloween episode discusses why October was the original Pride Month and our History of Drag episodes discusses the art behind many of the fabulous looks that are sure to be revealed this year. But for those of you still hear and ready for that queer true crime, let’s get into the life and mind of serial killer Richard Rogers, nicknamed, The Last Call Killer.
It was late in 1989 when musician Rick Unterburg first noticed the man he described as “nearly forgettable” enter the Townhouse bar off East 58th street in New York City. The piano bar has served as a queer dominated space for more than 30 years. In the late 80s, the bar was no doubt a reprieve to countless LGBTQ+ people seeking a few hours away from the chaos outside. The AIDS panic was in full swing as many New York establishments stopped ignoring the crisis and instead turned to open bigotry and discrimination for suspected carriers of the so-called “gay disease”. Just two years earlier, both Randy Shilts moving portrayal ‘And the Band Played On”, and Larry Kramer’s organization ACT UP, had hit the New York City scene. Yet the good both would eventually do was yet to come as the initial backlash against the LGBTQ+ rocked the community.
Across the country, several states attempted to implement rights for gay couples or to ban anti-gay discrimination. However, time and time again the bills were repealed before they ever went into effect. In October of 89, Cosmopolitan Magazine ran an article that essentially blamed bisexual men for the spread of AIDS. Further fanning the flames of homophobia and biphobia in New York City as well as the rest of the world. Repeated rejection combined with the mounting death toll of AIDS victims spurred a 4,500 member protest on December 10, 1989. Organized by ACT UP and WHAM, the demonstrators overtook St. Patrick’s Cathedral to call out the church’s open bigotry. 150 protesters were eventually arrested; however, to this day, it’s still one of the largest demonstrations against a religious organization in U.S. history. It was in the middle of so much chaos and fear that one individual decided to further wound the LGBTQ+ community.
Not much is known about the early life of Richard Rogers. Born on June 16, 1950, and raised in Massachusettes, Richard was one of 5 children. In the late 60s and early 70s, Rogers attended the University of Maine initially studying French. Richards first known scuffle with the law came the same year Maine had its last sodomy trial. In the 1973 case State vs Pratt, a man was accused of raping a young boy and tried for sodomy. Yet conflicting testimony from eyewitnesses and what appeared to be the coercion of the boy by his father eventually took the case to the Supreme Court. The result was the conviction being overturned due to the fact that the trial judge had instructed that simply touching the penis was enough for a sodomy charge. However, the Supreme Court ruled that penetration was necessary for a conviction and that point had not been proven. The blatant conflation of pedophilia with homosexuality, along with what was possibly a completely fabricated story, shows the homophobia of the day. Still, the story no doubt made the rounds in the LGBTQ+ Maine community.
Whether Richard Rogers was out as gay in the 70s or whether he ever officially came out or whether he ever even had friends to come out to is unknown. But we do know that in 1973, the same year the Pratt case was headed to the Supreme Court, Richard Rogers killed his former roommate, Frederic Spencer. According to Richard, he came home to find his Frederic in his apartment. It is possible the two had been more than just roommates and ended in a bitter break-up. It could also be possible that Richard was threatened by knowledge of his sexuality being revealed or simply motivated by his own self-hatred. Whatever the cause for their intense rivalry, Rogers states the two began to brawl. The fight ended when the grad student beat Spencer head in with a hammer, suffocated him with a bag, and then dumped his dead body on a back road. Yet somehow, he was acquitted of all charges and released from custody.
The next ten years present another gap in Richard Rogers history. Though it seems like he headed down to Florida where he also had some family. There he continued his education and eventually earned a degree in nursing. In April of 1982, Rogers attended a college reunion in Florida. Just a few days later, the body of Matthew Pierro was found just off the highway in Lake Mary. Pierro’s neck showed signs of strangulation along with multiple stab wounds and also bore the indent of a bite mark. However, authorities claimed no suspects at the time and made no arrests. A few years later Richard resurfaced in New York and soon landed a job as a surgical nurse at Mt. Siani Hospital in Manhattan.
In 1988 a victim came forward to tell police that a month earlier he had accompanied Rogers to his apartment. He claimed that Richard drugged him and when he awoke he was tied to the bed with Rogers on top of him punching him repeatedly. The killer was arrested and charged with assault and unlawful imprisonment. Yet just before he was set to go to trial, Richard was granted a bench trial. These are proceedings without a jury, and the judge acquitted Rogers on all charges. Once again, Richard Rogers was freed and permitted to continue his reign of terror. The police and courts repeated refusal to get involved in “gay affairs” cannot be overlooked. Just as in the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, homophobia left the queer community open to more harm.
By 1990, Richard was established in his role as a nurse on Staten Island and became a frequent bar fly at the Townhouse. The establishment leans more along the style eloquent gentlemans club. Overstuffed paisley print arm chairs sit off to the side as elegantly carved stools line the long oak bar. Victorian inspired wallpaper covers the walls with thick green carpeting filling the rooms and surrounding a baby grand piano. Little has changed in the bars decor over the past 3 decades and it seems the quiet atmosphere was a welcome change to Richard Rogers. With bathouses and club scenes taking the rap for increasing the spread of AIDS, the nurse no doubt sought safety in the refinery of an upscale bar.
The piano player Rick Unterburg said of Rogers “He was dull. Just bland. The only reason I remember him is because he always hung out by the piano”. Unterburg added that Rogers sometimes sang showtunes and was “delicate, soft spoken, and very quiet.” Much the same way, Richard’s co-workers saw him as gentle and uninteresting. His boring personality made him seem harmless. Yet past experiences had proved Rogers could indeed have a very mean and dangerous streak. His personal life is a mystery at this time though witnesses later testified he was a regular on the queer bar scene and preferred to frequent the Townhouse on Sunday evenings.Yet the pale middle aged man drinking a cold scotch at the bar drew little notice and only occasionally seemed to leave with anyone.
In his younger years Richards was somewhat handsome with a thin frame, a full head of chocolate brown hair, and dark, wide set eyes. By 1991 though, he had put on a few pounds and adopted a very drab style. Perhaps this was done intentionally in order to further escape detection. On May 3, 1991, a recently divorced banker Peter Anderson visited the Townhouse after giving a presentation to investment brokers. Anderson was exploring his newly embraced homosexuality and partied quite hard. A cab was called for him which originally took Anderson to his hotel; however, plans changed and Peter left without actually checking into his room. Two days later a state employee noticed an overstuffed trash bag at a rest stop in Pennsylvania. When he opened the bag he found the mutilated corpse of Peter Anderson. The banker had been viciously beaten before being repeatedly stabbed. Finally, the murderer had cut off Anderson’s penis and shoved it into the victims mouth.
Though the body was meticuously washed, prints were still found inside the garbage bag and Anderson’s clothing were found in a separate trash can just a few days later. Police ran the prints but came up empty and the case eventually went cold. Just over a year later a computer salesman by the name of Thomas Mulcahy visited New York City on a business trip. That night he enjoyed a few drinks at the Townhouse before returning safely to his hotel room. The next day Thomas presented at the World Trade Center and later met with a colleague for luch. Mulcahy informed him that he would be staying in New York to enjoy the city for a few more days. The two men parted ways and Thomas Mulcahy was never seen alive again.
As maintenance workers cleaned up the trash around a rest stop in New Jersey, one noticed a dark ooze coming from a bag. When he picked the bag up, the severed head of Thomas Mucahy fell to the ground. Several miles away another maintenance worker struggled to lift an unusually heavy bag from the trash can. When he ripped open the bag to pull the contents out, he found two severed legs as well as several other body parts. Thomas Mulcahy had been stapped multiple times before he was dismembered piece by piece. Once again, police found fingerprints inside the bag as well as a few pairs of latex gloves which they did manage to track to a CVS on Staten Island. However, the trail went dark and again the case drew cold.
While the murder of Peter Anderson had drawn little attention, the murder of Thomas Mulcahy spread among the New York City gay scene. Especially in bars like the Townhouse where patrons knew Thomas had visited. Police had not made the connection yet between Anderson and Mulcahy, possibly because the bodies were found in different states. But the brutal dismemberment of Mulcahy did draw attention to the Townhouse and its visitors. Ten months after the salesman’s murder, a bus driver noticed a human arm sticking out of a trash bag in Manchester, New Jersey. The resulting search found five more bags in various trash cans, all stuffed with human remains.
Police were able to identify the body as that of sex worker Anthony Morrero. Morrero had been missing for four days before his body was found. Like Mulcahy, Anthony had been stabbed multiple times before his body was dismemberd post mortem. For the third time, fingerprints were found inside the trash bags and shopping bags left near the body parts were again traced back to Staten Island. This time at least Morrero’s and Mulcahy’s murders were linked and police began to fear they had a serial killer. Their fears were confirmed just over a month later when another body showed up. This time in Haverstraw, New York, about an hour outside the city.
On July 29th, 1993, Michael Sakara was enjoying a drink at his favorite spot, the Five Oaks Piano Bar in Manhattan. A middle aged man sat down next to him and the two men enjoyed a drink together. The stranger said he was a nurse at St. Vincents and was new to the Five Oaks Bar. Soon enough the bar started to close and the two men left together. Two days later a shop owner in Haverstraw noticed his garbage was overflowing. When he walked over to investigate he found the severed head and arms of Michael Sakara. The rest of the body parts took nearly two weeks to find as they were scattered in other towns nearby. Like the previous victims, Sakara had been brutally beaten to death before his body was dismembered.
Law Enforcement were not the only one’s with concerns. The queer community had heard the details of the previous 3 killings including how all three had been heavily intoxicated when they were murdered. This resulted in the nickname “The Last Call Killer”. “It was horrible,” said Abraham Levy, a Townhouse cocktail waiter in the early 90’s, “Every week there seemed to be another body”. When Sakara’s body was discovered the bartender at the Five Oaks notified police that she had seen Michael leave with a man the night of July 29th and that she remembered the patron identified himself as a nurse at St. Vincents. Police pulled directories of several surrounding hospitals and had the bartender look over them. She thought she recognized Richard Rogers but couldn’t be positive. Authorities requested Rogers attendance and noticed he had been absent on the days following the murders. However, since the stranger had stated he worked at St. Vincents and not Mt. Siani, police let the lead drop.
For the next six years all was quiet both from the killer and the authorities. In 1999, Mulcahy’s ex wife called the New Jersey police to follow up on the investigation. This prompted the chief to send the evidence to Toronto, Canada for further analysis. 33 sets of fingerprints were pulled and authorities sent out packets of the prints to all 50 states. In 2001, the newly formed task forced received a call from police in Maine. The fingerprints taken from Rogers 27 years ago after the killing of Richard’s ex-roomate matched the fingerprints on the bags that held the bodies of Anderson, Mulcahy, and Morrero.
Police approached Richard while he was working a shift and told him he had been a victim of credit card fraud. When Rogers accompanied them to the station they flipped the tables on him and began to interrogate him on the deaths of the four men. Though the killer quickly stopped talking and demanded a lawyer, police had enough evidence to grant a warrant. When they searched Richards home they found pictures of naked men with stab wounds drawn on the body, along with a date rape drug, and other circumstantial evidenc including a Bible with passages about dismemberment highlighted. Rogers was arrested and charged with the murders of both Mulcahy and Morrero since the evidence was most compelling in their cases. In January of 2006, Richard Rogers was sentenced to life in prison. Yet even with the evidence and the conviction Rogers had still chosen not to answer the biggest request presented to him. “The big unanswered question in this case is why,” said William Heisler, the Ocean County prosecutor who presented the case at a two-week trial in Toms River, N.J. “For whatever reason, he was targeting gay men in New York.”
Your recommeded resources are a short documentary from the series Medical Detectives episode 8 A Touch of Evil which is available on YouTube. Theres also the upcoming book Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York by Elon Green and set to release in March of 2021. You can pre-order the book on Amazon if you absolutely want to make sure you get a copy.
- Murderpedia – https://murderpedia.org/male.R/r/rogers-richard.htm
- Staten Island Advance – https://www.silive.com/news/g66l-2019/02/c00e71ca6c8598/last-call-killer-revisited-richard-rogers-of-staten-island-trolled-victims-at-gay-bars-in-manhattan.html
- Times – https://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/27/nyregion/as-killer-faces-sentencing-his-motive-remains-elusive.html#:~:text=Richard%20Rogers%20Jr.%2C%20a%20Staten,44%2C%20identified%20as%20a%20prostitute.
- Criminally Intrigued – https://www.criminallyintrigued.com/blog/2018/1/14/richard-w-rogers-an-evil-human-being
- Townhouse – http://thetownhousebar.com/?utm_source=gmb&utm_medium=referral#gallery
- State vs Pratt – https://law.justia.com/cases/maine/supreme-court/1973/309-a-2d-864-0.html