Review: 'Last Call' a Chilling, Compelling True-Crime Story of Serial Gay Killings

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday April 5, 2021

When writer Elon Green stumbled upon the all-but-forgotten story of a string of murders of gay men that seemed to focus on New York City, he became intrigued. That's something to be thankful for, as otherwise, the story of how a killer stalked the city's gay bars might have been lost to obscurity.

Instead, the story is now a fascinating true-crime book, "Last Call," that traces how the discovery, in 1991, of murder victim Peter Anderson — his carefully disarticulated body parts contained in several trash bags and dumped in rubbish bins at a rest area in Pennsylvania — led to a years-long search for a killer.

Slowly, with the discovery of more victims (similarly butchered, bagged up, and dumped), a picture started to emerge. The puzzling inconsistencies between victims (one a banker, another a hustler, a third who worked in sales for a computer company) and minor departures in MO (subsequent bodies were dismembered more brutally) were overshadowed by striking similarities that pointed both to a killer with medical knowledge and a general class of victims: The murderer was stalking gay men. Forensic expertise provided clarity: Though the corpses were turning up at various places on the map, some evidence (such as the trash bags) seemed to share a common origin.

The NYPD seemed unenthusiastic, either for reasons of jurisdiction (some victims were found in New Jersey) or simple disinterest in a killer who focused on gay men. However, the New Jersey state police took on the task of figuring out who might be responsible for the killings. Luck, ingenuity, and persistence eventually paid off (though, sadly, the NYPD, in what might have been a ham-handed grab for credit, disrupted the New Jersey investigation at a critical moment).

Once Green reveals the killer, he dives into background and personal details with the same meticulous care he brings to the victims' lives and the milieu of the gay bars they frequented (along with the witnesses and friends who also frequented those establishments). The story is a chilling one that speaks to the enormous cost of life, social fabric, and law enforcement effort that can result from homophobia.

Though several victims came to light over time with enough similarities in the methods used to target, kill, and dispose of them that discernible patterns emerged, Green notes that those discoveries were far from assured. There could have been other victims, perhaps many more. The fact that the story unfolds against a backdrop of the AIDS crisis — another lethal problem that government agencies failed to prioritize in a timely manner — only points up the multifaceted and deeply institutional nature of such homophobia.

In the end, though, it's the question of evil that propels the book, and evil remains a mystery tantalizingly described but not explained. Perhaps no explanation is adequate or even possible.

"Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in New York," by Elon Green, is available now from Celadon Books.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.