Amid the AIDS epidemic in early 1990s New York City, the media-christened Last Call Killer stalked men at gay bars in Manhattan, murdering and dismembering them. It took a decade before he was identified as Richard Rogers, a nurse from Staten Island; his victims have been largely forgotten. In Last Call (Celadon, Mar. 2021), Elon Green, who writes for outlets including the Atlantic and the New Yorker, remembers Rogers’s victims by telling the stories of their lives, rather than focusing on their deaths.
Why did you choose this subject for your first book?
It wasn’t because of a particular interest in true crime as a genre. What ultimately piqued my interest was the lives of the victims, some of whom were middle-aged men who were really deep in the closet. It was heartbreaking to read about how they were making their way in the world during that period; they simply could not be themselves. That made me want to have the space to tell their stories in detail.
Why is it important to revisit these crimes now?
There’s a tragic eternal resonance to the events. With every generation there’s always some group of people who’s going to be the most oppressed and the most trod upon, and in that era I think you could argue that gay men were if not at the top of that list, then pretty close to it. Also, because of when these crimes happened, it was so vital to document everything as soon as I could. This was the last chance to tell the story of this small sliver of New York history. So many of the people involved—friends, family, activists, and detectives—were getting on in years; the clock was ticking. These men were part of this forgotten generation of gay men who were not living the lives they wanted, and they don’t often get talked about.
How did you balance writing about each victim’s very violent death while still honoring his life?
When I was writing the details of what happened to these men and to their bodies I kept in mind their family and friends. I didn’t want it to be gratuitously gory; I wanted to put as much information as was necessary to tell that part of the story, but I wanted the reader to remember them in life. I went out of my way to not prioritize the murders in the narrative because to me, that wasn’t the most important part of the story. I looked at their deaths as an excuse to tell the story of their lives.
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
For most of the last century, the violence aimed at queer Americans was really all-encompassing, touching nearly every aspect of their lives. That’s why I spent so much time in the book writing about queer life in so many different eras, places, and facets of society. I also want readers to see the men that I write about not simply as victims, but as people.