How the Bag Murders and the Last Call Killer Put in Focus the Dangers the New York LGBTQ+ Community Faces
The killings of gay men last seen in New York, including Variety reporter Addison Verill and six others in the 1970s, and four in the 1990s, serve as reminders of the dangers the LGBTQ+ community have faced while simultaneously fighting for equality.
Then, in the early 1990s, as the HIV/AIDS crisis was raging on, another killer was striking fear among gay men in New York. That predator’s reign of terror that went on for nearly a decade.
These crimes wreaked havoc among New York’s LGBTQ+ community but were hardly recognized as the dire crime sprees they were by the public, the media, and some say even investigators and leaders within the city.
The 1970s: The Killing of a Film Reporter and “The Bag Murders”
Building on what began during the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, the LGBTQ+ community in New York City in the 1970s continued to fight for equal rights and the ability to live without issue.
“The 1970s was a sexual revolution for everybody, particularly gay men,” columnist Michael Musto told Inside Edition Digital. “This was after the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, which defined the modern gay movement and it led to a lot more freedom and visibility. And it was before AIDS reared its ugly head in the early '80s, so sex was everywhere. For gay men, it was not only in bars; there was sex in trucks, there was sex on the pier. Sex was in the air and people were certainly taking advantage of it.”
The level of comfort gay people in New York had with being open about their sexuality was entirely subjective.
Havens across the city in the forms of bars, nightclubs and cafes that were founded by and for the LGBTQ+ afforded a comfort to some gay New Yorkers. But violent homophobia was still rampant in New York City.
At the time, gay men walking near gay bars or underground clubs in areas like Chelsea or Meatpacking were often the targets of teenagers, some of whom wouldn’t hesitate to assault those they thought were part of the LGBTQ+ community, New York State’s first openly gay Senator Tom Duane told Inside Edition Digital.
“If you walked down certain streets, you were in danger,” he said. “Many people would be, probably, drunk, and still drinking, which made them even easier to cause harm to. And it's just scary even to think about it now.”
And then, between 1977 and 1979, the remains of six dismembered men who cops said they believed were gay turned up in the Hudson River in bags that reportedly displayed the insignia of NYU Medical Center’s neuropsychiatric unit. The gruesome discovery left the community on edge.
The crimes became known as “The Bag Murders” and the “CUPPI murders,” a technical term meaning, “Circumstances Unknown Pending Police Investigation.”
But the murders were hardly reported on by mainstream news outlets. Instead, it was reporter Arthur Bell at the alternative paper, The Village Voice, who helped bring attention to the atrocities, according to Esquire.
“Every year, there are approximately four ‘sexually oriented’ murders of gay men in the Greenwich Village area," Bell wrote in 1977. "Seldom do the papers report the crimes.”
And it was Bell who noticed something sinister in the September 1977 murder of Variety film reporter Addison Verill, who was found stabbed and beaten to death in his Greenwich Village apartment.
At first, police thought it was a robbery gone wrong as the apartment looked to be trashed, but it was Bell who pointed out in the Village Voice article, “There is Nothing Gay About Murder,” that nothing was taken.
Bell wrote that detectives said the suspect was looking for cash but to Bell, that didn’t sit right. “It was not a break-in crime. Verrill had brought his assailant home or allowed him into the apartment,” Bell wrote.
Verill frequented the after hours and underground gay clubs in Chelsea and the Meatpacking districts, including Roadhouse, Ty’s, The Anvil and Mine Shaft. The clubs didn’t have signs and were not known to those outside of the BDSM.
“Mine Shaft was part of a subculture,” Duane said. “It wasn't like, ‘Oh, what did you do this weekend?’ He wouldn't have said to his coworker, ‘I went to the Mine Shaft.’... That's not really something you'd be discussing.”
Bell wrote that for Verill, it wasn’t the fetish itself that was the draw, but instead, being part of the “in” crowd.
Police believed Verill either picked someone up at the Mine Shaft where he was supposedly last seen or on his way home and they maintained he was robbed by that person, according to the Village Voice but Bell used his power as a member of the media to get the killer’s attention.
Much like Jimmy Breslin, who used his column at the New York Daily News to write to New York City serial killer “Son of Sam,” Bell did something similar in his story “There is Nothing Gay About Murder.”
“Arthur Bell was my predecessor at The Village Voice, I'm actually the person who replaced him after he passed. Arthur was a terrific gay activist, columnist,” Musto said. “He wrote about showbiz but he also wrote about more serious things like these murders. And it was a great move on the part of Arthur Bell to put in his column, a plea for anyone who either did the murder or knew about it, to reach out. And it actually did help lead to solving of the crime.”
Just over a week after Bell’s story was published, the journalist received an anonymous call from a man claiming he killed the Variety reporter.
“Bell talked to this person on the phone and the person told him details of the crime,” Esquire culture editor Matt Miller told Inside Edition Digital.
Miller, who investigated the case for Esquire, said that the person who phoned Bell told him that he wanted a relationship with Verill. As Bell and the person spoke, the person relayed details of the crime no one but the cops had.
“Bell gets this call and he goes to the police, and the police confirm that this was the actual killer because the person who talked to Bell had details that the police hadn't released yet. So they give Bell a police detail and he soon gets another call from somebody [else] who had read his article,” Miller said. That person told Bell “that the killer was Paul Bateson,” Miller said.
It was the first time the name Paul Bateson had come up in the case.
Who Was Paul Bateson?
“Paul Bateson was a well-respected technician at the NYU radiology lab. He worked there in the early to mid-70s. All of his colleagues loved him,” Miller said. “They said he had a great bedside manner. They said that he was great with patients, that he was very skilled. The people that I talked to who worked with him said that he was just very reliable and great at his job.”
Bateson, along with a few of his colleagues, including Dr. Barton Lane appeared in the 1973 horror classic “The Exorcist.” He and his colleagues at NYU radiology department appeared in one of the film’s most memorable and bloodiest scenes, when doctors appear to insert a needle in Linda Blair’s character Regan’s neck.
“So the people in it, except for the actors, were all professionals,” Dr. Barton Lane told Inside Edition Digital. “Paul was in it, of course, because he's the chief neurotechnologist. We were all dedicated to making it as realistic a scene as possible. We had no idea whether that scene was going to be used or not and we had no idea really, much about the movie.”
Lane was a longtime colleague of Bateson’s. “He was very good at what he did,” Lane said. “He knew more about the technology side of neuroradiology than anybody, and that meant that he knew a lot of things that I needed to know.”
“I learned a lot from him,” he added.
Lane and Bateson were friendly at work, Lane said. “He had a really good personality,” he said. “He had a good sense of humor but he was never flippant. He was always focused on what he was doing, which I respected because that's what you have to do.”
The two men “didn't socialize but we talked about things in common.We both liked the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera, and we talked a bit about that. I would say he was calm and professional, in the best sense,” Dr. Lane said.
Not long after Bell received his tip, police arrested Bateson inside his Manhattan apartment. “They find him drunk,” Miller said.
“When they got there, he indicated that they were there because of the Village Voice article. So he gets taken into custody and he gives the full, same confession that he gave to Arthur Bell,” Miller said. “It's a very surreal where the reporter becomes part of the news, and the reporter's somehow involved. It's just so wild. It read to me like it was a movie on its own.”
After his arrest, Bateson allegedly confessed to also being responsible for the Bag Murders, And during his trial in 1979 for the murder of Verill, the prosecutor said Bateson boasted to an acquaintance that he was responsible for the death of the other men.
Though those close to Bateson said he claimed responsibility for the killings of other men, the killings known as “The Bag Murders” remain unsolved and the victims remain unidentified.
“The Bag Murders” and the killing of Verill were a stark reminder to those in the LGBTQ+ community that they were not fully safe while going about their lives.
“This was before AIDS, but it still was a little scary for gay men to go out and pick people up. They had to suss out based on some chit-chat in a bar, if the person they were dealing with was psycho,” Musto said. “Add to that the fact that there was buzz about different bodies that had been popped up in the Hudson, some of them were decapitated, dismembered, and died in a very grisly way, that added to the fright level. Nobody was titillated or attracted by that.”
Bateson was sentenced to 20 years to life in 1979. He was released in August 2003. He died in 2012.
Lane said he didn’t find out about Bateson’s crime until many years after it occurred but he was startled to hear the news.
“I think it's like many of us in professional relationships; we may work with people every day, but you don't really know their inner self. And especially if you don't socialize with them, you don't know what their social life is like,” he said.
William Friedkin, who directed Bateson in “The Exorcist,” used Bateson’s story as the inspiration for his controversial 1980 film, “Cruising,” which stared Al Pacino as a cop who goes undercover to solve serial killings within the gay community. The film was based on a 1970 novel by New York Times reporter Gerald Walker.
Many in the LGBTQ+ community protested the film’s production. Bell wrote in the Village Voice in 1979 that the movie “promises to be the most oppressive, ugly, bigoted look at homosexuality ever presented on the screen.”
Bell also slammed Friedkin in another article for Village Voice. “Had [Freidkin] dealt with gay groups, he’d have had an understanding of the insightful nature of his script. If he had a sense of social justice, perhaps he’d have altered his script, which, in effect, says that murder is the result of gay sex,” he wrote.
“‘Cruising’ the movie did capture a certain scene, which was the macho posturing and the leather fetishism of that Anvil, Mineshaft scene,” Musto said. “But I think what maybe the protests were partly responding to is the fact that we're not always victims and Hollywood always shows gay people as victims. And yes, the murder cases that we're talking about turned out to prove that sometimes we are victims, but that's not the prevailing aspect of being a gay man.”
Friedkin did not respond to Inside Edition Digital’s request for an interview.
The 1980s: The Birth of Anti Violence Project, AIDS Epidemic and the Push to Protect the Community
With the end of the 1970s came the LGBTQ+ community’s demand for more protection by city authorities.
“I never feel there's enough to protect this queer community,” Musto said. “The cops, I know they always have to wait for evidence to solve a crime, but I often feel that when it's a gay person who's killed, they're not rushing to solve it. I also think the media took a long time to come around to the fact that we deserve equal coverage, and it's a constant struggle. If you die of homophobia, you then are crucified again after your death by homophobia and the lack of attention to your death.”
Author Elon Green, who wrote the book, “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York,” said that he too believes not enough was done to protect the community during this time.
“If there was, then the Anti-Violence Project wouldn't have had to exist,” he told Inside Edition Digital.
The New York Anti-Violence Project grew out of the Chelsea Gay Association as a way for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers to find havens of protection in the late 1970s.
“When AVP was formed, it formed in response to hate violence and particularly hate violence that gay men were experiencing coming to and from gay bars in the Chelsea area,” AVP Executive Director Beverly Tillery told Inside Edition Digital.
“We started in 1980 and we started doing this work in response to violence that people in the community were experiencing that was really going without attention,” Tillery said. “Folks came together on their own to do two things. One to support the survivors, and that is still a very central part of our work today… then the second thing that our founders did was they really came together to advocate for changes. And we also still do that today as well.”
Senator Duane, a founding member of AVP, said that the organization was also a place where members of the community could receive tips to stay safe.
“When the Anti-Violence Project really got going, that was one of the things that they really stressed to people was that, in a bar, you decide to go home with a stranger to make sure you introduce him [to someone],” Senator Duane added. “And if you're not there with a friend, [introduce] to the bartender, someone, just to make sure, because not only so they can track you, but it's also a warning to the other person that it's going to be a little bit harder for them to get away with it now.”
A hotline was also created for people to use if they experienced violence, Tillery said.
The hotline, which still exists today, shined a light on how pervasive a problem violence against the LGBTQ+ community was, Tillery said. “Violence within the community was also really an important part of what people were experiencing that needed to be addressed,” Tillery said.
After much public pressure, the NYPD began focusing on connecting with the LGBTQ+ community. In 1982, the NYPD created the Gay Officers Action League, or GOAL.
“More and more gay cops, male and female, started to be a little more comfortable. Same way, like in the ‘70s, there weren't a lot of women on the job. Mid-70s, they started getting women in. It took time. Were we easily accepted? Now we weren't. But in time, we were. When they started to see, we had the same goals, we had the same ambitions,” retired NYPD detective Donna Malkentzos told Inside Edition Digital.
At the same time, the AIDS epidemic was devastating the world over, but especially New York City and San Francisco.
“The AIDS epidemic was raging through the community and the community was facing a government that was basically not paying attention, clearly did not care about what was happening. And so, the community was getting together in a number of ways,” Tillery explained.
The group ACT UP was founded, which Tillery said by the mid-1980s “was in full force, where people were actively protesting, holding die-ins, demanding that the government pay attention to what was happening with the community.”
AIDS was stigmatized as a “gay cancer” and “gay plague” in the 1980s. Lack of knowledge and an already entrenched stigma surrounding the illness even after more was learned led many to make assumptions. Many believed only gay people could contract the disease.
“When you're frustrated and you can't do anything about it, there seems to be an unfortunate human characteristic among some to look and blame someone. Just if you go back in history, it's always somebody's getting blamed,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Inside Edition Digital in 2020. “Individuals who are people with HIV were not only suffering from their own disease, but they were stigmatized because of the perception that they were in a risk group that got them infected. Like it was their fault that they got infected, which is completely ridiculous.”
The 1990s: The Mystery and Misery of ‘The Last Call Killer’
Like it was in the 1970s and the 1980s, New York City in the 1990s was in shambles.
“The late '80s, early '90s predated the Giuliani cleanup of the city,” Green said. “There was a lot to clean up. I don't know how things compare to the way it was in the '70s, which is sort of the golden age of the city being a mess, but just from what I gleaned from my research, on top of between one and 2,000 homicides a year in the early '90s, you were also dealing with, if not the peak of the AIDS epidemic, then certainly close to it. That was a toxic combination.”
"During this time, a new serial killer was also targeting gay men at piano bars like Townhouse and Five Oaks. Unlike the wild underground clubs of the 1970s, these watering holes brought in an older, more relaxed crowd.
There were four gay men that were murdered, at the very least. It was very scary. AIDS already was a terrifying plague that was affecting so many gay men, and now you had this man going to perfectly nice places,” Musto recalled.
In May 1991, sanitation workers collecting trash along the busy New Jersey Turnpike found the dismembered remains of one man left in several trash cans. Other evidence like a blood-stained bed sheet, a saw and bloody latex gloves, also were found in the trash bins.
Also in the trash was the victim’s wallet, which police used to identify him as 54-year-old investment banker Peter Anderson from Philadelphia, who had been in Manhattan attending a political fundraiser when he disappeared. Reports say he had been separated from his wife, with whom he had two children, for a year, after coming out as a gay man. He was last seen at the Townhouse bar in Midtown on May 3.
“When it opened in 1989, the New York bar scene was just starting to get wonderfully crazy and just thumping and young and loud. The Townhouse was none of those things. It was like a calculated throwback,” Green said. “People always said that's one of the reasons why the Townhouse was attractive to people, because if you were seen going into it, nobody would think twice.”
Investigators in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania went to work on solving the killing, which was a difficult case to investigate as it spanned three jurisdictions.
Then in July 1992, the body of computer sales rep Thomas Mulcahy, 57, was found in New Jersey Turnpike garbage cans. Like Anderson, a medical examiner determined he died from multiple stab wounds to the chest. Credit card transactions placed Mulcahy, who was in New York City to give a presentation at the World Trade Center, at the Townhouse shortly before he disappeared.
Court documents as well as police say his wife said he was known to have affairs with men. They had separated in 1990.
In spring of 1993, less than a year after Mulcahy’s murder, 44-year-old Manhattan sex worker Anthony Marrero, remains were found in trash cans in a rural part of New Jersey.
Two months later, remains were found in trash bags picked up from a rest stop in Rockland County, New York. They belonged to Michael Sakara, a 56-year-old gay man who worked for the New York Law Journal. Sakara had last been seen alive leaving a bar in Greenwich Village with a man he met there.
“These men were really found brutally, not just killed, they were brutally killed,” Detective Malkentzos said. “I can't think of any human being worth a hill of beans that wouldn't be upset after seeing and/or reading about how these men were found. This guy was sick. So, that alone should have the community know, every cop I work with on that case, every single one, wanted to get this son of a bitch, in plain English.”
The person behind the killings was dubbed “The Last Call Killer” by the media.
As the victims were mostly members of the LGBTQ+ community, there was uproar that authorities were not doing enough to solve the killings.
“The cases weren't always investigated to the degree that they should have been,” Green claimed. “It was systemic societal bigotry. When it comes to the case in the early '70s, I think the jury just felt, ‘Well, this is a gay thing, so who cares?’ Then I think that that attitude certainly still existed in the 1990 trial too. If anything by that point, the queer community was being blamed for AIDS. So why would they care if one gay man was assaulting another?”
But Malkentzos noted that police in New York were at a disadvantage because it wasn’t possible to prove if the crimes had actually occurred within city limits.
“The community didn't understand, we can't just go to another jurisdiction and take over the case,” Malkentzos said.
“If the community was looking at the police department like they did in the ‘70s, shame on them because we've come a long way,” she said.
Malkentzos was put on an NYPD task force, which aided authorities in New Jersey, New York’s Rockland County and Pennsylvania.
“I was actually flattered to be asked to work the case. I'd like to think it wasn't only because I'm gay, but because they thought I was a fairly good detective,” she said.
After 1993, the killings seemed to stop. But the families of some of the victims still had no answers as to what happened to their loved ones.
“No matter how long it's been since these men were murdered, it still hasn't been long enough that this has remotely made these family members whole. These murders might as well have happened yesterday,” Green said.
In 2001, a break in the “Last Call Killer” case came after New Jersey State Police sent fingerprint samples to the Toronto Police Department.
“It's a fluke that he got caught because once the task force in 1993 was over, a case like that goes to the bottom of the pile. This is not one of those situations where there's a team of detectives that are still working on it. Reality is not like that,” Green said.
Green said that because of the push and persistence from Margaret Mulcahy, the wife of victim Thomas Mulcahy, cops looked at it again. Detectives involved in the case from in New Jersey utilized a new fingerprint technology that their counterparts at the Toronto Police Department had been using.
“Toronto Police Service was using a reasonably new technology called vacuum metal deposition. Because of the relationships that the New Jersey police had with the Canadian police, they were aware of this technology and called in a favor,” Green said.
The detectives sent fingerprints they were able to lift from the victims and sent them to Canada. Toronto Police were able to look to see what fingerprints matched from their massive database. And, as luck would have it, they found a match from someone who was fingerprinted in Maine in 1973.
The print matched to Richard Rogers an openly gay nurse who had worked at a Manhattan hospital since the late 1970s.
In May 2001, a decade after his first murder, Rogers was arrested inside his Staten Island home.
“When Richard Rogers was caught, there was a vast sense of relief, the whole community exhaled in unison,” Musto said. “I know people that actually were not going out or trying to get picked up until he was caught.”
In the years leading up to his arrest, Rogers had run-ins with the law but always seemed to avoid prison time.
While a grad student studying French at the University of Maine in 1973, Rogers was arrested for the murder of one of his three roommates, Fred Spencer. “For reasons that weren't clear then and still are not clear, he took a roofing hammer and he beat one of his housemates [Spencer] to death,” Green said.
In “Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York,” Green wrote that Rogers wrapped Spencer’s body in a tent, drove into the woods and left it but never called police because he was “too afraid.”
Rogers was tried for murder and acquitted after he claimed he acted in self-defense.
“The reason his case is important is not just because ultimately the evidence from that case is what convicts Richard all those years later, but it's also important because the signs were all there in the way that he deliberately disposed of the body,” Green told Inside Edition Digital. “And of course, from my perspective, it's important because Fred Spencer deserved to be more than just an afterthought.”
After his acquittal, Rogers went to nursing school at Pace University in New York City and was hired at Mount Sinai in 1979, where he worked until his arrest.
In August 1988, he was arrested after a 47-year-old Manhattan man filed a police report claiming that Rogers had drugged and attacked him the previous month, the New York Post reported. The man claimed that Rogers took him back to his Staten Island apartment, drugged him, tied him up to the bed and beat him, then drove him back to Manhattan.
Four months later, a judge in a nonjury trial acquitted Rogers of any wrongdoing.
However, his good luck ran out when in November 2005 a New Jersey jury found Rogers, then 54, guilty for the murders of Thomas Mulcahy and Anthony Marrero. He was also found guilty of two counts of hindering his own apprehension, and was sentenced to 30 years to life on each murder charge, with an additional two-and-a-half years for each hindering apprehension charge.
He is currently in a New Jersey State Prison serving a 65-year sentence. He will be eligible for parole on Sept. 18, 2066.
Rogers was taunted as a teenager for being gay and didn’t have the best relationship with his blue collar, and would lash out for being teased or bullied about his sexuality, Green wrote.
The 21st Century: Resilience and a Continued Struggle
The crimes of Richard Rogers and Paul Bateson are often not remembered to the degree that other high profile crimes are. Nor did they attract much attention from the media at the time or since.
“Richard Rogers' victims were so different, both in profession, ages, looks, that to write about all of them was, to some degree, to be able to write about a lot of the gay experience in those years,” Green said. “Obviously Richard being gay and the victims being queer, he was given more room to operate. I would say there was less scrutiny. Because you have a member of a neglected community killing other members of that neglected community. It's almost a free pass.”
Tillery said the cases received little attention because “of the existence of homophobia and transphobia in our society.”
Today, crimes against the LGBTQ+ community continue.
The Human Rights Campaign has recorded 24 killings of transgender or non-conforming citizens as of May 2021. In 2020, the organization recorded a record high number of violent fatal incidents against transgender and gender non-conforming people with 44 killings. The HRC said 2020 was “the most violent year on record since HRC began tracking these crimes in 2013.”
LGBTQ+ teens are “are still consistently at risk for harassment, bullying and discrimination and are far too often neglected and unprotected by the institutions responsible for their care,” according to Lamda Legal.
“I think the only thing to take away from [Rogers’ killings is] that the criminal justice system and the legal system have to be much better about dealing with whichever population happens to be most vulnerable at any given time, whether that means Black people, queer people, or this day and age, probably trans people,” Green said. “It's always shifting. There's always one group of people getting shafted. I would hope that that would stop.”
The fight and struggle continues for LGBTQ+ Americans and remain resilient in such hostile environments, Musto said.
“The queer community, I believe is so extraordinarily resilient. We have been not only through AIDS, which is not over by the way. We go through homophobia and queerphobia on a daily basis. We constantly have to prove our right to exist and to have equal rights, even though we're consensual, responsible tax-paying citizens, and there's always a fight. So we've gotten stronger and stronger, we've learned to bond tighter and tighter,” Musto said. “And if people outside aren't going to fight for us, we're going to have to fight for ourselves. And we've also come to appreciate the allies that help us through these horrible crises.”
Those in the New York LGBTQ+ community who feel threatened can contact the New York Anti Violence Project at AVP.org or call their 24-hour hotline at 212-714-1141. Those outside the New York area can visit AVP.org/Get-Help.
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