Warning: This story contains spoilers for the first two episodes of American Horror Story: NYC.
American Horror Story: NYC seems a culmination of everything Ryan Murphy has made in the past: It’s like if Pose met Dahmer met the Rubber Man, the mysterious murderous figure that we first met in AHS season one.
Over the first two episodes, which premiered Wednesday on FX and is now streaming on Hulu, we meet a cast of characters trying to survive New York in 1981, specifically a mysterious illness infecting both deer on Fire Island and LGBTQ people alike, and a serial killer (killers?) targeting gay men. As per Murphy’s custom, the series also tapestries in real-life horrors — in this case, the Last Call Killer, who most people probably haven’t heard of.
The main conceit of AHS: NYC — at least so far — seems to be about how police and mainstream media in the Eighties ignored and neglected the plight of the queer community, whether it be medical issues or violence. The deer population of Fire Island is beset with a mysterious virus, leading them to be wiped out, and humans in the LGBTQ community also seem to be falling ill. Meanwhile, a leather-clad masked goliath known as “Big Daddy” appears to be stalking cruising spots, along with a more mild-mannered killer who favors targeting his victims at pianos bars by sending them spiked Mai Tais. Of course, these two murderers could be one and the same. We haven’t seen either killer’s face and we’re only on episode two.
Either way, the MO of the latter killer seems in line with the Last Call Killer, who, according to Elon Green’s Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York, preyed on gay men in New York City in the Eighties and Nineties. Richard Rogers, a surgical nurse at New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital, was finally arrested in May of 2001 for the murders of Thomas Mulcahy and Anthony Marrero. According to Newsday, Mulcahy was a 58-year-old married computer-sales executive who was found dismembered in 1992 in seven bags at a New Jersey rest stop. Marrero, 44, was also found dismembered in six bags in New Jersey in 1993. Green and authorities suspect Rogers murdered more men in the same fashion, but he was only tried for the two murders; the 72-year-old is now spending consecutive life sentences at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.
“I feel pretty comfortable saying the New York Police Department didn’t pay attention to it as much as they should have,” Green said in an interview with A&E. Although Green added that cops in other jurisdictions were much more helpful, it’s pretty safe to say that the Last Call Killer failed to gain the notoriety of other serial killers of his era due to his choice of victim, something Murphy seems to be hammering home this season.
In the first episode, a pilot is found dismembered in a similar fashion to Rogers’ victims after visiting a cruising spot. Frustrated by a medical examiner’s apathy during the autopsy, one of the show’s main characters, a closeted cop named Patrick Read (Russell Tovey) grits out, “If this was the head and body of a pretty, blonde, 16-year-old from Riverdale you’d have 10 detectives down here on the case.” (Sadly, this sentiment could be uttered today.)
And later, when Read’s journalist boyfriend Gino is abducted by the killer — he survives after the unseen man torturing him with syringes sees his military tattoo and sets him free — the cops barely listen to his report. That impels Gino to take matters into his own hands, writing about the serial killer in The New York Native, where he works. Here it seems even more real-life issues (and perhaps another killer) come into play, as The Native is a real paper that famously reported on the AIDS crisis when mainstream media ignored it, and Gino’s abduction mirrors the murder of film-industry journalist Addison Verrill by radiographer Paul Bateson, famously written up in the Village Voice in 1977 under the headline “There’s Nothing Gay About Murder.” The article focused, again, on how cops seemed to be ignoring the murders of gay men. Bateson also appeared, bizarrely, as a radiologic technologist in 1973’s The Exorcist and later inspired director William Friedkin’s 1980 thriller, Cruising, about a serial killer preying on the Seventies New York leather scene.
Murphy often weaves real serial killers and crimes into his shows; John List, a New Jersey father who murdered his family, recently appeared as “John Graff” (also played by Mantello) on Netflix series The Watcher, based on the true story of a family plagued by mysterious letters. The Black Dhalia murders featured heavily in AHS: Murder House, while a barrage of serial killers, including Jeffrey Dahmer and H.H. Holmes, visited AHS: Hotel. And, of course, Murphy directed the extremely popular — and controversial — Dahmer series on Netflix starring Evan Peters. New York has its share of serial killers that operated during this era as well, so perhaps later episodes will feature the likes of the Son of Sam or the Torso Killer. Knowing Ryan Murphy, anything is possible.