On “Very Bad Men,” this week, the ID Network is running an episode that features the gruesome disposal methods of a unique serial killer. I covered this case for Court TV’s Crime Library when it went to trial. Despite the killer’s attempt to scatter body parts, his signature method was rigidly consistent. It was interesting to see how his dismembering compulsions finally buried him.
During the early 1990s, the body parts of several middle-aged men were found dumped along roadways in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, often in trash cans. Each victim had been stabbed, dismembered into seven parts, and wrapped tightly in several layers of plastic bags.
From the method of cutting with a saw and a knife, wrapping in bags, and disposing along roadways, it seemed to be the work of a single perpetrator. The media dubbed him the “Last Call Killer.” But identifying this offender stymied police; despite more than five hundred interviews by a dozen investigators, all leads went cold. The victims appeared to be either gay or bisexual, but they had no apparent connection with one another. Still, investigators persisted.
In 2000, the New Jersey State Police sent plastic trash bags collected from the victims’ remains to Toronto for analysis by a special process called vacuum metal deposition. Identifiable fingerprints and palm prints were lifted from several.
A year later, Maine went online with the Automated Fingerprint Identification System, and among the prints in its database were those of a male nurse from Staten Island, Richard Rogers, Jr. In 1973, he’d bludgeoned his roommate to death, but he’d been acquitted on grounds of self-defense.
What caught investigators’ attention was that Rogers had wrapped the victim's body in a plastic tent and dumped it along the side of a road. More important, Rogers’ fingerprints in AFIS matched the three-dozen prints lifted from bags found on four of the Last Call Killer’s victims. Plastic gloves left on one body had been purchased from a Staten Island store near Rogers' residence.
Detectives from three jurisdictions searched Rogers’ condominium. They found a medication often used as a date-rape drug; rug fibers consistent with those found on one body; a Bible in which passages about decapitation and dismemberment had been highlighted; and photos of shirtless men on which wounds had been drawn with red ink. They also found plastic bags like those in which the dismembered body parts had been wrapped.
Rogers was charged with the murder of the two victims found in New Jersey: the July 1992 homicide of Thomas Mulcahy, 57, a married bisexual business executive and father of four from Sudbury, Massachusetts, and the May 1993 killing of gay prostitute Anthony Marrero, 44, from Manhattan.
The trial got underway in October 2005 in Toms River, New Jersey. The first witness described how he’d discovered a plastic bag on a dirt road that contained a pair of dismembered arms. They were traced to the missing Anthony Marrero. (His legs and torso were later found elsewhere.) Thomas Mulcahy’s remains were discovered in trash containers at two separate rest areas in Ocean and Burlington counties.
Due to similarity of signature and body disposal (all were cut into seven parts and wrapped in layers of plastic), testimony about two out-of-state murders was allowed as well. This included the identification of Richard Rogers by a former bartender at the Five Oaks Bar in New York’s Greenwich Village. She’d seen him with another victim on the night he disappeared. The fourth victim had been found in trash cans along the PA turnpike, similarly packaged. He'd last been seen at bars in Manhattan.
The jury found Rogers guilty of the first-degree murder of Thomas Mulcahy and Anthony Marrero. His response was to stare at the front of the courtroom. Offered a plea deal before the trial, he'd apparently thought he'd win. Instead, he received life in prison, with no possibility of parole for at least thirty years. He remains the key suspect in the two murders that helped to convict him, as well as one in Florida.
Rogers did get away with the Maine homicide. It’s likely that this acquittal gave him confidence. When he murdered again, he thought he was being careful to cut up, wash and double-wrap the body parts. However, it was this method of concealment, so compulsively meticulous and consistent, that raised the odds that the murders would be tracked to a single offender.
At the time, fingerprints could not easily be lifted from plastic. A common error for arrogant killers like Rogers is to underestimate the tenaciousness of investigators and the future advances of forensic science.