Monday, June 27

Stream it or skip it: ‘Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer’ on Netflix, a docuseries series about murders

If you’ve been to Times Square in the last 30 years, you wouldn’t know the area isn’t full of family-friendly retail stores, Olive Gardens, and knockoff Elmos asking for money for pictures. In the 60s and 70s, it was the porn and sex work capital of New York, especially the area around 42nd Street. It was in that environment that the NYPD investigated some grisly murders in 1979 and 80, which ended being the work of a serial killer who had been murdering sex workers since the late 1960s. It is the subject of the second season of Joe Berlinger. Crime scene serie.


Opening shot: A sky-high view of Manhattan as we listen to old-time radio descriptions of Times Square. Then we are shown an aerial view of the 2021 version of the famous tourist attraction.

The essence: That’s not the Times Square that the new season of Joe Berlinger Crime scene the series is examining. Subtitled The Times Square Killer, the acclaimed director of the true crime documentary series breaks down in three parts a series of gruesome murders that rocked even the relatively illegal version of Times Square that existed in December 1979. It was then that New York police officers stumbled upon a burning room at the Travel Inn Motel, only to find the bodies of two young women, both missing their heads and hands. However, there was no blood splatter, the fire did not destroy the small amount of evidence left behind, and there was no way to identify the victims in those pre-DNA days.

Through the usual combination of archival news footage (most of which comes from the station then called WNEW, now WNYW), re-enactments, and interviews with journalists and law enforcement investigating the case, Berlinger paints a picture of how different Times Square was back in the years. the serial killer, later identified as Richard Cottingham, was baffling the NYPD.

Much of the area, especially around 42nd Street, was riddled with peep shows and XXX cinemas, many of which were owned by the city’s mafia families. Prostitution and drugs ran rampant, to the point where the police could do little to stop the activity.

As the New York Police Department investigates and receives a tip that led to one of the victims being identified as Deedeh Goodarzi, we heard from Goodarzi’s biological daughter, who found out about her when she was researching her lineage. We also heard about the king of porn Marty Hodas, who created the first peep show in the area in the late 1960s. In the intervening decade, the presence of sex workers and pornographers grew exponentially, bringing with it more crime and more violence. It is that world that the police needed to negotiate to prevent further killings.

Foto: Netflix

What shows will it remind you of? The pace and tone is similar to the first season of Crime scene, which examined some mysterious murders at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles. But this version has a better understanding of the history of the area where the murders occurred.

Our Take: Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer it’s actually as much about “old Times Square” as it is about the case itself. Cottingham extended his spree to New Jersey, where he was finally captured in 1980 and convicted in various trials in the early 1980s. He claims to have killed more than 80 people between 1967 and when he was captured, although he was shown to be responsible for 11 murders.

So the idea that Cottingham terrorized Times Square is actually secondary to an examination of what the area looked like in the late 1970s and early 1980s, how it came to be that way, and the stigmatization that sex workers suffered, even in death. . In that sense, it goes well beyond the trope that most documentary series fall into when examining the Times Square of the time and New York City in general; Rather than simply saying it was seedy and not like it is now, they actually examine the origins of how Times Square got there. They also acknowledge that pornography and sex work were just one aspect of a region that, even back then, was a “crossroads of the world,” where tourism, commerce and, yes, sex work came together in one fascinating place. .

This season of Crime scene It’s just three parts, which tells you how much there will be about the Cottingham murders and manhunt. Considering he was captured in 1980, it is likely more about the murders that he admits were already unsolved cases for authorities in New York and New Jersey. Trying to infuse drama into what is actually a more retrospective case is challenging, and Berlinger relies too heavily on archival footage that doesn’t match the time frame of the case, as well as relying on lurid re-enactments of crime scenes. themselves. But it is not filler, it is only the result of the lack of dynamic footage, at least we hope so.

Sex and skin: Of course, pornography and sex work are discussed throughout the episode, and we see some stock footage of nude sex workers on live sex shows. But it is less lewd and more instructive.

Farewell shot: Dominick Volpe, who was Cottingham’s co-worker in the Pan Am building’s computer room, recounts how the third victim was found at the Seville Hotel in the early 1980s, and how Cottingham, instead of expressing shock, said that “anyone ”I could do something so depraved.

Sleeping star: Veronica Vera, who was a former porn star and journalist who wrote about the porn industry, has a good perspective on Marty Hodas and what the world was like around “old” Times Square 40-odd years ago.

Most of the Pilot-y line: The reason we cited archival footage in our review above is that the footage of the NYPD officers allegedly entering the Travel Inn in December 1979 looked more like footage from the early 1970s, given the predominance of green and black cruisers in the images. . In 1979, NYPD cars were blue with white trim, easily showing any of the extensive news footage of the time. That kind of carelessness is not something we expect from Berlinger.

Our calling: STREAM IT. Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer it’s as much a deep dive into how Times Square got its seedy reputation in the ’70s and’ 80s as it is about the Cottingham massacre. And that’s a refreshing way to approach the usual true crime format.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting, and technology, but he’s not fooling himself: he’s a television junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon,,, Fast Company and other places.

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