Netflix: ‘The Times Square Killer’: a series that does not mythologize the monster | TV

On December 2, 1979, police found the burned bodies of two decapitated women with their hands amputated at the Travel Inn Hotel in New York. They were at the epicenter of sexual exploitation, in the Times Square area, converted in the seventies into an infected place, eaten away by crime, controlled by the mafias, where you could find, in sexual matters, anything as long as you were a man. For women there was only one reserved role: that of victims. who have seen The Deuce (David Simon, HBO) will get a good idea: something similar, although without the artistic burden of that series.

Times Square, in a scene from the docuseries.  Nothing to do with today.
Times Square, in a scene from the docuseries. Nothing to do with today.

These two deaths are the starting point of the second season of crime-scenea Netflix space dedicated to true crime ―stories based on real crimes― and that in this case focuses on the deaths perpetrated by the Times Square Killeralso know as the torso killerRichard Cottingham, who killed at least 11 women in the eastern United States between 1967 and 1980. Like the first season, the three episodes of this documentary series are directed by Joe Berlinger, responsible among others for Lost paradise, a trilogy made over 15 years with which he got the Arkansas Supreme Court to reopen the case for the 1993 murder of three children in West Memphis and exonerate those convicted. the premiere of crime-sceneentitled Cecil Hotel Disappearance, achieved in the first weeks of broadcast, at the beginning of 2021, more than 45 million viewers worldwide, always according to Netflix data. The story focused on the disappearance and death of the student Elisa Lam in 1991 in Los Angeles and its audience success was rooted in a viral phenomenon: the strange video that showed the last live images of the 21-year-old girl in the elevator of the mythical hotel. But, despite the radical nature of the bet and the lesson of the last chapter, Berlinger went on too long, gave a lot of space to those whom he later tried to discredit and created an irregular document.

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Everything that was wrong there has been fixed in The Times Square Killer, production in which Berlinger has launched an órdago. “I was trying to widen the field of vision to modify the true crime as a genre”, he assured in Vanity Fair. To do this, it has used two non-negotiable starting points: on the one hand, there has been a change in approach, which is increasingly used. As has been done, for example, by Ivan Jablonka in literature with Laëtitia or the end of men (Anagram), the story is carried out by the victims, not the murderer. On the other hand, it was necessary to contextualize the drama to understand its scope, it was necessary to explain how that rectangle of Manhattan between 50th and 42nd streets and 6th and 8th avenues became the paradigm of sexual exploitation and pornography without barriers and how this influenced the golden age of serial killers (Charles Manson, arrested in 1969; David Berkowitz, son of sam, 1977; John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Angelo Bueno, 1978; Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker, 1985). “It was very easy for my mother’s killer to torture and kill young women, because horrible things were happening on the street all the time. (…) I was going to kill in any way, but Times Square in the seventies did not help at all, “says at one point in the documentary Jennifer Weiss, daughter of Deedeh Goodorzi, one of those women raped and murdered at the Travel Inn and one of the testimonies that form the backbone of the three episodes together with survivors of sexual exploitation, former porn actresses, experts and historians, journalists and, of course, police officers.

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Jennifer Weiss, one of the testimonies that form the backbone of 'The Times Square Killer'.
Jennifer Weiss, one of the testimonies that form the backbone of ‘The Times Square Killer’.

Berlinger hits even one of the great problems of the televised story of true crimes: how to fill the spaces that the documentation does not cover. Here he resorts to discreet recreations, which do not disturb, which do not intend to replace reality, with a different light, with the actors from behind, which do not take the viewer out of the story. “Twenty years ago I would not have used them”, the director acknowledged to underline the evolution of television language in this field.

The monster

Once the context is established, the procedural part remains, to which the final segment is dedicated in more depth. There you can see how the lack of coordination between the police slowed down the capture of Cottingham, finally arrested at the age of 34, in May 1980, 13 years after his first murder. How they destroy his alibi, how they corner him and how they prove that this computer technician from New Jersey, married with three children, was a serial killer, is the most conventional part of the series, but it is narrated with sobriety and only stops in the sordid part to draw the line of accusation.

However, as much as it focuses on the victims – the testimony of some survivors of the murderer is very valuable – it is impossible to complete the story without the monster. Berlinger acknowledges that they tried to interview him, but he was dismissed because he was asking for money. He does appear, huge, with completely white hair, eyebrows and beard, in prison in an interview in 2009 and on other occasions, with Jennifer Weiss, who has been getting him to confess to other murders. Cottingham is out of circulation forever. Part of the context in which he committed his crimes, no. Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer will not be able to change the gender of the true crime but at least it can help shift the conversation away from the spectacle and mythologizing of the killer.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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