This isn’t Times Square reviewing the new season of Joe Berlinger’s crime scene series. Subtitled The Assassin of Times Square, the director of the acclaimed real-crime documentary investigates a series of gruesome murders that rocked even the relatively illegal version of Times Square that existed in December 1979. Then NYPD officials found a room on fire at the Travel Motel only to find the bodies of two women. Young, both lost. There was no blood spatter, however, and the fire did destroy some of the remaining evidence:
And there was actually no way to identify the victims in those days before DNA.
Reenactments are reenacted through a combination of the usual archival news material (mostly from broadcasters, then WNEW, now WNYW). And all the interviews with the journalists and the law enforcement investigators, Berlinger paints a picture of how different Times Square has been over the years. Who was later identified as Richard Cottingham, confused New York police.
Most areas, especially around 42nd Street, are filled with peek shows and cinemas. Many of which are owned by the city’s Mafia families. Prostitution and drugs are so common that there’s not much the police can do to stop them.
While the NYPD researched and received advice to identify one of the victims as Deedeh Goodarzi, we heard from Goodarzi’s daughter. She found out about him while researching his family tree. We also hear from porn magnate Marty Hodas, who created the area’s first peek show in the late 1960s. Over the last decade, the presence of pornography and prostitutes has increased exponentially, leading to more crime and more violence. This is a world the police have to negotiate to prevent further killings.
Crime Scene: The Times Square killer was as much about “Old Times Square” as the case itself. Cottingham spread to New Jersey, where he was arrested in 1980 and convicted in several trials in the early 1980s. He claims everything to have killed more than 80 people between 1967 and his arrest, although he was responsible for 11 murders.
The idea that Cottingham terrorized Times Square:
The truth is secondary to what the area was like in the late 1970s and early 1980s. How it became, and the stigma of s*x workers even after death. In this sense, it surpasses the trail of most documentaries when you look at Times Square of the era and New York as a whole.
Instead of just saying that it was thin and not what it is today, they were exploring the origins of how Times Square came into being this way. They also acknowledged that pornography and s*x work were just one aspect of what was then a “crossroads of the world”. Where tourism, trade, and, yes, s*x work came together in one attractive place.
This season of crime scenes is just three parts that tell you how much about the Cottingham murders and prosecutions. Since he was arrested in 1980, it’s more likely to be about murder. Which he admits has been a cold case for New York and New Jersey authorities.
Trying to add drama to an otherwise underdeveloped case is challenging. Berlinger relies too much on recordings from files that don’t fit the case’s time frame and relies on a gruesome reconstruction of the crime scene itself. But that’s not fodder, but simply the result of a lack of dynamic staff – we hope so.
Crime scene: The Times Square Killer bomber is drowning in the shame of Times Square as much as he was in the Cottingham attack. And it’s a refreshing approach to the usual format of actual crime.