Of the many top-tier documentaries and docuseries that Netflix released in 2021, one of the standouts (at least for me) was a series unpacking “the mythology and mystery surrounding infamous locations in contemporary crime.” That’s how the streamer described season one of Crime Scene, which bore the subtitle The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel. The infamous Downtown Los Angeles locale was subsequently introduced to viewers as a dark and foreboding place. One filled with strange and terrifying oddities — and, of course, numerous deaths — over the years. So much so, in fact, that its moniker became “Hotel Death,” as word spread that this was a place serial killers could go to let their hair down, as it were.
Meanwhile, a three-episode second season of the Crime Scene docuseries just got added to Netflix. This time, the story moves to the opposite coast of the US. And we’ve got all the details below.
Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer, now on Netflix
This season of the series, according to Netflix’s press material, begins with firemen responding to a call at a seedy hotel in the middle of Times Square. It’s December 1979, and what the firemen discover among the rubble “shocks even the most seasoned NYC homicide detectives, triggering a hunt for a vicious serial killer who preyed upon sex workers operating within Times Square’s then-booming, anything-goes sex industry.”
Subjects filmed in this season include everyone from beat cops to Time Square denizens. As well as, per Netflix, the daughter of the self-proclaimed “porno king” of New York. The season was directed by Joe Berlinger, and it includes three 45-minute episodes.
According to Berlinger, in a conversation with Netflix, the idea came about after taking his daughter to see Hamilton in December 2019.
“It was the holiday season,” he told the streamer, “and there were lights and excitement in the air. She was buzzing about the show, and I just saw it in her eye. We were in Times Square and I remember saying to her, ‘When I was 14 or 15, you couldn’t walk here without taking your life into your own hands.’
“And that’s when the light bulb went off. It struck me how most people have forgotten about that era.”
Indeed, this series is a snapshot of a moment in time that, like Berlinger’s daughter, many people today might not be aware of. Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer takes viewers back to an era long before this was a tourist-heavy stretch of New York City. Before, needless to say, there were tons of chain restaurants and retail shops selling tchotchkes.
Episode titles and descriptions are as follows:
- Murder on 42nd St.: Bright lights, fear city: In Times Square, 1979, police stumble on a fiery “hotel room from hell” housing the bodies of two women.
- The perfect hunting ground: After another grisly murder, officers talk to sex workers and examine their clients’ records. Meanwhile, eerily similar killings occur in New Jersey.
- End of an era: Days after a woman’s harrowing escape, NJ police build a case. NYC officers connect the dots as trophies come to light. A daughter looks for closure.
Berlinger’s past work
This isn’t the first time Berlinger has worked with Netflix. As we mentioned the Cecil Hotel was also his series. But he also created the documentary miniseries Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. This 2019 series premiered on the 30th anniversary of Bundy’s execution and was four, 60-minute episodes covering more than 100 hours of interviews and archival footage of Ted Bundy, a serial killer who preyed on young women in the 1970s and 1980s.
Not only did Berlinger work on this documentary series, but he also directed and produced the 2019 feature film Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. This starred Zac Efron as Ted Bundy and Lily Collins as a woman in a relationship with him who believes his innocence all through his trials. Efron’s performance was praised by critics.