'The Killing Season' Won't Name A Suspect Because It Wants To Shed Light On A Bigger Issue
As true crime series surge in popularity, we have a new series to watch: The Killing Season on A&E. Filmmakers Josh Zeman and Rachel Mills, along with the help of cyber sleuths, started out by investigating the infamous Gilgo Beach Murders, in which sex workers were targeted by a serial killer known only as "the Long Island Serial Killer," or LISK. What they uncovered was far more complex than the search for one killer and it now appears that multiple serial killers are targeting sex workers across the country — mainly because they're easy prey. A number of recent true crime series have ended with a "conclusion" of sorts. Who could forget the ending of The Jinx? Meanwhile, shows like The Case Of: JonBenet Ramsey, concluded by naming a suspect. Zeman and Mills took a different approach and The Killing Season will not name a Long Island Serial Killer suspect because the showrunners aim to shed light on a broader issue that extends beyond the Gilgo Beach murders.
In an interview with Bustle, Mills says that she and Zeman originally intended to make a 95-minute documentary about the Gilgo Beach murders — but, as they delved deeper into the investigation, they realized it wasn't a standalone case and it bore eerie similarities to a number of unsolved murders in different states. Zeman tells Bustle:
"I remember hearing that there seemed to be an unsolved serial killer case, and I have to admit that I was shocked when I started to hear the rumors that it was two serial killers and not one — it sounded like some kind of bad Hollywood film. But after looking at the evidence, I now completely believe that there were two serial killers."
Zeman acknowledges that there's pressure to wrap up a series like this by pointing a finger at suspect — but it was never his or Mills' goal. "We wanted to give [viewers] a privileged look into the underground world of sex workers, the risks of the profession, and how the police are often unable to stop these murders," he explains. Although both Mills and Zeman say they would, of course, be thrilled if any of their clues lead to an arrest, their goal was to shed light on the larger societal issues that contribute to these types of crimes. Mills tells Bustle:
"These women are often evading law enforcement, which makes them the perfect victims for serial murderers. Their frequent use of burner cellphones makes them untraceable. It's frightening and it makes it even more tragic than one independent murder. We need to start a conversation and try to figure out ways to prevent this from happening as often."
Once the bodies were discovered and it was clear that a serial killer was responsible, the media descended upon Gilgo Beach and the horrifying story immediately became national news. At this time, the police took the crimes very seriously — which is a departure from how the disappearance of just one sex worker is handled by law enforcement. "While they were missing, the stigma of being sex workers impeded the investigation," Mills says. "There was stigma from law enforcement. They didn't take the victims' families seriously like they would if a rich blonde woman went missing." However, both Mills and Zeman say that, once the bodies were discovered and law enforcement realized a serial killer was at work, the stigma no longer impeded the investigation.
In addition to forging relationships with cyber sleuths and the victims' families, Zeman and Mills traveled to a number of states in order to pursue leads. Mills emphasizes that it was never their goal to point a finger or convince the audience of someone's guilt or innocence. "We wanted to present clues, ideas, theories, and really have the audience come up with what they think. There's a lot of power in generating a conversation about a case that's considered cold," she says. "Shedding light on certain clues so that a conversation can continue is much more important than saying who I think may have done it."
The pair spent 170 days on the road filming, as they traveled to cities all across America and spoke with numerous sex workers. "It was draining," Zeman says, "but we were fueled by the injustice we saw. It wasn't just the murders — it was the hopelessness of the women still out there who could be dead in a year or two. That was the hardest part."
Mills echoes the sentiment, noting that being at on a street corner at 2 a.m. was jarring and disturbing. "If I'd had a different path through no fault of my own, I could have been in their position quite easily," she says. "They're human and they don't want to be there. When I looked them in the eye, I could really see that pain." Zeman and Mills' attitudes shed light on why they didn't focus solely on the sensational aspect of the murders themselves. They wanted to dig deeper and explore what leads women to become sex workers and what changes can be made to protect them from predators like the Long Island Serial Killer.
True to their word, Zeman and Mills keep an open mind and won't name a suspect. "He's either moved on to a different place, he's in jail for something else, or he's dead," Zeman says. "It's also possible that something else has fulfilled his desire for killing." Contrary to what Hollywood films tell us, Mills also states that sometimes serial killers become inactive because of their own volition.
"The compulsion to kill is not in every murderer's blood," she says. "It's the case for some serial killers, but not all. There's a void within themselves that can be filled in other ways, such as having a job, a child, or a marriage that becomes more important than the desire to kill."
There will be no neat, tidy ending to Killing Season that provides us with the conclusion we crave. It is absolutely still possible that this case will be solved and the killer will be brought to justice — but, as investigators, Zeman and Mills have chosen to shine a light on the plight and dangers faced by sex workers all over the country and world. Although I hope and pray the killer will be caught, Zeman and Mills have done an admirable thing by bringing attention to marginalized members of society whose murders are dismissed far too easily due to their profession.
Images: A&E (4)