Serial killers are roaming our nation right now and few people are paying attention. Documentarians Joshua Zeman and Rachel Mills look to change this with The Killing Season, a chilling wake-up call to the mass carnage occurring across our nation. The eight-episode, can’t-turn-away docuseries is a candid, emotional and active investigation into identifying these serial killers. The series will air on A&E Saturdays at 9/8c beginning Nov. 12.
The Killing Season starts with Zeman and Mills going back to Long Island’s Ocean Parkway, a dark, desolate stretch of highway where in 2010 police uncovered four female bodies wrapped in burlap who would later be referred to by investigators as the Gilgo Beach 4. The body count eventually rose to 10, where potentially all could be victims of the Long Island Serial Killer (a.k.a. LISK).
“When this story broke, I, like everybody else — a lot of the other true crime guys out there — we all spoke about it,” says Zeman, who produced the critically praised Cropsey. “We’re all like, ‘This is going to get solved immediately,’ just because of the carnage: 10 bodies found along a roadway in Long Island, so close to New York City. It’s not like we’re talking about Detroit or Cleveland, or someplace like that. This is Long Island, where Suffolk County has the second highest paid police officers in the nation. When this case didn’t get solved, then we decided maybe it was actually worth making a feature documentary about. That’s when I brought in Rachel to kind of go out as partners in crime and see what really happened here.”
The series took them nearly four years to create, and weaves together news footage, field reporting, evidence and interviews into a compelling and unsettling documentary. Part of their investigation involved following escorts while on the job, where they were given surprising and candid access. “I think we came about it from a very honest perspective, a very candid perspective,” Mills says on getting current escorts and victims’ families to actually talk on camera.
“I think with the family members, that was really tough and that was really tough for me to engage them, because I think that we’re not trying to approach this from an entertainment standpoint, or even info-tainment standpoint,” Mills continues. “We’re trying to bring people in with this with a little bit of titillation of ‘serial killer’ and we’re all king of intrigued by serial murder, but we really want to dig deeper and kind of go over why these women are easy prey for these serial killers who are at large. That’s not just their responsibility; you and me and society in general are creating systems or not helping the broken systems that do exist — to help them stay safe.”
One of the more interesting individuals Zeman and Mills turned to for intelligence [in addition to interviews with serial killer John Robert Williams!] was a German cyber sleuth known as Peter Brendt. “We found him through Web Sleuths [an online site],” Mills says. “He is a very smart guy. Sometimes he has theories that push believability, but he’s also been right on several things. Maybe not with the Long Island case, but he was actually in a previous show of ours that Josh and I did.”
Zeman and Mills’ investigation led them outside their home state to Albuquerque, Cleveland, Daytona Beach and other areas of our country where similar killing patterns were taking place and the realities of a broken, overburdened system unable to protect those who need help the most were evident.
“Seeing all these connections, on a systematic level, too, throughout the country, as far as missing persons and unidentified remains and the danger of sex work and opiate addiction — we really did open it up,” Mills says. “People ask me what the most scary part of this whole thing was for us, and for me it was just seeing the widespread horror of cases, not just in Long Island, but across the country.”
The filmmakers hope that the series helps demystify some of the Hollywood tropes about serial murder, but more so that it triggers someone’s memory.
“Somebody out there knows something. You never know, maybe there was a detail that we managed to put in our documentary that they had never seen before,” Zeman concludes. “Maybe there’s an image that we happened to use that they had to say, ‘Oh, that’s Gilgo Beach? I’ve been there on that day. I saw this.’ The more you can keep it in the news, the more chance you have of solving it. We’ve seen that happen again and again.”
The Killing Season airs on A&E Saturdays at 9/8c