Boneyard Ending, Explained: Who is the Killer?

‘Boneyard,’ Asif Akbar’s crime drama film, revolves around a police department’s diligent investigation into a notorious killer in West Mesa, Albuquerque. The film— set in 2009— follows a number of local cops, including Police Chief Carter and detectives Young and Ortega, who learn about a killer on the loose after discovering the buried remains of numerous dead women. However, unbeknownst to the others, Ortega’s dogged but reticent dedication to the case holds personal stakes, driving him to become highly suspicious of another fellow officer. Meanwhile, as the FBI Agent Petrovick joins the West Mesa police department to share his expertise, another suspect rises to the top. As the story retains multiple angles, the mystery of the brutal killer remains at the narrative’s center, keeping the characters and viewers’ curiosity alive. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Boneyard Plot Synopsis

A West Mesa local discovers a heinous scene after their dog uncovers buried human bones in an empty field. After investigation, the authorities find the remains of eleven women and one unborn child— all buried underneath the field, presumably by a serial killer. Due to the case’s gravity, the mayor insists on employing federal help, leading Chief Carter to welcome Agent Petrovick to his team. However, as the FBI Agent, seasoned in the realm of catching killers, gives the team, including lead Detectives Young and Ortega, some pointers, the latter disagrees with his broad hypotheses. Instead, he maintains suspicion over a suspect who falls out of Petrovick’s radar: Detective Tate.

A few years ago, Tate got in massive trouble with the police department after news got out of his exploitative treatment of sex workers, whom he would often force to have sex with him in exchange for department favors. Although the department fired him for the same, he was reinstated and transferred to Narcotics shortly after. Ortega hears rumors about him and begins investigating the case from the same angle without informing others. As it would turn out, the Detective has a hunch that the remains found in the Boneyard belong to the various women who have recently gone missing. Furthermore, his own niece, Selena, a sex worker, is one such individual whose disappearance is fueling the cop’s urgency to solve the case.

For the same reason, Ortega pursues Candy, another sex worker who frequently worked with Selena before she went missing. Although the woman is initially apprehensive about talking to the cop, she agrees to share information on the record and tells him Selena got into the car with Tate on the night that she went missing. Once Carter learns about Ortega’s suspicion of Tate, he initiates a meeting with Petrovick about the same. Eventually, the latter reveals that the FBI has been tailing Tate for a while with the intention of letting his reputation lead them to bigger targets, such as sex traffickers and drug cartels.

Even though there isn’t any evidence against Tate— save for chatter on the street— Ortega decides to go over Carter’s head and approaches the other officer and his Sergeant, Graham. Meanwhile, another man, Caesar Monto— who matches Petrovick’s assessment of the killer hides in plain sight, often stalking several women. He frequents one mart, in particular, where he can be found staring at young women and acting strange around them. As the details of the Boneyard trickle down to the public, the mart’s owner reaches out to Petrovick and shares that he has seen every single victim thus far enter his mart and has noticed Caesar’s strange, eerie behavior around them. Consequently, as the off-putting man circles the streets, often soliciting sex workers, he ends up falling on the FBI Agent’s radar.

Boneyard Ending: Is Detective Tate the Killer?

As the investigation into the killer behind the Boneyard continues, Detective Tate emerges as one of the prime suspects— at least for Ortega. The latter has a personal stake in the case since he suspects one of the women found in the field is his niece, Selena. Even though confirmation won’t arrive until DNA results come through, Ortega’s involvement in the case remains driven by the assumption that he’s looking for his niece’s killer. Therefore, once Candy confirms that she saw Selena get into Tate’s car the last night she saw her, the Vice Detective becomes all but convinced that the other cop is his guy.

For the same reason, Ortega— operating under distressing emotions— reaches out to Graham and Tate to inform them of his investigation. Nevertheless, the same sets into motion a different chain of events. As suggested by the FBI, Tate can be traced back to drug cartels. However, his connection comes through his employment under Sergeant Graham, whose entire department colludes with an incriminating organization. Therefore, once Graham realizes that Ortega will be snooping around his business due to Tate, the Sergeant realizes his own corrupt operations may be under threat.

Consequently, Graham plans to sell Tate out by coercing a drug dealer to come out as a witness, tying the cop to the Boneyard. Nonetheless, Ortega sees the lie for what it is. Since the department doesn’t have any firm evidence against Tate and they know Graham’s witness had been planted, the early arrest puts them in peril. Ultimately, things only worsen once Tate calls for his lawyer and union rep, who will likely tear the investigation to shreds. Furthermore, DNA results arrive from the Boneyard shortly after, identifying Selena as one of the victims but discrediting Ortega’s hunch in the same swoop. Since they also found an unborn child on the scene, the authorities can run DNA tests to see if Tate emerges as a match.

In the end, Tate is cleared as a suspect since the results return negative. He did solicit sex from Selena on the night of her disappearance in exchange for an empty promise of clearing her rap sheet. Nevertheless, the real killer got to the woman after the cop dropped her off at the street corner. Likewise, while Tate had a history with most of the victims found in the Boneyard, it was simply a result of his reputation as the “sleaziest cop” in town, who sought to take advantage of sex workers at every turn. Nonetheless, he never committed their murders. Eventually, Ortega manages to utilize him to bring Graham to justice by proving his connections to drug cartels. Yet, he fails to unmask the killer’s identity.

Is Caesar the Killer?

Apart from Tate, Caesar remains the next notable suspect in the Boneyard killing case. While Ortega puts his efforts toward making a case against the former suspect, Caesar’s storyline revolves more significantly around Petrovick. The FBI Agent has a long history of pursuing killers and has formed a reputation for himself as an expert within the area. In 2003, the man lost his daughter, Sam, after a suspect attacked them by the roadside and shot the girl dead. For the same reason, Petrovick carries a guilty conscience for not having caught that suspect earlier. Thus, he became increasingly obsessed with finding killers.

In the case of the Boneyard, Petrovick maintains that the killer is likely someone who can easily hide in plain sight and fly under the radar. Furthermore, he has a hunch that, unlike other serial killers who may kill for self-pleasure or a higher purpose, his killings are mission-driven. According to his theory, the killer is after women he thinks can “persuade him to sin.” As such, once the story equips the perspective of Caesar Monto, a loner man who has been arrested for soliciting sex workers before, the parallels draw themselves.

Throughout the film, Caesar consistently targets different women, either stalking them while boiling over in barely contained rage or attempting to force them into various activities. Simultaneously, the narrative showcases instances of the serial killer continuing with his kills, often burying new victims, including Candy. Therefore, once Caesar kills a woman on-screen after picking her up from a street corner, a confirmation of sorts seemingly arrives about this connection to the killings.

Around the same time, the mart owner also contacts Petrovick, who reaches the same conclusion that Caesar must be the killer. One woman, who survived an attempt on her life by the man, even shares her account with the cops, informing them that Caesar attempted to choke her to death before Tate arrived at her rescue. Thus, the account further clears Tate’s name and implicates the other suspect at once. As a result, the FBI storms Caesar’s address and takes him into custody. Nevertheless, the DNA sample from the Boneyard also fails to match him. As such, while Caesar was involved in targeted attacks against some women, he wasn’t the serial killer responsible for the buried remains.

Do the Cops Catch the Killer?

Once Caesar also drops out as a suspect in the Boneyard case, the trail starts going cold with no prominent leads to follow. Furthermore, Laura Young, Ortega’s partner’s personal investigation into the other Detective, reveals his connection to Selena, which results in the latter’s disposition from the case. It turns out to be the best for the man since he solves the case of Graham’s corruption— a big win for the department— and finds the ability to distance himself from Selena’s murder investigation enough to mourn her passing. Still, his departure from the case signifies the departure of a dedicated detective.

However, a month later, Ortega finds himself being pulled back into the game. As it would turn out, the authorities found another boneyard on the other end of the field, where fresher bodies were discovered of women who had been recently killed. The discovery confirms that the serial killer has either returned or never stopped in the first place. Since viewers are privy to glimpses of the killer’s continued crime through scenes of an anonymous character burying women, it remains evident that the killer is still active. Although Chief Carter, Agent Petrovick, and Detectives Young and Ortega fail to identify the killer by the film’s end, the discovery of the second Boneyard signals their return to the investigation. Ultimately, the film ends without the killer’s reveal, showcasing the unfair brutality of the crime.

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