Spoilers are ahead. Those who watch Netflix’s Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness looking for a Jinx-like reveal are in for a surprise. The new true crime docuseries, which takes a closer look at the infamous “Son of Sam” serial killer case, isn’t really about the “Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz at all. Instead, it’s about Maury Terry, the man who spent his whole life trying to prove that Berkowitz wasn’t the only “Son of Sam.” While you may not walk away convinced of his theory, Sons of Sam succeeds in showing the real cost of true crime obsession.
Terry was an investigative journalist who was consumed by the killer who launched the biggest manhunt in New York City history. Between July 1976 and July 1977, the “Son of Sam” shot 13 people, killing six of them. In August 1977, Berkowitz, a then 24-year-old postal worker from Yonkers, NY, was arrested and later found guilty of these crimes. Berkowitz, who is now serving a more than 300-year sentence, is the only person to ever be charged for the “Son of Sam” murders.
However, Terry never believed that Berkowitz acted alone. For starters, Berkowitz didn’t resemble the police sketches that were based on eyewitness accounts of the shooter. Once Terry started digging, he found evidence tying Berkowitz to a satanic cult called “The Children.” He soon became convinced that this cult, which was believed to have ties to Charles Manson, was responsible for the “Son of Sam” murders. He thought Berkowitz was taking the fall for the cult, which also included Mike and Joe Carr, the sons of Berkowitz’s neighbour Sam Carr, the owner of the dog that Berkowitz claimed had driven him to kill. (He would later say his demon dog story was a lie.)
Terry’s findings led him to write the 1988 book, The Ultimate Evil, which he claimed revealed the terrifying truth behind the “Son of Sam” murders. Many of his friends and colleagues who appear in Sons of Sam admit that the evidence Terry gathered should have been enough to re-open the case. But, they also admit that Terry was a man, who was possessed by his own theory.
“I believe the Carr brothers were involved, and there were a bunch of crazy kids and people who used the devil as a brilliant excuse to engage in bad behaviour,” Sons of Sam filmmaker Josh Zeman recently told The New York Post. “When we start talking about networks, that’s when I become far more skeptical.”
Terry was hellbent on breaking open the story that there were multiple “Sons of Sam,” but he had trouble getting the police to take him seriously. He did himself no favours by appearing on fringe talk shows in hopes of getting his theories out there. Many of these shows seemed more interested in stoking fear to boost ratings then getting to the truth, which hurt his credibility.
There are also some in Terry’s circle, including “Son of Sam” victim Carl Denaro, who believe that the NYPD wanted to make a mockery of him so that they wouldn’t have to re-open the case. Doing so would force them to admit their own mistakes in the investigation, which reportedly included never interviewing Carr and his sons, both of whom died in mysterious ways.
But Terry also had his missteps. In 1993, after years of trying to talk to Berkowitz, he was finally able to secure the first in-person interview with him. In it, Berkowitz revealed that he had been a member of a cult. “I took an oath,” he tells Terry. “A little blood pact.” (Berkowitz has changed his story over the years in terms of whether he was a member of a cult, but, in 2020, he said he was.)
In that same interview, he also revealed that he did not commit all of the “Son of Sam” murders. “I was at all of them,” he said then. “I didn’t pull the trigger at all of them.”
In Terry’s mind, this was a huge break in the case, but some felt his questions were leading. Others weren’t so willing to believe the words of a convicted murderer. Was Berkowitz just telling his eager interviewer what he wanted to hear? In the end, the interview became tabloid fodder instead of an important break in the story.
Terry got a second chance to interview Berkowitz, in 1997, and finally “find peace.” While investigative journalist Sarah Wallace says that Terry’s “information was solid,” she admits that “there’s some suggestive interviewing going on” in that sit down. “I remember thinking, ‘[Berkowitz is] not telling the truth,'” she says in Sons of Sam. “I just didn’t buy these other theories.”
The interview was Terry’s way of gaining journalistic acceptance and when he didn’t, he fell deeper into the rabbit hole. He became so obsessed with proving there was a larger conspiracy at play that he started to believe things that were untrue. He found connections where there weren’t any, creating a web of theories that began to spin out of control. The case took a toll on him. He drank and smoked heavily up until his death in 2015 at the age of 69.
Watching Sons of Sam, you can’t help but feel as if those who were shot by the “Son of Sam” weren’t the only victims. Terry also suffered in his quest for truth.
Since his death, there have been no big breaks in the “Son of Sam” case. Despite hinting that he may have had accomplices, Berkowitz seems uninterested in elaborating on what that means. But this is not to say the case is closed. Some of Terry’s friends, known as The Pine Street Irregulars, have continued looking for answers to the questions he dared to ask. There hope is that they will find a piece of evidence that will force the NYPD to take another look at the case.
“Of course, the [NYPD] had to say he was just a conspiracy nut, and sometimes I thought he was too,” a former detective and friend of Terry’s says in the final episode. “But the fact is, he was right more times than he was wrong.”
The big twist at the end of the Netflix series seems to prove this. The series is unable to prove without a doubt that the “Sons of Sam” exist. But it does show how Terry’s instincts on a different case, the 1974 murder of Arlis Perry, were right.
Terry believed that Stephen Blake Crawford, the Stanford University security guard who found Perry’s body in the university’s Stanford Memorial Church, was responsible for the grisly murder. He also believed that the 19-year-old woman’s murder was somehow tied to the same satanic cult that committed the “Son of Sam” slayings. But he couldn’t give specific evidence to prove that connection.
In 2018, DNA evidence made Crawford the primary suspect in the case. Before the police could arrest Crawford, he took his own life. Terry’s book Ultimate Evil was found in his closet.
That final reveal shows that Terry’s findings can and should not be ignored. But Sons of Sam acts as a warning to anyone who decides to follow him down that rabbit hole: If you go too deep, you may never get out.
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