New Netflix documentary argues that David Berkowitz wasn’t the one Son of Sam: ‘It is ridiculous’


The Son of Sam murders have been solved on Aug. 10, 1977 when New York police arrested David Berkowitz for a sequence of shootings that had terrorized town for over a 12 months. However a brand new Netflix documentary sequence poses the query that has lengthy fascinated true-crime lovers: what if Berkowitz wasn’t the one Son of Sam? Directed by Joshua Zeman, The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness pulls at threads first investigated by journalist Maury Terry, who went to his grave believing that different killers stalked the New York streets — killers who have been related to a bigger story involving a Devil-worshipping cult. (Terry died in 2015.)

“I like to think about this as my very own little Marvel universe,” Zeman tells Yahoo Leisure, revealing how one among his earlier true-crime tales, the 2009 documentary Cropsey, led him to re-opening the Son of Sam case for Netflix. “I had been lacking youngsters in that movie, and there have been rumors floating round that they have been related to the Son of Sam. Extra particularly, that Berkowitz didn’t act alone and there was some sort of cult that was behind it.”

Police officers escort American accused (and ultimately convicted) serial killer David Berkowitz (left), known as the Son of Sam, into the 84th precinct station, New York, New York, August 10, 1977. (Photo by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Images)

Law enforcement officials escort American accused (and finally convicted) serial killer David Berkowitz (left), often called the Son of Sam, into the 84th precinct station, New York Metropolis on Aug. 10, 1977. (Picture by Robert R. McElroy/Getty Photos)

“At first, I fully thought it was Satanic Panic, and I did not consider it,” Zeman continues. “However then a few veteran NYPD detectives sat me down and mentioned, ‘There’s some fact to this.’” These officers then advisable he decide up Terry’s 1987 guide, The Ultimate Evil, the place the journalist assembled all of his proof. “That guide scared the crap out of me, and I don’t scare simply,” the director says. “I’m a debunker of all issues that go bump within the evening, however for some cause, this hit a candy spot.”

The four-part Sons of Sam sequence is each a re-evaluation of the case to convict Berkowitz, and a portrait of a journalist who ultimately misplaced the plot of his personal story. Zeman depicts how Terry’s fascination with the case inevitably tipped over into obsession, a story not in contrast to one among his favourite motion pictures, David Fincher’s Zodiac. “You simply introduced a tear to my eye once you talked about Zodiac,” the director says. “That was the mannequin, and I truthfully felt that Maury Terry was a kind of characters: it’s solely now in this sort of true crime obsessed world do I believe that Maury story takes on an particularly essential relevance. 

In a wide-ranging dialog, Zeman mentioned why the Son of Sam case continues to loom massive in New York’s collective reminiscence, and why he didn’t interview Berkowitz for his sequence. 

Investigative journalist, Maury Terry, is the subject of Netflix's new documentary series, 'The Sons of Sam' (Photo: Netflix)

Investigative journalist, Maury Terry, is the topic of Netflix’s new documentary sequence ‘The Sons of Sam’ (Picture: Netflix)

Yahoo Leisure: We must always discuss your personal historical past with the Son of Sam murders: is it a case that’s at all times fascinated you?

Joshua Zeman: I grew up in Staten Island, which is full of the little children of people that have been youngsters within the Seventies, and moved there from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. So the story held a particular significance to individuals who I grew up with, and I felt it by no means bought its due. New York in 1977 was an unimaginable time that I believe has been misplaced on subsequent generations: it was tremendous attention-grabbing and tremendous darkish. There was a stage of debauchery and gravity, together with the rise of the punk and the disco scene, that was actually fascinating. However most significantly, the case by no means sat proper with me. There’s at all times a “why” to each crime, and the “why” on this case — the concept that David Berkowitz was someway commanded to kill by a demon canine — appears humorous looking back. Trying again, it’s ridiculous that it’s been the accepted notion for over 40 years.

How a lot of that is because of the truth that Berkowitz looks like such an unlikely mass assassin?

I believe that’s positively a part of it; Berkowitz is an enigma. However in 1977, you had a New York Metropolis that was on the razor’s fringe of chapter, with a devastating blackout and a serial killer taking pictures {couples} in parked automobiles. All of the sudden, right here comes probably the most unimaginable perp stroll ever — a 24-year-old postal employee smiling for the cameras and saying, “Yeah, I did it. A demon canine advised me to.” How may you not consider it? On the similar time, once I went again and spoke with folks, I discovered that that NYPD did probably the most minimal post-arrest investigation. They by no means interviewed the literal Sons of Sam; they by no means spent even a half-hour to speak to the fellows whose names occurred to be talked about in all of the letters.

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28: Joshua Zeman speaks during the Tribeca Talks Industry: Shooting Film On A Budget panel during the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival at the SVA Theater on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

Joshua Zeman on the 2011 Tribeca Movie Competition in New York Metropolis. (Picture by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Photos)

We’re having a bigger dialog proper now about policing in America and officers doing due diligence in investigations. Do you see a connection between then and now?

Folks have requested me, “What makes you suppose you’re going to have the ability to do what Maury couldn’t do?” And I’ve mentioned, “Most likely the most important distinction is that we now have much more transparency in how police investigations are executed. We perceive the nuances of why issues generally get shut down, as a result of politics come into play.” So I believe persons are prepared to just accept that possibly Maury was proper, and the police did prematurely shut down the case and politics had so much to do with it.

Would you go as far as to explain it as a cover-up?

I’ve requested sure cops whether or not it was cover-up. Some will say, “Sure,” whereas others say, “It wasn’t a coverup, it was simply deciding to not go additional.” This isn’t concerning the rank and file: that is about huge metropolis politics throughout an unimaginable time in New York Metropolis historical past. The NYPD wanted to catch the Son of Sam to avoid wasting the soul of town. There was a must have these solutions, and I can perceive folks not desirous to recommend that there is perhaps different killers on the market, particularly when Berkowitz himself admitted to it. Actually, I don’t suppose that the folks of New York Metropolis may have emotionally accepted that.

It’s famous within the documentary how Maury’s investigation coincided with the rise of tabloid tv within the Eighties. Do you suppose his message was obscured by that medium?

I wish to say that Maury made a take care of the satan. As soon as the police referred to as him a crackpot, he had nowhere else to go however to the tabloid media. They took his story, and it grew to become a symbiotic relationship. That’s most likely his actual tragedy, that he doubled down when the police referred to as him a crackpot and advised his story in arenas that made his preliminary investigation far much less credible. It allowed all these individuals who referred to as him a crackpot to proceed doing so, if that is sensible. Additionally, it actually grew to become a check case the place tabloid journalism — and folks like Rupert Murdoch — realized that intercourse doesn’t promote. It’s concern that sells higher. You possibly can really chart the rise of tabloid journalism from the Son of Sam case. As a journalist who loves tales about journalism and true crime, it presents a wealthy tableau of how we inform true crime tales, and the duty we now have.

'The Sons of Sam' series reveals how Terry tied the Son of Sam murders to a Satanic cult (Photo: Netflix)

‘The Sons of Sam’ sequence reveals how Terry tied the Son of Sam murders to a Satanic cult (Picture: Netflix)

Satinic Panic was the large story within the ’80s, and now we now have sequence about up to date cults like NXIVM. Is there a hyperlink between the 2?

I believe it’s a really completely different factor. For me, I don’t are inclined to consider it’s all organized. I believe that’s the place Maury Terry actually went down the rabbit gap, and by no means discovered his means out. I are inclined to consider that evil folks someway discover one another within the darkness, and gravitate in direction of one another, nevertheless it’s sometimes not fairly so organized. Folks need to consider this stuff are organized, as a result of that enables there to be some order to it. It’s way more terrifying if it’s unorganized mayhem.

That describes the QAnon phenomenon to a sure extent: that need to see a grand organized conspiracy behind random occasions. Had he lived, do you suppose Maury might need been vulnerable to one thing like that?

I believe the sequence turns into an important cautionary story of true crime and conspiracy. You could find connections in every single place, if you wish to. As Maury bought older, he realized that issues aren’t as related as he initially thought, and I believe the occurs to lots of people who fall down rabbit holes till they spin themselves out. And once they lastly climb again out, they are saying, “Oh gosh.” I’ve a sense that we’re going to begin to see lots of people spent themselves out and climb out of the rabbit gap pretty exhausted.

For individuals who select to remain in cults, what’s the energy these teams have over them?

To me it’s much less concerning the energy of the cults, than concerning the want and need of the follower. Cults would by no means be as highly effective as they’re, with out individuals who enable them to be highly effective. And I’m not victim-blaming right here: what I’m saying is that persons are trying to find one thing, for any individual to assist cleared the path. They’re trying to find focus, and they’re trying to find which means. The issue is, it is advisable to be skeptical of anyone who claims to give you the “full fact.”

Police escort handcuffed Son of Sam suspect David Berkowitz into Police headquarters in lower Manhattan.
(Photo By: Alan Aaronson/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Police escort handcuffed Son of Sam suspect David Berkowitz into Police headquarters in decrease Manhattan. (Picture By: Alan Aaronson/NY Every day Information through Getty Photos)

We must always discuss Berkowitz himself, who continues to be alive and serving six consecutive life sentences in upstate New York. Did you attain out to him for this sequence?

I did try to attain out to him. I didn’t need to know something concerning the crimes or something — I simply needed to get his opinion on Maury Terry. He didn’t share his ideas.

How obtainable does he make himself for interviews now?

I’d moderately not reply that query. [Pauses] I’ll be trustworthy, I don’t like serial-killer tales. I’ve by no means appreciated serial killer tales. When I was making Cropsey, one among my dad and mom made me promise that I’d by no means do one other serial-killer story. After which I went and did a present referred to as The Killing Season, about intercourse staff in Lengthy Island, and now The Sons of Sam! I really feel like any individual wants to clarify to the world why these instances don’t get solved, and my job is to inform another story to the everyday sort of salacious true crime story.

You do embrace footage of Terry’s interview with Berkowitz within the Nineties. How do you suppose viewers will react once they see that dialog?

I believe the irony right here is how underwhelming he’s. That’s once you understand, as a filmmaker, the facility we ascribe to folks. My purpose is with the sequence, very truthfully, is to alter the historical past books. To return and to take a look at this case with a unique lens, and perceive that there are victims on the market who’re nonetheless trying to find the one who shot them. We have now a must proper the wrongs of the previous, particularly in relation to such investigations.

Is there a specific thread that you simply suppose they need to begin pulling on?

To me, probably the most promising thread is to start out wanting at the Carr family. One of the crucial superb issues to me is that the police spent tens of hundreds of man hours each potential lead, but as soon as Berkowitz was arrested, they by no means sat down with the precise Sons of Sam to ask any questions. That might most likely not fly in in the present day’s police division.

Are you involved that Berkowitz may doubtlessly be launched based mostly on any of this new proof?

So far as I do know, David Berkowitz doesn’t need to be launched. He has admitted to killing folks and seems like he nonetheless needs to pay his debt to society. Although I can’t communicate for him, so you have to be asking him.

What’s the facet of the documentary that you simply suppose will most shock youthful viewers, those that have been born lengthy after the murders occurred?

It’s attention-grabbing: rising up in New York within the Eighties, I knew who David Berkowitz was — he was one among our childhood boogeymen. However for this era, I don’t suppose they know who he’s except they watch exhibits like Mindhunter and begin to go down their very own little rabbit gap. I’ve been desirous about the way you presumably translate to any individual what New York Metropolis was like again then, when there was sheer panic within the streets and no one was going out. And I say, “It was just like the pandemic in some respects.” No person went to eating places or to bars or theaters for 13 months. I believe that’s a reasonably attention-grabbing analogy.

The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness is presently streaming on Netflix.

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