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I am the Son of Sam!

David Berkowitz is serving six life terms for the Son of Sam murders in New York 25 years ago. Before his June parole hearing Berkowitz, now a born-again Christian with his own website, declared that he doesn’t want to be released. John Vincent Sanders re-examines the case, asking whether Berkowitz was the only killer using the Son of Sam MO and if he was linked to a Black Magic underground.

As you clear the trees after an uphill climb in New York’s Untermyer Park, you cannot fail to notice what appears to be a rather bizarre-looking rock formation. Closer examination reveals iron handrails and other signs of human handiwork. Locals have always referred to the large structure – more than 40ft (12.2m) high at its west face – as the Eagle’s Nest. It was erected about 75 years ago as a cascading fountain, and the gazebo at its summit offers a fine view of the Hudson River and the New Jersey Palisades.

The park was once the estate of multi-millionaire Samuel Untermyer, who had large stones from Great Britain incorporated into the fountain he built for his daughter’s wedding. There is reason to believe that the wealthy lawyer had an interest in arcane spiritual beliefs, and the design of the Eagle’s Nest suggests a deliberate attempt to imitate megalithic sites of Wiltshire. After Untermyer’s death in 1940, his sprawling estate was donated to the municipality of Yonkers, just north of New York City. At the north end of the park lay the classical gardens with their impressive mix of Greek-style architecture and Assyrian-style statuary. The gardens give way to the so-called Thousand Steps leading down to other scenic viewpoints. Not far from the foot of the steps, in a densely overgrown area behind nearby St John’s Hospital, there once stood a large pump-house. For reasons never made public, it was knocked down about 15 years ago, and not even a trace of its foundation can be seen today.

Untermyer Park and the demolished pump-house – once known as Devil’s Cave – are more than points of local interest. Along with other nearby locations, they represent little-known pieces in a jigsaw puzzle of mass-murder and ongoing controversy.

Twenty-five years ago, New York was in the grip of an unprecedented homicidal menace. From July 1976 until July 1977, a brutal killer – who identified himself only as ‘Son of Sam’ – perpetrated eight separate handgun assaults; several of them were against amorous couples in parked cars but, in all cases, the primary targets were young women in their teens and twenties. Six of the 13 people attacked died of their injuries: Donna Lauria, Carl Denaro (a long-haired male mistaken for a woman), Christine Freund, Virginia Voskerichian, Valentina Suriani, and Stacy Moskowitz. A survivor of the first assault, 18-year-old Jody Valente, described her assailant as a white male in his thirties with curly hair.

During the course of the next 12 months, two letters containing satanic undertones and promises of further bloodshed were received by reporter Jimmy Breslin and the New York City Police Department. The murderer – dubbed ‘The .44-Calibre Killer’ by the New York press – triggered the largest manhunt in US history, creating a wave of fear that peaked during the summer of 1977. Police soon announced a “one gun, one killer” theory but, in retrospect, that theory appears to have been inconsistent with the facts available at the time, a time when, coincidentally, popular interest in satanism was on the rise.

In America, the 1970s could be characterised as a transitional decade. The Vietnam War finally ended and the Watergate scandal forced the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Social movements like Greenpeace and the National Organization for Women were busily codifying their ideologies. Meanwhile, the world-consciousness of the hippies was merging into the self-absorbed hedonism of the ‘Me Decade’.

At the same time, a shadowy sub-culture emerged. New Age philosophers were challenging the validity of Judeo-Christian ethics and many individuals were exploring alternative concepts of good and evil; for some, the path of discovery led towards occultism or satanism. Investigative journalist Maury Terry – author of the 1987 Son of Sam exposé The Ultimate Evil – traces the rise of popular interest in satanism to the arrival of the Process Church of the Final Judgment, founded in England almost 40 years ago [see FT134]. According to Terry, several famous rock bands were influenced by the Process’ strange amalgamation of Christ and Satan.

In 1967, the Rolling Stones released an album called Their Satanic Majesties Request; a year later, their song ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ topped the charts. Two of Led Zeppelin’s early albums suggested influences from Arthurian legend, as well as from the myth-laden fantasy of writers like JRRTolkien and Arthur Machen. Zeppelin’s guitarist, Jimmy Page, expressed great interest in the occult philosophy of the late Aleister Crowley, and later bought Crowley’s Boleskine House near Loch Ness. Heavy metal progenitors Black Sabbath left no doubt as to where their musical inspiration lay, and other bands also parlayed syncopated satanism into commercial success. Hollywood, ever watchful for the latest trends, responded with films like Rosemary’s Baby, Race with the Devil, and The Omen.

David Berkowitz was born Richard David Falco on 1 June 1953. His birth mother, Betty Falco, became pregnant as the result of an affair with a married man, Joseph Klineman. When informed of the pregnancy, Klineman refused to admit paternity and demanded that the child be given up. Richard David was adopted only a few days after birth by Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz, who reversed the order of his given names.

David’s childhood was somewhat troubled. Although of above-average intelligence, he lost interest in learning at an early age and began an infatuation with petty larceny and pyromania. His psychological state deteriorated further when his adoptive mother died of breast cancer in 1967. A variety of frustrations, including several failed relationships with women, resulted in him enlisting in the US Army in 1971. Although the Vietnam War was still under way, he was sent to posts in South Korea and the United States.

After his discharge in 1974, Berkowitz flirted with Christianity and also began a search that resulted in meetings with his birth mother, Betty, and his half-sister, Roslyn. He began lighting fires again, and claimed to hear “voices” around this time. Although he would later confess to assaulting a woman with a knife on Christmas Eve 1975, police have no record of the crime he described.

It was a parking ticket that placed David Berkowitz in the vicinity of the final Son of Sam shooting – the attack on 31 July 1977 that blinded 20-year-old Bobby Violante and took the life of 20-year-old Stacy Moskowitz. After a complex sequence of events, he was arrested 10 days later in front of the apartment building in which he lived, on Pine Street in northwest Yonkers. Berkowitz immediately confessed to all of the shootings and also took responsibility for the infamous letters. Eventually sentenced to six consecutive life terms, he is currently housed at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

One of the ‘Son of Sam’ letters contained sinister references to other individuals. Several years after his arrest, Berkowitz began accusing other persons of involvement in a satanic group, headquartered near his former Yonkers residence. Among them were two brothers, John and Michael Carr. Two other satanists – referred to as the ‘Joker’ and the ‘Duke of Death’ – lived on nearby Wicker Street. Another close neighbour, Sam Carr, father of John and Michael, was accused of being a “high official of the Devil’s Legion.” David also said that Sam Carr’s black Labrador, Harvey, was used by evil forces to transmit messages to him.

In spite of the accusations, none of the persons accused by David Berkowitz were ever arrested. Nevertheless, there are indications that the so-called ‘Duke of Death’, and possibly others, fled before they could be questioned by police. Berkowitz admitted that he tried to bolster an insanity defence in the weeks before and after his arrest. Although such an attempt would automatically raise issues of future credibility, certain facts do suggest a conspiracy behind the ‘Son of Sam’ murders.

It is a matter of public record that both Carr brothers died violently within two years of Berkowitz’s arrest. John Carr, age 31, perished as the result of a rifle shot to the face in Minot, North Dakota, in February 1978. The number 666 was allegedly found carved into the drying blood on one of the dead man’s hands. The probable murder was initially ruled a suicide. And despite a clinical aversion to alcohol, 27-year-old Michael Carr died in an apparent drink-driving accident on the West Side Highway in New York City on 4 October 1979.

A chilling footnote is the death on 20 September 1977 of another local man, Andrew Dupay, a 33-year-old postman who both lived in and delivered mail to the Berkowitz-Carr neighbourhood for years. According to the suicide note he left behind, Dupay had been threatened on more than one occasion. As someone who spent an unusual amount of time in that vicinity, it’s possible that he learned things he wasn’t meant to know.

Northwest Yonkers in the mid-Seventies was much the same as it is today. Running like a thread through the district is the Old Croton Trailway State Park. The 22miles (35km) path, known locally as the ‘Aqueduct’, parallels the course of the Hudson River and was built over a water tunnel that once served Manhattan Island to the south. The secluded Aqueduct also offers discreet access, especially at night, to any number of places, including Untermyer Park and the nearby Lenoir Nature Preserve.

Twenty-five years later, the satanic activity that used to occur in this area has become urban legend. The characteristics of Untermyer Park in particular made it a perfect location for such things; even today, fully half the grounds are densely wooded. Furthermore, several locations there, including the Eagle’s Nest (above) and the so-called ‘temple’, are still tagged with occult/satanic graffiti, much of it recently applied. Population shifts over the last three decades have resulted in a large Hispanic presence in the area. An individual familiar with the neighbourhood today assured me that evidence of santeria ritual fowl sacrifices are occasionally found in woods adjacent to the Aqueduct.

Former employees of nearby St John’s Hospital can still recall nights when chanting and torch flames were seen and heard in the depths of the woods, especially from the area of the now-demolished Devil’s Cave. There are those who maintain that harmless teenagers were the only ones frequenting the backwoods at night during the Seventies, but that belief flies in the face of some disturbing facts. Over Christmas 1976, dead Alsatian dogs, with their ears carefully excised, were found on the Aqueduct just south of Untermyer Park. In November 1979, a Westchester County Police Officer stumbled upon a sinister night-time gathering in the Lenoir Nature Preserve: a group of robed and hooded figures carrying torches and leading two leashed Alsatians.

Similar events were reported elsewhere in the region at the time. In the upstate town of Walden, New York, 85 Alsatians were found skinned between October 1976 and October 1977. Across the state-line, in Fairfield County, Connecticut, an employee at a local radio station told me of druid-like gatherings, at night, in the woods surrounding Candlewood Lake, near Danbury.

I had the opportunity to interview journalist Maury Terry in April 2002 (see panel). His controversial book about David Berkowitz, The Ultimate Evil, is currently available in an updated third-edition published by Barnes & Noble. In addition to writing magazine and newspaper articles, he has also made numerous radio and television appearances in connection with the ‘Son of Sam’ murders. Terry also participated in police investigations related to the Atlanta Child Murders of the 1980s and the OJ Simpson case.

Maury "ultimate evil" Terry interviewed

Do you still believe there was more than one person involved in the ‘Son of Sam’ shootings?

Maury Terry (MT): Absolutely. In my opinion, the evidence is overwhelming and conclusive. I conducted a televised interview with David Berkowitz back in the 1990s. He claimed to have pulled the trigger for only two of the ‘Son of Sam’ attacks, and publicly named John and Michael Carr as two of the other ‘Son of Sam’ shooters. Even the New York City police eventually conceded the likelihood of multiple gunmen.Furthermore, if you compare the Lomino/DeMasi police composites [a reference to two 1976 shooting victims] with a photo of John Carr, the resemblance is striking.

Do you know the origin of the satanic group in Yonkers that David Berkowitz became involved with?

MT: I trace it back to a physician who was forced to flee England after World War Two. He arrived in Yonkers sometime around 1946 or ’47 and established a practice on North Broadway, not far from the neighbourhood where Berkowitz would eventually live. In addition to being a Nazi sympathiser, the doctor was also a self-proclaimed demonologist who utilised sex for occult purposes.

Something like the sexual ‘magick’ advocated by Aleister Crowley?

MT: Yes, but the man I’m talking about involved legal minors – boys – in his sexual activities. He eventually organised a group of like-minded people in Yonkers back in the 1950s. By 1970, this group had been absorbed by a branch of the Church of the Final Judgment. A nucleus of the local cadre probably still exists in some form, but it’s maintained a very low profile over the last 25 years. Also, more than 20 of the group’s original members eventually died under violent circumstances.

You’ve long maintained that child sexual abuse, child pornography, and narcotics trafficking are among the objectives of those who organise satanic groups. Law-enforcement agencies in England and the US have conducted a sting operation against an Internet group called ‘The Candyman’, with over 200 arrests made so far. US Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that the group included thousands of people, including lawyers, police officers, school bus drivers, and teachers. Do you suspect a link between this sort of Internet activity and organised satanism?

MT: I believe a link of some kind is possible. Twenty-five years ago, the satanic motif was a convenient tool for certain individuals who wanted to control groups of people for various ends; among them, child pornography and narcotics distribution. The Internet would make it possible to reach persons who are not necessarily interested in satanism, but who share an interest in certain illegal activities.

As we speak, David Berkowitz’s first parole hearing will take place two months from now [in June 2002]. You’ve maintained contact with him over the years. Do you think he has any expectation of being paroled?

MT: Although Berkowitz has expressed a desire to be released, he also admits that his life imprisonment is well deserved. He gives every indication of being thoroughly institutionalised and furthermore, he probably feels safer right where he is. I don’t think he expects to be paroled, and I doubt he ever will be.

(He wasn't. FT)

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Author Biography
John Vincent Sanders is a New York-based writer who lived in the city of Yonkers during and after the “Son of Sam” murders.

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