‘The Sons of Sam’ rethinks Berkowitz murders, and a journalist obsessed with them
Netflix series looks into the late Maury Terry’s theories that accomplices helped the infamous New York City serial killer.
Around the halfway mark of the four-part Netflix true crime series “The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness,” we’re about 90% convinced the notorious serial killer David Berkowitz a.k.a. “Son of Sam” had at least one accomplice as he terrorized New York City with a series of gruesome execution-style murders in 1976-77 before he was apprehended by authorities.
A four-part docuseries available Wednesday on Netflix.
Berkowitz looked nothing like the police sketches drawn from the memories of surviving victims. He had a neighbor in Yonkers named Sam Carr — owner of the supposedly Satanic dog who ordered Berkowitz to commit the crimes. Sam Carr had two sons, John and Michael, who died in separate incidents within two years of Berkowitz’s arrest. Berkowitz claimed the Carr brothers had taken part in the killings. (They were never charged.) Building blocks are laid down to form the foundation for a credible argument there were others involved.
Around the three-quarters mark, we’re still fairly certain Berkowitz didn’t act alone, but we’re also nearly lost in the weeds of an expanding web of murders and suspicious deaths that expand to the West, not to mention a thicket of conspiracy theories involving Satanic cults and a controversial church and literally dozens of tangential storylines and characters.
By the time “The Sons of Sam” reaches its conclusion, we’re left with more questions than answers about whether Berkowitz acted alone — and we’re left shaken by another tragedy: the troubled life and sad death of one Maury Terry, an outsider journalist who became obsessed with the Berkowitz case much like Michelle McNamara threw herself into the case of the Golden State Killer, as chronicled in the book and subsequent HBO series “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.” But whereas McNamara’s posthumously completed book was hailed as one of the best true-crime, non-fiction works since Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” Terry’s “The Ultimate Evil,” while an enormous best-seller, featured an illustration of a red-eyed, crazed dog on the cover and purported to expose a national and even global network of killer cults and tried to connect Berkowitz to the Manson murders and other dark events and entities. To say it was a reach is an understatement.
In the more than capable hands of director Joshua Zeman, “The Sons of Sam” becomes as much a profile of Terry’s obsessive attempts to re-open the case (to the expected resistance of the New York City Police Dept. and others who wanted the nightmare to die with Berkowitz’s arrest and conviction), and “The Sons of Sam” becomes as much a profile of Terry as a re-examination of the investigation of the “.44 Caliber Killer,” as Berkowitz was called by the media until he began sending letters to New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin calling himself “Son of Sam.”
Even though Terry had scored one-on-one interviews with a jailed Berkowitz and had presented compelling evidence the so-called “Son of Sam” not only had accomplices but might not have been the triggerman for some of the shootings, he eroded his credibility with a series of clown-show interviews on exploitation talk TV (Geraldo Rivera’s daytime show, “A Current Affair” with Maury Povich, Morton Downey Jr., et al.), and he never got authorities to re-open the case. Terry spent his last years drowning in a sea of drink and bitterness, frustrated by his inability to nail down the biggest story of his career, the story that consumed him.
This might sound like the kind of melodramatic line you hear in many a true crime series, but in a way, Maury Terry was yet another victim of the Son of Sam.