Beginning in July of 1976, “Son of Sam” struck fear in the citizens of New York City for a year, as the serial killer eluded police while killing 6 and wounding 10 during 8 separate shooting sprees. So when the NYPD arrested David Berkowitz for these crimes in July of 1977, New Yorkers finally felt safe. The killer who terrorized a major city was at last captured and was subsequently sentenced to life in prison 6 times over. He’d never be able to harm anyone ever again.
But was Berkowitz acting alone? Journalist Maury Terry was determined to find out and spent a decade conducting an exhaustive investigation of this infamous case in an effort to uncover whether these seemingly indiscriminate murders were cult-related and if the killer had an accomplice. The result was 1987’s The Ultimate Evil, now back in print from Quirk Books with a new introduction by Joshua Zeman, the producer of The Sons of Sam, the recent Netflix documentary series based on Terry’s 500-page true crime book.
In the 1980s, the United States was swept up in the “Satanic Panic” hysteria, a widespread paranoia where people saw the devil’s influence in everything from TV shows, movies, books, and games and brought about accusations of ritualistic child abuse against innocent people for non-existence crimes supposedly committed in the name of Satan. So it was a good time for The Ultimate Evil to be released, especially with its original subtitle, “An Investigation into America’s Most Dangerous Satanic Cult,” which highlighted Terry’s theory that a satanic cult was behind the Son of Sam attacks.
While this new edition retains Terry’s original published manuscript, its subtitle has been changed to “The Search For The Sons Of Sam,” which ties in better with the Netflix docuseries, as does the book’s new design with its newspaper clippings cover.
I found this book to be particularly chilling not only for its detailed information on the murders and the theory that others involved got away with it, but because the crime scene in south Brooklyn is my neck of the woods. Matter of fact, I read some of it while sitting in the very park where it happened. Not only is that where I’m from, but I was a small child when this all happened and I remember the vibe in town back then. The headlines were continuously splatted with Son of Sam news and people were afraid to go out of their homes. Over the years, whenever I’d have to pick something that was a memorable news event from my childhood, I would say the Son of Sam murders. Before Berkowitz was captured, I used to imagine what he looked like and fear what he would do next; sometimes when I’d see men in the street, I’d wonder, “Is that him?” It was definitely a crazy time. Even watching the new Netflix doc, I was instantly transported back to that time. (By the way, the footage from the 1970s that’s shown in the Netflix series features authorities and residents talking with strong New York accents and seriously that’s how it was at the time!!!)
While some of Terry’s theories seem plausible, others are more far-fetched. For instance, at one point, the author talks about his visit to the scene where the body of Theresa Fusco, a Lynbrook, NY, teenager, was found dead and buried beneath pallets in the woods. One pallet had the band name “Rush” written on it along with the group’s popular starman logo, which Terry described as “the satanic pentagram.” Another pallet at the scene had “Sex… No… virgin devil … allow” standing out amongst mostly indecipherable scribble. Upon seeing these pallets, Terry said, “Somewhere out there, there’s probably a cult working,” because he didn’t think it was mere coincidence that Fusco’s body was covered by these pallets with these writings on it. Rush is my favorite band, so I know full well that this logo is not a satanic symbol; this assumption, along with picking out a few words on a graffitied board and piecing them together as if it solves a puzzle just seems like yet another “satanic panic” entry.
Whether Terry’s theories are actually true, there’s no doubt he made a genuine effort to expose more of the “evil” that we know exists and to seek justice for the victims. The Ultimate Evil is a very well-written book that masterfully sets the scene for even the most mundane of activities, such as someone going out to mail a letter or an investigator making a simple phone call, without sensationalizing the pertinent details. The book includes interview transcripts with Berkowitz, witnesses, survivors, and private citizens, along with quotes from official reports, which the author sets up expertly. Terry’s writing style makes it easy to digest the plethora of documented official facts on the case, as well as the wealth of information he personally gathered for his own investigation over the years.
If the details of the Son of Sam case have always left you wondering if there was more to it, then Terry’s in-depth book will satisfy your curiosity. The Ultimate Evil is a true-crime classic that details one of the most notorious serial killings of all time, connecting the dots to a larger conspiracy.
From the publisher:
The true-crime cult classic that inspired the Netflix docuseries The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness and a companion podcast, The Ultimate Evil follows journalist Maury Terry’s decades-long investigation into the terrifying truth behind the Son of Sam murders.
On August 10, 1977, the NYPD arrested David Berkowitz for the Son of Sam murders that had terrorized New York City for over a year. Berkowitz confessed to shooting sixteen people and killing six with a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver, and the case was officially closed.
Journalist Maury Terry was suspicious of Berkowitz’s confession. Spurred by conflicting witness descriptions of the killer and clues overlooked in the investigation, Terry was convinced Berkowitz didn’t act alone. Meticulously gathering evidence for a decade, he released his findings in the first edition of The Ultimate Evil. Based upon the evidence he had uncovered, Terry theorized that the Son of Sam attacks were masterminded by a Yonkers-based cult that was responsible for other ritual murders across the country. After Terry’s death in 2015, documentary filmmaker Josh Zeman (Cropsey, The Killing Season, Murder Mountain) was given access to Terry’s files, which form the basis of his docuseries with Netflix and a companion podcast. Taken together with The Ultimate Evil, which includes a new introduction by Zeman, these works reveal the stunning intersections of power, wealth, privilege, and evil in America—from the Summer of Sam until today.
Book Dimensions: 6.01 x 1.4 x 9.02 inches; 544 pages
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