Netflixs new series "The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness" digs into the idea that theres more to the Son of Sam serial killer case we thought we knew . . . and that were still not safe.
Starting in July 1976, over the course of 13 months more than a dozen men and women in New York were shot in seemingly random attacks. These would become known as the Son of Sam murders after police found a handwritten note left at a crime scene in which the killer referred to himself as Son of Sam and promised the violence would continue.
As the city was gripped by growing fear, police embarked on what was then one of the biggest manhunts in the citys history. Eventually, they arrested David Berkowitz, a young man living in Yonkers who greeted law enforcement by saying, "Well, you got me." He would go on to confess to all of the shootings and claim that "Sam" was a spirit who spoke to him through a black Labrador that belonged to his neighbor, who, it should be noted, was also named Sam.
However, a new Netflix docuseries, which is largely based on the writings of the late crime journalist Maury Terry, looks into the theory that Berkowitz likely didnt act alone — and that he was actually part of a wide-spreading Satanic cult.
It sounds outlandish enough that "The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness" director Joshua Zeman said that, at first, he thought that it was just nonsense.
However, the more Zeman started digging into Terrys work, including his book about Berkowitz called "The Ultimate Evil," the more plausible it became. "And honestly, it scared the s**t out of me."
However, while some law enforcement officials agreed with Terry, and pointed to evidence that there had potentially been different shooters during some of the attacks, many just wanted the case to be closed. Amid the tension, Terrys reputation — and ultimately, his sanity — was under attack.
Zeman spoke with Salon about the making of the four-part docuseries, how the Son of Sam murders changed the face of tabloid journalism, and how Maury Terry made a "deal with the devil" in his reporting,
There are several main throughlines in "The Sons of Sam" that I want to talk about, but the one that was particularly interesting to me as a journalist was the way the business of news shifted after the publishing of the Son of Sam letters by reporter Jimmy Breslin. Could you talk some about how the case impacted journalism?
I think thats one of the most interesting things as well, especially as a true crime journalist. It wasnt just the investigation and it wasnt just Maury. I just think people dont really understand the impact that the Son of Sam story had on modern-day journalism.
In essence, journalism, true crime journalism and true crime changed with the Son of Sam. It started a tabloid war, which happened between the Daily News and the New York Post, but this is also where [Rupert] Murdoch realizes one of the most important lessons of his professional career: Fear sells better than sex.
You can look back and see that he was using the Son of Sam as kind of a test case. The landscape of journalism today — you can actually chart a path from "Son of Sam and that early fearmongering, which was coming from both sides, to the rise of tabloid journalism. It literally started like two or three years after Son of Sam with the rise of "A Current Affair," "Inside Edition," Bill OReilly, Maury Povich and that kind of reporting.
Right, it definitely feeds into how we cover crime and serial murder. I think we are coming to a bit of a reckoning in terms of coverage and what it means. Im not just talking about victim-blaming and some of the subtle things, but understanding what our role as creators and consumers is. I love true crime, I love true crime fans, but at the same time, I think we need to kind of understand what this all means.