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The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness

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What it’s about:

One journalist’s passion becomes an obsession to seek a new trial for David Berkowitz, who was convicted and imprisoned for the Son of Sam serial killings in 1976 and 1977.

Names you might know:

The series centers on journalist Maury Terry and also features interviews with reporters Mary Murphy and Sarah Wallace, among others. Paul Giamatti narrates the episodes as Terry. David Berkowitz (a.k.a. The Son of Sam) and other historical figures also appear via archival footage.

Why it’s worth your time:

For those who may not know the history of the infamous Son of Sam killings, in the summer of 1977, New Yorkers were paralyzed with fear as random shootings mounted across the city. Eventually, David Berkowitz, a mailman from Yonkers, confessed to killing six victims and injuring several others using a .44 caliber pistol. Berkowitz initially claimed to be possessed by a neighbor’s dog, but was ultimately found mentally competent to stand trial and pled guilty to second-degree murder. The NYPD had their “open and shut” case and Berkowitz was sentenced to six life terms.

Enter Maury Terry, a local print reporter at the time who became fascinated with all the aspects of the Son of Sam case. During the course of his investigation, Terry became convinced that there was more to the story. He spent years looking to connect the dots between Berkowitz and satanic worshippers, a crusade now chronicled in this chilling four-part docuseries.

Sons of Sam could be best summed up by TV reporter Sarah Wallace, who employed Terry for a Berkowitz interview stretched over several days in 1996: “People who are obsessed with cases don’t want to see reality. Sometimes the truth smacks you in the face and you have to say, ‘It wasn’t what I thought, and I need to back off.’”

The first episode takes us back to the summer of 1977, and explains the apprehension women felt being outside in the dark, especially brunettes, the main target of Berkowitz. By the end of the first hour he’s been caught and the city breathes a collective sigh of relief. But not Terry, who continued to explore the crimes, from the Hamptons to Charlie Manson’s “family.”

While Terry became confident that Berkowitz didn’t act alone—or even act at all in some of the crimes—his path would lead to a dead end with police, who wouldn’t justify his claims at all. Terry turned to other outlets to share his theories, including writing a book and reaching out to the Queens district attorney for support, but was never able to get the case reopened.

Still, Terry kept himself in the media as often as anyone would care to ask him about the case. By the last episode, it’s clear the subtitle “A Descent into Darkness” isn’t just referring to Berkowitz’s murderous rampage, or the speculative theories that connect the devil to other dark crimes. This story is all about Terry and his never-ending quest for the truth.

As he continued to sink more into the abyss, Terry’s credibility waned, right up until his death in 2015. Through numerous interviews with people who knew him best and those in law enforcement who directly worked on the Son of Sam case, the series expertly captures Terry’s mounting desperation. It puts the viewer directly in Terry’s shoes and makes him the narrator, as voiced by acclaimed actor Paul Giamatti. Whether you end up pondering the possibilities of Terry’s theories or take it all as nonsense, you can’t deny the impact of this intimate portrait of obsession, on both sides of the law.

The takeaway:

There’s something riveting about Maury Terry and his story, even without the connection to the infamous Son of Sam killings. It’s like he’s still trying to solve the decades-old cold case from beyond the grave. But this is a true story, not a fictional TV crime drama, where all the loose ends are nicely tied up at the end. The protagonist has to fight the system to get his word out to the public, and never quite succeeds.

Watch it with:

Anyone you know who sounds like someone from this SNL sketch. In other words, those into law enforcement or—dare I say—serial killers and the occult. But it’s also great viewing for anyone with an affinity for New York City, crime or otherwise.

Worth noting:

Plenty of footage is featured with TV news personalities, including Dave Marash and legendary sports reporter Dick Schaap who—in a rare moment—delves into the murder case. There’s also vintage clips from Geraldo Rivera and Maury Povich.

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