By Grace Rodriguez
Investigative reporter Maury Terry pushes the limits in the new Netflix docu-series “Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness” which dissects the infamous investigation of David Berkowitz.
True-crime fans will be pleasantly surprised by this release and will appreciate the in-depth discussion of the things missed by the New York Police Department during the initial investigation.
Terry famously left all of his files and evidence on the ‘Son of Sam’ to the director of the show, Joshua Zeman.
Zeman created the four-episode docu-series to honor and share Terry’s life’s work. He does not shy away from diving deep. He shares Terry’s theory of a national network of cults and all while opening himself up to criticism.
“Season of the Witch” by Joan Jett is the theme song of the series and rightfully so, with the speculation that both David Berkowitz and John Carr were involved in a cult and witchcraft.
The first episode called “Hello from the Gutters” introduces the crimes. It does a great job at keeping a mysterious element at bay.
It also encompasses what New Yorkers were feeling at the time of the murders. “Terror sold.” Superstition ran rampant at the time. Full moons were feared, women changed their hair to avoid being targeted and pepper spray and weapons sold out.
By the end of the episode, the audience is introduced to David Berkowitz, a suspect in the ‘Son of Sam’ case.
A couple of the infamous letters that taunted investigators are shown in the series and analyzed. One of the receivers of a letter, Jimmy Breslin, a local reporter who was heavily criticized at the time for publishing the letter in the newspaper before handing it over to police, is brought up. This was allusory to the savage reporting that was taking place at the time in New York.
The documentary highlights how difficult it was for Terry to corroborate the stories that kept coming to him.
As reporter after reporter pushes the line, the headline ‘Sam Sleeps’ proves to be detrimental to Terry’s investigation and lands Berkowitz farther behind bars. Terry, left with pressing questions, remains frustrated at the fact that this would make scoring an interview with Berkowitz virtually impossible.
The docu-series brings up inconsistencies in the case such as the fact that none of the police sketches look like David Burkowitz.
For those unfamiliar with the case, it leaves them clueless as to what will happen next. At one point it even poses the question “Is there a link between the ‘Manson’ killings and the ‘Son of Sam’ killings?”
Episode two called “Catch .44”— a reference to the weapon the serial killer used in each of the killings— explores the possibility of David Berkowitz being insane after the court hears alarming stories from ‘the ‘Son of Sam.”
Berkowitz’s motives are put into question in the courtroom and instead of getting answers, investigators are left more perplexed but a guilty verdict is enough for the NYPD to close the case. The episode ends and the quote from Berkowitz remains on viewers’ minds, “There are other ‘sons’ out there.”
Berkowitz’s words don’t sit right with Terry and viewers are catapulted into the network that he begins to unravel beginning with John ‘Wheaties’ Carr— the son of Sam Carr was his first lead.
Episode three called “The Ultimate Evil” delves into the rabbit-hole of cults. At first glance, it can be off-putting and easily dismissed as a conspiracy beginning to unravel.
But the rundown of cults such as: Scientology, The Process and The Manson Family were used to draw parallels in the structure and the motivations of Berkowitz’s possible involvement in a cult of his own. This is fascinating to watch but viewers are often left doubting what Terry has to say because of how his obsession with the case progresses.
After much speculation and a ton of investigative work, Terry receives a chilling letter from a surprising source that gives him a new lead. This excites viewers and makes them hang on a little bit longer.
The docu-series is self aware— the fourth and final episode is called “The Rabbit-Hole.” Here, Terry scores an interview with Berkowitz and he is surprised to meet a well-mannered gentleman who has converted to Christianity. Berkowitz opens up about his past and unveils a few secrets— this does not satisfy everyone.
The entire process is interesting to watch. It will leave viewers frustrated at times, but satisfied and shocked by the end. However, nothing is ever truly resolved. This gives the focus-series a bit more merit. While it is biased in favor of Terry, it does lay everything out on the table and allows viewers to decide what to believe.
The docu-series is directed by Joshua Zeman but the story is told from the first-person perspective of Terry. It is rated TV-MA there is blood, nudity, suicide, sexual violence, language, smoking and disturbing images.
Terry walks a fine line, he disregards his reputation and obsesses over the case in hopes to find the truth at any cost. Aspiring journalists can learn a lot from the series and Terry’s actions— from the importance of a reputation, to the importance of corroboration.