Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder Cop: A Profile of Vernon J. Geberth


New York had come under siege in 1976 and 1977 from the ".44-caliber killer," who randomly shot couples in parked cars.  Attacking thirteen people in just over a year, he killed six.  He also wrote letters to the newspapers, calling himself the "Son of Sam" and creating an atmosphere of terror throughout the city, because it seemed that he could strike at any time after dark, anywhere in the city, and melt away.  Two women were shot just sitting on their porches. 

David Berkowitz
David Berkowitz

After David Berkowitz, 24, was arrested for the crimes, thanks to a parking ticket in the vicinity of the shootings that led police to him in Yonkers, he'd confessed but then raised insanity issues by claiming that a neighbor's dog had commanded him to kill.  When he'd tried to sell his story, New York blocked him with the Son of Sam law that prohibited offenders from making money from their crimes.  He'd gone to prison, sentenced to six consecutive life terms, and that seemed to be the end of the case.  But it wasn't.

One of the "Son of Sam" letters contained cryptic references to "other individuals" who had been involved with Berkowitz in the crimes.  They were supposedly part of a satanic group called the Process Church of the Final Judgment that gathered near his home.  Two of the members were Michael and John Carr, a.k.a., "the Joker" and "the Duke of Death."  Their father, Sam Carr, was the owner of the dog who supposedly gave Berkowitz the orders.  No one else was ever arrested, but a reporter, Maury Terry, decided to investigate.  The end result was his book, Ultimate Evil.  As he came up with evidence of an alleged conspiracy that connected not just Berkowitz's crimes to this group but also those of the Charles Manson cult in 1969 in Los Angeles, the media picked up on it, forcing the police to revisit the case. 

Ultimate Evil by Maury Terry
Ultimate Evil by Maury Terry

Terry claimed that Berkowitz had acted as part of a consortium of people in a satanic conspiracy.  He conducted an interview with Berkowitz, who claimed to have only shot two of the victims.  That meant that someone else was out there who had committed murder and gotten away with it.  Terry also indicated that both Carr brothers had died violently within two years of Berkowitz's arrest.  One of them had "666" painted on his hand and the other perished in a drunk-driving accident, though he was not known to drink.  Terry claimed that even the NYPD had conceded that there was more than one gunman in these crimes. 

Apparently, according to Terry, a man who was a Nazi sympathizer and demonologist had escaped from England after World War II and had set up shop on North Broadway in Yonkers, near the neighborhood to which Berkowitz eventually moved.  He'd formed a group, many members of which had died in violent incidents.

"It was suggested that Berkowitz had been working with a team of some kind of cultists," Geberth says, "and of course the cases in the Bronx were mentioned."  Geberth's chief called on him to reopen the Bronx cases, knowing he would be thorough and finally put this question to rest.  "I can tell you for the record there were no other people involved. It was Berkowitz and Berkowitz alone that committed the homicides in the Bronx. But we went back and examined everything, and we determined there was only person could have done it. We reinterviewed the witnesses and we looked at the evidence and there was just no way anybody else did it. To me, it was just a hokey book."

But his own book eventually got attention from an unexpected incident that brought him national attention.  He was retired by this point but still revising Practical Homicide Investigation.  He soon saw it on television.

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