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The Devil in David Berkowitz


David began attending meetings in the woods. “Before long he was cutting prints in his finger and pledging to Lucifer,” says Terry. Or to Samhain, the Druid devil, and a source of the name Son of Sam. The group got into small-time arson and animal sacrifices, and then it escalated. Terry says the cult was behind the Son of Sam killings. There’s long been circumstantial evidence that David didn’t act alone. Six police sketches based on eyewitness accounts look dramatically dissimilar (and one closely resembles Michael Carr’s brother, John). The most compelling corroboration, though, comes, as usual, from David. In 1993, Terry interviewed him in prison for Inside Edition. On camera, a nodding, penitent David explains, “The killings were another sacrifice to our gods, bunch of scumbags that they were.” Later, he explained, “We made a pact, maybe with the devil, but also with each other … We were going to go all the way with this thing. We’re soldiers of Satan now. I was just too far in, too loyal, too much playing the role of the soldier and trying to please people.” The killings, he told Terry, were a group effort. “I did not pull the trigger on every single one of them,” David said. He didn’t pull the trigger on Stacy, he told Terry. He killed three people, though he was always at the scene. Others dispute the conspiracy theory. Abrahamsen, for one, considered it hogwash. And Neysa, whatever forgiveness she may have once expressed, blames David alone. She has a letter from him that settles the matter for her. “I hope that one day you will forgive me for taking your daughter’s life,” he wrote.

And yet, enough suspicious coincidence swirls around the case to give pause. Soon after David’s arrest, John and Michael Carr both died mysterious deaths, one an unsolved murder, the other possibly a suicide. Even the Queens district attorney at the time believed David didn’t act alone. In talking with me, David doesn’t deny his involvement with the Carr brothers. Officially, a police investigation is still open, says Terry.

“I was expecting to go to hell,” David said later about his spree. That didn’t put him off. “I’ll be with my friends,” he thought. But then, after his arrest, he learned that their friendship only went so far. “They completely abandoned me,” he said.

In the prison visiting room, David, MaryAnn, and I huddle over the Bible. David and his Christian friends, I know by now, are no ordinary churchgoers. They’re right-thinking, intolerant prayer warriors for whom churches are too tame; MaryAnn left hers a decade ago. “I’m not some dorky bake-sale Christian,” she let me know. “I don’t quote the Scripture, I live it.” For them, the world described in the Bible is vibrant and alive, as real as the world they live in. “You’re like the early disciples,” I once said to MaryAnn, which pleased her.

David locates a passage. A chubby finger pokes at each word as he reads it. It’s a tale of demon possession from Mark.

MaryAnn prods him, “Go further.”

“When I read this a long time ago, the Lord said to me, ‘This is you,’ and I saw that this could be the story of my life,” he says.

For David, it seems the Bible is the ultimate explanatory adventure, a last attempt to name the demon. David doesn’t take these verses from Mark as a parable of how people get caught in a web of sin. For David, the Bible is a detailed, precise, almost journalistic account of the struggle between fierce combatants, God and the Devil.

Reading the Bible, David finally discovers why he killed those poor people.

“There is no doubt in my mind that a demon has been living in me since birth,” he says. “As a child, I was fascinated with suicide. I thought about throwing myself in front of cars. I was out of control.”

As a child, David pulled apart and burned his toy soldiers, sometimes throwing them out the window at people in the street below. “I was obsessed with Rosemary’s Baby,” he says. “I felt like it was speaking directly to me. I stayed in my closet. I ‘ran from the light into darkness,’ as the Bible says.”

Everything now makes sense. His longings, his isolation, and his serial disappointments with girls were real. They were also, he once described, “a spell to turn people away from me and create a situation of isolation, loneliness, and personal frustration, as part of [the Devil’s] master plan.” The speaking dog was real, too, David tells me. He believed that dogs really did communicate with him, though now he knows it was another satanic trick.


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