Netflix's True-Crime Docuseries 'Sons of Sam' Dives Into the Case's Occult Theory

As the four-episode series shows, writer Maury Terry got a lot of attention at the time.


The Netflix true-crime docuseries industrial complex shows no signs of slowing down. After shows like Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel, and Murder Among the Mormons climbed up the streamer’s top 10 list earlier this year, the new Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness, which chronicles one reporter’s obsession with the grisly murders committed in ’70s New York, similarly made waves with viewers eager to comb through the latest mix of interviews, archival footage, and theories. This time, there’s a little Paul Giamatti thrown in, too. 

The Billions star provides the voice of investigative journalist Maury Terry, who ends up being the main focus of Sons of Sam. While the first episode of the four-part series examines the hunt for David Berkowitz, the killer who plead guilty to eight different shootings committed in the summer of 1976, the rest of the show tracks Terry, who died in 2015, as he attempts to uncover a conspiracy that connects Berkowitz to other killings, Charles Manson, and a Satanic cult. As the title indicates, a good deal of Terry’s reporting centers around the idea that Berkowitz did not act alone.

For some, this might be brand new information. But the show, like many true-crime documentaries and podcasts in recent years, is often re-contextualizing ideas, theories, and explanations that have been widely discussed in the media prior to its debut. We sifted through some of the material out there if you’re looking to dig deeper into the unsettling territory Sons of Sam charts.

What is Maury Terry’s theory about the Son of Sam killings?

The core of Terry’s argumentand perhaps the most convincing aspect of his overarching theoryis that the NYPD was eager to close the case when they arrested Berkowitz on August 10, 1977. The first episode evokes the fearful atmosphere of the city and the tabloid tone of the media coverage, which really kicked up when the New York Daily News published a letter to columnist Jimmy Breslin signed by the “Son of Sam.” When the police found Berkowitz and he confessed, there were a lot of powerful people and institutions that wanted to simply move on. 

Maury Terry, a journalist who grew up in Yonkers, did not move on. Instead, he continued to investigate the shootings, specifically the possible involvement of two of Berkowitz’s neighbors (John and Michael Carr, who both died under mysterious circumstances) and Berkowitz’s connection to the occult. Terry was especially interested in The Process Church of the Final Judgement, a group that was founded in the UK in the late ’60s. Terry eventually met with Berkowitz and confirmed many of his ideas during in-person interviews that aired on TV. 

Years later, Sons of Sam director Joshua Zeman read Terry’s book, Ultimate Evil, and met with him to discuss possibly adapting it into a narrative series. “He ended up being this really fascinating character,” Zeman recently told Esquire in an interview. “He was both this kind of true crime mentor, but also unreliable narrator wrapped up in one. And again, I didn’t quite believe him or the whole story, but I still found this story very fascinating.” When Terry died, he left Zeman all his research materials, which is what Sons of Sam primarily draws upon.


Can you still buy Ultimate Evil by Maury Terry?

Yes. Terry’s book Ultimate Evil: An Investigation into America’s Most Dangerous Satanic Cult was published in 1987 at the height of the Satanic Panic, when there was an enormous amount of media coverage around possible Satanic practices, rituals, and abuse. It’s easy to see the original Stephen King-like cover of Terry’s book, which flashes on the screen during the docuseries, blending in with similar bestsellers. Sons of Sam notes that Terry’s daytime TV appearances put him in contact with some elements of this mass hysteria, but it doesn’t really examine the phenomenon in much detail. You can now purchase an updated version of Terry’s book with a new subtitle and an introduction from Zeman, along with one of those little labels on the cover encouraging you to check out the Netflix series. 

Can you find Maury Terry’s interviews with David Berkowitz on YouTube?

Yes. Many of Terry’s interviews with Berkowitz, which make up some of the most tense moments in the documentary, can be viewed on YouTube. One of the stranger parts of Sons of Sam is spotting media figures like Bill O’Reilly and Geraldo Rivera in their early days, framing up these discussions of Satanic rituals and occult killings. Berkowitz is now 67 years old and still in prison. Back in 2017, he sat for an interview with CBS News.  


What does the ending of Sons of Sam reveal about Terry’s theories?

In its final moments, Sons of Sam offers up some startling footage that implicitly seeks to vindicate Maury Terry. The viewer learns that in 2018 Stephen Blake Crawford, a security guard at Stanford, was linked through DNA evidence to the 1974 murder of receptionist Arlis Perry, whose body was discovered at the Stanford Memorial Church. (When the police arrived at Crawford’s front door, he committed suicide before he could be taken into custody.) As part of his reporting, Terry had argued that the security guard was involved but he could never find enough evidence to prove the theory. Ultimately, the DNA evidence showed he was on the right track and, at least with the Perry case, his instincts were correct. 

Despite this last bit of information, Sons of Sam still ends on a slightly muddled note. In trying to unpack the ambiguity of the material and end the series in a satisfying manner, Zeman stumbles. Was Terry a dogged reporter who was on the verge of cracking the case wide open or an obsessive conspiracy theorist who could bend every piece of evidence to fit his narrative? “Whether he could prove it or no, it was still a damn good story,” one of his journalist friends observes towards the end. Depending on your tolerance for Netflix’s often overlong, undercooked true-crime shows, you might agree or disagree.

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Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He’s on Twitter @danielvjackson.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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