Maury Terry: The Untold Truth Of The Journalist Obsessed With The Son Of Sam Case

The life work of the late journalist Maury Terry is getting a resurgence of attention since the release of the Netflix documentary "The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness." The four-part series tells the story of Terry's decades-long obsession with the crimes committed by David Berkowitz in mid-'70s New York. When Berkowitz, who in the midst of his crime spree wrote letters to a local newspaper and signed them "Son of Sam," was finally caught, he admitted to killing six people and wounding seven more, usually by shooting them with a .44 caliber shotgun. 

According to authorities, this closed the case, but Terry was convinced that Berkowitz had not acted alone and was actually part of a satanic cult who had carried out the murders and assaults as a group. Terry spent the rest of his life attempting to prove this theory, per Slate, making numerous television appearances, writing countless articles, and even publishing an enormous tome in 1987 detailing his research into the case, "The Ultimate Evil: An Investigation of America's Most Dangerous Satanic Cult." What didn't "The Sons of Sam" reveal about the life and work of Maury Terry?

Was the Son of Sam working with a satanic cult?

Per Slate, Maury Terry believed that David Berkowitz was part of a satanic cult based in Yonkers, New York, and that fellow members of the cult had assisted Berkowitz with the Son of Sam shootings. He specifically believed that two brothers, John and Michael Carr, were secretly referenced in the letters Berkowitz sent to journalist Jimmy Breslin of the New York Daily News during his murder spree — the fact that the brothers both died in the late '70s just added proof to his theory, as far as Terry was concerned. 

He also got the chance to speak with Berkowitz in 1997. As reported by NBC News, Berkowitz said Terry was right and that the satanic group had been "working with Satan to try to bring in a lot of chaos." When Terry asked, "are you telling me that one of those attempts at bringing on chaos was the Son of Sam murders?" Berkowitz answered affirmatively. Terry also drew connections between the Son of Sam murders and the Manson family murders, asserting that both groups were involved with a cult called the Process Church of the Final Judgment, which, per LA Weekly, was never proved to have any connection to ritual murders.

The Son of Sam case was reopened in 1996

As reported by Screen Rant, "The Sons of Sam" explores Maury Terry's status as a public figure in the 1980s and '90s but doesn't give much attention to his life after the aforementioned sit down interview with David Berkowitz. He continued fighting for authorities to reopen the case, and thanks in part to his extensive writings on the topic, the Yonkers police did reopen the case in 1996. However, no new charges were filed and the lack of evidence led to the suspension of the case once again a year later, although it does remain open to this day. 

"The Ultimate Evil" was republished in the 1990s with a new epilogue by Terry discussing the reopening of the case. Terry went on to work in television production and continued making appearances on shows such as "Biography" and "Unsolved Mysteries" discussing his ongoing work to prove that Berkowitz hadn't acted alone. 

Carlos Denaro believes an 'occult priestess' shot him

Maury Terry remained devoted for the rest of his life to the theory that David Berkowitz hadn't worked alone. He befriended Carlos Denaro (shown above), one of the Son of Sam shooting victims who lived through his attack. Denaro believes that Berkowitz is not the one who shot him, per Screen Rant. In a 2021 interview with the New York Post, Denaro shared that Terry had been working on another update to "The Ultimate Evil." "I'm going to name names and if they sue me, by the time they get around to it, I'll be dead," Terry told him in 2010. 

The new edition never came to be due to Terry's poor health and eventual death in 2015. In 2021, Denaro wrote his own book, "'The Son of Sam' and Me: The Truth About Why I Wasn't Shot by David Berkowitz," and alleges that the person who shot him was an "occult priestess." He reportedly wrote several letters to Berkowitz, who continues serving out his six consecutive life sentences at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility in upstate New York, per Distractify. Berkowitz wrote back to Denaro but didn't share any information about possible other shooters. In a 2013 interview with CBS News, Berkowitz told the interviewer that while he had been obsessed with the occult and did worship Satan prior to the shootings, he was not part of a satanic cult and had acted entirely alone. He has since become a born-again Christian and even has his own religious website, Arise and Shine.

Maury Terry and the satanic panic movement

Part of the reason Maury Terry's book received so much attention when it was released in 1987 was because it came into the world riding the coattails of the massive "satanic panic" of the 1980s. As discussed in March 2021 in The New York Times, conspiracy theories concerning ritual child abuse performed by satanic cults spread like wildfire throughout the United States. Per former FBI agent Ken Lanning, "The evidence wasn't there, but the allegations of satanic ritual abuse never really went away. When people get emotionally involved in an issue, common sense and reason go out the window. People believe what they want and need to believe." Other targets included the lyrics of various heavy metal songs and even the logo for the company Procter & Gamble, which was rumored to be a symbol of the devil. 

This sort of environment made Terry an ideal guest on television shows looking to cash in on the hot topic of crimes supposedly committed in the name of Satan. The Publishers Weekly review of "The Ultimate Evil" notes that Terry called the extent of satanic worship in the United States a "truth almost too frightening to contemplate" and reveals that the author believed a network of "well-financed covens" continued committing the sorts of crimes for which David Berkowitz had been jailed. As time went on and there was less attention paid to the supposed infiltration of satanism into American culture, presumably there was less interest in Terry's devil-centric theories. 

Terry's investigation 'ultimately killed him'

"The Sons of Sam" documentary came to be because of filmmaker Josh Zeman (shown above), who became friends with Maury Terry as Terry searched for a film director who would share his theories and collaborate with him, according to Screen Rant. When Terry died on December 10, 2015, per Dignity Memorial, Zeman inherited Terry's enormous archive of case files and used them to make "The Sons of Sam." In an interview with Salon, Zeman shared that he didn't believe Terry's theories at first, saying "Not in the least. I thought it was all satanic panic." However, the more he dug into Terry's findings and read his writings, the more plausible the theories became. "And honestly, it scared the s**t out of me," said Zeman. 

Zeman calls Terry's ultimate collaboration with the satanic panic movement, ironically, "a deal with the devil." "Maury found validation in the satanic panic movement because, suddenly, here were a bunch of people who were willing to listen to what he had to say. He made a deal with the devil and sold his soul to the tabloid press in exchange for coverage. But tragically, I think that ended up undermining the veracity of his original investigation," he added. In an interview with Watch or Pass, available on YouTube, Zeman said of Terry, "Here's a guy who spent 40 years going down the rabbit hole. At some point it screwed up his relationships, screwed up his work. In some ways, it ultimately killed him."