First published back in May of 1987, US author and investigative reporter, Maury Terry’s debut book ‘The Ultimate Evil’ looked in the case of the ‘Son of Sam’ murders; offering such a convincing argument that there is more to the killings than just one lone gunman, that the case on David Berkowitz was reopened by the Queens District Attorney.

DLS Synopsis:

Whilst they were out walking on the night of the 12th October 1974, nineteen-year-old newlywed Arlis Perry had begun to argue with her husband Bruce Perry.  When they arrived outside of the nearby Stanford Memorial Church, Arlis announced that she wished to be left alone, and would see her husband back at their apartment which was around a half mile away.  Equally angered by the argument, Bruce Perry walked off back to their apartment, leaving his young wife to her church.  That was the last time that Bruce Perry saw his wife alive.

It wasn’t until a number of hours later, when Perry had grown increasingly concerned about his wife not returning home, that he finally discovered what had happened to her.  The scene was described as ritualistic and satanic.  Arlis Perry’s corpse was found in the church, her body positioned into a suggestively symbolic manner.  Arlis had been beaten, choked and then stabbed to death with an ice pick.  Her body then violated and defiled with the nearby Christian paraphernalia.  Many of the details of the crime were kept from the public.

A few years later, on Valentine’s Day in 1977, musclebound Frederick Cowan turned up to the Neptune Worldwide Moving Company where he had just been suspended from work.  Cowan then proceeded to work his way through the building, killing any coloured employees that crossed his path whilst on a hunt for his Jewish supervisor, Norman Bing, who had been responsible for his suspension.  Cowan ended up taking six lives before committing suicide whilst surrounded by over three-hundred police officers.

During the time of Cowan’s killing spree, New York City had been under the threat of another killer.  It all started on the 29th July 1976 when eighteen-year-old Donna Lauria and her nineteen-year-old friend, Jody Valenti, were shot at close range by an unknown assailant; killing Lauria and wounding Valenti.  The police identified the weapon used as a .44 Bulldog revolver.

A further five innocent victims would be murdered before their killer was identified and arrested.  On the 10th August 1977, David Berkowitz was arrested and subsequently charged with the murders and a number of attempted murders.  Berkowitz admitted guilt for each crime, claiming his neighbour’s dog commanded him to do so.  A story that the police were only too keen to buy into.

And then in February 1978, alleged cult member John Carr, the son of Berkowitz’s neighbour, is found shot dead in Minot in North Dakota.  The death was labelled a suicide, but some pieces didn’t add up.  Links were beginning to form.  And when John Carr’s brother, Michael Carr, dies in a fatal car accident in October of 1978, an increasing number of suspicions begin to rise to the surface.  But the police are having none of it - even after Berkowitz confesses to being part of a cult.  Being part of something much bigger.  An organisation that runs deep into the underground roots of America.  

And it will take the hard work, determination and strength of conviction, from journalist Maury Terry to pull back the layers and expose something far more disturbing than anyone would have ever dreamed possible.  Terry’s revelations would eventually reignite the investigation into the ‘Son Of Sam’ murders and open up worrying ideas to a far greater evil than just one insane gunman.  An evil that would send shockwaves through the whole of America.  An evil that just might be the reality…

DLS Review:
Here we have one of those true crime books that, following its publication, has had a dramatic effect on the case itself.  Indeed, because of the details and additional ‘evidence’ that Maury Terry has uncovered through his own determined research in the Son of Sam killings, the Queens District Attorney, John J Santucci, reopened the case to investigate the further leads that Terry has suggested upon.

Sounds pretty darn interesting right?  In a similar vein to Robert Graysmith’s book ‘Zodiac’ (1986), or indeed aspects of Ann Rule’s ‘The Stranger Beside Me’ (1980); the publication of the book has had its own bearing on the course of the investigation.   It bridges the gap between writing about the crime and its perpetrator(s) and actually becomes a part of the whole picture.  Through it, the reader has a unique perspective of the case.  And because of this alone, it makes the book absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in the case.

One of the first points that needs to be mentioned about Terry’s book is that it’s not a straight retelling of the crimes.  There is an aspect of this, and Terry goes so far as to provide particularly detailed descriptions about the events of the ‘Son Of Sam’ shootings and the resulting media / investigation / backlash.  Furthermore, Terry goes on to provide similar examinations of a number of other murders spanning from 1969 to 1984.  However, from here Terry takes on his own unique angle to the whole story.  Through an elaborate series of assumptions and loosely-formed links, Terry offers up a much more terrifying possibility to what took place.  Over the course of the book’s 640 pages, Terry examines the possibility that a highly-organised and powerful cult known as the ‘Process Church of the Final Judgment’ is behind the crimes – linking them all in a worrying ‘Satanic Panic’ fashion.

And to be fair, some of the details that Terry presents are damn convincing.  Well, they had to be in order for John J Santucci to feel compelled to reopen the case; despite having a man who had confessed to all the murders firmly locked away already.  And it’s within these believable details that tie together a number of the aspects of the different crimes that Terry begins to scare the hell out of the reader.  There’s no denying the fact that, should even a tenth of what Terry’s thinking be true, then what we have is one hell of a scary situation.

Sadly, Maury Terry clearly doesn’t know when he’s pushing things just that little too far.  Yes, as mentioned, there are aspects that have that strong element of believability about them.  You can easily feel yourself being convinced by what Terry’s saying.  And with that, the first inklings of a larger scale conspiracy begin to creep into your mind.  But as soon as you begin to feel like Terry might actually be on to something, our overly ambitious investigator ruins it all by embarking on a long line of wildly over-the-top assumptions.

If you were to weigh-up how much of the book is purely speculative in nature, you’d probably be looking at around 7/8ths of the book in favour of Terry’s imaginative ponderings.  Indeed, wherever even a hint of a link can be made to support his elaborate theory, Terry seems determined to seek it out, no matter how loosely fabricated it may be.  Fancy an example?  Of course you do!  Here’s how Terry comes to the conclusion that he has discover a possible hidden meaning within a letter sent by Berkowitz to a journalist:

(1) The letter contains the phrase “keep ‘em digging”.
(2) ‘em’ backwards is ‘me’
(3) ‘keep’ backwards is ‘peek’
(4) ‘peek’ could be translated as ‘look for’
(5) ‘digging’ in the UK can mean ‘home’ (often shortened to ‘digs’)
(6) So putting it together it becomes ‘look for me home’
(7) Therefore it contains a description of how to get to Berkowitz’s home address.

Clearly, if you put enough time, effort and energy into uncovering possible clues, then a thousand can be fabricated almost out of thin air.  What’s more, some of the leaps of faith that Terry makes are so utterly outrageous that it’s hard not to just give up on the book then and there.  And from each completely unfounded assumption, Terry builds upon further branches of his wildly imaginative theory – later on announcing that the initial assumptions have somehow gained weight and are now solid facts.

One of the main principles that Terry has stuck with in his investigation into the Son of Sam killings is that Berkowitz didn’t act alone in the murders.  Indeed, Terry is absolutely convinced that Berkowitz was just a cog within a much larger machine.  A man who became a suitable scapegoat when the police got too close.  And it has to be said that the evidence for there being at least one other individual involved (to some degree at least) is pretty darn convincing.   But again, it’s what Terry then allows to build up out of this initial idea, such as with the involvement of Willie Metzner (aka ‘Manson II’), where the book seems to flirt just that little too much with pure guess work.

So, in the end what do you have from the book?  Well, its unique involvement with the Son of Sam case is undeniable.  And for that alone it’s an important read for anyone with any interest in the case.  And within its pages Terry offers up an impressive amount of detail about the crimes.  Furthermore it has to be said that the book remains reasonably engaging, with plenty of energy behind subsequent links and possible ‘new lines of enquiry’.  However, relying far too heavily on assumption, guess work, and over analysing evidence for clues, is ultimately the book’s downfall.  From hard fact to the realms of elaborately realised fantasy – Maury Terry has unfortunately allowed his research and ideas on the case to germinate and then mutate into something far more distressing – and something that’s undoubtedly devoid of much in the way of actual truth.

Nevertheless, the book remains one heck of a fascinating read.  And as long as you don’t take everything that Terry details as absolute gospel, then ‘The Ultimate Evil’ can prove to be quite an insightful and informative read.

The book runs for a total of 640 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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