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Cults have a long history of being linked to notorious crimes and the "Son of Sam" case is no exception.
Netflix’s new docuseries “The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness” revisits the infamous New York City shooting spree, exploring theories that David Berkowitz wasn’t the only killer to terrorize the city during 1976 and 1977.
The series chronicles journalist Maury Terry's obsession to prove that Berkowitz not only worked in concert with other shooters in the attacks that left six people dead and several others wounded, but also that a nationwide Satanic cult was pulling the strings.
For Terry, that cult was known as The Process.
“To some, they were a doomsday cult responsible for a series of ritualistic murders that spanned the country,” Joshua Zeman, director of the new docuseries, stated in a foreword of Terry’s book “The Ultimate Evil,” which was recently republished. “To others, they were nothing more than an oft-maligned church whose bizarre theatrics led to their scapegoating.”
He further wrote that as “hard as it is to fully accept Terry's allegations, it’s just as difficult to completely dismiss them.”
The Process, whose official name was The Process Church of the Final Judgment, was formed in the United Kingdom in 1966 by Mary Ann MacLean and Robert de Grimston (also known as Robert Moor), who were at one time adherents of the Church of Scientology. They met at a Scientology chapter meeting in London in the early 1960s before deciding to leave the organization and form their own group. De Grimston was also once a student of the notorious English occultist Aleister Crowley.
The couple married and set up a new church called Compulsions Analysis in 1962, which borrowed much of Church of Scientology’s teachings. Their programs revolved around psychological and spiritual development, LA Weekly reported in 2009.
By 1966, Compulsions Analysis morphed into the Process Church. The group, which was made up of around 30 members, leased some land in Mexico City, where Terry believes they incorporated Satan into their worship; according to the docuseries, they became more apocalyptic in nature after witnessing the awesome power of a hurricane while in the country. Soon after, most members returned to London where they opened a library and an all-night coffee shop, which they dubbed Satan's Cavern. They self-published their own magazine, named “The Process," and members often dressed in black capes, with large silver crosses and kept German Shepherds as companions.
By 1967, DeGrimston published a book called “As It Is,” which Terry deciphered as a sinister message for its followers: He believed that he was instructing followers to kill in the name of Satan. Terry believes that the group gained a foothold in the United States, particularly in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, the de facto hippie capital of the country, by late 1967. They also set up centers in Los Angeles and New Orleans.
In the 1971 book, “The Family,” author Ed Sanders claimed there were links between Charles Manson and the Process Church. He wrote that Manson had become involved with a chapter of the group in 1968. Manson contributed some writing to an issue of “The Process” magazine on death, according to the docuseries, which featured old interview footage of Manson talking about The Process and how it evolved from Scientology.
The Process strongly denied having anything to do with the Manson murders, however, and even sued Sanders' publisher for defamation over a chapter in his book which linked them with the homicides, according to "Love, Sex, Fear, Death: The Inside Story of The Process Church of the Final Judgment," a 2009 book authored by former Process member Timothy Wyllie. They won a settlement with Sanders' American publisher but lost a lawsuit against his British publisher. As a result of the American settlement, the chapter linking the group with the Manson killings was removed from subsequent editions of the book.
Wyllie wrote that when the book associated them with the killings, "we were baffled and appalled. How could anyone have thought we would have anything to do with Manson, or the murders? We had never met the man, nor to our knowledge did he ever visit our Coffee House in the San Francisco Chapter even though, as is frequently trotted out in the conspiracy theory books, he lived several blocks away on Cole Street, and reputedly in the same time frame as we were there."
By 1974, The Process broke up. While some members continued its teachings in small splinter groups, the religion mostly folded by 1979.
Terry, however, became fascinated with The Process and was dead set on proving it played a role in the Son of Sam killings. While The Process had folded by the time of the first Son of Sam murders in New York City, Terry believed that the teachings of the group continued to influence people. Terry wrote that a supposed cult, called The Children, formed in Yonkers, just north of New York City in the mid-1970s, and that Berkowitz became involved with them.
Berkowitz himself claimed several times that he was part of a cult. He told Terry in interviews that he met up with the group in Yonkers’ Untermyer Park, where they sacrificed animals, NBC News reported in 2004. Investigators indeed found evidence of mutilated German Shepherds in the park. Terry associated the dead dogs with The Process, due to their affiliation with the breed. He also claimed the “Son of Sam” letters Berkowitz sent to the press and law enforcement before his 1977 arrest contained occult references. Among them is the "Son of Sam" symbol, which Terry believed is modeled after a 19th-century occult talisman drawn by Eliphas Levi, an occult author.
Terry believed John and Michael Carr, the sons of Sam Carr, whose dog Berkowitz initially said had ordered him to kill, were also involved in The Children and played a role in the "Son of Sam" killings. They both died soon after Berkowitz's arrest — John was found fatally shot in Minot, North Dakota in 1978 and Michael was killed in a single car crash along New York City's West Side Highway in 1979. Terry considered both of their deaths were suspicious.
Of course, it's important to note that Terry's cult theories about the case were spotlighted in the 1980s in the midst of a "Satanic Panic" sweeping through America — a time when sprawling Satanic conspiracies were blamed for numerous crimes, from murders to child sex rings, that were later debunked. Terry regularly spurted his speculations on daytime talk shows and in tabloids. "Sons of Sam" director Joshua Zeman told Oxygen.com that doing so may have hurt his credibility.
"Maury in some ways made a deal with the devil, in terms of telling his story to the tabloid press," he said. "So that becomes the tragedy of Maury Terry’s story."
While he believes that many of Terry's ideas on the case were well-researched and warrant more scrutiny, particularly in regards to the possibility of there being more than one "Son of Sam" killer, he seems less certain about any link between Berkowitz and an organized, national cult.
"I think when it comes down to it, bad people somehow find each other in the darkness," he said, adding that he enjoys debunking hysterias. "They gravitate towards each other. I think they do so in random ways and less so in very organized ways so I’ve never really been one to believe in the age-old battle of good versus evil, except in our own minds."
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