Since David Berkowitz's arrest in 1977, there's been speculation he didn't act alone in the "Son of Sam" killings. A new docuseries explores those theories.
David Berkowitz infamously dubbed himself the “Son of Sam,” telling investigators at one point that he carried out his series of random shootings throughout New York City, which left six dead and terrorized the city in the 1970s, because his neighbor’s dog had ordered him to.
That neighbor was Sam Carr, who lived just down the street from Berkowitz’s apartment in Yonkers, NY — and who's widely believed to be the inspiration for the "Sam" in Berkowitz's murderous moniker. But questions remain about whether Berkowitz truly acted alone in the deadly spree and those are explored in the new Netflix docuseries “The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness,” available now on the streaming platform.
One theory put forth by journalist Maury Terry is that Berkowitz operated in concert with a group tied to a nationwide Satanic cult — and that two of his compatriots in the New York City murders were none other than brothers John and Michael Carr, two of Sam Carr's real-life sons.
Terry spent decades pursuing this theory and the docuseries chronicles his obsession as much as it does the case itself.
“Officially the case was closed, the hunt was over, the police had their man, to the world David Berkowitz was the Son of Sam,” Terry wrote in a haunting narrative that serves as the backdrop of the docuseries. “But what if there was more to the story? What if John Wheat Carr, the real-life son of Sam was involved? And what if this nightmare was just beginning.”
So just who are the real-life "Sons of Sam?"
"Son of Sam" Is Born
Residents of New York City were in a terrified frenzy after a seemingly random string of shootings erupted across the city beginning in 1976, often targeting young couples.
But it wasn’t until April of 1977 that the killer chose to introduce himself by leaving a letter addressed to NYPD Capt. Joseph Borrelli at the Bronx crime scene where his latest victims, Valentina Suriani and Alexander Esau, were killed.
“I am deeply hurt by your calling me a wemon (sic) hater,” the note begins. “I am not. But I am a monster. I am the ‘Son of Sam.’”
It goes on to describe “Sam,” saying he “gets drunk,” “gets mean” and “beats his family”
“Sam loves to drink blood,” the letter read. “’Go out and kill,’ commands father Sam.”
The killer tells Borelli that he “don’t want to kill anymore” but he must to “honour thy father.”
It's ominously signed, “Yours in murder Mr. Monster.”
While police now had a name for the killer, his identity remained a mystery. Eye witnesses from the crime scenes described the shooter at each scene as having vastly different physical attributes, leaving police with a string of conflicting sketches but no real suspect.
Berkowitz Is Arrested
The killings continued until July 31, 1977, when Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante were shot in their car in Brooklyn and an eyewitness would provide the break investigators needed to crack the case, according to NBC News.
Brooklyn resident Cecelia Davis had been out walking her dog the night of the shooting and spotted a man removing a parking ticket from the windshield. Police were able to trace the parking ticket to a car owned by Berkowitz, who was living in Yonkers and working as a postal worker.
James Justus, a now retired detective with the NYPD, reached out to the Yonkers Police and, in a strange twist, he spoke with a dispatcher named Wheat Carr, Sam Carr’s daughter.
“As soon as I mentioned the name David Berkowitz, she said ‘Let me tell you about him. I know him, he lives right behind me.’ She also informed me that Berkowitz had shot their black Labrador and that it was her father Sam’s dog,” Justus recalled in the docuseries. “I went back to my inspector and he said ‘Well, how did it go?’ and I said, ‘I think we got him. I really think we got him.’”
Brooklyn detectives staked out the car and discovered a letter written about Son of Sam inside and .44 revolver on the front seat. When Berkowitz emerged from his apartment building, they confronted him and asked if his name was David Berkowitz.
“His answer was ‘No, I am the Son of Sam and you’ve got me,’” Justus said.
Innocent Victimes Of Harassment?
Berkowitz told investigators he carried out the killing spree at the direction of Carr’s dog, Harvey, who he said embodied the spirit of a being thousands of years old—a story which he later said was just made up.
Not long after his arrest, in September of 1977, the Carr family spoke to The New York Times about the alleged harassment they'd suffered from Berkowitz months before his capture.
“A lot of people seem to believe that we were connected with the killings—really connected,” Wheat Carr said. “People don't seem to know that for months before he was arrested, he had harassed us with letters and anonymous phone calls and we believe he was the one who threw a Molotov cocktail at our house last Oct. 4. We had been nervous and frightened for months before and in the aftermath were still on edge and emotionally upset.”
The harassment allegedly continued after Berkowitz was arrested; the 24-year-old sent Sam Carr a letter from New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, where he was being held.
In the letter, Berkowitz referred to Sam as “Sam, my Lord” and “Papa God,” ranted about the family’s Labrador, and threatened to expose Sam as the force behind the killings. The Carr family turned the letter over to police.
They said in the months that followed the arrest they were harassed by others who believed the family might be connected to the killings, with Michael Carr, described as a freelance advertising stylist, telling the newspaper that people “just couldn’t leave it alone.”
“I went into a bar that I frequent shortly after the arrest,” Michael Carr told the newspaper, “and they just couldn’t resist introducing me as the ‘real Son of Sam.’ It was a bad joke.”
Sam Carr himself told The New York Times that he had been approached about numerous “unsavory offers” to profit from the killings that the family considered “in bad taste” and said they just wanted to avoid the limelight thrust upon them.
Did The Letters Leave Clues About The Carr Brothers?
But other accounts suggested the Carrs’ relationship to Berkowitz might have gone much deeper and lead to a dark world of Satanism and violence.
Terry believed clues hidden in the killer’s letters first addressed to Borrelli and later sent to New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin pointed to the Carr family’s involvement.
The letter addressed to Borrelli had phrases like “Papa Sam keeps me locked in the attic too” and “When father Sam gets drunk he gets mean.”
Kevin Murphy, a retired detective from Yonkers Police, said that account was eerily similar to stories about Sam Carr himself.
“I heard stories that Sam was very miserable,” he said in the docuseries. “You know, nobody had a nice word from him that I saw. A hard disciplinarian. I heard he really abused the boys. He would beat them. He would lock them in the attic some time as punishment.”
Another letter sent to Breslin made reference to a “John ‘Wheaties’—Rapist and Suffocator of Young Girls.”
John Carr’s middle name was Wheat and he was often referred to as “Wheaties.”
“He was a quiet kind, a little strange,” former classmate Charlie Ott said in the docuseries. “He didn’t have a lot of friends. We used to call him Wheaties after his sister, Wheat Carr. The family lived right down the street from Berkowitz in Yonkers.”
According to Terry—who had also gone to high school with John Carr—police never interviewed the Carr brothers and were eager to place the sole responsibility of the killings on Berkowitz.
A Dark, Satanic Underworld
Terry continued to investigate whether John Carr and his younger brother Michael played a role in the killings and discovered a path behind Berkowitz’s apartment building and the Carr home that led to Untermyer Park, where he found Satanic graffiti and an abandoned pump house with blood stains on the floor.
“There were reports of a cult committing extreme acts, people in robes and costumes, involved in a Satanic ritual,” Michael Zuckerman, a former reporter with Gannett Newspapers who investigated the case with Terry, said, adding that German Shepherd dogs were also being sacrificed at the location.
Berkowitz himself would later say from prison in 1997 during an interview with Terry that he had been part of the Satanic group.
“There’d be people getting high and going through some rituals,” he said, according to NBC News. “They were into the occult. I met some people there who said that they were witches. There were animal sacrifices and other dark and ugly things happening.”
"As soon as I mentioned the name David Berkowitz, she said 'Let me tell you about him. I know him, he lives right behind me.' She also informed me that Berkowitz had shot their black Labrador and that it was her father Sam's dog. I went back to my inspector and he said 'Well, how did it go?' and I said, 'I think we got him. I really think we got him.'"
He claimed the shootings were orchestrated by the group to bring “chaos” to the world.
He admitted to being a part of all eight shootings.
“I was there, at all of them. And in the area, and scouting, and I had a part. I’m responsible for my involvement in those things, and, you know, definitely guilty,” Berkowitz said.
But he claimed he didn’t act alone and said sometimes up to three or four people were part of the brutal attacks.
According to Berkowitz, both John and Michael Carr had been part of the group and had each carried out at least one of the shootings, NBC News reports.
However, not everyone was quick to believe the convicted killer’s story. The NYPD continued to maintain that the evidence pointed to Berkowitz—and Berkowitz alone—carrying out the grisly murders.
“As far as I am concerned, and I’ll go to my grave with this, he acted alone,” Det. Joe Coffey once told reporters, according to the docuseries.
Less than a year after Berkowitz was arrested, in February 1978, John Carr was found shot to death in the remote town of Minot, North Dakota.
Glenn Gietzen, a retired deputy from the Ward County Sheriff’s Office, recalled in the docuseries how he had been called out to investigate a report of a trespasser in a residence on the Minot Air Force Base. He arrived at the location and identified himself as a law enforcement officer before a “shot went off inside.”
Gietzen rushed into the property to find John Carr “slumped over” with a gun nearby and his girlfriend standing close by. The death was initially considered a suicide, but was later re-examined after authorities noted the victim had a possible link to the "Son of Sam" crimes.
“I found out that this John Carr was the son of Sam Carr, and right away, I mean things starting clicking there’s an issue here. Why is he here? You know, what is he doing here?” Gietzen recalled.
John first traveled to Minot while serving in the Air Force in 1974 and later opted to stay after his discharge—but his interest in the occult was rumored to have followed him to the remote community, The New York Times reported in 1979.
Terry Gardner, a deputy sheriff in Ward County, North Dakota told The New York Times that John had reportedly been a member of a “Satanic cult” and had been “selling dope” after moving back to the community in early 1977.
“There is no doubt in my mind, based on interviews I conducted and information I have obtained, that John Carr and Berkowitz knew each other well,” he said.
He expanded on what investigators allegedly uncovered in a news interview re-aired in the docuseries.
“These people said that John was the leader of the group, that John performed rituals numerous times,” he said. “We know of one case where John killed a German Shepherd dog right back out here behind the building … and they were drinking the blood.”
Friends in Minot told investigators that John had mentioned Berkowitz’s name to them more than six months before Berkowitz was arrested and named as the killer.
John’s involvement in the occult was seemingly also confirmed by Lee Slagter, a former mental health counselor who said in “The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness” that John had come to seek counseling in February of 1978 just before he died.
The 31-year-old—who was described by Slagter as “agitated and upset”—confessed to participating in “some sort of witchcraft” and having a connection to Berkowitz.
“I asked him to sit down, he sat down. … He’d get up and pace for a little bit, sit back down again and then it’s like ‘What’s going on here?’ and he said ‘I think somebody is trying to kill me,’” Slagter said.
Less than a month later, he’d be dead.
John wasn’t the only Carr brother to meet a grim fate. In October of 1979, Michael Carr was also killed at the age of 27 in a one-vehicle accident on the West Side Highway in New York City, The New York Times reported that year.
Terry and Ott, Carr's former classmate, described the death as suspicious and suggested there was evidence that he was run off the road intentionally.
Berkowitz was later asked about the early demise of the men he allegedly once knew, but he said he wasn’t surprised by the deaths.
“There’s a price to pay,” he told Terry. “What usually happens to people that are involved in the occult is the tragic auto accident and you know, the freak accident, and they are gone.”
While speculation about the brother’s involvement in the case continues to run rampant today, just exactly what the brothers knew, if anything, may have died with them.
[Photos: Getty Images]