There's a character in the novel “Good Omens”, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, named Anthony Crowley. Crowley is a demon from hell, one who didn't so much fall as “vaguely saunter down”. Reborn for the modern age as a stereo typical 1980's yuppie he is placed on Earth to taint as many souls as possible, while at the same time overseeing the beginning of the apocalypse on behalf of Beelzebub.
Crowley is a thoroughly modern demon. He drives a flash car, wears expensive suits, and most importantly believes that a “one demon, one soul” system just doesn't work. And so instead he regularly puts things in place designed to simply irritate people, believing that all those effected will irritate someone else, thus creating a domino effect. Some of his greatest achievements in this regard are Welsh Language Television, Value Added Tax, and Game Shows.
During the course of the novel Crowley struggles against his own conscience about his role in bringing forward the end of the world. When explaining his philosophy behind his “work”, Crowley muses that Hell really isn't anything other than a counter point to Heaven, a way of making sure that good deeds are done for the right reasons. He goes on to say that every so often he'll pick up a newspaper and that on the front page will be the story of someone who murders an orphanage of disadvantaged children. The psychopath who commits this crime will always say “The Devil made me do it”. Crowley scoffs at this idea, saying the Devil makes people do nothing of the sort. Instead humans just by being themselves are much worse than the Devil could ever be.
The reason this has struck a chord with me is that this morning I was listening to “I Dovregubbens Hall” by Edvard Grieg. A piece of orchestral music written for the play Peer Gynt it builds slowly, starting off as quiet as a mouse before finally working itself in to a frenzy of strings, brass, and the crash of cymbals. Now I'm not usually one for orchestral music, but I'll be damned if this isn't the perfect music to get one ready to take on the world (Gee Note: Or, as was the case this morning, the perfect music for putting on some trousers to).
So, imagine the scene. We're just about to get to the bit where it all kicks off, where the violins and the trombones start hammering away at a viciously intense pace, when out of nowhere next door's dog starts howling. Now, if “Animal's do the funniest things” (Gee Note: Alternative title - “People will, it turns out, watch anything if it's got pretty colours.”) is to be believed then dogs howl along to music all the time. Our dear neighbour's dog, however, is a big old Alsation with a permanent scowl, kind of like Mira Furlan in Lost. He can neither be considered cute nor friendly and, if judging by the events of Monday morning, doesn't seem to suffer postmen gladly either. And his howl really isn't a pleasant sound. It's more like a combination of bear growling and an elephant screaming out in pain.
Add the music that was now going at full pelt and I have to admit this concoction of noise kind of freaked me out a bit (Gee Note: And getting a case of the heeby jeebies while half way into putting on a pair of trousers is never a good thing.) Firstly because the two separate sounds created something that was, well, really disturbing if I'm honest. And secondly because it reminded me of David Berkowitz.
Now bare with me on this, there is a point to all of it. On July 29th 1976 in Pelham Bay, Bronx, New York an eighteen year old by the name of Donna Lauria was murdered in cold blood outside of her parent's apartment. She had been sitting in an Oldsmobile at approxiamtely 1.10 am with her friend Jody Valenti, discussing boys and discos and whatever young people talk about. They bid each other goodnight, but as Lauria got out of the car to go back to her apartment she was approached by a medium sized man with dark hair. She had enough time to say “Now what is this...” before the man pulled out a bulldog revolver and shot her in the chest. The gun man then fired two more shots, one of which struck Valenti in the thigh. Valenti survived her injuries and gave a description of the suspect to the police. Lauria died pretty much as soon as the bullet ripped through her.
Sadly Donna Lauria was just one of five people to be killed by the same person in the New York area. The other's, Christine Freund, Virginia Voskerichian, Valentia Suriani, Alexander Esau, and Stacey Moskowitz, all met their end by the same gun over the next year and three days. During this period nine others were wounded by seemingly random shootings, their injuries ranging from paralysis to minor cuts.
The police were initially baffled as there was no motive and, because of the lack of physical evidence, no initial suspects. In fact it wasn't until the after the fifth shooting that it was determined that one person may be responsible. On March 10th 1977 the NYPD held a press conference to announce that two of the murders had been linked by forensic evidence. The truth was that while police strongly suspected there was a link, the physical evidence simply wasn't there to prove it.
And then someone wrote the NYPD a letter.
"I am deeply hurt by your calling me a wemon hater! I am not. But I am a monster. I am the "Son of Sam." I am a little brat. When father Sam gets drunk he gets mean. He beats his family. Sometimes he ties me up to the back of the house. Other times he locks me in the garage. Sam loves to drink blood. "Go out and kill," commands father Sam. Behind our house some rest. Mostly young — raped and slaughtered — their blood drained — just bones now. Papa Sam keeps me locked in the attic too. I can't get out but I look out the attic window and watch the world go by. I feel like an outsider. I am on a different wavelength then everybody else — programmed too kill. However, to stop me you must kill me. Attention all police: Shoot me first — shoot to kill or else keep out of my way or you will die! Papa Sam is old now. He needs some blood to preserve his youth. He has had too many heart attacks. "Ugh, me hoot, it hurts, sonny boy." I miss my pretty princess most of all. She's resting in our ladies house. But I'll see her soon. I am the "Monster"— "Beelzebub" — the chubby behemouth. I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game — tasty meat. The wemon of Queens are prettyist of all. It must be the water they drink. I live for the hunt — my life. Blood for papa. Mr. Borrelli, sir, I don't want to kill anymore. No sur, no more but I must, 'honor thy father.' I want to make love to the world. I love people. I don't belong on earth. Return me to yahoos. To the people of Queens, I love you. And I want to wish all of you a happy Easter. May God bless you in this life and in the next. And for now I say goodbye and goodnight. Police: Let me haunt you with these words: I'll be back! I'll be back! To be interpreted as — bang bang bang, bank, bang — ugh!! Yours in murder, Mr. Monster”
It wasn't mailed to an address however. In fact it wasn't mailed at all. It was left in the street near the sight of the sixth shooting. And it was addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli.
Officially, one of the worst serial killers in history had just announced themselves to New York and the rest of the world. He named himself “The Son Of Sam”.
How do you spell “panic”? Do you spell it p-a-n-i-c? Well if you answered “Yes” to that question, well done, you can award yourself 5 points.
How would you spell “panic” if you were in New York in 1976? Again, p-a-n-i-c? If you answered “yes”, bad luck, you'll have to deduct 5 points.
After this letter went public, in New York you spelt “panic” S-O-N-O-F-S-A-M.
New York by all accounts did a New Dehli circa 2001 and tore itself apart. Communities searched high and low for a mass murderer. And in doing so suspicion fell upon the oddities in the neighbourhood. Many people were persecuted by their peers for no reason at all, other than the fact they were different.
In short, Anthony Crowley would have been proud.
Eventually the Son of Sam got sloppy. At the scene of the final shooting he'd parked his car next to a fire hydrant and received a parking ticket. The police took note of the address and with, literally, nothing else to go on turned up on masse. There a man named David Berkowitz stepped out of his appartment to find several members of New York's finest pointing pistols at him. He turned to to the nearest officer and said
"You've got me. "
The officer asked “Who exactly do I have?”.
Berkowitz answered. “You have the Son of Sam.”
And with that the killing's stopped.
Berkowitz confessed to the murder's straight away. Debate still rages on as to whether he acted alone. Regardless, the only person currently convicted of all these crimes is David Richard Berkowitz.
So what would posses a man to kill six strangers and wound countless more? Well the natural assumption is that David Berkowitz was a lunatic, a sick puppy who was simply a timebomb waiting to happen. Except, and this is the problem with all serial killers, how did nobody pick this up before hand? Berkowitz does not have an intellect to match Einstein, or Plato, or in fact Jay Leno. Did the “system”, the one thing that's supposed to protect us against our own selves, simply fail in this instance?
Berkowitz has his own theory as to why he became a killer. He believes that his next door neighbour's dog had become possed by the Devil (Gee Note: See? I told you it there was a point to it all). The dog, a black labrador, would bark all night long. But rather than call for food or attention the demon dog would be ordering Berkowitz to kill. And kill. And kill.
So the question remains, which do you believe? Could a completely anasuming, completely average person be suddenly hurtled into complete carnage by a possessed pet?
Or, when it all comes down to it, are we humans far worse than the Devil ever could be?