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MINOT, N.D. — It wasn’t unusual in the 1970s for Ward County sheriff’s deputy Glenn Gietzen to chase partying teenagers from an abandoned theater in the tiny town of Ruthville, north of Minot.
But this time on patrol was different.
Instead of minors drinking alcohol, he said he saw people gathered around tables set up in a cross formation, passing around chalices containing human urine.
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After the group scattered in a panic, Gietzen said he saw at least a half dozen dog carcasses outside; dogs that had been killed, mutilated and apparently offered up as a sacrifice.
“I knew then I'd walked in on a Black Mass,” he said, in reference to a blasphemous ceremony typically held by satanic groups.
Listen to Robin Huebner's interview with retired Ward County Sheriff's Deputy, Glenn Gietzen.
Gietzen, now 71 and retired from law enforcement, told The Forum he knew there was cult activity going on in the Minot area then, but had never seen it.
The baffling discovery would begin to make sense in the context of a series of murders that had New York City on edge in 1976-77, the subsequent arrest of suspect David Berkowitz, also known as Son of Sam, and the suicide of Berkowitz associate, John Carr, in early 1978 on the Minot Air Force Base.
Gietzen, who investigated Carr’s death, is among several former North Dakota law enforcement officers featured in the new Netflix documentary, "The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness."
Directed by Josh Zeman, the four-part series focuses on investigative journalist Maury Terry’s lifelong obsession with the murders, his belief that Berkowitz didn’t act alone and that the common thread linking the killings was a satanic cult.
Terry died in 2015, but before his death, he turned over his notes, files and recordings about his work, which would be the basis of the Netflix documentary.
Mike Knoop, 71, a retired Minot police detective, said Terry wanted to see his investigation all the way to the end.
“He was engrossed in it. That’s what he lived for,” Knoop said.
6 killed, 7 injured
The first of what would become known as the Son of Sam murders happened early one morning in July 1976, when two young women were shot as they sat in a parked vehicle in the Bronx.
Similar shootings struck fear in other New York City boroughs in the months to follow, with the shooter seemingly focused on young women with long hair, according to media reports. Often, the women were targeted as they sat with a boyfriend in a parked car.
In all, Berkowitz was charged with murdering six people and wounding seven others.
Each victim was struck with the same kind of bullet, leading police to describe the killer early on as “The .44 Caliber Killer.”
In April 1977, however, he was given a different handle after leaving a handwritten letter near the bodies of his latest victims, in which he called himself the “Son of Sam.”
He also mocked police and threatened to kill again.
Just over a year after the first murder, the final crime happened in Brooklyn in late July 1977, when a man and woman, both 20, were shot as they sat in a car on a first date.
Berkowitz was tracked down by police a little more than a week later through a parking ticket, of all things, after leaving his vehicle in front of a fire hydrant not far from the crime scene.
In police interviews that followed, Berkowitz would explain the Son of Sam reference.
His neighbor in Yonkers, Sam Carr, had a black Labrador, and Berkowitz told police an ancient demon communicating through the dog was instructing him to kill, a claim he would later recant.
Sam Carr’s sons, John and Michael, are portrayed in the documentary as having had cult ties. Terry even surmised they may have pulled the trigger in some of the killings — in part, because Berkowitz later told him he wasn’t responsible for all of them.
In addition, sketches of the suspect derived from eyewitness accounts of the different shootings were quite different from one another. “David Berkowitz did not look like half of those composites,” Knoop said.
The Carr brothers were never questioned or charged in connection with the murders.
Michael Carr died in New York City in October 1979 in what retired officers in the documentary describe as a suspicious car accident, with tire marks that appeared to indicate someone had tried to run him off the road.
As referenced earlier, John Carr died on the Minot Air Force Base in 1978 in what appeared to be a suicide.
However, some believe his death also was suspicious.
'He was off the wall'
In the months before John Carr’s death, Mike Knoop was working as a patrol officer for the Minot Police Department when he was summoned to a local hospital, where Carr had been brought by ambulance.
Knoop said Carr was talking wildly about having been thrown out of a car and about drinking blood or urine out of a chalice.
“He was off the wall. I thought, ‘This guy got some bad dope,’” Knoop said.
Gietzen said he saw with his own eyes those rituals of devil worship, that night he walked into the abandoned theater north of Minot. Days prior, he’d received a report of stolen religious items from one of the Catholic churches in Minot, including chalices or large goblets.
Since he was a county investigator and the church was within city limits, he forwarded the matter to the city police department, he said, thinking his involvement was finished.
But that night in the old theater, he realized the chalices and other ornamental items being used in the Black Mass were likely the stolen items from the church.
“This was the satanic group, celebrating by desecrating stuff from the Catholic church,” Gietzen said.
When the participants ran off, they left behind the sacramental items, which officers later buried because the Catholic church didn’t want them back.
By daylight, Gietzen saw more disturbing details in the German shepherd carcasses he’d seen the night before — the heads and ears of the animals were cut off.
“I’d never dealt with satanic stuff before, and now here I was walking in the middle of it,” he said.
Man dead on Minot base had cult ties
On Feb. 17, 1978, deputy sheriff Gietzen was summoned to the Minot Air Force Base to remove a person named John Carr from base housing.
Military police wanted a civilian officer to handle it because the subject was a civilian and shouldn’t be living on base.
Carr was apparently stationed there previously but no longer was, and had been staying with a female military dependent whose husband was deployed, Gietzen recalled.
Gietzen knocked on the door of the base housing unit and asked the woman who answered if John Carr was living with her. She said yes and pointed Gietzen down a hallway to a bedroom on the right.
Seconds later, a shot rang out.
Gietzen ran to the bedroom to find John Carr slumped over a gun with a fatal gunshot wound to the head. The woman who had let Gietzen into the residence wept uncontrollably.
Following the death, Knoop began investigating some of Carr’s associates in regards to drug trafficking from New York City to Minot.
Gietzen realized satanic cult activity in Minot was more prevalent than he thought, and that Carr played a pivotal role in it.
“He was part of the cult and that’s what the cult did. They gave themselves to the devil,” Gietzen said.
Bismarck woman's murder not linked
Another horrific crime that journalist Maury Terry thought may somehow have been connected to Berkowitz or a satanic cult was the murder in California of a North Dakota woman in 1974.
Arlis Perry was 19 and newly married to Bruce Perry, 20, also of Bismarck, when she moved to Santa Clara County to be with her husband, who was a pre-med student at Stanford University.
Late in the evening on Oct. 13, 1974, she walked to the nearby Stanford Memorial Church to pray, and once inside, was slain in what was described as a ritualistic manner, according to published reports.
She was found partially naked beneath a pew of the old church with an ice pick through her skull, and her body violated with a candle from the altar.
A security guard named Stephen Crawford claimed to have found her body while on patrol. Though he was considered a suspect early on, law enforcement could find no evidence to link him to the crime.
Arlis Perry’s death went unsolved for more than 40 years, until a break came through forensic technology — a development highlighted as a postscript to the Sons of Sam documentary.
In June of 2018, Santa Clara authorities used DNA to tie Crawford to the crime scene. Officers went to arrest the 72-year-old Crawford, but he, too, shot and killed himself as they tried to enter his apartment.
According to published reports, Crawford acted alone and appeared to have no ties to a satanic cult.
However, when officers searched his apartment afterward, they found an item of particular interest — the jacket of the book “The Ultimate Evil,” written by Maury Terry.
The book chronicles Terry’s pursuit to prove the Son of Sam didn’t act alone and his belief that Berkowitz had a hand in Arlis Perry’s killing.
David Berkowitz pleaded guilty to the shootings in New York City and is serving six consecutive life sentences for the six murders. Now 67, he’s imprisoned at Shawangunk Correctional Facility in New York state.
This reporter told Gietzen, the retired North Dakota deputy, that people in the state like to believe this sort of evil can never touch us here.
“It does,” he said, pausing to add, “You hate to say it, but Satan gets around.”