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The secrets of Untermyer Park: a dazzling garden estate fell into neglect, became meeting place for Satanic cult possibly connected to Son of Sam

Nikola Budanovic
Author: Ronala43 CC BY-SA 3.0

Samuel Untermyer was a respected American lawyer and civic leader who harbored a passion for horticulture. He was so enthralled by the wonders of nature that he built a 150-acre riverside estate called Greystone, in Yonkers, New York, on the Hudson riverbank. The estate was known for its gardens, considered some of the most beautiful in the world at the time.

In order to complete his vision, Untermyer sought help from an expert. A prominent landscape architect, William Welles Bosworth, joined him in his quest for natural beauty in 1906. Ten years later, the estate resembled a pastoral haven.

This Arcadia set in the city of Yonkers was indeed a dreamscape. Numerous gardens combined greenery with magnificent stone features, many steps, and elaborate terraces, creating an organic scenery worthy of the mythical Gardens of Babylon.

But just like the story of Adam and Eve, this tale has a malevolent twist. After Untermyer died in 1940, the Greystone estate became his legacy. It was opened as a public park, owned by the City of Yonkers, but due to the costly maintenance and the city’s inability to provide the same amount of attention to its as its previous owner, Greystone fell into decay.

 

The estate was dubbed Untermyer Park, and its former glory could be recognized only in traces, such as the Greek amphitheater, an aqueduct, or the water-pumping house, which served for irrigation of the massive gardens.

By the 1970s, the Yonkers park was all but abandoned. At night, this urban jungle proved dangerous, inhabited by vagrants and criminals. By that time, the U.S. was in a middle of a Satanic/occult craze that aroused panic among the population, as rumors of devil-worshiping cults spread throughout the nation. How much of it was based in fact was difficult to determine.

At the same time, New York City, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and cursed with a high crime rate, saw a new deadly threat. A string of murders, committed by a serial killer nicknamed Son of Sam, were filling up newspapers. His deranged game of sending letters to journalists boasting of his crimes held the city in a grip of fear.

Samuel Untermyer, lawyer

Samuel Untermyer, lawyer

How are these two phenomena linked to each other, you might ask, or better yet, what ties them to the forgotten gardens of Samuel Untermeyer?

Around the time that Yonkers resident David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam, committed his first murder, Untermyer Park was allegedly used by a kind of Satanic cult that performed mystical rites there, perhaps even blood sacrifice.

Even though it has never been officially confirmed, the cult that held its séances in Untermyer park was believed to be an offshoot of the notorious Process Church of the Final Judgment, which also had ties to the Manson Family. The Process Church was founded in London in 1966 by Robert de Grimston and Mary Ann Maclean, both of them former Scientologists, preaching that God is made up of Christ, Jehovah, Lucifer, and Satan. Theories about the Process Church range from diabolical Satanists overseeing webs of influence to 1960s meddlers in the occult who quickly abandoned their cause. Reportedly the Process morphed into an animal shelter charity and Robert de Grimston changed his name and became a postal worker on Staten Island.

Regardless, graffiti representing reverse crosses and other invocations of Satanic symbolism could be found spray-painted on the water pump house in the Yonkers park, which was nicknamed the Devil’s Hole by locals.

In fact, quite a few structures in the park were to some extent marked or were presumably used by the group as ritual grounds. Rumors started circulating in the late 1970s among Yonkers kids of hearing animals shrieking in pain within the park.

Around the same time, several beheaded German Shepherds were found. Members of the Process are known to favor German Shepherds.

A woman was raped, allegedly after interrupting some kind of a rite. Reports on torch litanies haunting the tree lines at night coming from the nearby St. John’s Hospital finally made the police to look into the matter.

In 1979, an official police investigation was on the prowl. They were especially interested in the drawings made inside the Devil’s Hole―German SS lightning bolts and the numbers 666 together with inverted crosses and black-painted pentagrams that surrounded a platform, forming something very similar to an altar.

Two years prior to this discovery, David Berkowitz, known to the public and the authorities as both the .44 Caliber Killer,  and the Son of Sam, was arrested outside his Yonkers apartment after a lengthy game of cat and mouse with the police.

One of his letters, addressed to the journalist Jimmy Breslin at the New York Daily News, read:

“Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C., which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine, and blood. Hello from the sewers of N.Y.C. which swallow up these delicacies when they are washed away by the sweeper trucks.”              

Deciphering these words led to a number of conspiracy theories as the Untermyer’s Aqueduct was often simply called the sewers and the gutter by the Yonkers residents. The dog manure in question was quickly connected to the canine sacrifice conducted in the park.

A number of other clues linked the murderer with the cult, like arrow-like drawings found on trees in the park resembling the Son of Sam’s cross-like signature. Even though the cult craze wore off by the end of the 1970s, the dread remained, as many self-proclaimed investigators emerged with their own theories.

During his initial hearing, Berkowitz claimed that his neighbor’s dog, a black Labrador named Harvey, ordered him to commit the slayings, which made many conclude he was mentally ill.

His neighbor’s name was Sam Carr―hence the name used in some of the killer’s first letters ―Son of Sam. Berkowitz explained that the dog was possessed by an ancient demon, who demanded him to kill in order to satisfy the hellish creature’s thirst for blood. All such claims were, of course, dismissed by the police.

Gravesite of Samuel Untermyer, Woodlawn Cemetery. Author: Anthony22 CC BY-SA 3.0

Gravesite of Samuel Untermyer, Woodlawn Cemetery. Author: Anthony22 CC BY-SA 3.0

But the public was still puzzled by this case. What sealed the deal for many who were obsessed with the string of murders and its relation to death cults was the re-opening of the case in 1993. The serial killer himself claimed to be connected to a cult, insinuating that he wasn’t acting alone, nor was he guilty for all of the eight murders committed, but rather for only three. Surprisingly, the theory of Berkowitz not acting alone has its supporters, aided by the fact that the sketches made of the murderer by witnesses to his street shootings did not look like David Berkowitz.

Whether to shift the blame from himself, or perhaps to reveal his accomplices after 16 years of silence, Berkowitz’s claims shed new light on the investigation. He identified two men― brothers John and Michael Carr. The cult he referred to was allegedly the same one which gathered in the dense forest of Untermyer Park.

The clue led back to Sam Carr, the dog owner, who was the father of the two men Berkowitz named. The problem was that the brothers were long dead at the time Berkowitz decided to report them as his accomplices. Carr’s sons died in 1978 and 1979, respectively. John allegedly shot himself, while Michael died in a car crash.

Read another story from us: The derelict Rock-A-Hoola Waterpark, once upon a time a fun spot in the sun

This left little to back Son of Sam’s claim. Many dismiss the notion that Berkowitz had accomplices, as his psychological profile is that of a loner sociopath. He is now a born-again Christian in prison, declining to even seek parole. In 1996, he denied the claim that he was following the orders of a demon-possessed dog, but he has never actually denied that he was involved in cult activity during the 1970s.