Exploring murder and Satanic evil in The Devil You Know

A new true crime series streaming on NeonThe Devil You Know ups the ante on exploring evil. It tells a story of satanism, bodies buried in a backyard, and a guy who named himself after a demon (and filed his teeth into points). As Tony Stamp writes, the series addresses that eternal question: how bad can other people get?

Over the last few years, as the phenomenon of true crime documentaries has inflated in popularity the discourse around them has fallen into two camps. On one side, a captive audience of fans hanging on every stranger-than-fiction twist. On the other, a disgruntled minority who don’t see the point of what they see as tragedy voyeurism.

The genre has been around since at least the 1960s, and hit a high watermark in 1988 with Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line. In 2014 it saw another big leap when Serial brought the podcast format to popular attention. Recently Tiger King seemed to be omnipresent in the public consciousness, fodder for endless water-cooler discussions.

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To the casual observer, it feels like a whole cottage industry has sprung up to house true crime docos in all their forms, indulging the public’s bottomless curiosity about what sort of crazy stuff might be going on in their neighbourhood (let’s be honest though, chances are higher if the neighbourhood happens to be in America).

The Devil You Know, available to watch now on Neon, is an example of the wilder edge of the genre, revolving around satanism, a double murder case, bodies buried in a backyard, and a guy who named himself after a demon. Plumbing the depths of human behaviour, it addresses that eternal question: how bad can other people really get?

That the series comes from Vice Media is maybe to be expected. The company made their name on cataloguing outre behaviour, and a quick glance at their website shows this is still the case, recently covering internment camps, human trafficking, and a sex doll brothel.

The Devil You Know revolves around the figure of Pazuzu Algarad, (born John Alexander Lawson). If that name sounds familiar, you might be recognising it from the film The Exorcist—Pazuzu was the name of the demon that terrorised young Regan. Lawson said he changed his name to honour what he described as “A lord”.

Pazuzu was infamous in the town of Clemmons, North Carolina, and with good reason. His hair was dreadlocked, his face was tattooed, but most notably, his teeth had been filed into points, a modification made when he was “high on meth”, according to his friend Nate Anderson. Clemmons is a heavily Christian town, and a guy who calls himself a satanist, down to having a ‘satan’ tattoo covering his arm, is bound to attract attention.

Anderson used to shoot heroin with Pazuzu. He likens his intravenous drug use to an extension of his love of music, or movies—something to get lost in. He goes on to shoot up on camera, the kind of unfiltered detail Vice made their name on.

“Krazy Dave” Adams talks about Pazuzu’s dishwasher being full of “serious weapons”, saying he would visit him and “get up to some shit”. That would include things like drinking a bird’s blood. Adams and Anderson are part of a group of self-described ‘followers’ of Pazuzu’s. Young, disenfranchised, looking for a way to escape reality.

Even with that in mind, most viewers will be asking themselves the same question—why would anyone willingly enter this guy’s orbit? They would congregate at his house, which was covered in graffiti and piled high with detritus. It stunk of piss according to one guest, rotting corpses according to another.

Pazuzu bragged about washing just once a year, and never brushing his teeth. Yet his charisma was apparently so strong he managed to talk guests out of their clothes, and sometimes into orgies. This would happen in the same house where it wasn’t uncommon for people to literally shit on the floor, leaving it to be cleaned up later.

Having read a few police reports, I’m not sure the shit ever got cleaned up. There was a lot of shit in that place. There was also a swastika drawn on the ceiling, among multiple references to the devil.

And yet the cult of personality persisted, with Pazuzu going so far as to tell his followers he had murdered homeless people before, and that he had people held against their will in the basement. When he left the house he told them to stop anyone who tried to escape. They thought, or maybe hoped, that this was all a joke.

Suffice it to say it wasn’t, and eventually, two bodies were found buried in Pazuzu’s back yard. One victim, Josh Wetzler, is the focus of episode one, via the testimony of his girlfriend Stacey Carter. It’s here that the details of the case get very upsetting. By all accounts, Josh’s death wasn’t a quick one.

The Devil You Know exposes the nihilism that can start to rot in these small American towns, and how economic hardship and lack of options can lead to things like drug abuse. The question it circles around is how does that lead to someone renouncing their humanity to the extent that they take a life in such a cruel way. And, even more so, what would lead someone to remain friends with that person, even helping them dismember and dispose of a corpse.

At their best, true crime documentaries can offer a perspective on a type of existence as far from our own as imaginable. Sometimes they ask viewers to interpret events as they see fit. In this instance, there’s no such ambiguity. Pazuzu is about as despicable a person as you could imagine.

The question then, is how on earth did he get that way? And why on earth would others let themselves get sucked down to his particular level of hell? The Devil You Know can be unpleasant viewing, but it’s compelling, a glimpse into a very American heart of darkness that (as of episode one), doesn’t offer any easy answers, just a series of unthinkable questions.