Right from the start of The Devil You Know, there’s no question that Pazuzu Algarad is one seriously scary guy. Being a Satanist isn’t what makes him scary; taking his name from The Exorcist doesn’t automatically make him scary either (his original name was John Lawson). But covering his face in tattoos and sharpening his teeth into points? Killing small animals (including in ritual sacrifice), cutting himself and his friends and basically living in a garbage dump where he could – and did – hide almost anything? That’s pretty scary.
Writer/director/producer Patricia E. Gillespie’s five-part documentary on Pazuzu and his crimes at times feels like a horror movie. Pazuzu created a half-baked cult around him, calling his female followers his fiancées. After 9/11, he started claiming Muslim heritage to provoke his fellow small town residents. He lived in a house with his mother that he went out of his way to trash; both her and two of his fiancées would later be implicated in murder. If you like your true crime dark, it doesn’t get much darker than the satanic act Pazuzu put on – an act that would eventually consume his life.
There’s a big gap between being a suburban creep and a killer though, and unfortunately for at least two North Carolina residents, the police in Pazuzu’s home town of Clemmons weren’t willing to take him seriously. Even when he started boasting about having murdered someone and buried the body in his basement – which, considering the decrepit state of his house, should have seemed at least plausible – they shrugged it off. Safe to say, this was a big mistake.
This look at just how far Pazuzu was willing to go and how little local law enforcement was willing to do to stop him has more on its mind than just one twisted individual. Though Pazuzu really was extremely twisted; one fun little detail this documentary unearths is that guests at his house parties were encouraged to use his floor as a toilet. But there are wider issues at stake here beyond his poor hygiene and fondness for loud music.
Two bodies were eventually found in the basement of Pazuzu’s home, those of Tommy Dean Welch and Josh Wetzler. It wasn’t a straightforward discovery. Pazuzu had already avoided serving time on one murder charge in 2010; rumours were circulating that he had further corpses buried in his backyard. The local police gave it a once over and said they found nothing, which seems unlikely (then again, with Pazuzu’s friends using every flat space as a toilet, the police may not have wanted to dig around too much).
Frustrated by the police’s lack of results, local blogger Chad Nance was also investigating the case and trying to uncover what was really going on. Meanwhile one of Pazuzu’s friends, Iraq war vet Matt Flowers, made his own suspicions known to law enforcement. This time the police did the job right, finding the two bodies – though Nance asserts there was still more to be found and that the truth of Pazuzu’s case is being covered up.
Nance’s narration across the series gives an added dimension to The Devil You Know. The killings alone are enough for a compelling true-crime look at a series of twisted murders, and this firmly commits to that side of the story. But beyond that, it’s the story of how in modern America it’s all too easy for people to go off the rails, and how there’s next to no support for them once they do.
Pazuzu’s backstory isn’t exactly a cheerful one. A combination of his parents’ traumatic divorce, untreated mental illness and a dead-end town that leaves its children bored and unattended played a major part in what he’d become. That’s not to let him off the hook in any way: he was a man who chose to be bad, and he used his charm to lure others into helping him with his many crimes.
Those around him often turn out to be almost as messed up. Flowers’ life is a shambles; the series spends a lengthy period following Nate Anderson and Jenna Woodring, two of Pazuzu’s drug-addicted hangers-on, as they struggle to make their way in the world.
Pazuzu’s messed-up life and evil crimes are the black heart of this compelling series, but it’s hard to escape the idea that he was living in a place that allowed that evil to spread. And while Pazuzu might be out of the picture, those conditions – and that evil – are still there today.
Follow the author here: @morrbeat