Murder always makes the news, but when it’s a self-proclaimed Satanist doing the killing, it’s a media gold mine. So when Pazuzu Algarad (he took his name from a demon in The Exorcist) and two of his followers were charged in 2015 with first degree murder in the small town of Clemmons, North Carolina, the so-called “Sex Cult Satanist” made headlines across the USA.
Most of the reports were big on the sensational side of the Satanic slayings and short on facts. Now with The Devil You Know, documentarian Patricia E. Gillespie takes a deep-dive into Algarad’s disturbing world to find out what really happened – and what she comes up with isn’t exactly comforting viewing.
This five-part series has a lot of ground to cover. Even Algarad’s childhood remains something of a mystery. As Gillespie herself said, “He told people he was from Iraq, he told people his father was some high priest. But the people who knew him as a child described him as a little off-kilter, a little emotional.” His mother (who was later implicated in his crimes) said the man originally named John Lawson was diagnosed with various mental illnesses from a young age, but they didn’t have the money to treat him.
Clemmons is said to be a largely Christian town, and it’s hard to know how much of Algarad’s behaviour was initially designed to shock the locals. Journalist Chad Nance plays a central role in Gillespie’s documentary; he says at one point that Pazuzu had done pretty much everything he could to make himself seem scary to the people in town. As The Devil You Know reveals, “everything” was a pretty long list.
Algarad covered his face in tattoos and filed his teeth into sharp points. He stopped washing himself and cleaning his teeth; he killed small animals and drank their blood, claiming to be sacrificing them.
His house (which he shared with his mother) rapidly became a focal point for his activities as his open door policy attracted a number of outcasts and loners. There he and others would self-harm, take drugs, have orgies and defecate on the floor. Satanic symbols and pentagrams added to the sinister vibe (though it seems pretty clear that vibe was already well established).
Algarad is described in the series as having a twisted kind of charisma that drew people to him. It definitely worked with women; he had a number of what he referred to as “fiancées” as regular visitors, two of whom – Amber Burch and Krystal Matlock – would later be charged with serious crimes alongside him.
But being deliberatively provocative (after 9/11 he would claim Muslim ancestry to stir up his neighbours) and a disgusting slob weren’t enough to get the local police involved; as The Devil You Know makes clear, it was going to take a lot more than a trashed house and angry neighbours to get them looking into the increasingly horrific rumours about Algarad’s activities.
In 2010, Algarad was convicted on a charge of accessory after the fact in the shooting death of 30-year-old Joseph Chandler, whose body was found near a local river; he never went to prison. Around that time police conducted a perfunctory search of his house, but found nothing. For years afterward, there were rumours – in large part spread by Algarad himself – that he’d committed at least one murder. Some people thought he was lying, or that it was part of his satanic act. Those who knew him better took him more seriously.
The hero of The Devil You Know is Iraq War veteran and one-time friend of Algarad, Matt Flowers. He’s the one who went to the police with his suspicions and got them to conduct a proper search – a full five years after their initial investigation. This time they found the skeletal remains of two men, Tommy Dean Welch and Josh Wetzler, both of whom had been killed back in 2009. The police would later determine they’d been killed with the help of Algarad’s two fiancées, which was enough to spark stories about him leading a killer cult; his mother would also be charged in relation with the deaths.
“I believe there are bad things in this world,” Gillespie has said. “I believe in – I shouldn’t say the goodness in people, but the capacity for goodness in all people.” It’s a view the residents of Clemmons most likely don’t share; after he was arrested, Algarad’s house was judged unfit for human habitation. In April 2015, the building was demolished.
The Devil You Know is now streaming at SBS On Demand:
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