'The Devil You Know' on Viceland Sept 12, 2019 1:50:02 GMT -5
Post by JoannaB on Sept 12, 2019 1:50:02 GMT -5
Pazuzu Algarad: The Devil You Know on Viceland
Accusations of devil-worship have been cropping up for centuries. In the United States, there are the notable Salem Witch Trials of 1692 and the Satanic Panics of the 1980s, and many other outbreaks in between. While most of these incidents are the result of mass delirium, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was the site of an actual follower of Old Scratch himself and it happened in the 21st century.
Pazuzu Illah Algarad (above) participated in the murders of at least two men while acting as a leader to a group of punks and outsiders, wreaking havoc on a city that was for the most part, Christian. Now, in Viceland’s newest true crime docu-series, The Devil You Know, the socio-political failures that allowed Algarad to gain power within a circle of society’s rejects are examined in-depth.
So, who was Pazuzu Algarad and what were his beliefs? Algarad was born John Lawson on August 12, 1978, in San Francisco, Calif. Accounts of his childhood vary depending who is telling the story, as noted by Patricia Gillespie, the director and producer. “There were a lot of varying accounts, in large parts because he reinvented the story for people he met later in life,” Gillespie tells Oxygen.com. “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. Things that might indicate the beginning of a mental illness: harming animals, consuming alcohol and drugs at a very early age.”
Algarad’s mother, Cynthia James, remembers things a bit differently. “All parents have arguments [with their children] and don’t agree,” she says of Algarad in The Devil You Know. “Yes, John had some mental problems, but he wasn’t a bad guy,” she adds, at one point describing her son as her “little warrior.”
James continues: “They diagnosed him as being agoraphobic, schizophrenic, psychotic. That’s when I started getting help for him. But to continue with the psychiatrists and so-forth, it takes a lot of money. You gotta remember the good things and I block out any of the bad things. He wasn’t by any means an angel, but he wasn’t a bad person or a bogeyman or whatever phrases people have called him.”
It’s unclear when Algarad and James relocated to Winston-Salem, but the two lived in a house in a predominantly Christian neighborhood on the outskirts of town. Algarad eventually took the name “Pazuzu” in 2002, according to KPIX of San Francisco. The moniker was in homage to a legendary demon king and the archfiend who supposedly possessed the fictional Regan MacNeil in the iconic horror film The Exorcist. Before long the eccentric young man was avoided and feared by many in the suburb.
“Pazuzu had done everything he could to make himself seem scary to the people in town,” says Chad Nance, an editor with The Camel City Dispatch who extensively covered the case. “He was trying to freak people out. He claimed to sacrifice animals, he claimed to be able to control the weather, he filed his teeth down ... he had tattoos printed over his face. He became Winston-Salem’s own Manson-esque icon of depravity.”
Gillespie adds that Algarad fed off Winston-Salem’s unique brand of conservatism to create his persona. “He wasn’t accepted,” she says in an understatement. “Step by step he started to do more extreme things, like the sacrificing the animals and the creation of this mythos around himself. The fact that he chose to take elements of Luciferianism and Islam – two religions that are incredibly discordant – and put them together shows that he was exactly reacting to his Christian, post-9/11 community. So he keeps upping the ante, and upping the ante.”
His followers increased in number. As Algarad’s mental health deteriorated, the dwelling he shared with his mother began to attract a mixed-gender group of locals described by Gillespie as “working class, the working poor, [and] otherwise disenfranchised people.” Some of them even considered themselves followers of Pazuzu Algarad.
“He had a twisted sort of charisma, it’s the kind of charisma that isn’t going to appeal to everyone. But certain minds are going to be drawn in by that: the misfits, the outcasts, people living on the edge or people who wanted to live on the edge,” Algarad’s former friend, Nate Anderson, recalls in The Devil You Know.
Those who occupied the house at 2749 Knob Hill Drive in Clemmons, N.C., at the time remembered the residence as lawless, chaotic, filled with sexual promiscuity and totally filthy. “We just hung out and chilled around and what not, maybe did a little bit of heroin every now and again. Just a crazy shit-ton of drinking, cut ourselves and each other, maybe drank the blood of a bird or so. Just all around having a good time,” explains “Krazy Dave” Adams, another of Algarad’s friends. “People would come visit his house ‘cause they knew it was free rein. There was no rules, there was nothing you had to abide by. You could piss in his carpet, you could smash a TV, you could hit somebody in the head with a beer bottle, you could throw a knife at his wall, it just didn’t matter.”
Townsfolk, perhaps out of fear, tolerated the aberrant presence of Algarad and his makeshift clan, while rumors of bodies buried in the devil-worshiper’s backyard circulated among his acolytes. Bianca Heath told The Huffington Post that during the month she lived with Algarad, she heard him discussing killings alongside oblique mentions of cannibalism. “Paz told everyone,” Heath remembers. “But I never believed him. I’m sure no one else believed him either. He laughed about the skeletal remains when telling the story on why he did what he did ... I never once saw the skeleton bodies, I honestly thought he was lying, now I’m not sure what to believe.”
The murders. Deputies have since said they believe the first of Algarad’s killings took place some time after June 1, 2009, according to WXII-TV of Winston-Salem. They believe the disposal of the corpse at the Winston-Salem location was assisted by Amber Burch and Krystal Matlock, two denizens of the house who identified themselves as Algarad’s fiancées. Burch was believed to have killed a second male victim in October of 2009, and Algarad is believed to have helped bury this victim in the backyard of the Knob Hill Drive home.
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 police discovered near a river on June 7 of that year after his mother reported him missing. Algarad was released on probation for the crime shortly thereafter, according to North Carolina Department of Public Safety records. He was also charged in 2010 with a misdemeanor assault on his mother, but James never followed through with the prosecution. According to deputies, Algarad choked his mother at the home where they both lived until she couldn’t breathe.
Police had, in fact, conducted at least one perfunctory search of the Algarad home, but it took five years for officers to thoroughly examine the residence and locate the skeletal remains of two victims, Joshua Fredrick Wetzler, 37, and Tommy Dean Welch on October 5, 2014. Both were determined to have died from gunshot wounds, according to WFMY News of Greensboro, N.C. There were also animal corpses littering the property, which was piled with refuse, and there was Satanic graffiti everywhere.
The circumstances of how Algarad became familiar with each of the men remain somewhat unclear, although James claims in The Devil You Know that Wetzler was one among many wayward souls who found his way to their home, seeking camaraderie. “They were just friends, as far as I knew. They liked to sing music. He didn’t have anywhere to stay ... They turned his heat off or something and [he asked if he could] sleep on the couch. I didn’t have a problem with it. I enjoyed John having friends.” Of Wezler’s killing, James says, “I don't know where it came from. I really honestly think that he just didn’t know what he was doing ... He was not himself. He was on drugs or alcohol or both, probably.”
Algarad, Burch and Matlock were all arrested and the house was condemned after being deemed unfit for habitation, according to WXII.
As news of the murders broke in local papers, a media frenzy commenced around the crimes. Attracted to a salacious story rife with lasciviousness and violence, Gillespie contends many of the facts of the crime were lost or sensationalized in initial reports. “I think when you’re working in any kind of journalism, there is a desire to please your advertisers and my work is not exempt from that reality. People have realized that sex and violence sells and that was leaned into in the media such that a lot of the facts were obscured. There’s certainly a lot of elements of an adult nature. [Some outlets] were calling it a ‘sex cult’ – and it’s like, well … it wasn’t really a sex cult. It was a bunch of people living in a dirty house. It was a bunch of girls that were more or less being abused to the point that they abused other people. Because they were left in a dirty house with a lot of drugs – they were hit and threatened. I think it’s easier to say, ‘Oh look, the brides of Satan!’ than it is to point to systemic misogyny and a general disregard for poor people. We let those people disappear,” she continues. “We often tell these stories about murder with the time of death, and the blood splatters, and the gun residue, but we rarely look at the shrapnel of violence that embeds itself in the larger community and I think that deserves a look.”
Actual Satanists reacting to the scandal, have attempted to distance themselves from Algarad’s actions, despite reports indicating he was a follower of their religion. “Obviously people are trying to pin him on us,” Liz Bradley, a practicing Satanist and member of The Satanic Temple, tells Oxygen.com. “He clearly was a messed up person. I don’t know why anyone would take anything he says super seriously. People love to use the scapegoat of Satan. We want to look for a solution or an answer and since mental health is difficult to understand, we can just point at Satan – especially in this particular case because the guy had a bunch of face tattoos.” Real Satanists, Bradley explains, emphasize “empathy and compassion. We strive for justice, seeking knowledge, and using science to guide our beliefs and not the other way around. General enlightenment values. And kindness. We’re non-theistic. We don’t even actually believe in Satan, we use Satan as a metaphor ... Our third tenet is that one’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s will alone. So we’re never going to violate someone’s bodily autonomy. I just want people to understand that.”
The mysterious death of Algarad. The devil-worshiper was due to appear in court days before police say he took his own life in what was called an apparent suicide on October 28, 2015, almost exactly one year after the discovery of the bodies at his home. He was found unresponsive with a wound to his arm in his jail cell. The specific circumstances of his death remain mysterious, with police withholding considerable amounts of information, including precisely how he died, specifics about the wound, whether there were any weapons in his cell, if he was on suicide watch, or if he had ever attempted suicide before. Some of those interviewed in The Devil You Know weren’t entirely sure if his death was, in fact, a suicide at all. “When it comes to [the suicide], I’m never going to have the facts about those things,” Gillespie adds. “At the very least, it shouldn’t have happened. Whatever sharp object was used … the fact is this guy died and there was such a vague press conference about it, it’s frightening. That to me is the real horror.”
Despite his abhorrent behavior, Gillespie refuses to condemn Algarad as an evil person. “I believe there are bad things in this world,” she admits. “I believe in – I shouldn’t say the goodness in people, but the capacity for goodness in all people. I think when someone does something so devastatingly wrong and horrific, that means we should work through our fears and see it for the tragedy it is. The tragedy is that we weren’t able to create an environment for this person where they could speak their own goodness.”
Nevertheless, she concedes, “... Pazuzu and Amber actually shot and killed these people, but there were many points at which someone could have interceded. We, as a community, sort of messed that up,” Gillespie concludes. “We should check on the weird kid a little more, or maybe we should hold our police a little more accountable.”
The Algarad home has since been demolished.
Sources: Eric Shorey, Oxygen, September 11, 2019; Ben McPadden, Crime Feed, August 29, 2019; and WhatLiesBeyond, October 14, 2014.