One of the Most Disturbing Cult Killings in New York History - OZY | A Modern Media Company

One of the Most Disturbing Cult Killings in New York History

One of the Most Disturbing Cult Killings in New York History

By Eugene S. Robinson


Because chaos can be a deadly addiction.

By Eugene S. Robinson

By 1984, the portion of America that was expecting George Orwell’s dystopian future to become a present reality had relaxed a bit. Although “relax” is kind of a strong word to use in light of the fact that, at least in New York City, crack had hit, and hard — so much so that subway vigilantes in full-blown Death Wish–style were shooting suspected perps. Essentially, all hell had broken loose.

That was in the city. The outlying suburban area, where whites had taken flight and where working-class people of means struck out in search of peace, quiet and lawns, was supposed to be different. Except it wasn’t. And on June 16, 1984, in Northport, on what city people call the Island, or Long Island, 17-year-old Gary Lauwers was tortured and murdered, driving that point very clearly home.

Lauwers, in the face of Kasso screaming, “Say you love Satan!,” said, “I love my mother,” and died.

“The Island was a different kind of crazy …,” says John Maasbach, a Queens restaurateur with deep family roots in the area. “Drugs,” he adds, by way of explanation. Not inner-city drugs, which is to say not the jagged highs of crack (or even the relatively normalized mellow of weed), but a bouillabaisse of more exotic shit: LSD, mescaline, hash and, yeah, weed, but weed laced with PCP. A prime prescription for crazy.

Which makes what happened next almost anticlimatic: Seventeen-year-old Ricky Kasso and three of his friends, who sometimes called themselves the Knights of the Black Circle, retreated to the woods to get high, or to nurse an earlier high. Alhough Kasso’s parents, according to Newsday, had had him committed to a mental institution for a while, the clinical determination had been that Kasso wasn’t crazy, just anti-social, and he had been released. Kasso had returned to what the police later pieced together was steady involvement in the low-grade drug trade. 

Which is where Gary Lauwers comes in. After Kasso passed out at a party, some of his PCP had been stolen by Lauwers, who, according to police reports, later confessed. A confession without cash was grounds enough — so on the night of June 16, the teens headed into the woods to get high and invited Kasso to join them. A few hours later, with up to 36 stab wounds, mutilated eyes and bites on his chest, and in the face of Kasso screaming, “Say you love Satan!,” Lauwers said, “I love my mother,” and died.

On top of using leaves and sticks to not-so-effectively conceal the crime, Kasso started bragging about it, and this is where it enters dark legend: Kasso credited Satan with the murder and then led guided tours to the corpse, claiming satanic crows had appeared to him immediately after the slaughter, and sanctioned it. Nineteen days later, on the basis of an anonymous tip, Kasso was arrested, and the Lauwers missing person case closed. Two days later, Kasso hanged himself in his cell.

Which is where the handful of books and more than a dozen songs, screen adaptations, films and inspired-bys began, helped along no doubt by the square-jawed, long-haired pretty-boy cut of Kasso’s arrest photo, an AC/DC T-shirt, his freak flag that day, sported loudly and proudly. “Kasso was like some kind of suburban swashbuckler,” says Tommy Turner, director of the 1985 Kasso-influenced flick Where Evil Dwells, which was recently lighting-corrected and bumped up from 8 mm to 16 mm by New York University as part of its museum restoration. That is, as Turner says, “if you could forget for a second that he gouged out his friend’s eyes.”

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