Remember when “Satanic Panic” was all the rage in the 1980s? Parents, politicians, and the media were convinced that devil-worshipping cults roamed American neighborhoods looking for victims. A segment of the frightened public also wanted people to believe that heavy metal artists like Mötley Crüe and Ozzy Osbourne were influencing kids to take drugs, worship Satan, and murder people.

Me Time For The Mind

Photo Credit: Me Time For The Mind

It all looks a little ridiculous in hindsight, but certain crimes captured the public’s attention and did lend some legitimacy to the “Satanic Panic” hysteria. One of the most notable of these crimes was the case of Ricky Kasso.

Kasso was a 17-year-old who loved taking drugs, selling drugs, and listening to heavy metal. The son of a respected history teacher, he lived in an affluent town on Long Island in New York. Kasso was known around town as “The Acid King” because of his love for the hallucinogenic drug, both taking and selling it.

The teenage stoner also developed a strong interest in Satanism. Kasso and a group of like-minded friends christened themselves “The Knights of the Black Circle” and reportedly performed Satanic rituals together. Rumor has it that the group celebrated Walpurgisnacht, or “Witches’ Night,” in the infamous house in Amityville, New York where Ronald DeFeo, Jr. murdered his parents and four siblings in 1974. The house later became the setting for the book and the film The Amityville Horror.

Silverthorn Press

Photo Credit: Silverthorn Press

Kasso’s obsession with Satanism led him down a dark path, which came to a head on June 16, 1984. That night, Kasso ventured into the woods with three teenage friends, Gary Lauwers, James Troiano, and Albert Quinones. The foursome set up camp, started a fire, and took LSD. Kasso and Lauwers had previously quarreled because Lauwers had stolen 10 bags of PCP (aka Angel Dust) from Kasso. In fact, since Lauwers owed Kasso money, the two had fought on several occasions.

That night, they fought again. The argument escalated, and soon Ricky Kasso was pummeling Gary Lauwers. He eventually drew a knife and continued the attack, stabbing his 17-year-old friend to death. Reportedly, Kasso yelled, “Say you love Satan!” repeatedly as he stabbed. Lauwers suffered dozens of wounds, and his eyes were gouged out. Kasso later claimed that, during the violence, he heard a crow caw, and he believed it was the voice of Satan approving of the murder.

For the next couple of weeks, Kasso bragged around town that he had made a human sacrifice, and he even took people into the woods to view Lauwers’ decomposing body. Finally, on July 2, more than two weeks after the murder, police in Long Island received an anonymous tip about a body in the woods. Authorities discovered Gary Lauwers’ body with 32 stab wounds to the face, neck, and back.

Police tracked Ricky Kasso down, and he was apprehended a few days later, as were James Troiano and Albert Quinones. A photographer snapped a photo of Kasso after his arrest looking wild-eyed and wearing an AC/DC t-shirt. The press immediately latched on to the story, and there were a number of articles published wondering how deep the Satanism link ran in America’s seemingly boring suburbs. The New York Times told readers that “the killing has also renewed discussion over the influence of so-called heavy metal rock groups whose music, garb and publicity cultivate Satanic imagery.”

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Kasso confessed, telling investigators that the devil made him do it. Troiano admitted that he helped hold Lauwers down, but he claimed that Kasso did all the stabbing. Quinones agreed to testify for the prosecution in exchange for immunity.

Metal Injection

Photo Credit: Metal Injection

Ricky Kasso’s time behind bars, however, was extremely short lived. On July 7, 1984, only two days after he was arrested, Kasso was found dead in his cell, hanging from a noose he had made from a bedsheet.

Albert Quinones’ testimony was discredited during James Troiano’s trial, and a jury acquitted Troiano of second-degree murder in 1985.

Later notorious crimes were also blamed on Satanism, including Richard Ramirez‘s “Night Stalker” murders in California in the mid-1980s, as well as the infamous case of the West Memphis Three in Arkansas in 1993.

Want to find out more about the Satanic Panic and Satanism-inspired crimes? Here’s a great book on the subject.

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