During the 1980s, American pop culture was obsessed with the occult and many Americans believed that the occult was infiltrating the minds of the youth. Satanic panic was truly alive and well in 1980s America. While satanic panic was a ridiculous notion with concerned parents contending that satanic cults roamed the streets, taking drugs and committing human sacrifices, there was one certain case that lent some legitimacy to the fear: the case of “The Acid King,” Ricky Kasso. Ricky hailed from Northport, Long Island, New York, and when he was a young boy, he was an energetic athlete that would wake up at the crack of dawn to play football with his friends. He was described by his parents as “the greatest kid in the world.”
Within 5 years, however, Ricky would be charged with an alleged satanic ritualistic killing and commit suicide in his jail cell. Where did it all go wrong?
As Ricky developed into a teenager, his ambition swiftly started to fall apart. He got mixed up with the wrong crowd and began experimenting with drugs. First of all, it was just marijuana and hashish but he would very quickly progress onto the harder stuff such as LSD and PCP. “I enjoy the fantasy world of drugs. You can’t stop me. I love drugs,” Ricky once stated to his father, Richard. “He became insubordinate to his teachers then joined in a house burglary and began to get in trouble with the police,” recalled Richard.1 Ricky’s parents – both school teachers – tried desperately to wean him from drugs by sending him to South Oaks Hospital – which cost a hefty $45,000 – but to no avail. Eventually, Ricky’s drug use and behaviour became so erratic and he eventually moved out of the family home and subsequently dropped out of school.
Ricky had a reputation, so to speak. Some of the younger boys in the town looked up to him because he was always carrying drugs and depending on his mood, would share them amongst friends. He lived by his wits and would sleep in unlocked cars or on the beach. Later on, he and several friends stayed in a shack that they had purchased; they spent their days and nights in a drug-induced haze and answered to nobody. The uncontrollable teenager only saw his mother and father if he needed them to help him with something. “In most families, no matter how disobedient or rebellious a child is, he needs some element of the home love, food or shelter. Ricky required none of these. The only time he came home was when he was in trouble with the police, or was seriously ill,” stated Richard.2 On one occasion, Ricky was caught digging up an old grave; he was allegedly looking for an Indian skeleton which he intended on stealing. Following his apprehension, officers found a list of the Dignitaries in Hell in his pocket. His father appeared in court with him and helped him receive a reprimand which kept him out of jail.
It would only be a matter of time until Ricky started to dabble in the occult and satanism. On his frequent trips to the Northport Public Library, he read up on witchcraft and satanism and soon became infatuated with the devil. According to later news reports, Ricky was said to have become involved with a group of kids that referred to themselves as the “Knights of the Black Circle.” They would be linked to numerous ritual sacrificial slaughters of local pets. “They used to take animals down here and cut ‘em up, burn ‘em and stuff like that,” said local, Dan Carson.3 Allegedly Ricky was a major influencer of the group.
Nicknamed “Dracula” due to his strange teeth formation, Jimmy Troiano was Ricky’s best friend and supposed fellow member of the “Knights of the Black Circle.” A lot of kids flocked to Ricky to get high in his shack and listen to him ramble about Satanism, or at least what he perceived as Satanism. He earned the nickname “The Acid King” due to his seemingly never ending supply of the drug. Ricky frequently spoke of suicide. He once described it as the “ultimate high.”
On the night of the 21st of April, 1984, 17-year-old Ricky, Jimmy and several other friends attended a party in the woods. Ricky brought along PCP and what he believed to be mescaline (it was probably low-grade LSD). As the night wore on, Ricky passed out. Another party-goer was 17-year-old Gary Lauwers, a local dishwasher who had lost his job after dying his hair pink. Upon seeing Ricky out cold, Gary decided he wanted more PCP. He crept over to the immobile body and stole the drug right from Ricky’s pocket. The following morning, somebody informed Ricky that Gary had stolen from him. The Acid King was furious and he wasn’t going to let it slide. Ricky confronted Gary about the theft and demanded he return the PCP or pay him back for it. When Gary refused, Ricky beat him to a pulp. He returned five packets of the drug but told Ricky that he didn’t have the other five packets. He promised that he would borrow the money he owed him from his mother and father but he never did show up with that elusive money. Over the forthcoming weeks, Ricky beat Gary up four times hoping that it would encourage him to pay up. Nevertheless, the money never appeared.
The tension between the duo would soon reach boiling point. On the 16th of June 1984, Ricky, 17, Jimmy, 17, and another friend, Albert Quinones, 17, decided they would go to the Aztakea Woods to get high. Much to the other teenagers’ confusion, Ricky invited Gary.
Upon arriving at a secluded area deep in the secluded woods, the group of teenagers made a fire and took some PCP and LSD. When the fire gradually went out, Ricky suggested using Gary’s jacket as a kindling. Gary refused to throw the jacket in the fire but agreed that Ricky could cut off the arms to toss into the fire to keep it going. It worked for a while but when the fire died down once again, Ricky suggested using cutting off Gary’s hair. Gary pleaded but his pleas fell upon deaf ears. Ricky held Gary down while Jimmy cut out clumps of his hair with Ricky’s pocket knife. After his hair was thrown to the fire, Gary turned to Ricky and said: “I’m getting bad vibes that you want to hurt me…” Ricky replied: “Hurt you? I don’t want to hurt you, I want to kill you!” Ricky subsequently pounced on Gary and stabbed him between 17 and 36 times and gouged out his eyeballs.. At one point during the brutal attack, Ricky shouted to Gary: “Say you love Satan!” Each time Ricky gave this command, Gary weeped: “I love my mother.” It was reported that Ricky told authorities that following the murder, a crow screeched above and he took it as a sign that Satan was pleased with what he had done.
After the gruesome murder, Ricky bragged to several friends that he had killed Gary as a sacrifice to Satan. Two weeks later, Newport police received a phone call from 16-year-old Laurie Walsh. She told police that Jimmy had told her about the slaying. Initially, she didn’t believe him but when she called Gary’s mother and learned that Gary had been missing, she realised that there may be some truth to the confession. Police officers rushed to the scene and conducted a search. They were assisted by sniffer dogs that caught the scent of human remains deep in the Aztakea Woods just behind Main Street. As they trudged through the woods, they soon came across a grim scene. A pile of bones, a denim vest, pants, and a pair of Nike trainers. Two weeks had passed since the slaying so little remained of Gary; his body had been completely drained of blood and his face had practically vanished.4
Ricky, Jimmy and Albert were soon apprehended. Both Jimmy and Albert confessed to what had happened that night in the woods but Albert contended that he had taken so many hallucinogens that he couldn’t comprehend what was happening or whether or not it was real. While Albert didn’t participate in the murder, he claimed that Jimmy did by holding Gary down as Ricky stabbed him.
Just days after their apprehension, Ricky looped a bed sheet over a high bar in his jail cell and committed suicide. His parents said they had warned the jail officials of Ricky’s history with suicidal thoughts; in the last year, he had threatened, faked, and attempted suicide once. Despite these glaring problems, Ricky was turned down for admission at a psychiatric facility who deemed him as “antisocial” but not a threat to himself or anybody else. Officials at the jail described Ricky as “calm and cool” and contended he showed no indication that he was suicidal.
During the trial of Jimmy Trioiano, Attorney Eric Naiburg stated: “There is, ladies and gentlemen, a devil in this case, and the devil is LSD. The devil has taken from them, and therefore from us, the ability to determine what is real and what is fantasy.”5 The star witness in the trial was Albert Quinones who gave several conflicting statements throughout his cross-examination. Albert had initially said that Jimmy held Gary down as Ricky stabbed him. He also said that Gary had offered them $500 to spare his life to which Jimmy and Ricky just laughed at. According to Albert, Gary had begged “don’t let them kill me,” before Ricky started to stab him. However, under cross-examination, Albert changed his story and now claimed that Jimmy didn’t participate in the murder at all and was just a bystander, much like himself. He also told the jury that both he and Jimmy had taken hallucinogenic drugs and that they had hallucinated of being chased by trees and bees. The inconsistencies in Albert’s statements truly were damaging to the case. “We got a guy who is totally burnt out, who doesn’t have a brain cell left,” said Jimmy’s lawyer.6After ten hours of deliberation, Jimmy Trioiano was acquitted and nobody was ever brought to justice for the murder of Gary Lauwers.
The media latched on to the disturbing story and published article after article about how satanism was very much alive in America’s dull suburbs. The already deranged tale of drugs, revenge and murder was subsequently warped into a quasi-mythical narrative to titillate the already paranoid public. Media outlets reported that the murder was a sacrificial killing by a group of devil-worshippers and that some 15 followers had witnessed the gruesome slaying yet did nothing to help. However, time would soon tell that the vast majority of the reports were sensational and that the murder was fuelled predominantly by drugs.
- The Philadelphia Inquirer, 10 July, 1984 – “Parents Trace Teen’s Descent into Devil Cult and Death”
- New York Daily News, 10 July, 1984 – “Cult-Slay Witness to Talk”
- Philadelphia Daily News, 11 June, 1984 – “Satanic Slaying Rocks a Village”
- Kids in the Dark, David Beskin
- The Orlando Sentinel, 26 April, 1985 – “Ritual Slaying”
- The Journal News, 10 April, 1985 – “Witness Tells of Ritualistic Killing”