Berkowitz's arrest mug shot on August 11, 1977
June 1, 1953 |
Brooklyn, New York
|Other names||The Son of Sam
The .44 Caliber Killer
|Criminal penalty||Six life sentences|
|Conviction(s)||Murder in the second degree
Attempted murder in the second degree
|Victims||6 killed, 7 wounded|
Span of killings
|July 29, 1976–July 31, 1977|
|Weapons||.44 caliber Bulldog revolver|
|August 10, 1977|
David Richard Berkowitz (born Richard David Falco, June 1, 1953), also known as the Son of Sam and the .44 Caliber Killer, is an American serial killer convicted of a series of shooting attacks that began in New York City in the summer of 1976. Perpetrated with a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver, he killed six victims and wounded seven others by July 1977. As the toll mounted, Berkowitz eluded a massive police manhunt while leaving brazen letters which mocked the police and promised further crimes. Highly publicized in the press, he terrorized New York and achieved worldwide notoriety.
After his arrest by New York City police in August 1977, Berkowitz was indicted for eight shooting incidents. He confessed to all of them, and claimed to have been obeying the orders of a demon, manifested in the form of a dog ("Harvey") who belonged to his neighbor ("Sam"). Despite his explanation, Berkowitz was found mentally competent, and incarcerated in state prison for murder. In the course of further police investigation, Berkowitz was also implicated in many unsolved arsons in the city.
Intense coverage of the case by the media lent a kind of celebrity status to Berkowitz, and observers noted indignantly that he appeared to enjoy it. In response, the New York State legislature enacted new legal statutes, known popularly as "Son of Sam laws", designed to keep criminals from profiting financially from the publicity surrounding their crimes. Despite various amendments and legal challenges, the statutes have remained law in New York, and similar laws have been enacted in several other states.
Berkowitz has been imprisoned since his arrest and is serving six life sentences consecutively. In the mid-1990s, he amended his confession to claim that he had been a member of a violent Satanic cult that orchestrated the incidents as ritual murder. Though he remains the only person ever charged with the shootings, some law enforcement authorities have questioned whether Berkowitz's claims are credible. A new investigation into the murders was launched in 1996, but was suspended indefinitely after inconclusive findings.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Crimes begin
- 3 Press and publicity
- 4 Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani shooting
- 5 Letters and profiling
- 6 Crimes continue
- 7 Arrest
- 8 Prison life
- 9 Satanic cult claims
- 10 Legacy
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
David Berkowitz was born Richard David Falco on June 1, 1953, in Brooklyn, New York. His mother, Betty Broder, grew up in an impoverished Jewish family and later married Tony Falco, an Italian-American Catholic. The couple ran a fish market together. They separated before Berkowitz's birth: Falco left for another woman, and Broder later had an affair with a married real estate agent, Joseph Kleinman. When she became pregnant, Kleinman threatened to abandon her if she kept the baby, so she put the child up for adoption and listed Falco as the father. Within a few days of his birth, the infant boy was adopted by Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz of the Bronx. The Jewish-American couple were hardware store retailers of modest means, and childless in middle age. They reversed the order of the boy's first and middle names and gave him their own surname, raising young David Richard Berkowitz as their only son.
John Vincent Sanders wrote that Berkowitz's childhood was "somewhat troubled. Although of above-average intelligence, he lost interest in learning at an early age and began an infatuation with petty larceny and pyromania." Neighbors and relatives would recall Berkowitz as difficult, spoiled and bullying – his adoptive parents consulted at least one psychotherapist due to his misconduct – but his misbehavior never resulted in legal intervention or serious mention in his school records. Berkowitz's adoptive mother died of breast cancer when he was fourteen and his home life became strained in later years, particularly because he disliked his adoptive father's second wife.
In 1971, at the age of eighteen, Berkowitz joined the US Army and served in the United States and South Korea. After an honorable discharge in 1974, he located his birth mother, Betty Falco. After a few visits, she disclosed the details of his illegitimate birth, which greatly disturbed him, particularly because his birth father was deceased. Forensic anthropologist Elliott Leyton described Berkowitz's discovery of his adoption and illegitimate birth as the "primary crisis" of his life, a revelation that shattered his sense of identity. Berkowitz fell out of contact with his birth mother, but remained for a time in touch with his half-sister, Roslyn. He subsequently held several blue collar jobs, and at the time of his arrest he was working as a letter sorter for the U.S. Postal Service.
In the mid-1970s, Berkowitz started to commit violent crimes. After a bungled first attempt at murder using a knife, he switched to firearms, and began a lengthy crime spree throughout the New York boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. An apparent misogynist, he sought out young female victims, and was purportedly most attracted to women with long, dark, wavy hair. Several of the crime sites involved two victims: he infamously launched many of his attacks while the women sat with boyfriends in parked cars. He exhibited an enduring enjoyment of his activities, often returning to the scenes of his crimes.
Michelle Forman stabbing
Berkowitz claimed that his first attacks were committed on December 24, 1975, when he used a hunting knife to stab two women. One alleged victim was never identified by police but the other, teenager Michelle Forman, was injured seriously enough to put her in the hospital. Berkowitz was not under suspicion for these crimes, and shortly afterward he moved to an apartment in Yonkers, New York, just slightly north of the New York City borderline.
Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti shooting
The first shooting attributed to the Son of Sam took place in the Pelham Bay area of New York City's northernmost borough, the Bronx. At about 1:10 a.m. on July 29, 1976, Donna Lauria, 18, and her friend Jody Valenti, 19, were sitting in Valenti's Oldsmobile, discussing their evening at the Peachtree, a New Rochelle discotheque. Lauria opened the car door to leave and noticed a man quickly approaching the car. Startled and angered by the man's sudden appearance, she said "Now what is this ..." From the paper sack he carried, the man produced a pistol and went into a crouch – he braced one elbow on his knee, aimed his weapon with both hands, and fired. Lauria was struck by one bullet that killed her instantly. Valenti was shot in her thigh, and a third bullet missed both women. Not having said a word, the shooter turned and quickly walked away.
Valenti, who survived her injuries, said she did not recognize the killer. She described him as a white male in his thirties with a fair complexion, standing about 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 m) and weighing about 160 lb (73 kg). His hair was short, dark and curly in a "mod style." This description was echoed by Lauria's father, who claimed to have seen a similar man sitting in a yellow compact car parked nearby. Neighbors gave corroborating reports to police that an unfamiliar yellow compact car had been cruising the area for hours before the shooting.
Detectives from the NYPD's 8th Homicide precinct were able to determine that the murder weapon was a pistol chambered for the .44 Special cartridge, manufactured by Charter Arms and called the Bulldog model. A five-shot revolver intended for use in close quarters, the .44 Bulldog was easily identified by ballistics tests.
The killer's distinctive shooting stance was the same one taught in NYPD pistol training and gave rise to speculation that he might be a police officer. In the absence of any additional evidence, however, police followed two working hypotheses: that the shooter was a spurned admirer of the popular Lauria or that the shooting was a mistaken assassination of the wrong person. The neighborhood had seen recent mob activity and police even hinted that Lauria's father, a member of the Teamsters union, might be involved in Italian organized crime.
Carl Denaro and Rosemary Keenan shooting
On October 23, 1976, a similar shooting occurred in the New York borough of Queens. In a secluded residential area of Flushing, next to Bowne Park, Carl Denaro, 25, and Rosemary Keenan, 28, were sitting in Keenan's parked car when the windows suddenly shattered: "I felt the car exploded," Denaro said later. Keenan, however, quickly started the car and sped off for help. The panicked couple did not realize someone had been shooting at them, even as Denaro was bleeding from a bullet wound to his head. Keenan had only superficial injuries from the broken glass, but Denaro eventually needed a metal plate to replace a portion of his skull. Neither victim saw the attacker.
Police determined that the bullets embedded in Keenan's car were .44 caliber, but they were so damaged and deformed that they thought it was unlikely that they could ever be linked to a particular weapon. Denaro had shoulder-length hair and police would later speculate that the shooter had mistaken him for a girl. Keenan's father was a 20-year veteran police detective of the NYPD, spurring an in-depth investigation. As with the Lauria–Valenti shooting, however, there seemed to be no motive for the shooting and police made little progress in the case. Though many details of the Denaro–Keenan shooting were very similar to the Lauria–Valenti case, police did not initially draw a connection, partly because the shootings occurred in different boroughs and were investigated by different local police precincts. (Obviously, no central computerized database existed at the time, linking the various NYPD precincts throughout New York City's five boroughs to permit the nearly instant dissemination of information that is the current norm.)
Donna DeMasi and Joanne Lomino shooting
Shortly after midnight on November 27, 1976, two girls – Donna DeMasi, 16, and Joanne Lomino, 18 – had walked home from a movie and were chatting on the porch of Lomino's home in Bellerose, Queens, when a man in his early twenties, dressed in military fatigues, approached and began to ask directions. In a high-pitched voice he said, "Can you tell me how to get ..." but then quickly produced a revolver. He shot each of the victims once and, as they fell to the ground injured, he fired several more times, striking the apartment building before running away. Having heard the gunshots, a neighbor rushed out of the apartment building and saw a blond man rush by, gripping a pistol in his left hand.
DeMasi had been shot in the neck, but the wound was not life-threatening. Lomino was hit in the back and hospitalized in serious condition; she was ultimately rendered a paraplegic. Based on testimony from the girls and one of their neighbors, the police produced several composite sketches of the blond shooter. Police also determined the gun was a .44 caliber, but the slugs were so deformed that linking them to a particular gun was all but ruled out.
Christine Freund and John Diel shooting
The new year brought more shootings in Queens. In the early morning of January 30, 1977, an engaged couple, Christine Freund, 26, and John Diel, 30, were sitting in Diel's car, preparing to drive to a dance hall after having seen the movie Rocky. Three gunshots penetrated the car at about 12:40 a.m. In a panic, Diel drove away for help. He suffered minor superficial injuries, but Freund was shot twice and died several hours later at the hospital. Neither victim had seen their attacker(s).
Police made the first public acknowledgment that the Freund–Diel shooting was similar to earlier incidents, and that the crimes might be connected. All the victims had been struck with .44 caliber bullets, and the shootings seemed to focus on young women with long, dark hair. NYPD sergeant Richard Conlon stated that police were "leaning towards a connection in all these cases." Composite sketches of the black-haired Lauria–Valenti shooter and the blond Lomino–DeMasi shooter were released, and Conlon noted that police were looking for multiple "suspects", not just one.
Virginia Voskerichian shooting
At about 7:30 p.m. on March 8, 1977, Columbia University student Virginia Voskerichian, 19, was walking home from school when she was confronted by an armed man. She lived about a block from where Christine Freund was shot. In a desperate move to defend herself, Voskerichian lifted her textbooks between herself and her killer, only to have the makeshift shield penetrated, the bullet striking her head and killing her.
Moments after the shooting, a neighborhood resident who had heard the gunshots was rounding the corner onto Voskerichian's street. He nearly collided with a person he described as a short, husky boy, 16 to 18 years old and clean-shaven, wearing a sweater and watch cap, who was sprinting away from the crime scene. The neighbor said the youth pulled the cap over his face and said, "Oh, Jesus!" as he sprinted by. Other neighbors claimed to have seen the "teenager," as well as another person matching Berkowitz's description, loitering separately in the area for about an hour before the shooting. In the following days, the media repeated police claims that this "chubby teenager" was the suspect.
There were no direct witnesses to the Voskerichian murder. The Voskerichian shooting differed from the other Son of Sam crimes in several respects. All the other victims were couples, and were shot on weekends.
Press and publicity
Press conference of March 10, 1977
In a March 10, 1977 press conference, NYPD officials and New York City Mayor Abe Beame declared that the same .44 Bulldog revolver had fired the shots that killed Lauria and Voskerichian. Official documents would later surface, however, saying that while police strongly suspected the same .44 Bulldog had been used in the shootings, the evidence was actually inconclusive.
The same day, the Operation Omega task force made its public debut. Charged solely with investigating the .44 caliber shootings, the task force was led by Deputy Inspector Timothy Joseph Dowd, and was composed of over 300 police officers. Police speculated that the killer had a vendetta against women, perhaps due to chronic social rejection, and also declared that the "chubby teenager" was regarded as a witness, not a suspect in the Voskerichian shooting.
Publicity and political implications
The crimes were discussed in the media virtually every day in the New York area, and the world press carried many of the reports. The Son of Sam case reached the front page of newspapers as far afield as the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano, the Hebrew newspaper Maariv, and the Soviet Izvestia. Australian publisher Rupert Murdoch had recently purchased the New York Post, and the paper offered perhaps the most sensationalist coverage of the crimes.
Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani shooting
In the early morning of April 17, 1977, Alexander Esau, 20, and Valentina Suriani, 18, were in the Bronx, only a few blocks from the scene of the Lauria–Valenti shooting. At about 3:00 a.m., as they sat in Suriani's car near her home, they were each shot twice. Suriani died at the scene, and Esau died in the hospital several hours later without being able to describe his attacker(s).
Police asserted that the weapon used in the crime was the same as the one they had suspected in the earlier shootings. In the days afterwards, they repeated their theory that only one man was responsible for the .44 murders: the chubby teenager in the Voskerichian case was still regarded as a witness, while the dark-haired man who shot Lauria and Valenti was considered the suspect.
Letters and profiling
The Son of Sam letter
Near the bodies of Esau and Suriani, police discovered a handwritten letter. Written mostly in block capital letters with some lower-case letters, it was addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli. With this letter, Berkowitz revealed the name "Son of Sam" for the first time. In the press, the killer had previously been dubbed the ".44 Caliber Killer" because of his signature weapon. Although the letter was initially withheld from public view, some of its contents leaked to the press and the Son of Sam moniker rapidly eclipsed the old name.
With its rambling and feverish tone, the letter expressed the killer's determination to continue his work, and taunted police for their fruitless efforts to capture him. In full, with misspellings intact, the letter read:
I am deeply hurt by your calling me a wemon hater. I am not. But I am a monster. I am the "Son of Sam." I am a little "brat". When father Sam gets drunk he gets mean. He beats his family. Sometimes he ties me up to the back of the house. Other times he locks me in the garage. Sam loves to drink blood. "Go out and kill" commands father Sam. Behind our house some rest. Mostly young — raped and slaughtered — their blood drained — just bones now. Papa Sam keeps me locked in the attic, too. I can't get out but I look out the attic window and watch the world go by. I feel like an outsider. I am on a different wave length then everybody else — programmed too kill. However, to stop me you must kill me. Attention all police: Shoot me first — shoot to kill or else. Keep out of my way or you will die! Papa Sam is old now. He needs some blood to preserve his youth. He has had too many heart attacks. Too many heart attacks. "Ugh, me hoot it hurts sonny boy." I miss my pretty princess most of all. She's resting in our ladies house but I'll see her soon. I am the "Monster" — "Beelzebub" — the "Chubby Behemouth." I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game — tasty meat. The wemon of Queens are z prettyist of all. I must be the water they drink. I live for the hunt — my life. Blood for papa. Mr. Borrelli, sir, I dont want to kill anymore no sir, no more but I must, "honour thy father." I want to make love to the world. I love people. I don't belong on Earth. Return me to yahoos. To the people of Queens, I love you. And I wa want to wish all of you a happy Easter. May God bless you in this life and in the next and for now I say goodbye and goodnight. Police — Let me haunt you with these words; I'll be back! I'll be back! To be interrpreted as — bang, bang, bang, bank, bang — ugh!! Yours in murder Mr. Monster
At the time, police speculated that the letter-writer might be familiar with Scottish English. The phrase "me hoot, it hurts sonny boy" was taken as a Scots-accented version of "my heart, it hurts, sonny boy"; and the police also hypothesized that the shooter blamed a dark-haired nurse for his father's death, due to the "too many heart attacks" phrase, and the facts that Lauria was a medical technician and Valenti was studying to be a nurse. On July 28, New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin alluded to the "wemon" quirk and referred to the shooter watching the world from "his attic window."
Psychological profile and other police investigations
The killer's unusual behavior towards the police and the media received widespread scrutiny. Psychologists observed that many serial killers draw additional gratification from manipulating their pursuers and observers. The feeling of control over the media, law enforcement, and even entire populations provides a source of social power for them. After consulting with several psychiatrists, police released a psychological profile of their suspect on May 26, 1977. He was described as neurotic and probably suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and believed himself to be a victim of demonic possession.
Police questioned the owners of fifty-six .44 Bulldog revolvers legally registered in New York City, and forensically tested each weapon, ruling them out as the murder weapons. Among other unsuccessful ideas, police created traps with undercover officers posed as lovers parked in isolated areas, hoping to lure the shooter.
On May 30, 1977, the Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin received a handwritten letter from someone who claimed to be the .44 shooter. The letter was postmarked early that same day in Englewood, New Jersey. On the reverse of the envelope, neatly handprinted in four precisely centered lines, were the words: Blood and Family – Darkness and Death – Absolute Depravity – .44 The letter inside read:
Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C. which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine and blood. Hello from the sewers of N.Y.C. which swallow up these delicacies when they are washed away by the sweeper trucks. Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of N.Y.C. and from the ants that dwell in these cracks and feed in the dried blood of the dead that has settled into the cracks. J.B., I'm just dropping you a line to let you know that I appreciate your interest in those recent and horrendous .44 killings. I also want to tell you that I read your column daily and I find it quite informative. Tell me Jim, what will you have for July twenty-ninth? You can forget about me if you like because I don't care for publicity. However you must not forget Donna Lauria and you cannot let the people forget her either. She was a very, very sweet girl but Sam's a thirsty lad and he won't let me stop killing until he gets his fill of blood. Mr. Breslin, sir, don't think that because you haven't heard from me for a while that I went to sleep. No, rather, I am still here. Like a spirit roaming the night. Thirsty, hungry, seldom stopping to rest; anxious to please Sam. I love my work. Now, the void has been filled. Perhaps we shall meet face to face someday or perhaps I will be blown away by cops with smoking .38's. Whatever, if I shall be fortunate enough to meet you I will tell you all about Sam if you like and I will introduce you to him. His name is "Sam the terrible." Not knowing the what the future holds I shall say farewell and I will see you at the next job. Or should I say you will see my handiwork at the next job? Remember Ms. Lauria. Thank you. In their blood and from the gutter "Sam's creation" .44 Here are some names to help you along. Forward them to the inspector for use by N.C.I.C: [sic] "The Duke of Death" "The Wicked King Wicker" "The Twenty Two Disciples of Hell" "John 'Wheaties' – Rapist and Suffocator of Young Girls. PS: Please inform all the detectives working the slaying to remain. P.S: [sic] JB, Please inform all the detectives working the case that I wish them the best of luck. "Keep 'em digging, drive on, think positive, get off your butts, knock on coffins, etc." Upon my capture I promise to buy all the guys working the case a new pair of shoes if I can get up the money. Son of Sam
Underneath the "Son of Sam" was a logo or sketch that combined several symbols. The writer's question, "What will you have for July 29?" was taken as an ominous threat: July 29 would be the anniversary of the first .44 caliber shooting. Breslin notified police, who thought the letter was probably from someone with knowledge of the shootings. Sophisticated in its wording and presentation, especially when compared to the crudely written first letter, police suspected the Breslin letter might have been created in an art studio or similar professional location by someone with expertise in printing, calligraphy, or graphic design. The unusual writing caused the police to speculate that the killer was a comic letterer and asked staff members of DC Comics whether they recognized the lettering. Based on the "Wicked King Wicker" reference, police even arranged a private screening of The Wicker Man, a 1973 horror film.
A week later, after consulting with police and agreeing to withhold portions of the text, the Daily News published the letter, and Breslin urged the killer to turn himself over to authorities. Reportedly, over 1.1 million copies of that day's paper were sold. The letter caused a panic in New York, and based on references in the publicized portions of the letter, police received thousands of tips, all of which proved baseless. As all the shooting victims so far had long dark hair, thousands of women in New York acquired short cuts or brightly colored dyes, and beauty supply stores had trouble meeting the demand for wigs.
Sal Lupo and Judy Placido shooting
On June 26, 1977, there was another shooting. Sal Lupo, 20, and Judy Placido, 17, had left the Elephas discotheque in Bayside, Queens. The young couple were sitting in their car at about 3:00 a.m. when three gunshots blasted through the car. Both were struck by bullets, but their injuries were relatively minor, and both survived. Neither Lupo nor Placido had seen their attacker(s), but witnesses reported a tall, stocky, dark-haired man sprinting from the area, as well as a blond man with a mustache who drove from the neighborhood in a Chevy Nova without turning on its headlights. Police speculated the dark-haired man was the shooter, and that the blond man had observed the crime.
Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante shooting
It was near the first anniversary of the first .44 caliber shootings, and police set up a sizable dragnet, focusing on past hunting grounds of Queens and the Bronx. However, the next .44 shooting was in Brooklyn.
Early on July 31, 1977, Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante, both 20, were in Violante's car, which was parked under a streetlight near a city park in the neighborhood of Bath Beach. They were kissing when a man approached to within about three feet of the passenger side of Violante's car and fired four gunshots into the car, striking both victims in the head before he escaped into the park. Moskowitz died several hours later in the hospital. Violante survived, though one of his eyes was destroyed and he retained only very limited vision in the other eye. With her short, curly blonde hair, Moskowitz was a departure from the other female victims. Based on telephone calls to police within seconds of the shooting, the crime occurred at 2:35 a.m.
The Moskowitz–Violante crime produced more witnesses than any of the other Son of Sam murders, notably the only direct eyewitness who was not an intended victim: during the shooting, 19-year-old Tommy Zaino was parked with his date three cars in front of Violante's. Moments before the shooting, Zaino caught a peripheral glimpse of the shooter's approach and happened to glance in his rear view mirror just in time to see the actual shooting. Due to the bright street light and full moon, Zaino clearly saw the perpetrator for several seconds, later describing him as 25 to 30 years old, of average height (5'7" to 5'9") with shaggy hair that was dark blond or light brown — "it looked like a wig", Zaino said.
About a minute after the shooting, a woman seated next to her boyfriend in his car on the other side of the city park saw a "white male [who was wearing] a light-colored, cheap nylon wig" sprint from the park and enter a "small, light-colored" auto, which drove away quickly. "He looks like he just robbed a bank," said the woman, who wrote what she could see of the car's license plate: unable to determine the first two characters, she was certain the others were either 4-GUR or 4-GVR.
Other witnesses included a woman who saw a light car speed away from the park about 20 seconds after the gunshots, and at least two witnesses who described a yellow Volkswagen driving quickly from the neighborhood with its headlights off. A neighborhood resident given the pseudonym Mary Lyons heard the gunshots and Violante's calls for help, and glancing from her apartment window, she saw a man she later positively identified as Berkowitz, who was walking casually away from the crime scene as many others were rushing towards the scene to render aid.
Shortly after 2:35 a.m., a man given the pseudonym Alan Masters was driving through an intersection a few blocks from the park. Masters was nearly struck by what he described as a yellow Volkswagen Beetle that sped through the intersection, against the red light and without headlights, with the driver holding his door shut with his arm as he drove. Angered and alarmed, Masters followed the Volkswagen at high speed for several minutes before losing sight of the vehicle. Masters described the driver as a white male in his late 20s or early 30s, with a narrow face; dark, long, stringy hair; several days' growth of dark whiskers on his face; and wearing a blue jacket. Upset, Masters neglected to note the Volkswagen's license plate number, but he thought it might have been a New Jersey rather than a New York plate. Violante encountered a very similar man as he and Moskowitz were in the park shortly before the shooting, describing him as a "grubby-looking hippy" with whiskers, wiry hair over his forehead, dark eyes, and wearing a denim jacket.
Thomas Scally stated that, while he was sitting in Alley Pond Park on Winchester Boulevard at dusk with a female friend, a yellow Volkswagen Beetle rolled up to his car, door to door and only three inches apart from his vehicle without its engine running. Tom kept an air gun under his seat and as the VW rolled up to Tom's car, the VW driver was met with the gun pointed straight at him. At first he appeared to be a light skinned black male, but he also appeared to be wearing a stocking over his face. The driver of the VW quickly started his car and gunned it in reverse out of the parking lot. Tom chased the car to a point in Glen Oaks where he jumped out and ran. Not wanting to leave his female passenger to give chase he called the Son of Sam Hot Line. Detective Richard Carroll from the Son of Sam Task Force (and Tom's former baseball coach) later told Tom at a wedding of the Detective's son, that Tom had indeed seen the Son of Sam. Glen Oaks turned out to be the home of Berkowitz's sister and lay in close proximity to the site of the Donna DiMaise and Joanne LoMino shootings.
Police did not learn of the Moskowitz–Violante shooting until about 2:50 a.m., and Dowd did not think it was another Son of Sam shooting until an officer at the scene reported that large-caliber shells had been used. About an hour after the shooting, police set up a series of roadblocks, stopping hundreds of cars to question drivers and inspect vehicles. Based on extended interviews of Masters and others who described a Volkswagen speeding from the crime scene, police now suspected that the shooter owned or drove such a vehicle. In subsequent days, police determined there were over 900 Volkswagens in New York or New Jersey, and they made plans to track down each of these cars and their owners.
Suspicion and capture
At the scene of the Moskowitz and Violante shooting, a local resident named Cacilia Davis had been walking her white dog, Snowball, when she saw a parked car being ticketed near a fire hydrant by patrol officer Michael Cataneo. Moments after the traffic police had left, a young man walked past her from the area of the car, and he seemed to study her with some interest. She felt concerned that he was wielding in his hand some kind of "dark object" – she ran to her home only to hear shots fired behind her in the street. Davis stayed silent about this experience for four days until she finally contacted police, who closely checked every car that had been ticketed in the area that night.
Berkowitz's 1970 four-door yellow Ford Galaxie was among the cars they investigated. Despite their claims to the contrary, police initially considered Berkowitz a possible witness, rather than a suspect. Not until August 9, 1977, did NYPD detective James Justis telephone Yonkers police to ask them to schedule an interview with Berkowitz. The Yonkers police dispatcher who first took Justis' call was Wheat Carr, the daughter of Sam Carr and sister of Berkowitz's alleged cult confederates John and Michael Carr.
Justis asked the Yonkers police for some help tracking Berkowitz down. Mike Novotny was a sergeant at the Yonkers Police Department. According to Novotny, the Yonkers police had their own suspicions about Berkowitz, in connection with other strange crimes in Yonkers, crimes they saw referenced in one of the Son of Sam letters. To the shock of the NYPD, they told the New York City detective that Berkowitz might just be the Son of Sam.
The next day, August 10, 1977, police investigated Berkowitz's car parked on the street outside his apartment building at 35 Pine Street in Yonkers. Seeing a rifle in the backseat, they searched the car and found a duffel bag filled with ammunition, maps of the crime scenes, and a threatening letter addressed to Sgt. Dowd of the Omega task force. Police decided to wait for Berkowitz to leave the apartment, rather than risk a violent encounter in the building's narrow hallway; they also waited to obtain a warrant for the vehicle, worried that their search might be challenged in court. They had searched initially based on the rifle visible in the back seat, though possession of such a rifle was legal in New York State and required no special permit. The warrant had still not arrived, however, when Berkowitz emerged from his home at about 10:00 p.m. Police homicide detectives Ed Zigo and John Falotico surrounded him as he started his car and discovered he was carrying his .44 Special Bulldog in a paper sack. His first words to them were reported to be, "Well, you got me. How come it took you such a long time?"
Police searched Apartment 7-E and found it in disarray, with Satanic graffiti on the walls. They also found diaries he had kept since he was twenty-one – three stenographer's notebooks nearly all full wherein Berkowitz meticulously noted hundreds of arsons he claimed to have set throughout New York City. Some sources allege that this number might be over 1,400. Shortly after Berkowitz' arrest, the address of the building was changed from 35 Pine Street to 42 Pine Street in an attempt to cover up notoriety.
After the arrest, Berkowitz was briefly held in a Yonkers police station before being transported directly to the 60th Police Precinct in Coney Island Brooklyn where the detectives' task force was located. At about 1:00 a.m., Mayor Abe Beame arrived to see the suspect personally. After a brief and wordless encounter, he announced to the media: "The people of the City of New York can rest easy because of the fact that the police have captured a man whom they believe to be the Son of Sam."
Berkowitz was interrogated for about thirty minutes in the early morning of August 11, 1977. He quickly confessed to the shootings and expressed an interest in pleading guilty.
During questioning, Berkowitz claimed that his neighbor's dog was one of the reasons that he killed, stating that the dog demanded the blood of pretty young girls. He said that the "Sam" mentioned in the first letter was his former neighbor, Sam Carr. Berkowitz claimed that Carr's black labrador retriever, Harvey, was possessed by an ancient demon and that it issued irresistible commands that Berkowitz must kill people. Berkowitz said he once tried to kill the dog, but was unsuccessful due to supernatural interference.
A few weeks after his arrest and confession, Berkowitz was permitted communication with the press. In a letter to the New York Post dated September 19, 1977, Berkowitz alluded to his original story of demonic possession but closed with a warning that has been interpreted by some investigators as an admission of criminal accomplices: "There are other Sons out there, God help the world."
During his sentencing, Berkowitz repeatedly chanted "Stacy was a whore" at a low yet audible volume. His behavior caused an uproar and the court was adjourned. Berkowitz later claimed that his statement was a response to Moskowitz's mother, Neysa, who frequently opined that Berkowitz should be executed.
On June 12, 1978, Berkowitz was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for each murder, to be served consecutively. He was ordered to serve his time in the upstate New York supermax prison, Attica Correctional Facility. During his retrial evaluation, Berkowitz drew a sketch of a jailed man surrounded by numerous walls. At the bottom he wrote: “I am not well. Not well at all”. As of 2015, Berkowitz is serving his sentence at Sullivan Correctional Facility, which is just north of Rockland County and the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Retraction of claims of possession
At a press conference in February 1979, Berkowitz declared that his previous claims of demonic possession were a hoax. In a series of meetings with his special court-appointed psychiatrist, the noted scholar David Abrahamsen, Berkowitz admitted that he had long contemplated murder to lash out at a world that he felt had rejected and hurt him. Berkowitz felt particular anger over his lack of success with women and thus singled out attractive young women as victims.
After his arrest, Berkowitz was initially confined to a psychiatric ward in Brooklyn's Kings County Hospital where staff reported that he appeared remarkably untroubled by his new environment. On the day after his sentencing, he was taken first to Sing Sing and then to the upstate Clinton Correctional Facility for psychiatric and physical examinations. Two more months were spent at the Central New York Psychiatric Center in Marcy before his admission to Attica prison. Berkowitz served about a decade in Attica until he was moved (c.1990) to Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York, where he has remained ever since.
Life in Attica was described by Berkowitz as a "nightmare". In 1979, there was an attempt on Berkowitz's life. He refused to identify the person(s) who had attacked him with a knife, but suggested that the act was directed by the cult to which he once belonged. He bears a permanent scar from the wound that took 56 stitches to close.
In 1987, Berkowitz became a born again Christian in prison. According to his personal testimony, his moment of conversion occurred after reading Psalm 34:6 from a Bible given to him by a fellow inmate. He says he is no longer to be referred to as the "Son of Sam"; rather he is now, he says, the "Son of Hope." In the same testimony, he stated that his involvement in the occult had been a major factor in the Son of Sam murders.
In March 2002, Berkowitz sent a letter to New York Governor George Pataki asking that his upcoming parole hearing be canceled, stating: "In all honesty, I believe that I deserve to be in prison for the rest of my life. I have, with God's help, long ago come to terms with my situation and I have accepted my punishment." In June 2004, he was denied a second parole hearing after he stated that he did not want one. The parole board saw that he had a good record in the prison programs, but decided that the brutality of his crimes called for him to stay imprisoned. In July 2006, the board once again denied parole on similar grounds, with Berkowitz not in attendance at the hearing.
Shortly after his imprisonment, Berkowitz invited the former priest and exorcist Malachi Martin to help him compose an autobiography, but the offer was not accepted. In later years, Berkowitz developed his memoirs with assistance from colleagues in the born-again Christian community. His reflections were released as an interview video, Son of Hope, in 1998, with a more extensive work released in book form, entitled Son of Hope: The Prison Journals of David Berkowitz (2006). Berkowitz collects no royalties or profits from any sales of his works.
Berkowitz has continued to write reflective essays on faith and repentance for Christian websites. His own official website is maintained on his behalf by a church group, since he is not allowed access to a computer. A shy and retiring figure behind bars, Berkowitz stays involved in prison ministry and regularly counsels troubled inmates.
In June 2005, Berkowitz sued one of his previous lawyers for the misappropriation of a large number of letters, photographs, and other personal possessions. Hugo Harmatz, a New Jersey attorney, had represented Berkowitz in an earlier legal effort to prevent the National Enquirer from buying one of his letters. Harmatz then self-published his own collection of letters and memorabilia – Dear David (2005) – which he had obtained from Berkowitz during their consultations. Berkowitz stated that he would only drop the lawsuit if the attorney signed over all the money he made to the victims' families. On October 25, 2006, Berkowitz and Harmatz settled out of court, with Harmatz agreeing to return the disputed items to Berkowitz's present attorney Mark Heller, and to donate part of his book profits to the New York State Crime Victims Board.
Satanic cult claims
In 1979, Berkowitz mailed a book about witchcraft to police in North Dakota. He had underlined several passages and written a few marginal notes, including the phrase: "Arliss [sic] Perry, Hunted, Stalked and Slain. Followed to Calif. Stanford University." The reference was to Arlis Perry, a 19-year-old North Dakota newlywed who had been murdered at Stanford on October 12, 1974. Her death, and the notorious abuse of her corpse in a Christian chapel on campus, was a widely reported case. Berkowitz mentioned the Perry attack in other letters, suggesting that he knew details of it from the perpetrator himself. Local police investigators interviewed him but "now  believe he has nothing of value to offer" and the Perry case remains unsolved.
After his admission to Sullivan prison, Berkowitz began to claim that he had joined a Satanic cult in the spring of 1975. He had met some of its members at a party, and initially thought the group was involved only in occult activities such as séances and fortune telling; the group, however, gradually introduced him to drug use, sadism, crime and murder. Berkowitz states that he knew roughly two dozen core members in New York – the "twenty-two disciples of hell" mentioned in the Breslin letter – and that the group had ties across the U.S. in drug smuggling and other illegal activities.
In 1993, Berkowitz first made these claims known when he announced to the press that he had killed only three of the Son of Sam victims: Donna Lauria, Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani. In this revised confession, Berkowitz says that there were other shooters involved and that he personally fired the gun only in the first attack (Lauria and Valenti) and the sixth (Esau and Suriani). He says that he and several other cult members were involved in every incident by planning the events, providing early surveillance of the victims, and acting as lookouts and drivers at the crime scenes. Berkowitz states that he cannot divulge the names of most of his accomplices without putting his family directly at risk.
Among Berkowitz's unnamed associates was a female cult member who he claims fired the gun at Denaro and Keenan: the victims survived, he said, because she was unfamiliar with the powerful recoil of a .44 Bulldog. Berkowitz declared that "at least five" cult members were at the scene of the Freund–Diel shooting, but the actual shooter was a prominent cult associate who had been brought in from outside New York with an unspecified motive – a cult member whom he identified only by his nickname, "Manson II". Another unnamed figure was the gunman in the Moskowitz–Violante case, a male cult member who had arrived from North Dakota for the occasion, also without explanation.
Berkowitz did name two of the cult members: John and Michael Carr. The two men were sons of the dog-owner Sam Carr and lived on nearby Warburton Avenue. Both of these other "sons of Sam" were long dead: John had been killed in a shooting labeled a suicide in North Dakota in 1978, and Michael had been in a fatal car accident in 1979. Berkowitz claims that the actual perpetrator of the DeMasi–Lomino shooting was John Carr, and adds that a Yonkers police officer, also a cult member, was involved in this crime. He also claims that Michael Carr fired the shots at Lupo and Placido, adding that cult members had long wanted to kill someone at the Elephas disco because of its redolence of 19th century occultist Eliphas Levi.
Journalist John Hockenberry asserts that, even aside from the Satanic cult claims, many officials doubted the single-shooter theory, writing, "what most don't know about the Son of Sam case is that from the beginning, not everyone bought the idea that Berkowitz acted alone." John Santucci, Queens District Attorney at the time of the killings, and police investigator Mike Novotny both expressed their convictions that Berkowitz had accomplices. Other contemporaries have voiced their belief in the Satanic cult theory, including Carl Denaro and Donna Lauria's father. Hockenberry's own report was covered on network news and given in-depth exposure by Dateline NBC (2004). In it, he discusses another journalist, Maury Terry, who had begun investigating the Son of Sam shootings before Berkowitz was arrested. Terry published a series of investigative articles in the Gannett newspapers in 1979 which challenged the official explanation of a lone gunman. Vigorously denied by police at the time, Terry's articles were widely read and discussed; they were later assembled in book form as The Ultimate Evil (1987). Largely impelled by these reports of accomplices and Satanic cult activity, the Son of Sam case was reopened by Yonkers police in 1996, but no new charges were filed. For lack of findings, the investigation was eventually suspended but remains unclosed.
Berkowitz' later claims are dismissed by many. Journalist Jimmy Breslin flatly rejected Berkowitz's story of Satanic cult accomplices, stating that "when they talked to David Berkowitz that night, he recalled everything step by step by step. The guy has 1,000 percent recall and that's it. He's the guy and there's nothing else to look at."
Other skeptics include a former FBI profiler who spent hours interviewing Berkowitz. He states that he was convinced Berkowitz acted alone and was an "introverted loner, not capable of being involved in group activity." Dr. Harvey Schlossberg, a NYPD psychologist, states in the Against The Law documentary on the Son of Sam case that he believes that the Satanic cult claims are nothing but a fantasy concocted by Berkowitz to absolve himself of the crimes. Forensic anthropologist Elliott Leyton argued that "recent journalistic attempts to abridge – or even deny – Berkowitz's guilt have lacked all credibility."
The case in Yonkers has never been brought before a grand jury, nor has Berkowitz ever testified to his Satanic cult claims under oath or been cross-examined about his version of events in a trial. The New York City police have never wavered from their belief that a lone gunman was the Son of Sam.
Decades after his arrest, the name "Son of Sam" remains widely recognized as a notorious serial killer, and it evokes a distinctive time in New York City history. Many manifestations in popular culture have helped perpetuate this notoriety, while Berkowitz himself continues to express remorse on Christian websites. Many contemporaries are still alive and keenly sensitive to the events; many regularly follow Berkowitz's parole hearings and voice opposition to his release. Others refuse to talk about Berkowitz at all, while Stacy Moskowitz's mother – who previously had not hidden her bitterness towards the man – wrote a letter to him shortly before her death in 2006, forgiving him for his sins.
Beginning in the 1980s, several US states enacted so-called "Son of Sam laws". The first of these laws was enacted in New York state after rampant speculation about publishers offering Berkowitz large sums of money for his story. The new law authorized the state to seize all money earned from such a deal from a criminal for five years, with intentions to use the seized money to compensate victims.
In popular culture
Jimmy Breslin, in collaboration with writer Dick Schaap, published a novelized account of the murders, Son of Sam (1978), less than a year after Berkowitz's arrest. The highly fictionalized plot centers around a Berkowitz-based character dubbed "Bernard Rosenfeld", and in North America the book itself was renamed as .44.
The Spike Lee drama Summer of Sam was released in 1999 with actor Michael Badalucco in the role of Son of Sam. The film depicts the tensions that develop in a Bronx neighborhood during the shootings, and Berkowitz's part is largely symbolic. A minor character in the script, he functions "mostly as a berserk metaphor for Lee's view of the seventies as a period of amoral excess". Berkowitz was reported to be greatly upset by what he called exploitation of "the ugliness of the past". Other film portrayals of Berkowitz include the Ulli Lommel DVD release Son of Sam (1999) and the CBS television movie Out of the Darkness (1985). The character of Son of Sam played a significant minor role in the miniseries The Bronx Is Burning (2007).
Son of Sam has been the topic of numerous songs including "Son of Sam" (1978) by The Dead Boys; and "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun" (1989) by Beastie Boys. Guitarist Scott Putesky used the stage name "Daisy Berkowitz" while playing with Marilyn Manson in the 1990s; several other rock musicians established a full ensemble called Son of Sam in 2000. A cartoon composite of Berkowitz and the breakfast cereal icon Toucan Sam was featured in Green Jellÿ's comedy rock video Cereal Killer (1992) under the name of "Toucan Son of Sam", but was later removed under threat of a copyright lawsuit by the Kellogg Company.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to David Berkowitz.|
- Arise and Shine, official website