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Berkowitz's arrest mug shot on August 11, 1977
|Born||Richard David Falco
June 1, 1953
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Other names||Son of Sam
The .44 Caliber Killer
David Richard Berkowitz
|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 that mocked the police and promised further crimes, highly publicized in the press. He terrorized New York and achieved worldwide notoriety.
Berkowitz was arrested by New York City police homicide detectives in August 1977, and 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 almost a 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 which orchestrated the incidents as ritual murder. He remains the only person ever charged with the shootings, yet 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 Crimes continue
- 4 Arrest
- 5 Prison life
- 6 Satanic cult claims
- 7 Legacy
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Berkowitz's mother, Betty Broder, grew up in an impoverished Jewish family and married Tony Falco, an Italian-American Catholic, in 1936. After a marriage of less than four years, Falco left her for another woman. Roughly a decade passed before Broder took up with a new partner, a married man named Joseph Klineman, around 1950. Three years later she became pregnant with a child to whom she chose to give the surname Falco—Richard David Falco was born on June 1, 1953 in Brooklyn, New York. Within a few days of his birth, she gave the child away. Although her reasons for doing so are unknown, later writers have surmised that Klineman threatened to abandon her if she kept the baby and used his name.
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 child.
Journalist 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, he 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. After a few visits, she disclosed the details of his illegitimate birth. The news greatly disturbed Berkowitz, and he was particularly distraught by the array of reluctant father figures. 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. He later 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. He bungled a first attempt at murder using a knife, then switched to firearms and began a lengthy crime spree throughout the New York boroughs of Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. He was apparently a misogynist and sought out young female victims. He was purportedly most attracted to women with long, dark, wavy hair. All but one 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 was teenager Michelle Forman, whose injuries were serious 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 the Bronx, New York City's northernmost borough. 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 Peachtree's, 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 ..." The man produced a pistol from the paper bag that he carried 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. The shooter turned and quickly walked away, without having said a word.
Valenti survived her injuries and said that 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.
Carl Denaro and Rosemary Keenan shooting
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On October 23, 1976, a similar shooting occurred in a secluded residential area of Flushing, Queens, next to Bowne Park. Carl Denaro, 20, and Rosemary Keenan, 18, were sitting in Keenan's parked car when the windows suddenly shattered. "I felt the car exploded [sic]", Denaro said later. Keenan quickly started the car and sped off for help. The panicked couple did not realize that someone had been shooting at them, even though 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 unlikely that they could ever be linked to a particular weapon.
Denaro had shoulder-length hair, and police later speculated 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. Many details of the Denaro–Keenan shooting were very similar to the Lauria–Valenti case, but police did not initially draw a connection, partly because the shootings occurred in different boroughs and were investigated by different local police precincts.
Donna DeMasi and Joanne Lomino shooting
Donna DeMasi, 16 and Joanne Lomino, 18 walked home from a movie shortly after midnight on November 27, 1976. They were chatting on the porch of Lomino's home in Bellerose, Queens when a man in his early 20s approached, dressed in military fatigues, 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. A neighbor heard the gunshots, 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.
Christine Freund and John Diel shooting
The new year brought more shootings in Queens. In the early morning of January 30, 1977, Christine Freund, 26, and her fiancé 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 were released of the black-haired Lauria–Valenti shooter and the blond Lomino–DeMasi shooter, 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, but the makeshift shield was 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 whom 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 that 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.
Press and publicity
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 later surfaced, however, saying that police strongly suspected that the same .44 Bulldog had been used in the shootings, but that the evidence was actually inconclusive.
The crimes were discussed in the local media virtually every day. Circulation increased dramatically for the New York Post and Daily News, newspapers whose muscular headlines and graphic crime reporting boosted sales well past the date of Berkowitz's arrest. The world press carried many of the reports too: 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.
Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani shooting
At about 3:00 a.m. on April 17, 1977, Alexander Esau, 20, and Valentina Suriani, 18, were sitting in Suriani's car near her home in the Bronx, only a few blocks from the scene of the Lauria–Valenti shooting, when each was 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 said that the weapon used in the crime was the same as the one which 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.
Son of Sam letter
Police discovered a handwritten letter near the bodies of Esau and Suriani, written mostly in block capital letters with some lower-case letters, and addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli. With this letter, Berkowitz revealed the name "Son of Sam" for the first time. The press had previously dubbed the killer "the .44 Caliber Killer" because of his signature weapon. The letter was initially withheld from public view, but some of its contents leaked to the press, and the name "Son of Sam" 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 women 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."
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.
On May 30, 1977, 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 that the letter was probably from someone with knowledge of the shootings. The Breslin letter was sophisticated in its wording and presentation, especially when compared to the crudely written first letter, and police suspected that it 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 they asked staff members of DC Comics whether they recognized the lettering. The "Wicked King Wicker" reference led police to arrange a private screening of The Wicker Man, a 1973 horror film.
The New York Daily News published the letter a week later (after agreeing with police to withhold portions of the text) and Breslin urged the killer to turn himself in. The dramatic article made that day's paper the highest-selling edition of the Daily News to date—more than 1.1 million copies. The letter caused a panic in New York, and police received thousands of tips based on references in the publicized portions of the letter, all of which proved baseless. All the shooting victims so far had long dark hair, and 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 vehicle. 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 that the dark-haired man was the shooter, and that the blond man had observed the crime.
Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante shooting
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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 retains very limited vision in the other eye.
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. Zaino clearly saw the perpetrator for several seconds due to the bright street light and full moon, later describing him as 25 to 30 years old, of average height—5 ft 7 in (1.70 m) to 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m)—with shaggy hair that was dark blond or light brown. Zaino said that the shooter's hair "looked like a wig."
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. She was unable to determine the first two characters, but was certain that 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 glanced from her apartment window to see a man whom 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 that 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 he was sitting in Alley Pond Park on Winchester Boulevard at dusk with a female friend when a yellow Volkswagen Beetle rolled up to his car, door to door and only three inches apart from his vehicle without its engine running. Scally kept an air gun under his seat and, as the VW rolled up to his 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. Scally chased the car to a point in Glen Oaks where he jumped out and ran. He did not want to leave his female passenger to give chase, so he called the Son of Sam Hot Line. Detective Richard Carroll from the Son of Sam Task Force (and Scally's former baseball coach) later told Scally that he 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 that it was another Son of Sam shooting until an officer at the scene reported that large-caliber shells had been used. Police set up a series of roadblocks about an hour after the shooting, stopping hundreds of cars to question drivers and inspect vehicles. During interviews, Masters and others described a Volkswagen speeding from the crime scene, and police now suspected that the shooter owned or drove such a vehicle. In subsequent days, police determined that 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. Detective John Falotico was awakened at home and told to report to the 10th Homicide Division at the 60th Precinct station house in Coney Island. He was told that Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante had been shot. Detective Falotico was given two weeks to work on the case as a normal murder investigation. Then it was to be handed over to a special Son of Sam task force.
Suspicion and capture
At the scene of the Moskowitz and Violante shooting, a local resident named Cacilia Davis had been walking her dog 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 that 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 down Berkowitz. According to Mike Novotny, a sergeant at the Yonkers Police Department, the Yonkers police had their own suspicions about Berkowitz in connection with other strange crimes in Yonkers, crimes that they saw referred to 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. They saw a rifle in the backseat, 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. and entered the car. Detective John Falotico approached the driver's side of the car. Falotico pointed his gun inches from the temple of the young man, while Detective Sgt. William Gardella pointed his gun from the passenger's side.
Next to the man in the car was a paper bag later found to contain a .44-caliber revolver of the type used in the shootings. As described in Son of Sam (1981) by Lawrence D. Klausner, Detective Falotico remembered the big, inexplicable smile on the man's face:
"Now that I've got you", Detective Falotico said to the suspect, "who have I got?"
"You know," the man said in what the detective remembered was a soft, almost sweet voice.
"No I don't. You tell me."
The man turned his head and said, "I'm Sam."
"You're Sam? Sam who?"
In an alternate version his first words were reported to be, "Well, you got me. How come it took you such a long time?" Detective John Falotico is officially credited by the New York City Police Department as the arresting officer of the Son of Sam.
Police searched Apartment 7-E and found it in disarray, with Satanic graffiti on the walls. They also found diaries that he had kept since he was twenty-one—three stenographer's notebooks nearly all full wherein Berkowitz meticulously noted hundreds of arsons that he claimed to have set throughout New York City. Some sources allege that this number might be over 1,400. Shortly after Berkowitz's 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 Precinct in Coney Island, 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.
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."
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 Attica Correctional Facility, the upstate New York supermax prison.
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”.
Retraction of claims of possession
Berkowitz declared at a press conference in February 1979 that his previous claims of demonic possession were a hoax. Berkowitz admitted in a series of meetings with his special court-appointed psychiatrist David Abrahamsen 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 in which the left side of his neck was slashed from front to back, a wound that took over fifty stitches to close. Berkowitz refused to identify his assailant, and only claimed that he was grateful for the attack—it brought a sense of justice or, in Berkowitz's own words, "the punishment I deserve".
Conversion to born-again Christianity
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" but the "Son of Hope". In the same testimony, he claimed his involvement in the cult 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 he stay imprisoned. In July 2006, the board once again denied parole on similar grounds, with Berkowitz not in attendance at the hearing.
Automatically considered for parole every two years under state law, Berkowitz was again denied in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016. In his 2016 application for parole—his 15th thus far—Berkowitz stated that he did "a lot of good things" including counseling other prisoners, and that the shootings in 1976–1977 were "beyond my comprehension."
Shortly after his imprisonment, Berkowitz invited Malachi Martin, an exorcist, 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. He 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. 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 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 alleged unnamed associates was a female cult member whom he claims fired the gun at Denaro and Keenan, both of whom survived, Berkowitz said, because the alleged accomplice 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 claims that Michael Carr fired the shots at Lupo and Placido.
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. Due to a lack of findings, the investigation was eventually suspended but remains unclosed.
Berkowitz's later claims are dismissed by many. Breslin rejected his 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."
Skeptics include a former FBI profiler[who?] 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.
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. Neysa Moskowitz, who previously had not hidden her bitterness towards Berkowitz, wrote him a letter shortly before her own death in 2006, forgiving him for killing her daughter, Stacy.
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 (2008) 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 popularly (and mistakenly) associated with the contemporaneous song "Psycho Killer" (1977) by Talking Heads; compositions more directly inspired by the events include "Son of Sam" (1978) by The Dead Boys; "Son of Sam" by Elliott Smith; 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, additionally, Manson's song "Sam, son of man" is quite conspicuously describing Berkowitz; 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.
The 2016 book Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina is set in New York during 1977, when Berkowitz was captured. Her book depicts how fear of being one of the Son of Sam victims impacted the daily lives of people living in New York City during this time.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to David Berkowitz.|
- Arise and Shine, official website