On May 8, 1978, American serial killer David Berkowitz, known as the "Son of Sam", plead guilty to 8 shooting attacks that killed 6 people in New York City throughout the summer of 1976.
Before becoming a serial killer, he served in the U.S. army. By July of 1977, Berkowitz had killed 6 people and wounded 7 others while evading police capture. He taunted the police and promised to continue his killing spree, terrorizing New Yorkers.
He was arrested on August 10, 1977 and taken into custody, and he quickly confessed to all of the murders. He claimed that he was simply obeying the orders of his neighbor's dog, who was actually a demon just using the dog as a host. (He did eventually admit that the devil-in-the-dog story was a hoax, go figure.) He was also implicated on a series of unsolved arsons.
Because of the heavy media attention from the murders and subsequent police taunting and evasion, once he was caught, the case was covered to an extent that elevated Berkowitz to nearly celebrity status. Laws were actually put in place that were designed to keep criminals from profiting financially from their crimes.
He has been in jail since his arrest, serving 6 consecutive life sentences for each victim he killed.
PRE-SERIAL KILLER LIFE
Born Richard David Falco in Brooklyn, New York in 1953, David Berkowitz was entangled in family problems from the moment he was born. His mother was left by her husband of 4 years and then began seeing a married man. When she got pregnant by him, she gave the baby up within days of his birth.
He was adopted by the Berkowitz family, a Jewish-American couple who owned a hardware store. They reversed the names Richard and David and he took their surname.
His childhood was "somewhat troubled". Like many serial killers, he had an above-average intelligence but wasn't interested in school, he was interested in crime. Parents around the area said he was difficult, spoiled and a bully. He had a propensity for petty larceny and arson. His parents consulted psychotherapists, but his behavior was never really bad enough for legal intervention. In my professional opinion, he was just a little shit.
Things got a little hairier when his mother passed away when he was 14, and his father remarried a woman he didn't like. Nothing of immense note happened during this time, but his home life became a bit more strained.
Berkowitz joined the United States Army in 1971 at the age of 17. He was honorably discharged in 1974 and located his birth mother. She told him the story of his birth and the men who had left her or had no interest in him, and it troubled him. Experts believe that learning of the details of his birth and adoption were the "primary crisis" of his life.
In the next few years, he cut off communication with his birth mother but stayed in touch with his half-sister, Roslyn. He held jobs, and retained them even throughout his murder spree.
BERKOWITZ BEGINS TO KILL
By the mid-1970s, Berkowitz began to commit violent crimes, escalating quickly to murder. He looked for young females, particularly with long, dark, wavy hair. He liked to commit his attacks when women were with someone else, specifically boyfriends. He truly enjoyed murdering people, and would return to the scenes of his crimes to further his enjoyment of the memories.
Berkowitz's first attack was on Christmas Eve in 1975. He used a hunting knife to stab 2 women. One of the women was never identified, but the other was a teenager named Michelle Forman. She was hospitalized, but survived the attack. He was not suspected of these crimes at the time. This was his first attempt at murder, but he blew it, blaming the knife. He decided to switch to a handgun for more efficient kills.
His first successful (if you can call it that) attack was on July 29, 1976. 18-year-old Donna Lauria and her friend 19-year-old Jody Valentini were sitting in Valentin's car, talking. When Lauria opened the door to get out, she saw a man approaching the car. He pulled out a pistol from a paper bag and fired. Lauria was struck by only one bullet that killed her immediately. Valentini was shot in the thigh, but survived. She said she did not recognize the man, but was able to provide a description to him. Lauria's father was able to corroborate the description, as he had seen him sitting in a parked car nearby a few times, and neighbors reported seeing a similar unfamiliar car in the area before the shooting.
On October 23, 1976, 20-year-old Carl Denaro and 18-year-old Rosemary Keenan were sitting in Keenan's car when the windows shattered from a bullet. The couple, panicked, tried to drive away, not realizing the shattering was from a gunshot even though Keenan was bleeding from his head. Denaro required extensive surgery to recover, and Keenan only had superficial injuries from the glass. Neither survivor saw the shooter.
Police were able to identify the type of gun the shooter was using, but not able to track it to a particular weapon. Police did not initially associate these 2 shootings, despite the similarities, because they were in different boroughs and investigated by different precincts.
Barely over a month later, 16-year-old Donna DeMasi and 18-year-old Joanne Lomino walked home from a movie and were sitting on Lomino's porch talking. A man in military clothes in his early 20's approached them, asking for directions. But before he could even ask where he wanted to go, he pulled out his revolver and shot them. A neighbor heard the gunshots and saw a blond man running away. DeMasi was shot in the neck, but survived, and Lomino was hit in the back and rendered paraplegic. (Obviously, at this point, perhaps he should be rethinking his method of choice? He gave up on the knife after one fudged attempt but at this point, he's shot 6 people and only 1 died.)
On January 30th 1977, 26-year-old Christine Freund and 30-year-old John Diel were sitting in Diel's car when 3 gunshots penetrated through the windows. Diel drove away. He suffered minor injuries, but Freund, who was shot twice, died at the hospital. Police were able to speak to her before she died, but she hadn't seen her killer.
Police began to connect the shootings at this point, admitting they may be associated. All of the bullets were the same, and the targets were, too.
On Marcy 8, 1977, 19-year-old Columbia University student Virginia Voskerichian was walking home when an armed man confronted her. She held up her books to defend herself, but the bullet went right through them and she was shot in the head. She died instantly.
2 days later, a press conference was held where the New York City mayor declared that Lauria had been killed by the same bullet as Voskerichian. Documents later revealed that while it was strongly suspected, they didn't actually have conclusive evidence that they were the same at the time. The media picked up the story and ran with it.
On April 17, 1977, 20-year-old Alexander Esau and 18-year-old Valentina Suriani were sitting in Suriani's car when they were each shot twice. This was the first attack where neither victim would survive. Esau died in the hospital while Suriani died at the scene. It was connected to the other shootings and killings quickly.
At this point, Berkowitz began to communicate with the police. A handwritten letter was found near their bodies where he referred to himself as "Son of Sam" for the first time, though he had originally been called the ".44 Caliber Killer". The letter promised to continue his spree, and taunted the police for their inability to catch him. He spelled a lot of things wrong. His letter was as follows:
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 urts 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
You know what the say: if you claim you're not a "wemon hater", you probably are. Anyway, police analyzed the letter, assuming the killer may be familiar with Scottish English due to some of the language. They also speculated that "too many heart attacks" meant that he blamed a nurse (perhaps with dark hair) for his father's death, and 2 of his victims had been in the medical field. (Apparently his father died, I was not informed.)
A psychological profile was released, considering his victims, the type of murder and the letter. He was described as one who may be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia who believed he was a victim of demonic possession.
Ever the writer, he wrote another letter, this time to a Daily News columnist. It was also weird. He told him that he appreciated the recent press, and said that his victims were sweet but "Sam" wouldn't let him stop killing until he got his fill of blood. He wished the police luck and said he would buy the detectives new shoes once he was captured. The columnist notified police of the letter.
On June 26, 1977, 20-year-old Sal Lupo and 17-year-old Judy Placido were sitting in Lupo's parked car when 3 gunshots blasted through their windows. Despite each being hit, Placido in the head and neck, both survived. The couple had, allegedly, been discussing the serial killer right before the shooting.
On July 31, 1977, 20-year-olds Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante were sitting in Violante's car (guys, stop sitting in your cars! I know it isn't your fault! But if there is a serial killer loose who kills people in their parked cars, maybe chat inside?) The couple was kissing when a man approached and fired 4 rounds into the car. Moskowitz died from her injuries, and Violante survived, but lost one of his eyes.
CAPTURE & CONFESSION
A local resident, Cacilla Davis, was walking her dog near the scene of the Moskowitz and Violante shooting. She saw a patrol officer ticketing a car near a fire hydrant. After police had left, a man walked past her to the car and stared at her. She ran to her home and heard shots firing behind her. She notified police a few days later, and they searched all of the cars that had been ticketed that night.
Berkowitz's four door yellow Ford Galaxie was among the investigated cars, and an interview was set upwith him.
On August 10, 1977, the police searched his car. They found a rifle in the back seat along with a duffel bag of ammunition, maps of crime scenes, and a threatening letter written to the head of the task force to catch him. They waited for him to leave his apartment. Once he did, they met him at his car, holding a gun to his head.
The arresting officer was officially credited as Detective John Falotico who was not on the task force. He was overseeing the division where Moskowitz and Violante were shot, and he was given 2 weeks to find the killer before it was passed off to the Son of Sam task force. Way to go, John.
Searching his home, they found Satanic graffiti all over the walls, and notebooks where he detailed fires he had set around the city, some believing he set up to 1,400 fires.
Berkowitz was interrogated for about 30 minutes on August 11, 1977 before he confessed. He claimed his neighbor's dog required blood of pretty young girls, and "Sam" was the name of his former neighbor. He was considered competent to stand trial by 3 different evaluations. Despite his lawyer's advise to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, on May 8, 1978, he calmly plead guilty to all of the shootings.
At his sentencing 2 weeks later, he attempted to jump out of a 7th floor window in the court room. After being restrained, he yelled "Stacy [Moskowitz] was a whore. I'd killer her again, I'd kill them all again." On June 12, 1978, he was sentenced to life for each murder. He was to serve his time in Attica Correctional Facility, a supermax prison in New York. Because he plead guilty, he would be eligible for parole in 25 years.
In 1979, he claimed that his demonic possession claims were a hoax. He claimed that he had contemplated killing for years to get revenge on a world that had rejected and hurt him.
He considered Attica a "nightmare". Someone attempted to kill him in 1979, but he refused to identify his attempted killer. He said he was grateful, and it was justice... "the punishment I deserve". Meh, not so sure. In 1987, he became an evangelical Christian. He received a bible from a fellow inmate, and now believes himself to be the "Son of Hope". He is entitled to parole hearings every 2 years, but has refused to ask for release. He actually wrote a letter to the New York Governor demanding his hearing in 2002 be cancelled, because he believed that he deserved to be in prison for life. He said he accepted his punishment and didn't want to fight it.
His 2016 hearing lead to another denied parole, as did the one in 2018. He still believes he will never be let out, but does not feel like he is a risk to anyone. He has been a model prisoner. His next hearing will be this month.
He released statements in the form of an interview video titled Son of Hope in 1998, and wrote a book called Son of Hope: The Prison Journals of David Berkowitz in 2006. He does not receive any profit from the sales. He writes essays on faith and repentance on Christian websites. He has an official website that is maintained by a church group. He is involved in the prison ministry and helps counsel troubled inmates. He graduated with honors from Sullivan Community College while in prison.
He wrote a letter to the sniper in the 2002 D.C. sniper attacks, telling him to stop hurting innocent people.
Stacy Moskowitz's mom, Neysa Moskowitz, had been an outspoken hater of her daughter's murderer since his capture. Before her death in 2006, she wrote a letter to him, forgiving him for killing her daughter.
So there you have it: The Son of Sam. I didn't know much about him before writing this and I was pretty surprised at a) the amount of failed murder attempts and b) the fact that he seems to actually have turned his life around in prison. Or did he? Can someone who murders other people for fun actually be rehabilitated? Is he just tricking people, and himself, into believing he is a better man?
His involvement with Christian groups is surprising to me. Christians are called to forgive, to love all, but does that apply to serial killers? Would you feel like your soul was in good hands if you were managing the personal website of a notorious serial killer who took 6 lives? I don't know. He may seem to be all better, but I'm glad he will probably never get out. I'm also glad that there wasn't a trial and the survivors, and the families of the deceased, didn't have to relive their trauma for all to hear. Maybe the one good thing David Berkowitz did was plead guilty, 42 years ago today.