David Richard BERKOWITZ
A.K.A.: "Son of Sam" - "The .44 Caliber Killer"
Birth name: Richard David Falco
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Claimed that neighbor's dog, Harvey, was possessed by an ancient demon, and that it issued commands to Berkowitz to kill
Number of victims: 6
Date of murders: 1976 - 1977
Date of arrest: August 10, 1977
Date of birth: June 1, 1953
Victims profile: Donna Lauria, 18 / Christine Freund, 26 / Virginia Voskerichian, 21 / Valentina Suriani, 18, and Alexander Esau, 20 / Stacy Moskowitz, 20
Method of murder: Shooting (.44 caliber Charter Arms Bulldog revolver)
Location: New York City, New York, USA
Status: Sentenced to six life sentences in prison on June 12, 1978, making his maximum term some 365 years behind bars
David Richard Berkowitz (born June 1, 1953), better known by his nicknames Son of Sam or The .44 Caliber Killer, is an infamous serial killer who confessed to killing six people and wounding several others in New York City in the late 1970s.
Though Berkowitz remains the only person charged or convicted in relation to the case, some law enforcement authorities suspect that there are unresolved questions about the crimes, and that others might have been involved: according to John Hockenberry of MSNBC the "Son of Sam" case was reopened in 1996, and as of 2004, was officially considered open.
Biography - Early life
Berkowitz was born Richard David Falco in Brooklyn, New York, to Betty Broder and Joseph Kleinman. Broder was married to Tony Falco and had a daughter with him, although Falco abandoned her, they never divorced. She later had an affair with the married Kleinman. When Broder told Kleinman that she was pregnant, he told her to get rid of the baby. However, Broder had the baby and listed Falco as the father.
A few days after his birth, the baby was adopted by Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz, a Jewish couple who reversed the order of the baby's first and middle names.
John Vincent Sanders writes that "David'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." He was an avid baseball player, and earned a reputation as something of a bully in his neighborhood.
Pearl died of breast cancer in 1967. Always closer to his mother, David's tense relationship with his father became even more strained, and he disliked the woman Nathan later married. Berkowitz joined the U.S. Army in 1971, and was active until 1974 (he managed to avoid service in the Vietnam War, instead serving in both the U.S. and South Korea). Afterwards, he toyed with Christianity and located his birth mother, but after a few visits, Berkowitz learned the details of his conception and birth, and they fell out of contact with one another.
Berkowitz worked at several jobs (including as a security guard), and was employed by the U.S. Postal Service at the time of his arrest..
Berkowitz claimed that his first attacks on women occurred in late 1975, when he said he attacked two women with a knife on Christmas Eve. One alleged victim was never identified, but Charles Montaldo writes that the other victim, Michelle Forman, was hospitalized due to her wounds. Berkowitz was never charged with committing either crime.
Not long afterwards, Berkowitz moved to a home in Yonkers.
In the summer of 1976, a series of shootings began. They would terrify New York and earn even international press coverage. The perpetrator was dubbed the "The .44 Caliber Killer" after his weapon of choice.
In the evening of July 29, 1976, Jody Valenti (19 years old) and Donna Lauria (18) were both shot as they sat inside a car parked on the street outside Lauria's apartment in the Bronx. Lauria was killed, but Valenti survived. Though two young women had been the victim of an apparently random crime, the shooting earned little attention.
On October 23, 1976 there was another shooting, this time in Queens. Again, the victims were in a parked car. Carl Denaro (19) was shot in the head and survived, but his companion Rosemary Keenan died of her injuries.
A month later (November 26, 1976) Donna DeMasi (16) and Joanne Lomino (18) were walking home from a motion picture when both were shot in Queens. DeMasi recovered, but Lomino was paralyzed.
The new year brought more shootings. On January 30, 1977, an engaged couple, Christine Freund (26) and John Diel were shot where they sat together in a parked car; Diel survived, but Freund died of her injuries. Police determined the shooter had used an uncommon .44 caliber Charter Arms Bulldog revolver in this shooting. The earlier victims, too, had been struck with large-calliber shells, and police now suspected the shootings were all connected. Authorities also noted that the shootings targeted young women with long, dark hair and/or young couples parked in cars.
On March 8, 1977, college student Virginia Voskerichian (21) was shot by a passerby as she walked in Queens. She died instantly. The .44 calliber shell from this shooting matched one from the July 29, 1976 shooting.
At a press conference on March 10, 1977, police announced that the same .44 caliber pistol had been used in several of the shootings. The Operation Omega task force, eventually comprising some 300 police officers, was charged with investigating the crimes, under the direction of Deputy Inspector Timothy J. Dowd. Police speculated that the killer had a vendetta against women, perhaps due to chronic rejection.
The mass media had a field day with the shootings, publishing every detail and speculation of the case. Australian publisher Rupert Murdoch had recently purchased the flagging New York Post, and the paper offered perhaps the most sensational coverage of the crimes.
The Son of Sam letter
Police made extensive efforts, including tracking down many yellow Volkswagen cars (eyewitnesses had reported such a car at one of the shootings), and trying to locate the owners of many thousands of .44 Bulldog revolvers. Thousands of people were interviewed.
The killer struck again on April 16, 1977. Alexander Esau (20) and Valentina Suriani (18) were both killed in the Bronx, only a few blocks from the scene of the Demasi/Lomino shooting. In the street near the victims, a hand-written letter was found by a police officer. It was addressed to Captain Joe Borelli of Operation Omega.
Riddled with spelling errors, the letter gave the shooter a new name: the Son of Sam.
In full, it read:
I am deeply hurt by your calling me a weman-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 our 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 kills" commands father Sam. Behind our house some rest. Mostly young - raped and slaughtered - their blood drained - just bones now. Pap 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 wavelength then everybody else - programmed to 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 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 prettiest of all. I must be the water they drink. I live for the hunt - my life. Blood for papa. Mr. Borelli, sir, I don't want to kill any more. No sur, 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 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 interpreted as - bang, bang, bang, bang - ugh. Yours in murder, Mr. Monster.
Based on analysis of the letter, psychiatrists thought the shooter might have paranoid schizophrenia.
On April 16, 1977, there was another shooting. Sal Lupo and Judy Placido (17) had left the Elephas discotheque in Queens. According to Chris Summers of the BBC, the young couple were sitting in their car when Placido said, "This Son of Sam is really scary - the way that guy comes out of nowhere. You never know where he'll hit next."
Moments later, three gunshots blasted through the car. Both were struck, but neither was injured seriously. The shooter fled, and Lupo ran to the Elephas for help.
Police offered composite sketches of suspects in the shootings, based in part on the testimony of people who had witnessed or even survived the shootings. In some regards, however, the composites were quite different, though police publicly insisted that only a single suspect was being sought: One sketch and description roughly matched Berkowitz (medium height, slightly pudgy, with hair that was short, dark and curly). But another suspect was reported to be quite different: a taller and slimmer man, a hippie sort, with jaw-length hair that was either light brown or dark blonde. Police speculated that they might be seeking one killer who was using a wig.
The Breslin letter
On May 30, 1977, columnist Jimmy Breslin of the New York Daily News received a hand-written letter from the shooter. A week later, after consulting with police and agreeing to withhold portions of the letter, the Daily News published the letter. Reportedly, over 1.1 million copies of that day's paper would be sold.
The letter read in part:
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..."
The writer said he was a fan of Breslin, noting, "J.B., I also want to tell you that I read your column daily and find it quite informative." Ominously, the writer added, "What will you have for July 29?" (the anniversary of the first .44 Caliber shooting).
Breslin urged the killer to turn himself into police. In 2004, Hockenberry quoted Breslin, who said he had some admiration for the writer's prose: "He had that cadence. I remember when I read it, I said, this guy could take my place with a column. He had that big city beat to his writing. It was sensational.”
The writer ignored Breslin's suggestion, and killed again on July 30, 1977. It was near the one-year anniversary of the first .44 caliber shootings, and police set up a sizable dragnet focusing on the shooter's hunting grounds of Queens and The Bronx. However, the shooter struck in Brooklyn: Stacy Moskowitz (20) and Robert Violante (20) were both shot in the head as they sat in a parked car. Moskowitz died, and though Violante survived, he was blinded.
Although no one knew it, Moskowitz and Violante would be the final victims of the .44 Caliber Killer.
Suspicion and capture
The evening of the Moskowitz and Violante shooting, Cacilia Davis, who lived near the crime scene, saw a man remove a parking ticket from his yellow Ford Galaxie which had been parked too near a fire hydrant. Davis saw this man only a few minutes before the shooting, and she contacted police about him. Authorities determined that Berkowitz had been issued the parking ticket.
As Hockenberry writes, "Thinking Berkowitz was now an important witness, an NYPD detective called Yonkers, a city 12 miles north of Manhattan, and asked the police for some help tracking him 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."
When they investigated his car parked on the street outside his apartment, police found a rifle in the backseat. They searched the vehicle and found a .44 caliber Bulldog pistol, along with maps of the crime scenes and a letter to Sgt Dowd of the Omega task force. When he emerged from the building hours later, Berkowitz was arrested outside his apartment in Yonkers, New York on August 10, 1977. His first words upon arrest were reported to be "What took you so long?"
Police searched his apartment, and found it in disarray, with "occult" graffiti on the walls. They also found a diary wherein Berkowitz took credit for dozens of arsons throughout the New York area.
Questioning and sentencing
Police were worried that, if challenged in court, their initial search of Berkowitz's vehicle might be ruled unconstitutional. Police had no search warrant, and their justification for the search might seem flimsy--they'd searched initially based on the hunting rifle visible in the back seat, though possession of such a rifle was legal in New York City, and required no special permit.
To the relief of police, however, Berkowitz quickly confessed to the shootings, and expressed an interest in pleading guilty in exchange for receiving life imprisonment rather than facing the death penalty. Berkowitz was questioned for about 30 minutes, and confessed to the Son of Sam killings.
During questioning, Berkowitz told a bizarre tale that seemed to demand an insanity defense: The "Sam" mentioned in the first letter was one Sam Carr, a former neighbor of Berkowitz. Berkowitz claimed that Carr's dog, Harvey, was possessed by an ancient demon, and that it issued commands to Berkowitz to kill. Berkowitz said he once tried to kill the dog, only to see his aim spoiled due to supernatural interference.
According to journalist Maurry Terry's book The Ultimate Evil, during his sentencing, Berkowitz repeatedly chanted "Stacy was a whore" at a quiet though audible volume. He was referring, presumably, to Stacy Moskowitz, who died in the final .44 caliber shooting. His behavior caused an uproar, and the courtroom was adjourned. He was sentenced on June 12, 1978, to six life sentences in prison for the killings, making his maximum term some 365 years behind bars.
He later claimed that the Hall & Oates song "Rich Girl" motivated the murders.
After the arrest
Berkowitz survived at least one attempt on his life by a fellow inmate while in prison. His behavior in prison early in his sentence reportedly earned him the nickname of "David Berserkowitz."
Berkowitz claims to have been a Satanist at the time of the murders, and suggested that he was part of a violent cult which actually perpetrated the crimes. In October, 1978, Berkowitz mailed a book about witchcraft and other occult subjects to police in North Dakota. He had underlined several passages, and also offered some marginal notes, including the phrase: "Arliss [sic] Perry, Hunted, Stalked and Slain. Followed to Calif. Stanford University."
Arlis Perry (only one "s" in her name), a newlywed 19-year-old North Dakota native, had been killed in a chapel on the grounds of Stanford University on October 12, 1974. Her murder remains unsolved. Berkowitz also mentioned the Perry murder in a few letters, suggesting that he had heard details of the crime from the culprit. Writing in the San Jose Mercury News, Jessie Seyfer noted that "local investigators interviewed him in prison and now believe he has nothing of value to offer" regarding the Perry case.
There was a 1979 attack on Berkowitz's life. Berkowitz refused to identify the person(s) who had cut his throat, but he has suggested that the act was directed by the cult he once belonged to.
Berkowitz reportedly invited the former priest and exorcist Malachi Martin to visit him to discuss his past occult involvement.
Berkowitz claimed that he did not act alone in the killings: he says he was part of an occult group which sacrificed animals to Satan and which ran a child pornography racket. Berkowitz also claims that he is not the "Son Of Sam" shooter, but merely one of the many look-out men. In his claims he puts the blame on John "Wheaties" Carr as one of the shooters, as well as Carr's brother, Michael, whom he claimed to be the shooter in the Queens disco shooting. Sam was the name of the father of John and Michael Carr. John Carr lived in a house behind Berkowitz's, and owned the Labrador that Berkowitz had claimed to be a high demon.
John Carr was killed in February of 1978 in a shooting in North Dakota (ruled a suicide), and his brother, Michael was killed in a traffic accident in October 1979 in Manhattan's West Side Highway. Though Berkowitz did mention other names in some interviews, he claims he cannot reveal any more details, as it would endanger his family. Journalist Maury Terry's 1987 book The Ultimate Evil argued in favor of the cult theory, placing the blame on a violent offshoot of the Process Church. Queens' district attorney John Santucci, who says he thought the case against Berkowitz was lacking, was so impressed with Terry's research that, as Chris Summers of the BBC writes, "he agreed to reopen the Son of Sam case ... But to date no-one else has ever been charged in connection with the crimes."
Even without endorsing the cult theory, Hockenberry writes that "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. On the list of skeptics, police who worked the case, even the prosecutor from Queens, where five of the shootings took place."
Berkowitz now describes himself as a born-again Christian and says that his obsession with pornography played a major role in these murders. He sent a letter to New York governor George Pataki asking that his parole hearing be canceled, stating, "I can give you no good reason why I should even be considered." In June 2004, he was denied in his second parole hearing after he stated that he did not want one. The board saw that Berkowitz had a good record in the prison programs, but decided that the brutality of his crimes called for him to stay imprisoned. Berkowitz is very involved in prison ministry and regularly counsels troubled inmates.
One major side effect of his murder spree were the "Son of Sam laws". The first of these laws was enacted in the state of New York after rampant speculation about publishers offering Berkowitz large sums of money for his story. The new law, quickly named for Berkowitz, 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. The Supreme Court declared such laws unconstitutional in 1991.
As of 2005, Berkowitz is writing memoirs, which he plans to publish despite outrage from the family members of his victims and victims' rights advocates. He has devoted his publishing efforts to bringing in funds for the victims' families.
In 2006, Berkowitz sued his former attorney. The attorney took possession of letters and other personal belongings from Berkowitz in order to publish a book of his own. Berkowitz has stated he will only drop the lawsuit if the attorney signs over all money he makes to the victims' families.
References in popular culture
The 1999 movie Summer of Sam, directed by Spike Lee, is set against the backdrop of Berkowitz's killing spree. Although Berkowitz, played by Michael Badalucco, is featured in a number of scenes (including a scene where Berkowitz hallucinates that his neighbor's black Labrador walks into his apartment and maniacally demands he go out and kill someone), the film primarily addresses the oppressive effects of the atmosphere of fear and paranoia on a group of young friends in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, not far from the Soundview neighborhood in which Berkowitz was raised.
On the sitcom Seinfeld, the character Newman, in the 1995 episode " The Diplomat's Club," claims to have worked with Berkowitz and own his mailbag. He even called Berkowitz, "The worst mass murderer the post office ever produced." Another episode features Newman being arrested, at which time he says to the arresting officers, "What took you so long?"
On another episode of Seinfeld, "The Van", George Costanza is confronted by a yelling man while he is in a vehicle and misinterprets the man as saying "Son of Sam." He leaves screaming, "I knew it wasn't Berkowitz!"
The rap/rock group the Beastie Boys included a reference to Berkowitz in the song "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun," on the album Paul's Boutique: "Predetermined destiny is who I am/They got your finger on the trigger like the Son of Sam."
In the Stephen King/Peter Straub novel Black House, which is set during a period where a serial killer is on the loose, the main character, Jack Sawyer, says, "Maybe the guy actually wants to be caught, like Son of Sam."
Late indie singer/songwriter Elliott Smith released the song, "Son of Sam" on his fifth release, Figure 8 (album). However, in an NPR interview during his tour, Smith revealed his song was not intended as a direct allegory of Berkowitz.
Berkowitz's "Son of Sam" nickname was referenced in The Offspring's 2000 single Original Prankster.
Berkowitz also was referenced in "Grey Matter" by the hip hop group Deltron 3030.
Macabre wrote a song about Berkowitz, titled "Son of Sam," featured on the Grim Reality album.
Benediction recorded a song about Berkowitz, named "Jumping at Shadows" on the The Grand Leveller album.
The original guitarist and co-founder of Marilyn Manson used the pseudonym Daisy Berkowitz, a portmanteau of Daisy Duke and Berkowitz.
Sons of Sam Horn, a popular online message board devoted to the Boston Red Sox, gets its name from a combined reference to the Berkowitz case and former Sox player Sam Horn.
The band Cypress Hill, included a reference to Berkowitz on their hit tune, Insane In The Brain.
In the Patricia Cornwell novel All That Remains, the character Benton Wesley says to Kay Scarpetta, "Scary how it works. Bundy gets pulled because a taillight's out. Son of Sam gets nailed because of a parking ticket. Luck. We were lucky."
Son of Sam
by Marilyn Bardsley
Captain Joseph Borrelli of the New York City Police Department was one of the key members of the Omega Group. Operation Omega was the task force headed by Deputy Inspector Timothy Dowd to find the psycho who was killing women in various parts of the city with a .44 caliber handgun.
The ".44 Caliber Killer" was getting a great deal of press and Borrelli's name had appeared frequently. Now on April 17, 1977, he was looking at a letter addressed to him that had been left at the scene of the latest in this series of murders: With misspellings, it read:
Dear Captain Joseph Borrelli,
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 wavelength 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. '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 prettyist of all. It must be the water they drink. I live for the hunt -- my life. Blood for papa.
Mr. Borrelli, sir, I don't want to kill anymore. No sur, 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 want to wish all of you a happy Easter. May
God bless you in this life and in the next.
The second page of the letter is below:
The letter did not have any useful fingerprints and the envelope had been handled by so many people that if there were any of the murderer's prints, they were lost. This letter was leaked to the press in early June and the world finally heard the name, "Son of Sam."
One week before the latest Son of Sam murder, a retired city worker named Sam Carr, who lived in Yonkers, N.Y., with his wife and children, received an anonymous letter about his black Labrador, Harvey. The writer was complaining about Harvey's barking. On April 19, two days after the latest murder, another letter in the same handwriting came in the mail:
"I have asked you kindly to stop that dog from howling all day long, yet he continues to do so. I pleaded with you. I told you how this is destroying my family. We have no peace, no rest.
"Now I know what kind of a person you are and what kind of a family you are. You are cruel and inconsiderate. You have no love for any other human beings. Your selfish, Mr. Carr. My life is destroyed now. I have nothing to lose anymore. I can see that there shall be no peace in my life, or my families life until I end yours."
Carr and his wife called the police, but all they did was listen sympathetically.
Ten days later, Carr heard a gunshot coming from his backyard where he discovered the black Labrador bleeding on the ground. A man wearing jeans and a yellow shirt was bounding away.
He rushed Harvey to the veterinarian where he was saved. Carr phoned the police again. This time, Patrolmen Peter Intervallo and Thomas Chamberlain examined the letters and began an investigation.
At this time, the Son of Sam's letter to Captain Borrelli had not been leaked to the newspapers so no one thought to connect these letters to the Borrelli letter.
Operation Omega was growing in size and resources. It had expanded to some two hundred detectives. With the city in the midst of panic, being assigned to the Omega task force was considered an honor. Catching the perpetrator of six murderous assaults would mean tremendous awards for the detectives involved -- and they knew it. It was an extra incentive to put in long hours to catch this nut.
Such long hours, however, brought frayed nerves. Detectives were at each others' throats over trivialities, relationships with wives and children were severely strained. Caffeine and alcohol consumption increased. Cots were put in the Omega headquarters station so that the officers could grab at least a few hours of sleep before they started again.
Several very talented players joined Operation Omega: In addition to Captain Joe Borrelli, there was Sergeant Joseph Coffey and Detective Redmond Keenan. Keenan's daughter Rosemary was present at one of these assaults when her date was seriously injured. All in all, Operation Omega comprised the cream of New York City detectives with a strong sense of mission.
When Son of Sam first struck on the morning of July 29, 1976, no one could expect that a serial killer was making his debut.
Two young women, Donna Lauria, an eighteen-year-old brunette, and her nineteen-year-old friend Jody Valenti, were talking in Jody's car near the entrance of the Lauria's apartment building in the Bronx, New York City. Because of the dangerous hour (one o'clock in the morning), her parents stopped by the car on their way home from an evening out and told her it was time to come upstairs.
Donna promised she would. But, after her parents went inside, Donna noticed a man standing alongside the passenger side of the car. "Who is this guy?" She asked. "What does he want?"
Her question went unanswered. The man pulled out a Charter Arms .44 Bulldog handgun from a paper bag, squatted down and fired into the car five times. Donna died immediately, hit in the neck. Jody, shot in the thigh, leaned on the horn while the man continued to pull the trigger, even though the chamber was now empty.
Jody scrambled from the car, screaming for help. Soon, Donna's father heard the noise and ran down. In his pajamas and bare feet, he raced his car to the hospital, hoping that doctors could save his Donna.
Police could find no motive for the attack. Finally, they theorized that it may have been either a mob execution with mistaken victims or a lone psycho. Jody, semi-shocked, did manage to give something of a description of the assailant. But, under duress, her description lacked.
On the night of October 23, 1976, three months after the Lauria girl's senseless murder, twenty-year-old Carl Denaro drank beer with his friends at a bar in Queens. In a few days he would be entering the Air Force for at least four years. He really wanted to live it up with his buddies since it would be a while before he saw them all again. Among his party was a girl, Rosemary Keenan, whom he knew from college.
The party broke up after 2:30 A.M and Carl drove Rosemary home. The couple parked near her home and talked. Suddenly, a man appeared oudtside the passenger side. He drew a gun and fired five times into the car, wounding Carl in the head. Terrified, Rosemary drove the car back to the bar from where friends rushed Carl to the hospital. There, surgeons replaced a part of his damaged skull with a metal plate. His injuries would haunt him for the rest of his life.
A little more than a month later, on the evening of November 26, 1976, sixteen-year-old Donna DeMasi and her eighteen-year-old friend Joanne Lomino were coming home from a movie late at night. The bus stopped close to Joanne's house. Joanne noticed a man standing nearby. She urged her friend to walk faster. He began following them.
"Do you know where..." he addressed them as though he was about to ask directions, but he never finished his sentence. Instead, he pulled a gun from beneath his jacket and fired at them. Both girls were hit. Then their assailant emptied his gun by firing at a house.
Hearing the girls' screams, Joanne's family rushed from their house to help the girls. When they reached the hospital, surgeons determined that Donna would be okay. The bullet had passed within a quarter inch of her spine and exited her body. Joanne was not so lucky. Her spine had been shattered by the bullet. She would live, but was now paraplegic.
Of these three assaults which had occurred in two different areas, the Bronx and Queens, only one bullet had been recovered intact. Consequently, police were not yet able to link these attacks to a single individual.
Things quieted for two months. Then in the early hours of January 30, 1977, the killer went hunting for his next victim.
Twenty-six-year-old Christine Freund and her finance John Diel left The Wine Gallery in Queens around 12:10 A.M. and strolled towards his car. They were too absorbed in each other to observe that man who had been watching them.
As they sat in the car, two shots broke the night, shattering the windshield. Christine grabbed her head; both shots had struck her. John rested her head on the driver's seat and ran for help, trying to flag down passing cars, but to no avail. People in nearby homes had heard the shots and had called the police.
A few hours later Christine died in the hospital.
Forty-three-year-old Detective Sergeant Joe Coffey was a big, handsome Irishman known for his toughness and dedication. He and Captain Joe Borrelli started to work on this latest homicide. They had two theories: that the killer was either a psycho or someone who had something personal against Christine Freund.
Coffey could see that the bullets used to kill her were not typical. They had come from a powerful, large caliber gun. Investigating further, he discovered that her murder matched those other assaults on Donna Lauria, Donna LaMasi and Joanne Lomino.
Coffey had a hunch that they were dealing with one psycho packing a .44, stalking women in various parts of the city. As his investigation began to bear fruit, a homicide task force was formed under Captain Borrelli. Ballistics reported that the weapon employed was a .44 Charter Arms Bulldog -- an unusual weapon.
After probing into the backgrounds of the murders and their victims, police were unable to find any suspect on record; nor could they find any common thread that linked the victims to one another or a third party. It was beginning to look as though a psycho had randomly targeted attractive young women for assassination.
On the evening of Tuesday, March 8, 1977, an attractive young Barnard College honor student named Virginia Voskerichian was walking home from classes in the affluent Forest Hills Garden area. Virginia was a very talented and hardworking young woman who had fled Bulgaria with her family in the late 1950's.
As she followed Dartmouth Street towards her home, a man approached her from the opposite direction. When they were very close, he pulled out a .44 and aimed it at her. She raised her books to protect herself, but a single shot hit her in the face. Virginia died immediately.
As the killer ran away, he passed a man who had witnessed the whole thing. "Hi, mister," the killer said to the middle-aged man.
A passing patrol car spotted the running man. But, when they heard on their radio that a woman had been shot on Dartmouth Street, they abandoned their plan to stop the suspicious man and immediately raced to the crime scene.
The police felt helpless, unable to find the murderer. As well, these murders were taking a huge toll on the officers who had been working non-stop to track down every possible lead.
Laurence D. Klausner in his book Son of Sam quotes Joe Borrelli on the aftermath of this crime. "If you watch detectives at any homicide, you'll notice that they go about their jobs unemotionally....they didn't want to look at her. They knew it was senseless. She was someone beautiful and she was laying under the sheet, a bullet in her face had destroyed her. It began to grab at them, in the guts, and they just turned away. These were veterans and they couldn't take it."
The next day, the police had a match on the bullet. It had come from the same gun that had killed Donna Lauria. They were looking for a psycho and they knew he was going to kill again. Some random shooting of an attractive young woman. How would they ever prevent it?
The following day, the police commissioner held a press conference to announce to the City of New York that they had linked the various shootings. The commissioner stated that the only description of the murderer was that of "a white male, twenty-five to thirty years old, six feet tall, medium build, with dark hair."
More emphasis was put on finding this psycho before he killed again. Deputy Inspector Timothy Dowd was given the job of organizing the Operation Omega task force and staffing it with the highly experienced men it needed. Dowd, a native of Ireland, was not a typical cop. The sixty-one-year-old veteran had majored in Latin and English at City College and had studied for a master's degree in business at the Baruch School of City College. Pragmatic and persistent despite political setbacks, he was not easily discouraged.
Captain Borrelli had a new boss. This crime series had become too big to be handled by just a captain.
As expected, the phantom reappeared. On April 17, 1977, two young lovers sat kissing in their parked car near the Hutchinson River Parkway, not far from where Donna Lauria had been murdered the previous year. Eighteen-year-old Valentina Suriani, an aspiring actress and model, sat in the car with her twenty-year-old boyfriend Alexander Esau, a tow truck operator.
At 3 A.M. that Sunday, another car pulled up along side them. Its driver shot each of them twice. Valentina died immediately and Alexander a bit later at the hospital. This was just what the police department had been fearing -- the next inevitable attack in the series of the .44 caliber murders. This psycho who would keep on killing until he could be found among the millions of men who fit his description.
But -- this time there was something different: the killer's letter left at the scene of the murders addressed to Captain Borrelli. The letter in which the killer gave the police his "name" -- the Son of Sam.
The Final Victims
New York City Mayor Abraham Beame called what he saw as a much needed press conference to discuss the Son of Sam case. It was the kind of name that the press would really grab on to and create a media persona. Beame dreaded the whole thing: "The killings were a horror. The police were under terrible strain. Everyone was beginning to question his ability to capture the gunman. The letter fused everything together. It was a man against an entire city. He had written this one policeman, but I knew it wasn't that captain he was writing about. It was every cop who was after him, all twenty-five thousand of them."
Dr. Martin Lubin, former head of forensic psychiatry at Bellevue, along with some forty-five other psychiatrists, convened to contribute to the psychological profile of the man they were seeking. In May of 1977, the police knew they were looking for a paranoid schizophrenic, who may have considered himself possessed of a demonic power. The killer was almost certainly a loner who had difficulty with relationships, particularly relationships with women.
The Omega task force was flooded with calls. Everyone, it seemed, knew the killer: he was the neighbor who came home late every night, the odd brother-in-law who played with guns all the time, the weird guy in the bar who hated pretty girls. The list of suspects was endless. Every one of these thousands of leads had to be checked out and disqualified -- a huge chore for any task force.
While the police were chasing down every suspect, checking registrations for .44 weapons, tracing activities of former mental patients and generally running themselves ragged, the Son of Sam had become emboldened by the publicity. He decided to write to Jimmy Breslin, a reporter for the Daily News.
"Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of NYC and from the ants that dwell in these cracks and feed in the dried blood of the dead that has settled into the cracks.
"Hello from the gutters of NYC, which is filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine, and blood. Hello from the sewers of NYC which swallow up these delicacies when they are washed away by the sweeper trucks.
"Don't think 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.
"Sam's a thirsty lad. He won't let me stop killing until he gets his fill of blood. Tell me, Jim, what will you have for July 29? 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 sweet girl.
"Not knowing 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"
The Daily News withheld some portions of the letter at the insistence of the police. The omitted passage read: "Here are some names to help you along. Forward them to the Inspector for use by the NCIC [National Crime Information Center] Center. They have everything on computer, everything. They just might turn up, from some other crimes. Maybe they could make associations.
"Duke of Death. Wicked King Wicker. The twenty-two Disciples of Hell. And lastly, John Wheaties, rapist and suffocator of young girls. P.S., drive on, think positive, get off your butts, knock on coffins, etc."
Partial fingerprints were salvaged from the letter, which were of no value in finding the suspect, but would be valuable to match against a suspect once captured.
On June 10, a man named Jack Cassara, who lived in New Rochelle, found an odd get-well note in his mailbox from someone named Carr in Yonkers. The card included a picture of a German shepherd dog. It read: "Dear Jack, I'm sorry to hear about that fall you took from the roof of your house. Just want to say 'I'm sorry' but I'm sure it won't be long until you feel much better, healthy, well and strong: Please be careful next time. Since your going to be confined for a long time, let us know if Nann needs anything. Sincerely: Sam and Francis."
Cassara had not fallen off his roof nor had never met Sam and Francis Carr. He called them up and, discussing the odd situation, they agreed to meet at Carr's home that evening. The Carrs told the Cassaras about the strange letters they had received about their dog Harvey and how Harvey had been shot. Sam Carr told them about a German shepherd in the neighborhood that also had been shot.
Carr had his daughter, Wheat, a dispatcher for the Yonkers police, bring in officers Intervallo and Chamberlain to investigate, while Cassara had contacted New Rochelle police.
Later, Cassara's nineteen-year-old son Stephen drew an interesting conclusion. He remembered the odd guy, David Berkowitz, who had briefly rented a room in their house in early 1976. "He never came back for his two-hundred dollar security deposit when he left. Well, he was always bothered by our dog, too."
Nann Cassara, Jack's wife, called the Carrs who promised that their daughter would have the Yonkers police act on that information. She also called the New Rochelle police, who waited some two months later to call her back. When they did contact her, she was sure that Berkowitz was the Son of Sam.
The detective mentioned that Craig Glassman, a deputy sheriff and neighbor of Berkowitz, had received an anonymous letter talking about a demon group composed of Glassman, Cassaras and the Carrs. All that proved, however, was that Berkowitz was a little strange, but not a killer and not the Son of Sam. Police are often confronted with odd, yet perfectly legal, behavior on the part of citizens, but cannot do much about it.
In the meantime, Chamberlain and Intervallo of the Yonkers police put Berkowitz's name into their computer and learned his address, the registration number of his Ford Galaxy and the fact that his license had just been suspended.
At 3 A.M. June 26, 1977, attractive young Judy Placido turned to Sal Lupo, the young man she was talking with, and suggested that it was time for him to take her home from the the Elephas, a disco in Queens. The disco was almost empty. The Son of Sam had thinned out crowds all across the city.
"This Son of Sam is really scary," she told Sal. "The way that guy comes out of nowhere. You never know where he'll hit next."
Then as if she had just predicted the future, she later recounted: "All of a sudden, I heard echoing in the car. There wasn't any pain, just ringing in my ears. I looked at Sal, and his eyes were open wide, just like his mouth. There were no screams. I don't know why I didn't scream.
"All the windows had been closed. I couldn't understand what this pounding noise was. After that, I felt disoriented, dazed."
Sal's first impressionn was that someone had thrown rocks at the car, so he ran back to the disco for help.
Judy looked in the mirror and found herself covered with blood. Her right arm was immobile. She collapsed when she tried to run back to the disco. Sal had also been hit in the forearm. Both victims were very lucky. Although Judy had been shot three times, she had avoided serious injury and death.
Ironically, Detective Coffey had been outside the Elephas about fifteen minutes before the shooting. Once the news came over the radio, he returned to the scene in a flash, but there was nothing to learn from either Judy or Sal about the identity of the assailant.
Donna Lauria, Son of Sam's first victim, had been murdered on July 29, 1976. Considering the Son of Sam letter that was sent to reporter Jimmy Breslin, in which she alone was prominently mentioned, police were worried about an anniversary killing. The newspapers made absolutely certain that the entire city expected another killing on or around that day.
The Omega task force was desperate. How to protect a whole city of young women from a random killer? Detective Coffey even considered placing cops in bullet-proof cars with mannequins to try to lure the killer. It was a waiting game. Tensions built steadily until July 29 and nerves were at a breaking point all that day and night, but no Son of Sam. Not that day. Two days later when the police were beginning to feel relieved that the anniversary had passed without another murder, the Son of Sam took his last victims.
In the early morning of Sunday, July 31, 1977, a pretty, vivacious young woman named Stacy Moskowitz sat with her handsome young boyfriend Bobby Violante in his dad's car. They had gone to see a movie and had ended the evening parked in a quiet spot near Gravesend Bay.
"How about taking a walk in the park?" He suggested.
Stacy was reticent. "What if the Son of Sam is hiding there?"
"This is Brooklyn, not Queens. Come on," he urged her. They got out of the car and walked over to the park swings. Bobby leaned forward to kiss her and she saw something.
"Someone's looking at us," she whispered.
Bobby saw a man nearby, but the stranger turned away and disappeared behind the parked cars.
Stacy was frightened and wanted to go back to the car. When they got to the car, Stacy wanted to leave, but Bobby persuaded her to stay for another few minutes while they kissed.
"All of a sudden," Bobby recalled, "I heard like a humming sound. First I thought I heard glass break. Then I didn't hear Stacy any more. I didn't feel anything, but I saw her fall away from me. I don't know who got shot first, her or me."
Bobby Violante had been shot twice in the face. Stacy had been shot once in the head. Bobby could hear her moaning. He hit the car's horn and then pulled himself from the car and cried for help.
Police were on the spot in short order and Stacy and Bobby were on their way to Coney Island Hospital. Stacy's parents arrived at the hospital just in time to see her being wheeled out of the hospital. The seriousness of her head wounds required her to be moved to Kings County Hospital where the facilities for head trauma were more extensive.
Together, the parents of Bobby and Stacy waited for hours as surgeons worked to save their children. Thirty-eight hours later, Stacy Moskowitz died. Bobby Violante survived, but he had lost his left eye and had only 20% vision in his right eye.
On August 3, 1977, several days after the attack on Stacy Moskowitz and Bobby Violante, the two Yonkers cops, Chamberlain and Intervallo, talked about the bizarre letters received by the Carrs and Cassaras and the shooting of the two dogs -- Carr's Labrador and the Wicker Street shooting of a German shepherd.
They were concerned that if they started to investigate this David Berkowitz, it would look as though they were trying to do the work of detectives rather than the patrolmen that they were. They proceeded cautiously and queried the state computer network about Berkowitz. The computer gave a brief profile of him from his driver's license. Berkowitz appeared to be approximately the same age, height and build as the Son of Sam, as described by various witnesses.
The patrolmen talked to the rental agent of the building at 35 Pine Street, Berkowitz's place of residence. All she could tell him was that he paid his rent on time and that he wrote on his rental application that he worked at IBI Security in Queens. That sparse information indicated that Berkowitz probably had some knowledge of guns if he worked for a security company.
Next, they called IBI and found out that Berkowitz quit in July of 1976 to go work for some cab company. The first Son of Sam murder was in July of 1976. Between the two of them, they called a couple hundred cab companies based in the Bronx area. None of them employed Berkowitz. However, hundreds of other cab companies operated in the Greater New York area. Calling them all seemed insurmountable.
The two policemen were certain that they were on to something, however, and confided in their boss who was impressed with the information they had collected. He urged them to talk to New York City Detective Richard Salvesen. They showed Salvesen all the letters. The latter was favorably impressed and agreed to pass on the information to the Omega task force.
Another development in the case occurred a couple of days after the Moskowitz-Violante shooting. Mrs. Cacilia Davis, an attractive middle-aged Austrian immigrant, reluctantly came forward with the claim that she had seen the man who shot the couple. Detective Joe Strano went to see her at her home on Bay 17th Street, a block from the scene of the shooting.
Davis told Strano that she came home in the early morning hours and had to walk her dog Snowball. She thought a man was following her. "...he looked like he was trying to hide behind a tree. But the tree was too small, too narrow. He stood out. He kept staring in my direction....Then he began walking in my direction, smiling a peculiar smile. It wasn't anything sinister, just a friendly kind of smile, almost."
When she got a closer look at him,she thought that he had a gun concealed in his hand. "I was frightened. I walked into my house and began to slip off Snowball's collar. Just then I heard pops, or something that sounded like firecrackers. They were kind of loud, but far off. I didn't think too much of it at the time.
"The next morning...there were crowds of people at Shore Road. It was then that I learned what happened the night before. Suddenly I realized that I must have seen the killer. I panicked, and I couldn't say anything....
"I would never forget his face until the day I die. It was frightening."
There was some initial skepticism about whether Davis had seen the killer. Her description of what he wore was at odds with another likely eyewitness who had been parked near Bobby Violante's car. Doubts increased when Davis claimed that at the time of the murder, there were officers giving out parking tickets in front of her building. This information was very much at odds with the information that Strano got from the police on duty that night, who claimed that they did not write any tickets at that time in that area.
Davis was adamant. Her boyfriend decided not to escort her to the door because he saw the cops writing tickets, she insisted.
She described the two patrolmen to Strano. Two names came up that checked out with Davis's description. Sergeant Jimmy Shea began to follow up on the matter.
In the meantime, things seemed to be popping all over. Officer Chamberlain of the Yonkers PD responded to a call about a suspected arson at Berkowitz's apartment house at 35 Pine Street. The call had been made by Craig Glassman, a male nurse and part-time sheriff's deputy. (Glassman had been the fellow descibed in Berkowitz's letter as one of a group of demons along with the Cassaras and the Carrs.)
Glassman explained what happened: "I smelled the smoke and ran to the door. When I opened it the fire was almost out...It probably never got hot enough to set the bullets off." He showed Chamberlain the .22 caliber bullets that had been put into the fire outside his door."
Then Glassman showed them the squirrelly letters he had received from Berkowitz, who lived just above him. The handwriting looked identical to the letters that the Carrs had received.
That same afternoon, Sam Carr, still upset over the shooting of his dog and what he saw as non-action by the police, independently pursued the matter with the Omega Task Force. He drove down to the police station where the task force was headquartered.
Not much happened when Sam Carr related his story of the shootings of the dogs, the weird letters, the eccentric David Berkowitz. The task force had been inundated for many months with leads by people who spoke as passionately as Sam Carr. They put the information in a folder of level two priorities and forgot about it -- for a little while.
The fact was, despite the subsequent excuses, Sam Carr had just handed them the name of the killer and they sat on it.
Two days later, August 8, Chamberlain and Intervallo called Detective Salvesen to tell him about the Craig Glassman event and the letters that Glassman had received. One of the letters was amazingly confessional: "True, I am the killer, but Craig, the killings are at your command." Salvesen promised to inform the task force immediately, but the information didn't get to the task force for days.
In the meantime, several traffic tickets that had been written the night of the shooting, outside witness Davis' apartment, were at last found. All but one were investigated and yielded nothing. One final ticket was yet to be investigated -- one belonging to a Yonkers man named David Berkowitz.
Detective Jimmy Justus called the Yonkers Police Department and talked to Wheat Carr, the daughter of Sam Carr, who had lost her dog. She gave him a real earful about David Berkowitz and everything her father had tried to impress upon the police days earlier. Officer Chamberlain called Justus shortly afterwards and told him everything he knew. They compared notes.
Then after the Carr family and officers Chamberlain and Intervallo had connected all the dots repeatedly for the New York City Police, the latter were more than anxious to go in for the collar and the glory that went with it. On August 10, Shea, Strano, William Gardella and John Falotico put 35 Pine Street under surveillance. The number of cops grew as everyone wanted to be in on the arrest.
Just after 7:30 P.M., a heavy-set Caucasian male walked out of the apartment building and seemed to head towards Berkowitz's Ford Galaxy. The police started to close in on him. Falotico pulled his gun and stopped the man. "David, stay where you are," he warned him.
"Are you the police?" the man wanted to know.
"Yes. Don't move your hands."
It was not David Berkowitz, but Craig Glassman, the part-time deputy sheriff who realized that these men surrounding him were not the Yonkers police but New York City's "finest." Glassman figured it out fast that Berkowitz was a suspect in the Son of Sam murders.
Several hours later another figure emerged from the apartment building, carrying a paper bag. The man was heavy with dark hair and he walked slowly toward the Ford Galaxy. This time, the police waited for the man to get into the car and put the paper bag on the passenger seat. "Let's go!" Falotico yelled and the officers advanced. The man inside did not see the approaching figures. Gardella came from the rear of the car and put the barrel of his gun against the man's head. "Freeze!" he yelled. "Police!"
The man inside the car turned around and smiled idiotically at them. Falotico gave him very explicit instructions to slowly get out of the car and put his hands up on the roof. The man obeyed, still smiling.
"Now that I've got you," Falotico said, "who have I got?"
"You know," the man said politely.
"No, I don't. You tell me."
Still smiling his moronic smile, he answered, "I'm Sam. David Berkowitz."
The day of Berkowitz's arrest, Sergeant Joseph Coffey was called in to interview him. Calmly and candidly, David told him about each of the shootings. When the interview was over there was no doubt that Berkowitz was the Son of Sam. The details that he supplied about each assault were bits of information that only the killer would know.
At the end of the session, Berkowitz politely wished him "good night." Coffey was amazed by Berkowitz. "When I first walked into that room I was full of rage. But after talking to him....I feel sorry for him. That man is a fucking vegetable!"
Who was David Berkowitz anyway and how did he become the Son of Sam?
While David did not start his life under the most auspicious circumstances, he grew up in a middle-class family with doting adoptive parents who showered him with gifts and attention. His real mother, Betty Broder, grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Her family was poor and she had to struggle to survive during the Depression. Her Jewish family opposed her marriage to Tony Falco, who was Italian and a gentile.
The two of them scraped some money together to start a fish market in 1939. Then, Betty had a daughter Roslyn. After that, things did not go well with the Falco's marriage and Tony left her for another woman. The fish market went bust and Betty had to raise Roslyn by herself.
The loneliness of being a single parent was relieved when she began an affair with a married man named Joseph Kleinman. But things went awry when she became pregnant. Kleinman refused to pay any child support and vowed to leave her unless she give up the baby. Even before David was born on June 1, 1953, she had arranged for his adoption.
Her sadness at giving up her child was mitigated somewhat by the knowledge that a good Jewish couple was ready to adopt her son. With her newborn gone, Betty resumed her affair with Kleinman until he died of cancer in 1965.
David was lucky to be adopted by Nat and Pearl Berkowitz, a childless couple who were devoted to their new son. He had a normal childhood in the Bronx with no clear warning signs of what was yet to come. Perhaps the most significant factor in his life was that he was a loner. His parents weren't particularly socially oriented and neither was David.
He was always big for his age and always felt different and less attractive than his peers. All through his youth he was uncomfortable with other people. He did have one sport -- baseball -- which he played well.
His neighbors remember him as a nice-looking boy but with a violent streak, a bully who assaulted neighborhood kids for no apparent reason. He was hyperactive and very difficult for Pearl and Nat to control.
David did not realize that Pearl had suffered from breast cancer before he was born. When it recurred in 1965 and again in 1967, David was shocked. Nat hadn't kept his adopted son very well informed about the prognosis and David was therefore shocked to see how badly Pearl dissipated from the chemotherapy and the illness itself. He was devastated when Pearl died in the fall of 1967.
When David was in his early teens, his parents tried to flee their changing neighborhood to the middle-class safety of the enormous sprawling high-rise development of Co-Op City. By the time their apartment was ready, Pearl had died. David and his father lived in the new apartment alone.
David began to deteriorate after Pearl's death. His grade average nose-dived. His faith in God was shaken. He began to imagine that her death was a part of some plan to destroy him. He became more and more introverted.
In 1971, Nat remarried a woman that did not get along with David. The couple moved to a Florida retirement community without him, leaving him to drift, absent of a purpose or a goal. He just existed until his fantasy life had become stronger than his real life.
He did have one relationship with a girl named Iris Gerhardt. The relationship was more fantasy on Berkowitz's part. Iris considered him only a friend. He attended a few classes at Bronx Community College, more to appease Nat than anything else.
David joined the Army in the summer of 1971 and stayed there for three years. He was an excellent marksman, particularly proficient with rifles. During his time in the Army, he briefly converted from Judaism to the Baptist faith, but then lost interest.
At one point, David found his biological mother Betty Falco. She and her daughter Roslyn did everything they could to make David feel welcome in their family. For a while, it worked and David seemed happy in their company, but eventually he drifted away from them too, making excuses for not coming to visit.
Anger and frustration with women, coupled by a bizarre fantasy life, started him down the road to violence when he got out of the Army in 1974. The only consummated sexual experience with a woman that he ever had was with a prostitute in Korea. He contracted a venereal disease as a souvenir.
Even before the murders began, David had set some 1,488 fires in the city of New York and kept a diary of each one. He was acting out a control fantasy. Robert Ressler in his book Whoever Fights Monsters explains: "Most arsonists like the feeling that they are responsible for the excitement and violence of a fire. With the simple act of lighting matches, they control events in society that are not normally controlled; they orchestrate the fire, the screaming arrival and deployment of the fire trucks and fire fighters, the gathering crowds, the destruction of property and sometimes of people."
Klausner points out in his book that David's state of mind in November was very bleak when he wrote to his father in Florida: "It's cold and gloomy here in New York, but that's okay because the weather fits my mood -- gloomy. Dad, the world is getting dark now. I can feel it more and more. The people, they are developing a hatred for me. You wouldn't believe how much some people hate me. Many of them want to kill me. I don't even know these people, but still they hate me. Most of them are young. I walk down the street and they spit and kick at me. The girls call me ugly and they bother me the most. The guys just laugh. Anyhow, things will soon change for the better."
This letter was a real cry for help. After writing the letter, he locked himself in his tiny apartment for almost a month, leaving only for food. He wrote wacky things on the walls with a marker: "In this hole lives the Wicked King. Kill for my Master. I turn children into Killers."
Around Christmas of 1975, David later claimed to psychiatrists that he was giving into the demons with the hopes that they would stop tormenting him if he did what they asked. On Christmas Eve, he was in a crisis mentally and emotionally. In the early evening he took a large hunting knife and drove around for hours looking for a young female victim. The demons would let him know when he found the right woman.
That night, he had returned to Co-Op City where he and Nat had shared the solitary apartment after Pearl's death. A woman was leaving a grocery store. Suddenly, David's demons ordered him to kill her. "She has to be sacrificed," they told him.
He plunged the hunting knife into her back once and then again. He was shocked at her reaction. "I stabbed her and she didn't do anything. She just turned and looked at me." Then she began to scream and he ran away. Later, police tried unsuccessfully to verify this story.
Then he saw another young woman. He hid the knife and attacked her from behind, stabbing her in the head. Fifteen-year-old Michelle Forman was seriously wounded, but she fought back. Her screaming scared David off and she was able to make it to one of the apartment buildings for help. She had six wounds from the hunting knife.
The attack on Michelle pacified David's demons for the time being. He was relaxed and went out for a burger and fries.
After the two Christmas Eve attacks, David went back to his security guard job at IBI Security. He moved from his tiny Bronx apartment in January to a two-family home in Yonkers owned by Jack and Nann Cassara. He wanted a 2-year lease and paid a $200 security deposit.
Cassara's German shepherd was a noisy dog and howled frequently. The neighborhood dogs howled back. In David's diseased mind demons lived within the dogs and their howling was the way they ordered David to go hunting for blood -- the blood of pretty young women.
Berkowitz was driven to the edge: "I'd come home to Coligni avenue like at six-thirty in the morning. It would begin then, the howling. On my days, off, I heard it all night, too. It made me scream. I used to scream out begging for the noise to stop. It never did.
"The demons never stopped. I couldn't sleep. I had no strength to fight. I could barely drive. Coming home from work one night, I almost killed myself in the car. I needed to sleep....The demons wouldn't give me any peace."
After three months, he moved out of the Cassara's house and into an apartment house at 35 Pine Street in Yonkers, never asking for his security deposit back. The Cassaras had taken on a frightening role in David's family life: "When I moved in the Cassaras seemed very nice and quiet. But they tricked me. They lied. I thought they were members of the human race. They weren't! Suddenly the Cassaras began to show up with the demons. They began to howl and cry out. 'Blood and death!' They called out the names of the masters! The Blood Monster, John Wheaties, General Jack Cosmo." As David's fantasies developed, Cassara became General Jack Cosmo, commander in chief of the devil dogs roaming the streets of New York. The demons had a constant need for blood which David helped replenish with his murderous assaults.
David's apartment on Pine Street also had its dogs. Sam Carr's black Labrador, for example. David tried to kill the demon lurking in Harvey with a Molotov cocktail, but it fizzled. Finally, he shot Harvey with a gun.
Sam Carr, in David's elaborate delusion, was the host of a powerful demon named Sam who worked for General Jack Cosmo. When David called himself the Son of Sam, it was the demon living in Sam Carr to which he referred. David warned people that they should take him seriously. "This Sam and his demons have been responsible for a lot of killing." Unfortunately, in David's scheme of things, only God could destroy Sam at Armageddon. At various times in David's mind, Sam was the Devil.
The day before he murdered Donna Lauria, David quit his job as a nighttime security guard and went to work as a taxi driver. He claims that he didn't want to kill Donna and her friend Jody, but the demons forced him to shoot. But once it was done, he felt pleasure, exhaustion from doing a job well. Sam was pleased. Pleased enough to promise Donna to him as a bride. Sam had led David to believe that Donna would some day rise from the dead to join him.
David was classified by the defense psychiatrists as a paranoid schizophrenic. The believed that David's difficulties relating to people drove him further into isolation. The isolation was a fertile ground for wild fantasies. Eventually the fantasies crowded out reality and David lived in a world populated by the demons his mind had created. As his state of mind deteriorated, tension grew and was only released when he successfully attacked someone. For a brief time, the assaults relieved the tensions, but inevitably, the tensions began to increase again and the cycle repeated itself.
When he was arrested, David remained calm and smiling. It appeared as though he was relieved at being caught. Perhaps he thought that finally in jail the demon dogs would stop howling for blood.
However, according to Dr. David Abrahamsen, the prosecution's forensic psychiatrist, "While the defendant shows paranoid traits, they do not interfere with his fitness to stand trial....the defendant is a normal as anyone else. Maybe a little neurotic."
Ultimately, it didn't matter because David Berkowitz pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to 365 years in jail.
In 1979, Robert Ressler, the FBI veteran, interviewed Berkowitz in Attica Prison three times. Berkowitz had been allowed to keep a scrapbook he had compiled of all the newspaper stories about the murders. He used these scrapbooks to keep his fantasies alive.
Ressler made it clear that he didn't buy the demon dog theory one bit and eventually he was able to get the truth out of Berkowitz. The demon story was to protect him when and if he was caught so that he could try to convince the authorities he was insane. He admitted to Ressler "that his real reason for shooting women was out of resentment toward his own mother, and because of his inability to establish good relationships with women." He would become sexually aroused in the stalking and shooting of women and would masturbate after it was over.
He also admitted to Ressler that stalking women had become a nightly adventure for him. If he didn't find a victim, he would go back to the scenes of his earlier murders and try to recall them. "It was an erotic experience for him to see the remains of bloodstains on the ground, a police chalkmark or two: seated in his car, he would often contemplate these grisly mementos and masturbate." So murderers do return to the scene of the crime, not out of guilt, but because they want to revive the memories of their crimes for sexual pleasure.
He wanted to go to the funerals of his victims but was afraid that the police would become suspicious. However, he did hang around diners near the police stations hoping to overhear policemen talking about his crimes. He also tried unsuccessfully to find the graves of his victims.
Like many serial killers, he nourished his sick ego from the newspaper attention he received for his crimes. He got the idea of sending the letter to Jimmy Breslin from a book on Jack the Ripper. Ressler found out that "after the press started calling him Son of Sam he adopted the moniker as his own, and even fashioning a logo for it."
This story is repeated time after time in every city experiencing the attacks of a serial killer. The demands of the citizens to know what is happening is balanced against the reality that feeding these demands for information virtually ensures that the killer will keep on killing. Legitimate police work is seriously hampered by a deluge of bogus tips from well-meaning citizens. The only party that benefits from this common problem is the media.
This feature story is taken primarily from the following sources: Lawrence D. Klausner's very good book entitled Son of Sam (McGraw-Hill, 1981), the New York Times, and the New York Post.
Other sources were:
Abrahamsen, David, Confessions of Son of Sam.
Breslin, Jimmy and Dick Schaap, .44 (novel based on the Son of Sam murders).
Leyton, Elliott, Hunting Humans; Inside the Mind of Mass Murderers.
Terry, Maury, The Ultimate Evil. Terry believes that the Son of Sam murders and other high-profile crimes involve a Satanic cult called the Process Church.
Ressler, Robert K. and Tom Shachtman, Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for The FBI.