David Berkowitz, known as Son of Sam, murdered 6 people in New York City from 1976 to 1977, claiming that he received orders from a ‘demon-possessed dog’… 👀
He is one of the most notorious serial killers in America.
Referred to as: Son of Sam/The .44 Caliber Killer
No. of Victims: 6
Date of murders: 1976 – 1977
Date of arrest: August 10, 1977
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)
Status: Sentenced to six life sentences in prison on June 12, 1978, making his maximum term some 365 years behind bars.
Unknown female, Christmas eve, 1975
Stabbed from behind. Never reported, female survived.
Michelle Forman, 15, Christmas eve, 1975
Stabbed from behind. Female survived
Bobby Violante, 20 (wounded) and Stacy Moskowitz, 20 (killed),
July 31st, 1977.
David Berkowitz was born Richard David Falco in Brooklyn, New York, to Betty Broder and Joseph Kleinman.
Broder was first married to Tony Falco, with whom she had a daughter. He soon abandoned Brody but they never actually divorced; she later had an affair with a married man (Kleinman). When Broder told Kleinman that she was pregnant, he told her to get rid of the baby., but 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 also earned a reputation as something of a bully in his neighbourhood.
Pearl died of breast cancer in 1967. Always closer to his mother, David’s tense relationship with his father now 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…
We are to believe that Berkowitz committed his first attacks on women 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 hospitalised due to her wounds. Berkowitz was never charged with committing either crime.
Not long afterwards, Berkowitz moved to a home in Yonkers, New York.
In the summer of 1976, a series of shootings began. They would terrify New York and earn international press coverage. The perpetrator was dubbed the “The .44 Caliber Killer” after his weapon of choice.
In the evening of July 29th, 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; even though two young women had been the victim of an apparently random crime, the shooting earned little attention.
On October 23rd, 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 26th, 1976) Donna DeMasi (16) and Joanne Lomino (18) were walking home from the movies when both were shot in Queens. DeMasi recovered, but Lomino was paralysed.
The new year brought even more shootings. On January 30th, 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 were determined that the shooter had used an uncommon .44 caliber Charter Arms Bulldog revolver in this shooting; the earlier victims, too, had been struck with large-calibre shells similar to this gun, 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 8th, 1977, college student Virginia Voskerichian (21) was shot by a passerby as she walked in Queens; she died instantly. The .44 calibre shell from this shooting matched one from the July 29th, 1976 shooting.
At a press conference on March 10th, 1977, police announced that the same .44 calibre 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.
The Son of Sam letter
Police made extensive efforts to find the killer, including tracking down many yellow Volkswagen cars (eyewitnesses had reported seeing 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 16th, 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.
The letter gave the shooter a new name: the Son of Sam.
(It’s also riddled with spelling mistakes…)
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 16th, 1977, there was another shooting. Sal Lupo and Judy Placido (17) had left the Elephas nightclub 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 were 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 30th, 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 Calibre 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 30th, 1977. It was near the one-year anniversary of the first .44 calibre shootings, and police set up a sizeable dragnet focusing on the shooter’s hunting grounds of Queens and The Bronx. However, the shooter struck in Brooklyn this time: 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 Calibre 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, (as well as the items listed above) police found a rifle in the backseat. They searched the vehicle and found a .44 calibre 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 10th, 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 defence: The “Sam” mentioned in the first letter was one Sam Carr, a former neighbour 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 calibre shooting. His behaviour caused an uproar, and the courtroom was adjourned.
He was sentenced on June 12th, 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 behaviour 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, a newlywed 19-year-old North Dakota native, had been killed in a chapel on the grounds of Stanford University on October 12th, 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.
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 night club 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.
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.
‘Son of Hope’
While in prison, Berkowitz has become an evangelical Christian. Instead of “Son of Sam” he now prefers “Son of Hope” as seen in his book, Son of Hope: The Prison Journals of David Berkowitz (2006) and featured on his website (run by his supporters) because he is not allowed access to the Internet) where he provides an apology to his victims and their families. In prison, Berkowitz continues to write journal essays on faith and repentance as well as contribute to school-based projects for students in psychology, criminology, and sociology who want to learn more about the criminal mind and the criminal justice system.