Who was David Berkowitz?
David Berkowitz aka Son of Sam is a serial killer from U.S. who murdered six people in New York City between 1976 and 1977. He plunged the city into the largest manhunt in New York history. Also known as Son of Sam, he was arrested on August 10, and was sentenced to six consecutive 25-years-to-life terms.
David Berkowitz was born June 1, 1953 in Brooklyn, New York under the name Richard David Falco. His mother, Elizabeth Broder was having a relationship with a married man at that time, named Joseph Klineman, but the child’s surname was given from her previous marriage with Tony Falco. For reasons unknown, Elizabeth decided to give the child away just days after his birth.
The boy was adopted by a Jewish-American couple Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz. They raised the boy as their own child under the name David Richard Berkowitz.
His childhood was somewhat troubled. He lost interest in school at an early age and started being interested in setting off fires. He became spoiled and some say a bully. His parents consulted a specialist about his behavior, but nothing decisive happened. When he was a 14 years old, his mother passed away and his father remarried.
Serving in the Army
Turning 17, in 1971, he joined the Army and served in U.S. and South Korea. In 1974 he was honorable discharged and decided to locate his birth mother, which he found. It is then when he learns about the details surrounding his birth. It might be that learning about the history of his birth and rejection from his birth father set up a crisis in his life. He continued to keep in touch with his birth mother and his half sister, Roslyn. He never took a career path in his life, settling mostly with small jobs.
How did the crimes start?
According to his own admission, Berkowitz committed the first attack on Christmas Eve, 1974. He tried to stab two women, one of which, Michelle Forman, ended up in the hospital for serious injuries. No suspect was discovered for these attacks at that time and Berkowitz moved to a different area. He relocated to an apartment in Yonkers, New York.
The Killing Spree
On July 1976, Donna Lauria, 18 years old and Jody Valenti, 19 years old, were talking about their evening in Valenti’s Oldsmobile. It was around 1 a.m. when Donna opened the car door so she could leave and noticed a man approaching the car. Then, he positioned one elbow on his knee, aimed with both hands and pulled the trigger on the weapon he was carrying. Donna was killed instantly with one bullet. Jody was hit in her thigh and a second bullet missed her. The man turned and walked away.
Jody described the man to the police as being 5 to 9 feet tall, dark, short and curly hair. Donna’s father stated that he had seen a similar man parked nearby a yellow car. The yellow car was confirmed by other neighbors as well as cruising the area hours before the fatal shooting.
Months later, on October 23, 1976, Carl Denaro, 20 years old and Rosemary Keenan, 18 years old were sitting in Rosemary’s car when suddenly the car window just shattered. Rosemary, in a quick second started the car and rove away looking for help. The bullet struck Carl in the head leaving him bleeding and destroying a part of his skull. He survived, but needed surgery to replace a portion of the skull. As it all happened out of a sudden and very fast, the couple didn’t manage to get a glimpse of the shooter.
Police managed to get the bullet that hit Carl, but it was damaged and it was deemed unlikely to ever connect it to a weapon. Even though the two shootings were similar, police didn’t connect them as they were investigated separately, by different police precincts. No evidence was found to help the case leading to no progress in the investigation.
The killings continue
About one month after the Denaro – Keenan shooting, on November 27, 1976 at midnight, Donna DeMasi, 16 years old, and Joanne Lomino, 18 years old were walking home after a movie. The tow girls stopped on Lomino’s porch chatting when a young blond man dressed in what seemed to be military clothing, approached them asking for directions. His voice was high pitched, but before finishing his question, he took out a gun and shot both girls.
He shot DeMasi in the neck leaving her with a non life threatening wound, and Lomino in the back leaving her paraplegic.
Freund and Diel Shooting
On the morning of January 30, 1977, a young couple, Christine Freund, 26 years old, and John Diel, 30 years old, were sitting in Diel’s car parked nearby the Forest Hill LIRR station, Queens. Close to around 1 a.m. someone starting shooting at the car. Three bullets penetrated it and Diel managed to drive away for help. He survived, having only minor injuries, but Christine, his fiance, died hours after the shooting, at the hospital. The attacker, again, was not seen.
Sketches are released
Police started looking at these shootings as being connected. All victims were shot with a .44 caliber bullet and all female victims seemed to have similar traits. All of them were young having long black hair. Sketches were made after the Lauria-Valenti shooting and DeMasi-Lomino one. The two suspects were described having different hair color, but similarities in the shootings were pointing at one killer.
On March 8, 1977 at around 7:30 a.m. Virginia Voskerichian, 19 years old, was walking home from school when a man raised his gun and pulled the trigger. Trying to defend herself she lifted her book creating a shield between her and the killer, but the books didn’t stop the bullet. She was shot in the head and died.
There were no witnesses to the murder. But some neighbors said that at the time of hearing the shooting they saw a teenager wearing a sweater and a cap, sprinting away from the crime scene. He was described as being a “chubby boy” around 16-18 years old. Police was looking for him as a potential witness.
The media had a frenzy writing about the murders. Speculations were made and the entire city was thrown in a constant state of fear. The last victim was also shot with a .44 caliber gun.
The First Letter
On April 17, 1977 around 3 a.m. Alexander Esau, 20 years old and Valentina Suriani, 18 years old were sitting in the car when they were shot twice each. Both died. The attacker was not seen. The weapon used was the same as in the previous shootings. But something was different this time.
This time, some letters were discovered at the crime scene, addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli. In the letter, the killer described himself as being “Son of Sam” and said that he will continue killing, mocking police for their inability to catch him.
“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”
It was speculated that the killer might be familiar with Scottish English and that the killer blames a dark haired nurse for the death of his father. Police released a psychological profile of the suspect on May 26, 1977. “Son of Sam” was described as neurotic and probably suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and believed himself to be a victim of demonic possession.
The second letter
On May 30, 1977, a letter was sent to columnist Jimmy Breslin. It was handwritten and it was claimed to be from the “.44 caliber shooter”. On the back of the envelope were the words: “Blood and Family – Darkness and Death – Absolute Depravity – .44”. The letter said:
“Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C. which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine and blood. Hello from the sewers of N.Y.C. which swallow up these delicacies when they are washed away by the sweeper trucks. Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of N.Y.C. and from the ants that dwell in these cracks and feed in the dried blood of the dead that has settled into the cracks. J.B., I’m just dropping you a line to let you know that I appreciate your interest in those recent and horrendous .44 killings. I also want to tell you that I read your column daily and I find it quite informative.
Tell me Jim, what will you have for July twenty-ninth? You can forget about me if you like because I don’t care for publicity. However you must not forget Donna Lauria and you cannot let the people forget her either. She was a very, very sweet girl but Sam’s a thirsty lad and he won’t let me stop killing until he gets his fill of blood.
Mr. Breslin, sir, don’t think that because you haven’t heard from me for a while that I went to sleep. No, rather, I am still here. Like a spirit roaming the night. Thirsty, hungry, seldom stopping to rest; anxious to please Sam. I love my work. Now, the void has been filled. Perhaps we shall meet face to face someday or perhaps I will be blown away by cops with smoking .38’s. Whatever, if I shall be fortunate enough to meet you I will tell you all about Sam if you like and I will introduce you to him. His name is “Sam the terrible.”
Not knowing what the future holds I shall say farewell and I will see you at the next job. Or should I say you will see my handiwork at the next job? Remember Ms. Lauria. Thank you. In their blood and from the gutter “Sam’s creation” .44 Here are some names to help you along. Forward them to the inspector for use by N.C.I.C: [sic] “The Duke of Death” “The Wicked King Wicker” “The Twenty Two Disciples of Hell” “John ‘Wheaties’ – Rapist and Suffocator of Young Girls. PS: Please inform all the detectives working the slaying to remain.
P.S: [sic] JB, Please inform all the detectives working the case that I wish them the best of luck. “Keep ’em digging, drive on, think positive, get off your butts, knock on coffins, etc.” Upon my capture I promise to buy all the guys working the case a new pair of shoes if I can get up the money.
Son of Sam”
Breslin notified the police, believing that who ever is the letter’s author has knowledge of the shootings. While analyzing the letter, police realized that this one is different. Its presentation seemed more evolved compared to the previous one. It was speculated that maybe the author of the letter is a calligrapher and asked many employees of DC Comic if they recognize the hand writing, but with no success.
Letter is published
The letter was eventually published in The New York daily News, but only partially and the killer was urged to surrender. People were panicking. Women with dark hair started getting short hair cuts or dyeing their hair to a lighter color. Some women used wigs to hide their natural hair. The city was drowning in terror.
On June 26, 1977, Sal Lupo, 20 years old and Judy Placido, 17 years old were sitting in a parked car near the city park, when at around 3 a.m. someone started shooting at the car. Both of the victims survived the shooting but none of them had seen the attacker. Witnesses said a man with dark hair was leaving the area around the time of the shooting. It was Son Of Sam.
The last shooting
A little bit more than a month after the Lupo-Placido shooting, on July 31, 1977, Stacy Moskowitz, 20 years old and Robert Violante, 20 years old were sitting in the parked car under a streetlight when a stranger approached the car from the passenger side and started shooting. He fired four rounds, striking both victims in the head. Only Violante survived the attack.
But Son of Sam’s reign of terror seemed to be close to the end this time. He was careless and multiple witnesses came forward with what they saw that night.
Witnesses come forward
At the time of the shooting, Tommy Zaino, 19 years old, was sitting in his own car parked several cars in front of Violante’s car. He witnessed the shooter approaching the car and had a look at him through his rear mirror right when the shooting happened. Zaino described the shooter as being around 25-30 years old, 5 to 7 ft tall and having light brown hair that looked like a wig. The street where the shooting happened was very bright due to the streetlight and full moon that night. The details were more than the police would have hoped for.
Suspect wearing a wig
On the other side of the park, a woman witnessed a white man sprinting from the park into a light colored car. He was wearing a wig. She managed to get a glimpse of the cars license plate and she remembered the last four characters as being either “4-GUR” or “4-GVR”.
Other witnesses reported to have seen a yellow Volkswagen driving away from the neighborhood with the lights off. Another woman saw from her window a man walking away calmly from the crime scene. She later positively identified that man as being Berkowitz.
Berkowitz didn’t want to stop killing. The same night, Thomas Scally was sitting in his parked car Alley Pond Park on Winchester Boulevard, in the borough of Queens, together with a woman when a yellow Volkswagen pulled very close to his car. But this time, the killer was met with a gun pointed to his face as Scally was keeping an air gun under his seat. The Volkswagen driver seemed to wear a stocking over his face. Seeing the gun pointed at him, the killer drove out of the parking being chased by Scally until somewhere in Glen Oaks, Queens where he jumped out of the car and started running on foot. Scally called to the Son Of Sam hotline and reported the incident.
Police are looking for a yellow car
At around s:50 a.m. police learned about the Violante-Moskowitz shooting and installed roadblocks about an hour after the shooting. It is then when they learn about a man that was nearly struck while driving, by a yellow Volkswagen that ignored the red light. He followed the car for a while, but lost it. He described the driver as a white male in his late 20’s or early 30’s, narrow face, long dark hair and wearing a blue jacket. A similar man was described by Violante as well as being seen in the park, before they went to sit in the car.
Police now knew that the killer drives a yellow Volkswagen, but there were hundreds of that car model registered in New York so police decide the check every single one of them.
On the night of the Violante-Moskowitz shooting, another woman came forward telling investigators that she was walking her dog when she saw a patrol officer ticketing a car. Some moments later, continuing her walk she spotted a young man walking past her after which she ran home being concerned because the man seemed to have something similar to a gun in his hand. Moments later, the shooting happened. After hearing this statement, police checked all cars that received a ticket that night.
Berkowitz’s yellow Ford Galaxie was amonth the cars police investigated. On August 9, 1977, NYPD detective James Justis called the Yonkers police to ask them to schedule up an interview with Berkowitz. The Yonkers police already had their own suspicion that Berkowitz might be involved in some crimes in Yonkers which were mentioned in the Son of Sam letters. They shared this suspicion with NYPD.
The following day, August 10, 1977 police searched Berkowitz’s car seeing a rifle in the back seat. They also found a duffel bag filled with ammunition and maps of the crime scenes. A letter was also found in the car, addressed to Inspector Timothy Dowd of the Omega Task Force. Now they needed a warrant to search his house. But before the warrant came, Berkowitz left his house at around 10 p.m. and entered his car. It is then when Detective John Falotico approached the driver’s side of the car pointing his gun to Berkowitz’s temple, while Detective Sgt. William Gardella pointed his gun from the passenger’s side.
They just arrested Son of Sam.
Son of Sam arrest is announced
Upon searching his apartment, police found Satanic graffiti on the walls, diaries that Berkowitz kept since his early 20’s, notebooks in which Berkowitz detailed hundreds of arsons that he claimed he has set in New York. Berkowitz was taken to 60th Precinct in Coney Island where it was announced to the media that Son of Sam was captured.
On the morning of August 11, 1977 Berkowitz was interrogated for about 30 minutes when he confessed the shootings and said he wants to plead guilty. Berkowits told police that it was his former neighbor’s dog the one demanding the blood of pretty young girls and “Sam” is the name of his former neighbor. He claimed that the dog was possessed by an ancient demon and commanded him to kill people. In one of his letters sent to the press after his arrest, Berkowitz said: “There are other Sons out there, God help the world.” which lead many to believe that Berkowitz had accomplices. This was never proven.
Berkowitz was evaluated by three different specialists to determine if he can stand trial. He was deemed as being fit. On May 8, 1978, David Berkowitz seemed very calm at the trial and pleaded guilty to all of the shootings, against his lawyer’s advice.
Two weeks later, when his sentence was about to be pronounced, Berkowitz attempted to jump out of the window from the 7th floor courtroom. He was restrained and he started chanting “Stacy was a whore” “I’ll kill her again. I’ll kill them all again”. The judge ordered another evaluation of his mental state before he can proceed sentencing him. During his second evaluation Berkowitz draw a man behind bars writing at the bottom “I am not well. Not well at all”. He was again deemed fit.
On June 12, 1978 he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for each murder, served consecutively. Despite prosecutors’ objections, the terms of Berkowitz’s guilty plea made him eligible for parole in 25 years.
On february 1979 Berkowitz retracted the claims that he was possesed by demonic powers and all of it was a hoax. The truth, according to his admissions, was that he wanted to murder those women as a revenge at the world that rejected him, by this referring to his lack of success with women. In prison he was described as remarkably untroubled by his new environment. In 1987, he became an evangelical Christian in prison asking to be called “Son of Hope”.
His first parole hearing was in 2002, but Berkowitz refused the hearing saying that he belongs in prison and even though he was entitled to a parole hearing every two years, Berkowitz refused to ask for his release.
In his 2016 hearing Berkowitz said that while parole was “unrealistic” he had improved himself behind bars, adding: “I feel I am no risk, whatsoever.”, but commissioners denied him a parole.