Crime Magazine is about true crime: organized crime, celebrity crime, serial killers, corruption, sex crimes, capital punishment, prisons, assassinations, justice issues, crime books, crime films and crime studies.
June 27, 2012
David Berkowitz, “the Son of Sam,” terrorized New Yorkers during a 13-month long killing spree in 1976-1977 before a parking ticket at his last crime scene led to his capture. Now a born-again Christian, he calls himself “the Son of Hope.”
by Mark Pulham
The year was 1976, and the United States was celebrating its Bicentennial, especially in the month of July. It was also the year of the summer Olympics in Montreal, Canada, and 14-year-old Nadia Comăneci stole the show by becoming the first person in modern Olympic history to achieve a perfect 10.00.
Music was important, and the disco was the place to be. On the week of July 24, the top song on the Billboard Charts was “Kiss And Say Goodbye” by the Manhattans, who had knocked off the previous weeks “Afternoon Delight” from the number one spot.
The Manhattans would stay at number one for the following week, only to be knocked off by Elton John and Kiki Dee singing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.” That same week, Tavares would release “Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel.”
But, by the end of that week, Heaven would be getting an Angel back, and more than one heart was going to be broken.
The First Victims
It was around 1a.m. on Thursday, July 29. It was a warm night, and Jody Valenti had parked her blue Oldsmobile Cutlass on Buhre Avenue in the Pelham Bay area of the Bronx. Her friend, Donna Lauria, lived in an apartment at 2860 Buhre Avenue with her parents. Jody was 19 years old, a student nurse, and Donna, just one year younger, was a medical student.
As Jody and Donna sat in the car, Donna’s parents, Mike and Rose Lauria, were returning home and saw the girls. It was getting late, so Mike told Donna that she should be getting inside. Donna said that she would be up soon. Mike and Rose went upstairs to the apartment, but Mike would be back down in a few minutes to walk the dog.
A few minutes before that a Ford Galaxie had cruised past. The driver of the Galaxie drove a couple of blocks away and parked, then made his way back on foot, keeping to the shadows.
It had been a fun night for the girls. They had spent the evening at the Peachtree Disco in New Rochelle. Now, they chatted together, reliving the night and talking about boys. As they talked, the man circled and came closer to their car, like an animal creeping closer to its prey.
Donna decided it was time to go upstairs and opened the door to get out. As she did, she spotted the man standing at the curb just several feet away from them. He was staring at her. Donna sat back and closed the car door a little, and said, “Who is this guy? What does he want?”
The man was carrying a brown paper bag, and as she watched, he reached in. When his hand came out, he was holding a Charter Arms.44 caliber Bulldog, a snub nosed five-shot revolver.
He dropped to a shooters crouch and aimed the gun using both hands, his elbow resting on his knee to steady his aim. Quickly, he squeezed off five shots, emptying the gun.
The bullets smashed through the windshield.
Jody slumped forward on to the car horn, a bullet in her thigh. Donna wasn’t so lucky. One of the bullets caught her in the neck and she was killed almost instantly.
Even though he’d emptied the gun, the man kept pulling the trigger, the hammer falling on an empty chamber each time. As if suddenly realizing he was out of shots, the man stood up, turned, and fled into the night.
Jody dragged herself out of the car and started screaming. Mike Lauria rushed out of the building and saw his daughter covered in blood. He cradled her and went with her to the hospital, hoping that there was something that could be done. But there wasn’t.
It was a random and brutal killing of a young woman, and the detectives from the 8th Precinct were baffled. There were no clues as to why Donna had been targeted.
There were distinctive markings on the bullets that were recovered that allowed ballistics to determine that the gun was a Charter Arms Bulldog, but that was not much help. The Bulldog was one of the best selling weapons of the 1970’s. A relatively inexpensive revolver, it is more accurate than most revolvers of its size, though not enough to be described as such.
Although Jody Valenti was naturally in a state of shock, she was still able to give a fair description of the shooter. She told the police he was a white male, possibly in his early 30s, with a fair complexion and had short dark hair. He stood around five-foot-nine and weighed about 160 pounds. She had never seen him before.
Mike Lauria also gave a description of someone he saw sitting in a yellow car a short time earlier which matched the description that Jody gave. Several other witnesses claimed that they had seen a yellow car cruising through the area earlier in the evening.
The fact that the shooter had crouched down into a shooting stance made the detectives wonder if maybe he was a cop. This was a stance they were taught in the police academy, but it was also taught elsewhere. And as for a motive, they couldn’t find one, although a couple of theories presented themselves.
One was that the shooter was someone who was attracted to Donna, but had possibly been turned down. Donna was a pretty and popular girl, and the theory was not impossible. The other theory was that there was a mob connection. The area, which was predominantly Italian, had recently seen an upswing in organized crime activity, and it could be possible that Donna had seen something that she shouldn’t have and so had to be silenced. There was even some suggestion that the target may not have been Donna herself, but could have been her father, who was a member of the Teamsters Union. Was this a mob assassination that had gone wrong, or a case of mistaken identity?
But this didn’t seem like a mob hit. Usually, they don’t target children or women, and a Charter Arms Bulldog is definitely not the weapon of choice for a mob hit.
Donna’s death was reported in the newspapers, but, despite the horrific nature of the attack, it didn’t get too much attention. She was just one death among many, one of around 20,000 murders that took place that year in the United States. There was no indication that this was the beginning of a terrifying year for the residents of New York City.
The Second Shooting
It wasn’t until almost three months later, on Saturday, October 23, that the shooter struck again, this time in middle class Queens.
Carl Denaro, a 20-year-old record salesman, was in a bar in Flushing, Queens, spending some time with friends. It would be a long time before he would be able to see them and have a few beers, and this was going to be a sort of going away party. Carl had recently joined the U.S. Air Force, and in a couple of days, he would be shipping off.
Among the friends was 18-year-old Rosemary Keenan, a student at Queens College. As the impromptu party died down, Rosemary and Carl went for a drive in her red Volkswagen Beetle, eventually parking and settling for a chat. As the pair talked, neither of them noticed a man quietly moving toward the car. Without warning, he suddenly appeared at the passenger side window. He pulled out a gun and started firing into the car, the window exploding and showering the couple with fragmented glass. Five bullets tore through the car, but miraculously, Rosemary wasn’t hit.
But Carl had been. As he had turned to protect himself from the flying glass, a bullet had caught Carl in the head, ripping away a part of his skull. Panicked and terrified, Rosemary drove hurriedly back to the bar they had been at earlier, and Carl was rushed to the hospital.
Carl’s skull was badly damaged and a metal plate had to be inserted to replace the missing and damaged bone. Carl lived, haunted by the injuries and the memory of what happened that night. Carl’s career in the Air Force was over before it had even begun.
Neither Rosemary nor Carl had got a good look at the shooter, so there was no description that they could give to the police. Bullets that were recovered from the scene were heavily damaged and could never be linked to any particular weapon, but they were proved to be .44 calibers.
The police did not link this shooting to the earlier shooting of Donna Lauria, although there were some similarities to each crime. Both Donna Lauria and Carl Denaro had long dark hair, which at the time did not signify anything, but later it would be thought that in the subdued lighting, the shooter may have mistaken Carl Denaro, with his long hair, for a female.
But as the shootings each took place in a different borough, the Lauria killing was in the Bronx while the Denaro shooting was in Queens, two different jurisdictions were investigating, which also contributed to the link not being made at the time.
Once again, there was no apparent motive for the shooting. There may have been some speculation that it was Rosemary that was the intended target, as her father was a 20-year-veteran police detective. It would not be far fetched to believe that a criminal, out for revenge, would target her to get through to her father.
The Third Attack
A month passed before the shooter went out on the prowl again, once again in Queens. On Friday, November 26, two young girls had been out to see a movie together. Now they were returning home on the bus after their night out. Joanne Lomino, 18 years old, lived in a house on 262nd Street, and the bus stopped quite close to her home. When the bus stopped at the corner of 262nd Street and Hillside Avenue, Joanne and her friend, 16-year-old Donna DeMasi got off, and they noticed a man hanging around, seemingly lost. Joanne suggested they walk a little faster to get away from him.
The man immediately began to follow, and when he got close enough, he began to ask for directions.
But the man never finished the question. Instead, he pulled a gun from beneath his jacket. As he raised the gun, the girls started to run, but the man pulled the trigger. Both girls fell to the ground, one bullet had hit Donna, and a second bullet had hit Joanne. For some reason, the shooter fired the rest of the bullets into the houses nearby. There was a clicking sound as the hammer fell onto the empty chambers. Realizing the gun was now empty, the man ran away.
The sound of the shots brought the people out of their houses, including the parents of Joanne Lomino, where they discovered the two girls lying on the ground, bleeding.
The girls were rushed to Long Island Jewish Hospital where they were treated for gunshot wounds. Both girls would survive their wounds. For Donna, the bullet hit her in the back, missing her spine by a quarter inch before it exited her body. For Joanne, the news was not as good. The bullet that hit her tore through her spinal column. Joanne was made a paraplegic by her injury, and will spend the rest of her days in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down.
Later, the girls would give a description of their assailant as tall and slender, around five-foot-nine and about 150 pounds in weight. He had dirty blond hair and wore a knee length coat, possibly army surplus. However, there were reports of another witness who saw someone run by with a gun in his hand, but he had dark curly hair.
Despite the three shooting incidents, only one bullet had been recovered in good condition, certainly not enough to connect all the crimes.
The Fourth Assault
Nothing happened for the rest of 1976, but he was back on the hunt in the New Year. One month into 1977, and he found another victim.
It was in the opening hour of Sunday, January 30, 1977. John Diel, aged 30, and his fiancée, 26-year-old Christine Freund, had left The Wine Gallery, a wine bar in the Ridgewood neighborhood of Queens, to walk back to their car. The time was around 12:10 a.m. They had parked John’s blue Pontiac Firebird on Continental Avenue, not far from the Long Island Railroad line at Station Plaza.
They climbed into the car, shivering from the chilly night, and began to kiss. Neither of them noticed the man as he crept up to the car. As the couple continued to kiss, the man took his gun out of the brown paper bag and took aim.
The bullets smashed through the window. By a miracle, not one bullet hit John Diel. But Christine was hit three times, one shot hitting her in the chest, and the other two smashing into her skull.
People heard the shots and within a few minutes, an emergency team was on the scene. Christine was rushed to the emergency room at St. John’s Hospital, but it was no use. At 4 a.m., Christine died without having regained consciousness.
A Psycho on the Loose
Among the detectives assigned to the latest shooting was 43-year-old Joe Coffey. As he and Captain Joe Borelli began to work on the case, a couple of theories presented themselves. It was either someone who had a grudge against Christine or John or possibly both, something personal, or it could be a psycho on the loose.
Coffey began to look into other cases and saw the similarities between this killing, and the shootings in other parts of the city. Although there was still no evidence linking the crimes, Coffey had a feeling that they were related. He sent the bullets that were recovered to Detective George Simmons at the ballistics lab.
He got an answer a short while later. Simmons told Coffey that he had seen this type of bullet in three other cases in New York since July. He couldn’t swear to it, but he believed that they were all fired from the same type of gun. It was good enough for Coffey. They had a psycho on the streets of the city. It was not something Coffey’s superiors wanted to hear.
The police set up a task force called Operation Omega, headed by Deputy Inspector Tim Dowd, and included as key members Captain Joe Borelli, Detective Joe Coffey, and Detective Redmond Keenan, whose own daughter, Rosemary, was with Carl Denaro on the night that he was shot.
A public announcement was made by the police stating that the shooting of Christine Freund and John Diel was similar to other cases in the New York area. The press gave the shooter a nickname: “The .44 Killer.”
The common denominator between all the shootings was that the victims were young women with long dark hair, the only anomaly being Carl Denaro. However, Carl also had long dark hair, and in the subdued lighting inside the car at night, Carl could easily have been mistaken for a woman.
The Fifth Attack
In March, there was another attack.
Virginia Voskerichian was an attractive young honor student at Barnard College at Columbia University. She and her family had fled from Bulgaria to the United States in the late 1950’s, and only the year before, Virginia had received her citizenship papers
It was 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday March 8, and 20-year-old Virginia was walking home through the affluent Forest Hills Gardens area of Queens. As she headed home along Dartmouth Street, she noticed a man approaching her from the opposite direction. As he got close, Virginia saw him pull out a gun and aim it at her. Instinctively, Virginia raised her books in front of her face as a shield. The man fired, and the powerful bullet burst through the books and hit Virginia in the face. She was dead before her body slumped to the ground.
She had been killed just 300 yards from where Christine Freund had been shot.
A resident of the neighborhood, having heard the shots, came around the corner and almost collided with a person whom he described as a short, husky boy, who he placed around 16 – 18 years old. The boy was wearing a sweater and a watch cap, and was clean shaven. Others say that they saw the shooter run away, and one said that he saw someone hanging around the area earlier that evening.
The next day, the newspapers reported the “teenager” as a suspect in the shooting.
The police were convinced that one man was responsible for the shootings, and they were under a lot of pressure to catch him. A news conference was held on March 10, during which the NYPD and Mayor, Abraham Beame, said that the same .44 caliber weapon had been used in the murders of Donna Lauria and Virginia Voskerichian. However, although they believed this, the fact was the evidence was not conclusive.
On the same day as the news conference, the Operation Omega task force was revealed to the public. Made up of more than 300 officers and led by Timothy Dowd, they speculated that the killer had a hatred of women. They also said that the “chubby” teenager who was seen running from the scene of the latest shooting was not a suspect, but merely a witness. The killer, they believed, was the man who had been described in the Donna Lauria – Jody Valenti shooting, described as a white male, between the ages of 25 and 30, six feet tall, with a medium build and dark hair.
The media published every detail of the case, speculating on who the shooter may be. The most sensational coverage of the crimes was published by the New York Post which had recently been purchased by Rupert Murdoch.
The city went into a panic. As it seemed obvious that the shooter was targeting young women with long dark hair, women began to cut their hair short and dye it blonde. Not many young couples would be sitting in cars, although as the latest shooting had occurred while the victim was walking along the street, even that was no guarantee that they would be safe.
The police needed to catch this shooter, and fast, but they knew that the chance of discovering his identity and catching him before he killed again were slim. It would only be a matter of time before the .44 Killer had selected another victim.
They didn’t have long to wait.
The Sixth Attack
|Valentina Suriani and Alexander Esau|
On April 17, the killer was out prowling through the streets. It had been a disappointing night for him, there were no victims, everyone was being too cautious. But that was about to change. He was on his way home when, around 3 a.m., he saw a car parked along the Hutchinson River Parkway in the Bronx. Just three blocks away was the spot where he had shot his first victims, Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti.
In the car were 20-year-old Alexander Esau, a tow truck driver, and his girlfriend, 18-year-old Valentina Suriani, who wanted to be an actress and model. As the young couple kissed, they didn’t notice the car that pulled up alongside them, or if they did, they ignored it. The man in the car pulled out his .44 Bulldog and fired four shots, two for each person in the car.
Valentina died immediately, while Alexander held on for several hours more before he succumbed to his injuries.
“I Am the Son of Sam”
It was almost the same as the other shootings, but this time, there was one significant difference. The killer had left an envelope for the police. It was addressed to Captain Joe Borelli. Filled with misspellings, the letter 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 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 gam – 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. 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, bang, bang, bang – ugh! “Yours in murder Mr. Monster.”
It was no secret that a letter had been discovered at the scene of the Esau/Suriani shooting, but for the most part, the contents were not revealed to the public. However, the name the killer used for himself was out. From now on, he would be known as “The Son of Sam.”
Who was this man? A large number of psychiatrists were consulted, and on May 26, the police released a psychological profile of the man they sought. He was, according to the profile, a neurotic and probably suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and believed himself to be possessed by demons. He would also be a loner who would have difficulty with women.
The letter indicated that his father had suffered from too many heart attacks, so the police speculated that he may hate dark haired women if someone fitting this description was a nurse, and he thought that she may have been responsible for his father’s suffering. This theory was bolstered by the fact that both of the first victims were in the medical profession, Donna as a medical technician and Jody as a student nurse.
The owners of legally registered .44 Bulldog revolvers were questioned and their weapons tested, all to no avail. Undercover officers sat in parked cars as bait, hoping to lure the shooter into a trap. That didn’t work either.
On May 30, Jimmy Breslin, the well known columnist for the New York Daily News received a letter. It was postmarked earlier that day from Englewood, New Jersey. On the back of the envelope was a four line verse:
Blood and Family
Darkness and Death
Breslin opened the letter and read the following:
Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C. which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine and blood. Hello from the sewers of N.Y.C. which swallow up these delicacies when they are washed away by the sweeper trucks. Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of N.Y.C. and from the ants that dwell in these cracks and feed in the dried blood of the dead that has settled into the cracks.
J.B., I'm just dropping you a line to let you know that I appreciate your interest in those recent and horrendous .44 killings. I also want to tell you that I read your column daily and I find it quite informative. Tell me Jim, what will you have for July twenty-ninth? You can forget about me if you like because I don't care for publicity. However you must not forget Donna Lauria and you cannot let the people forget her either. She was a very, very sweet girl but Sam's a thirsty lad and he won't let me stop killing until he gets his fill of blood.
Mr. Breslin, sir, don't think that because you haven't heard from me for a while that I went to sleep. No, rather, I am still here. Like a spirit roaming the night. Thirsty, hungry, seldom stopping to rest; anxious to please Sam. I love my work. Now, the void has been filled.
Perhaps we shall meet face to face someday or perhaps I will be blown away by cops with smoking .38's. Whatever, if I shall be fortunate enough to meet you I will tell you all about Sam if you like and I will introduce you to him. His name is "Sam the terrible." Not knowing the what the future holds I shall say farewell and I will see you at the next job. Or should I say you will see my handiwork at the next job? Remember Ms. Lauria. Thank you. In their blood and from the gutter "Sam's creation" .44 Here are some names to help you along. Forward them to the inspector for use by N.C.I.C: [sic] "The Duke of Death" "The Wicked King Wicker" "The Twenty Two Disciples of Hell" "John 'Wheaties' – Rapist and Suffocator of Young Girls.
PS: Please inform all the detectives working the slaying to remain.
P.S: [sic] JB, Please inform all the detectives working the case that I wish them the best of luck. "Keep 'em digging, drive on, think positive, get off your butts, knock on coffins, etc." Upon my capture I promise to buy all the guys working the case a new pair of shoes if I can get up the money.
Son of Sam
Breslin called the police and a week later, the Daily News published some portions of the letter, while other portions were held back. The front page read: BRESLIN TO .44 KILLER: GIVE UP! IT’S ONLY WAY OUT.
As expected, the police received thousands of tips, all of which had to be followed up. But none of them panned out.
That summer was one of the hottest on record, and usually New Yorkers would spend the evenings outdoors. But the Son of Sam had put an end to that. Rather than risk a bullet to the head, people stayed inside, suffering through the heat, hoping that open windows and air conditioners would keep them cool.
The Seventh Assault
On Sunday, June 26, there was another shooting.
Judy Placido, aged 17, and Salvatore Lupo, aged 20, had been at the Elephas Dance Club on 211th Street in Bayside, Queens. Not many people were at the disco, the Son of Sam had stopped people from going out. Only a small number risked going to the city’s discos. It was around 3 a.m., and Judy and Salvatore went and sat in their car for a while.
As they sat talking, Judy mentioned how the Son of Sam was scary, coming out of nowhere and then vanishing. Her words were prophetic.
There was a sudden booming sound, and Salvatore thought someone was throwing rocks at the car. Judy’s ears were ringing and she felt dazed. Salvatore ran back to the Elephas club to get some help, not realizing that he was bleeding from a gunshot wound to the arm.
Judy had been struck by three bullets, one had hit her in the shoulder, one bullet wound was close to her spine, and the third had hit her in the temple. But with an incredible amount of luck, all of the injuries were fairly minor.
Neither Salvatore nor Judy had seen their attacker, but other witnesses reported that they saw a tall, stocky man with dark hair running away from the scene.
Detective Joe Coffey may have felt cheated. Only 15 minutes before the shooting, he had actually been at the Elephas Club.
In the letter to Jimmy Breslin, the Son of Sam had asked, “Tell me Jim, what will you have for July twenty-ninth?”
The police believed that it may have been a warning that he would kill on that date, the one year anniversary of the death of Donna Lauria, especially as he mentioned her name twice in the letter. There was a sense of relief when the 29th came and went with no reports of an incident.
But their relief was short lived.
The Final Attack
Early on the morning of Sunday, July 31, 1977, Robert Violante and his girlfriend, Stacy Moscowitz were parked in Robert’s father’s car underneath a streetlight near a park in Gravesend Bay in Brooklyn. They had met up earlier during the evening, and before she left home, Stacy had been joking with her sister about the Son of Sam. Stacy told her sister that the odds of her crossing paths with the killer were about a million to one.
The couple had been to see a film earlier that evening, and now they were just driving around, ending up in the park. Another young couple was just pulling away as Robert drove up, and he took their parking space. The other couple had no idea how lucky they had been.
Robert and Stacy got out of the car and took a walk in the park and then started playing around on the swings. But Stacy was getting nervous and said what if the killer was there. Robert tried to comfort her, saying they were in Brooklyn, not Queens or the Bronx where the shooter had been striking.
Stacy saw someone watching them and became more scared. She mentioned him to Robert, who then also saw the man. Stacy was more scared and wanted to leave. They headed back to the car and got in, but before they drove off, Robert leaned over and gave Stacy a kiss.
Robert would later recall that he thought he heard glass break and heard a humming sound, but he couldn’t hear Stacy anymore.
Robert leaned against the car horn and, within a short space of time, the police and the medics had arrived. Both Robert and Stacy were rushed to the Coney Island Hospital. By the time Stacy’s parents arrived, Stacy was being wheeled out. She was being transferred to King County Hospital, where there were better facilities for patients with head trauma.
Hours passed as the trauma teams in both hospitals worked on the two 20 year olds. Robert had taken two bullets to the face, Stacy had taken one to the head. Robert eventually recovered, though one of the bullets had torn through one of his eyes, destroying it, and the other bullet had left him with only 20 percent vision in his remaining eye.
Despite the efforts of the surgeons, Stacy died 39 hours after being shot.
This assault was a departure for the shooter. It was new territory and a different type of victim. Stacy had short hair, and she was a blonde. Now, no one was safe.
A Parking Ticket
But this time the Son of Sam had made a mistake.
The shooter had parked too close to a fire hydrant and had received a ticket. Cacilia Davis was a middle aged Austrian immigrant who lived close to the latest crime scene. As she was out, she believed that she had seen the shooter. A man was acting strangely on the night of the shooting, trying to hide, but failing, and eventually walking past her, wearing what she thought was a peculiar smile. She said that she saw him remove a parking ticket from his car.
The police looked at all the parking tickets issued in the area that night, not thinking that the person Cacilia saw was the killer, but whoever it was could possibly be a witness.
Eventually, they found the one they were looking for. It had been issued to a car belonging to a 24-year-old postal worker whose name was David Berkowitz.
The History of a Serial Killer
David was born on June 1, 1953, and almost immediately adopted by Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz. His adoptive parents loved the little boy and David had a fairly normal upbringing. But he was troubled. He had been told early of how his mother had died in childbirth, and David felt an overwhelming sense of guilt over causing the death of his mother. It didn’t help that the other kids in the neighborhood teased him about being adopted, tormenting him by saying he wasn’t a real child. David would often have nightmares that his real father would seek him out and kill him for causing the death of his mother.
David was a loner who had developed a bullying streak, and his parents sometimes found him difficult to control. Although David loved both his parents, it was Pearl that he was close to. She in her turn doted on her little boy, spoiling him at every opportunity. David was so close to his mother that, at the age of 13, he killed her parakeet by poisoning it. David saw the bird as a rival for his mother’s affections.
The following year, in the fall of 1967, David’s world crumbled when his adored mother died from breast cancer. David had no idea that his mother was so sick. Nathan, probably to spare his son the anguish, had not informed him that Pearl had breast cancer before he was born, or that it recurred in 1965 and now once more in 1967.
David was devastated and cried for days. After Pearl’s death, things began to deteriorate for David. His grades began to slip at school, and he began to believe that this was a personal attack against him by outside forces. His birth mother had been killed, and now his adopted mother had also been taken away from him. David became more and more introverted.
Nathan and David moved into a new apartment, and in 1971, Nathan remarried. David did not like his new stepmother, or her daughter, and the relationship was strained. It was not long after that Nathan and his new wife left New York and moved to Florida to a retirement community. David, now 18, was left behind in New York. David’s resentment of his new stepmother grew as he blamed her for taking away his father.
Lonely and shy, especially around girls, Berkowitz was drifting through life, purposeless. With no goal, he joined the Army that summer of 1971, and remained in the army for three years. He was posted to Korea, where he went through training as a sharpshooter with an M16 rifle.
The Army could have given Berkowitz a sense of family and belonging, but inside, he was becoming more alienated. Eventually, he wrote to Nathan and apologized for being a burden to him, for being someone stupid, hateful, and ugly. He begged Nathan to pretend that he never had a son and to forget that he ever existed.
When Berkowitz was 20, the Army transferred him to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where for a short while he became involved with the Baptist Church. But Berkowitz thought that he was going to hell, and the teachings of the church just reinforced this notion, so he soon dropped out. He also began having disciplinary problems in the Army. In 1974 he received a honorable discharge.
After moving into his own apartment, Berkowitz took a security guard job on the docks. Alone, with no friends, he began to brood about his roots and became obsessed with his birth mother. He became determined to find out who he was and where he came from.
Berkowitz began to search for information about his mother, and joined a meeting with other people who had been adopted. When Berkowitz told of how his birth mother had died and he was raised by another family, many of the audience seemed to be amused by the tale. David was angry that they found this tragedy so funny and said so. One of the others said that they were not amused by the tale of his mother’s death in childbirth, but pointed out that this is what all of them had been told.
Stunned, Berkowitz called his father in Florida and demanded to know the truth. Nathan reluctantly made an admission. Berkowitz’s mother had not died giving birth to him; the adoption agency recommended that this be the story they told him. As far as he was aware, she was still alive. Nathan told him his real name was Richard David Falco, and his parents were Betty and Tony Falco.
Berkowitz began a search for his real family, but months passed and he got nowhere.
Around this time, spring 1975, Berkowitz joined a cult of Satan worshippers, a substitution for religion, and possibly a surrogate family. Supposedly, they were involved in mostly harmless activities, such as séances and chanting in the woods, but Berkowitz would later claim that this was his introduction to drugs and pornography. It was also, for Berkowitz, a chance to meet girls.
Berkowitz Meets His Birth Mother
Not long after, Berkowitz had a breakthrough in his search for his mother. He managed to track her down and talk to her on the telephone, and they made plans to meet.
Like many others, Berkowitz had built up an image of his birth mother. She was beautiful and glamorous, and through probably tragic circumstances beyond her control, she was forced to give up the baby she loved for adoption.
In harboring such an idealized vision of his birth mother, Berkowitz had, inevitably, set himself up for a disappointment. Betty Falco was not beautiful, she was not glamorous, she was just an ordinary woman. Betty Broder was young when she married Anthony Falco, a marriage that was against her parents’ wishes. She was Jewish, and he was Italian, a gentile. The newlyweds managed to scrape enough money together to open a fish market, and eventually, they had a child, a daughter who they named Roslyn.
But soon after, their marriage began to falter, and Tony began an affair with another woman, and finally he left his wife and daughter to live with her. It was a hard life for Betty Falco, a single mother trying to raise a daughter on very little money. Relief came for her in the form of an affair with a man named Joseph Kleinman.
But the problem was that Joseph was married, and when Betty became pregnant, Kleinman refused to be responsible for the child, telling her that she had to make a choice. It was either the child, or him, but not both. Betty was stuck. It was hard enough for a single mother with one child, but with two it would be impossible. Although she refused to get an abortion, she did agree to put the child up for adoption. Before the child was born, adoption procedures had been arranged.
A Smoldering Hatred for Women
Although Berkowitz was relieved that he had not been the cause of the death of his mother, that relief was soon replaced by anger. Not only disappointed that his mother was not the ideal that he had built up, the tragic circumstances he had built up in his mind that led to his adoption were also imaginary. He realized that right from the beginning, he was an accident, and he was never wanted.
Berkowitz repressed his feelings, and met with his sister Roslyn and her children. He seemed to have a good relationship with them, visiting often and being called Uncle David by Roslyn’s daughters. But inside, his feelings of hatred were growing, and he had urges to slaughter his natural family, urges that were steadily becoming stronger.
Berkowitz was controlling them with some measure of success, but he knew that he would eventually weaken, and so his visits to his sister became less frequent. He told Roslyn that he would never hurt her or her children, a statement that she found confusing.
For Berkowitz, women were the central focus of his rage, they were the ones who had caused him pain, even if sometimes it was unintentional. His adopted mother abandoned him by dying, his stepmother and her daughter broke up the family by taking his adopted father to Florida, and his mother had discarded him because he was not wanted, but she had kept her other child, a female.
It Begins on Christmas Eve, 1975
By Christmas 1975, Berkowitz’s internal rage was becoming uncontrollable, and on Christmas Eve, he went out with a hunting knife, determined to attack and kill a woman. Driving around in the Bronx, he saw a woman leave a supermarket. He quickly parked the car and hurried after her. Berkowitz caught up and stabbed at her and she began screaming.
In a panic, he ran away. This was not as easy as he thought it was going to be.
Whoever this woman was, she never reported the incident to the police. That same night, he attacked 15- year-old Michelle Foreman, slashing at her with a knife. Again, she didn’t drop to the ground, dead, which was what he expected. Instead, despite some stab wounds, Michelle fought back. Once again, panic hit Berkowitz, and he ran. This was too hard, too close. What he needed was something less personal, something that he could do without having to have physical contact with the victim.
The Howling Dog
In January, 1976, Berkowitz moved to a new apartment at 174 Coligni Avenue in New Rochelle. His landlords were Jack and Nann Cassara, both of whom thought Berkowitz was a nice, polite young man. It was a nice home, but there was one problem. The Cassara’s had a German Shepherd which barked and howled. As though in answer, other dogs in the neighborhood barked and howled in return. To David, it seemed that they were talking to each other.
To Berkowitz’s fracturing mind, the dogs were either demons themselves, or animals with demons living inside them. It became clear to David that the demons were talking to him, ordering him to go hunting for women, pretty girls that he had to kill.
Berkowitz would later say, “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, Berkowitz couldn’t stand it anymore, and moved out, not even asking for his deposit back. “When I moved in the Cassaras seemed very nice and quiet.” Berkowitz said, “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.”
He moved to an apartment at 35 Pine Street in Yonkers. It was April 28, 1976. From the window of the apartment, Berkowitz had a great view of the Hudson River and the Palisades, but his paranoia made him put up blankets to cover the windows. He didn’t want others spying on him, even though the closest buildings that could possibly see into his apartment were over a mile and a half away on the other side of the river.
He had changed his work, having given up his job as a security guard and was now driving a taxi. But one thing was the same, he was still haunted by the howling of the dogs. It seemed as if he could never get away, that they had followed him. One of his neighbors, Sam Carr, had a black Labrador retriever named Harvey. It became the focus of Berkowitz’s paranoia and delusions. Just like the other dogs, it barked and howled.
Berkowitz paid a visit to Nathan in Florida, and Nathan witnessed David pounding his head against a mirror. Nathan tried to get Berkowitz some psychiatric help, but Berkowitz refused, telling Nathan that it was too late for him.
The Charter Arms Bulldog
On a visit to an old army buddy in Houston, Texas, Berkowitz got him to purchase a gun, a .44 Charter Arms Bulldog, telling his friend that he needed it for protection on the long drive back to New York. Back in the city, armed with a weapon that would allow him some distance from his victims, Berkowitz began the shooting spree that he believed would relieve him from his suffering.
|Charter Arms .44 Bulldog|
By 1977, Berkowitz was in torment from the constant howling, and he wrote a letter to Sam Carr complaining about the dog. It wasn’t signed. On April 19, he wrote a second one.
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 called the police, but although they listened in sympathy to what he said, they didn’t do anything. Ten days later, there was a gunshot, and Sam Carr ran out to find Harvey lying on the ground bleeding. Sam rushed him to a vet who treated his wound. To Berkowitz, this was proof that the dog was a demon, which used his powers to spoil his aim.
This time, when Sam called the police, they sent over two patrolmen, Peter Intervallo and Thomas Chamberlain, who both took statements and looked at the evidence.
On June 10, 1977, Jack Cassara received a bizarre note in his mailbox from Sam Carr. It included a photograph of a German Shepherd. The note 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.”
Jack was more than a little confused. He had not had any accident, had not fallen from a roof, and had no idea who the Carr’s were. Cassara looked up the Carr’s number and gave them a call. They were just as confused as he was. After they talked for a while, they agreed to meet that evening at the Carr’s home.
Sam Carr told his guests about the letters he had been receiving and the shooting of his dog. He also told them that a German Shepherd in the neighborhood had also been shot. Both the Carr’s and the Cassara’s decided to bring in the police. Sam called his daughter, Wheat, who was a dispatcher for the Yonkers police, and she called patrolmen Intervallo and Chamberlain. Jack Cassara called the New Rochelle police.
It wasn’t until later that Cassara’s 19-year-old son, Stephen, made a connection. He reminded them about the tenant they had a year earlier, the one who left without collecting his deposit and who had a problem with dogs. Nann Cassara called the Carr’s with this new information, and the Carr’s called their daughter. She passed it on to Intervallo and Chamberlain, and they put the name David Berkowitz into the police computer and got his address.
Both Intervallo and Chamberlain were nervous about conducting an investigation, they were not detectives and didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. But they did gather some information. They noticed that Berkowitz, according to the information they received, was roughly the same height and build of the Son of Sam descriptions. They also found that he had quit his job in July 1976, the same month that the shootings began. The two patrolmen were confident that they were on to something and they talked to their boss, who passed them along to Detective Richard Salvesen. They told him what they found, and Salvesen, impressed, passed the information along to Operation Omega.
Craig Glassman was a part time deputy sheriff. One day, he smelled smoke and when he opened the door to his apartment, he found a small fire that had been set in the hallway. The fire had almost burned out, and in amongst the burning materials was a handful of .22 bullets. Luckily, the heat had not been enough to set them off. Glassman called the Yonkers police to report the suspected arson. The responding officer was Patrolman Thomas Chamberlain.
Glassman told Chamberlain that he had been receiving some unusual letters, unsigned, that accused him of being part of a demon cult. He showed Chamberlain the letters. To Chamberlain, the handwriting looked extremely similar to that of the letters received by the Cassaras and the Carrs. That was not all. Glassman’s apartment was at 35 Pine Street, the same apartment building as David Berkowitz.
On August 8, Chamberlain and Intervallo told Salvesen about the fire and the letters that Glassman had received. Salvesen in turn told the task force. But the task force wouldn’t look at it immediately, not before running down the name of the person who had gotten a parking ticket at the last crime scene.
“What Took You So Long”?
Once the parking ticket had been found, one of the detectives, Jimmy Justus, called the Yonkers PD to schedule an interview with Berkowitz. Wheat Carr took his call, and she laid into him about Berkowitz and why nothing was being done about him. Shortly after, Chamberlain called Justus and notes were compared.
It now became clear that David Berkowitz was probably the Son of Sam.
On August 10, the police staked out 35 Pine Street. David’s Ford Galaxie was parked outside, and detectives took a peek inside. They saw a rifle, a Commando Mark III on the back seat in plain view. The detectives got one of the doors open and they did a quick search. A duffel bag was found which contained ammunition, maps of the crime scenes, and a letter. The letter was addressed to Tim Dowd, and mentioned the threat of further deaths.
Rather than confront Berkowitz in his apartment and risk a shootout, they waited until he emerged from the building, while other officers went to get a search warrant.
At around 10 p.m., the doors opened and Berkowitz came out of the building and walked toward his car. In his hand was a brown paper bag containing his .44 Bulldog. The police watched as he opened the door and got in, placing the paper bag on the passenger seat. Detective John M. Falotico walked up to the driver’s side of the Galaxie and put his gun close to Berkowitz’s left temple as Detective Bill Gardella pointed his weapon from the other side and told Berkowitz to freeze.
|Berkowitz arrested. Detective John Falatico in white shirt, Detective Ed Zigo in jacket|
Berkowitz, according to the police, just smiled idiotically at them. Falotico told Berkowitz to get out of the car very carefully and put his hands on the roof of the car. Berkowitz, still smiling, complied.
“You got me.” said David, “What took you so long”?
Falotico said, “Now that I’ve got you, who have I got?”
“You know,” said Berkowitz, in a soft voice.
“No, I don’t. You tell me.”
Berkowitz turned to look at Falotico. “I’m Sam.”
“You’re Sam? Sam who?”
“Sam. David Berkowitz.”
After the police took Berkowitz into custody, they searched through his apartment. There was Satanic graffiti covering the walls, and in a diary they found accounts of a number of arsons that he had set throughout New York. Some sources place the number of fires he set as high as 1,488.
By now, it was early in the morning of August 11, and back at the station, after 30 minutes of questioning, Berkowitz confessed to being the Son of Sam. This was a relief to the police, not only because they had caught the man who had terrorized the city, but also because they were worried that their search of Berkowitz’s car would be ruled unconstitutional. They had no warrant, and the search that was conducted was based on the visible rifle in the back seat. However, the possession of a rifle in New York was legal and no special permit was required.
Detective Joe Coffey was amazed at David Berkowitz. He was at the confession and he later said, “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.”
Berkowitz revealed to the police that the Sam he mentioned in the letters was Sam Carr, who Berkowitz believed to be a demon in human form, and the leader of a cult of Satanists that included his own children.
For the next eight months, Berkowitz was held at Kings County Hospital, in the prison ward, while outside, protesters with signs demonstrated their hatred for him.
A hearing had been scheduled to determine if Berkowitz was mentally fit to stand trial. Berkowitz tried to explain himself in taped interviews, and said, “I had nothing against these victims. Who were these people to me? They were just people. I didn’t hate them. I wasn’t angry against them.”
The interviewer asked “So why did you do it?”
“Well Sam did it through me.” Berkowitz answered, “He used me…He made me go out there and do it. I did it for him. For blood.”
Son of Sam Pleads Guilty
In May, 1978, Berkowitz pleaded guilty to the six murders. A few weeks later, on the day he was to appear in court for his sentencing, he threw a tantrum and broke his strait jacket. Finally, he was subdued and brought into court. Berkowitz spotted, in amongst the crowd, the mother of Stacy Moscowitz, and began to chant in a sing song voice, “Stacy was a whore! Stacy was a whore!”
Stacy’s mother began screaming back at him. Berkowitz was dragged away, and sentencing was postponed.
On June 13, he was back in court, this time behaving himself. He received six consecutive 25-year-to-life sentences, a total of 365 years.
Berkowitz began his sentence at the notorious Attica Prison, where, in 1979, veteran FBI profiler Robert Ressler interviewed him. It was clear that Ressler didn’t believe the demon story, and eventually, Berkowitz confessed that he had made it all up so that when he was caught, he could claim that he was insane. His real reason, he revealed, was that he resented his mother and he could never have a relationship with a woman.
Later that same year, one of the inmates attacked Berkowitz and cut open his throat. Berkowitz did not say who it was who attacked him, due to a fear of retribution. All he would say was that it was someone involved with the same cult that he once belonged to. The wound took 56 stitches to close and left a noticeable scar.
The Son of Sam Gets Religion
In 1987, Berkowitz was moved to the Sullivan Correctional Facility, where he met a Baptist Minister named Donald Dickerson, who taught Berkowitz about forgiveness. Berkowitz claimed that one day, as he read Psalm 34:6, he felt a moment of conversion.
Now a born-again Christian, Berkowitz refers to himself as the Son of Hope. He has been, since then, very involved in the prison ministry and he now works as a chaplain’s clerk in the prison. He is the only prisoner who is allowed to work in a special cell block, where he helps other prisoners with emotional problems and learning disabilities. He even has his own non-profit website, www.ariseandshine.org where he talks about his conversion and his life.
|Berkowitz on his website|
In the years since his incarceration, Berkowitz has been a model prisoner, completed prison rehabilitation programs, and has also completed a two-year degree from the State University in New York. He has come up for parole hearings on a number of occasions, the latest in early May of 2012, but he has no wish to be paroled. He believes that he deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison for the crimes that he did. Parole was denied.
His religious conversion has been seen by some to be just an act, but many others believe that Berkowitz has undergone a change. Many of those who support him have pointed to him as an example of the existence of God and Satan, including Pat Robertson of televisions “700 Club” who interviewed Berkowitz in 1997. Robertson praised Berkowitz, saying he was proof that the Devil is real.
Whatever the truth is about David Berkowitz, whether he did believe in the demon dogs or not, or whether he acted purely out of hatred and rage, he now seems to be a calmer person. Maybe his change is because he has found a place where he belongs, and the prison has provided him with a substitute family, which he seemed to be looking for from the beginning.
But there are some that believe that Berkowitz was not acting alone, and that there was a cult that was setting out to kill young women. David himself said it at one point, saying he only killed two victims, while other members of the cult killed the others. This would explain the different witness descriptions of the shooter. Even police investigating the crimes at the time did not believe in the lone shooter theory.
One author, Maury Terry, believes that some of the murders were carried out by a violent offshoot of a cult called the Process Church, and Queens District Attorney John Santucci reopened the case, though no one was arrested.
Sam Carr’s sons, John and Michael, were said to be involved in a cult. John lived in North Dakota, but made frequent trips to New York at the time of the Son of Sam murders. He was, according to a North Dakota sheriff, a mixed-up drug addict. John Carr’s nickname was “Wheaties,” so could this be the John Wheaties mentioned in the Son of Sam letters? Six months after Berkowitz was arrested, John Carr died from what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound, though many believe that he was murdered. Michael Carr died in a traffic accident the following year, 1979.
The truth of the Son of Sam case may never be known.
Get access to all of Crime Magazine's content! Order your subscription now!
Yearly Subscription $29.99 Automatically renews until you cancel.
90-Day Subscription $9.99 Does not automatically renew.
Monthly Subscription $2.99 Automatically renews until you cancel.
Gift 90-Day Subscription $9.99 Does not automatically renew.
Gift Yearly Subscription $29.99 Does not automatically renew.
Please note that Crime Magazine is an Internet only publication and is not mailed to subscribers