On August 10, 1977, David Berkowitz, a 24-year-old postal worker, was arrested and charged with being the “son of Sam”, the serial killer who terrorized New York for more than a year, killing six young people and injuring seven others. with a .44 caliber revolver. Because Berkowitz typically targeted pretty young women with long brown hair, hundreds of young women had their hair cut short and dyed blonde as he terrorized the city. Thousands more simply stayed home overnight.
After his arrest, Berkowitz claimed that demons and a black Labrador belonging to a neighbor named Sam ordered him to carry out the murders.
David Berkowitz was raised by adoptive parents in the Bronx. He was traumatized by the death of his adoptive mother from cancer in 1967 and subsequently became increasingly lonely. In 1971 he joined the Army and served for three years, where he distinguished himself as a talented sniper. In 1974 he returned to New York and worked as a security guard. His mental state began to deteriorate seriously in 1975 (he was later diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic).
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Feeling isolated from the world around him, he became an arsonist and set hundreds of fires in New York without being arrested. He began to hear voices of “demons” which tormented him and told him to commit murder. On Christmas Eve 1975, he gave in to these internal voices and seriously injured 15-year-old Michelle Forman with a hunting knife.
In January 1976, he moved into a two-family house in Yonkers, a suburb of New York. Berkowitz became convinced that the German Shepherd who lived in the house and other dogs in the neighborhood were possessed by demons who ordered him to murder attractive young women. One of the neighborhood dogs was shot during this time, probably by Berkowitz. He also began to see his neighbors as demons.
In April, Berkowitz moved to an apartment building in Yonkers, but his new home also had dogs. His neighbor, retired Sam Carr, had a black Labrador named Harvey, who Berkowitz said begged him to kill. He also saw Sam Carr as a powerful demon and referred to him when he later called himself “Son of Sam”.
On July 28, 1976, Berkowitz left his job as a security guard. Early the next morning, he walked over to a parked car in the Bronx where two young women were talking and fired five bullets from his 44 revolver into the vehicle. Donna Lauria, 18, was killed instantly and her friend Jody Valenti was injured. Police found no motive or leads in the shooting.
Early on the morning of October 24, Berkowitz struck again, seriously injuring 20-year-old Carl Denaro as he sat in a car and spoke with a friend in Queens. Just over a month later, on November 26, Donna DeMasi, 16, and Joanne Lomino, 18, were seriously injured in the street as they returned from a movie. On January 30, 1977, Berkowitz shot and killed Christine Freund while sitting in a car in Queens with her fiancee. Police began to suspect that these crimes were carried out by a single killer, but few bullets were found intact to confirm this hypothesis.
On March 8, Virginia Voskerichian, a 19-year-old college student, was shot dead on her way home to Manhattan. One bullet was found intact and matched a bullet found at the scene of Berkowitz’s first murder. New York Police have announced that a serial killer is at large, known to be a white male in his twenties, with dark hair and of average height and build.
A large group of detectives was organized – the “Omega” task force – to track down the killer. On April 17, Valentina Suriani, 18, and Alexander Esau, 20, were shot dead by the same weapon as they kissed in their car parked near the Hutchinson River promenade. This time the .44 caliber killer left a note in which he referred to himself as the Son of Sam.
On April 29, Berkowitz shot dead Sam Carr’s Labrador Retriever. He had previously sent an anonymous and threatening letter to Mr. Carr regarding the animal. The dog has recovered and Yonkers Police have opened an investigation. During this time, Berkowitz began sending bizarre letters to other neighbors and to his former owners. These people began to suspect Berkowitz of being the Son of Sam and reported their suspicions to the local police. The Omega task force was then informed, but detectives had received thousands of reports of Son of Sam “suspects” and were struggling to sift through any dead end leads.
On June 26, Sam’s son struck again, injuring Judy Placido and Sal Lupo as they sat in their car after leaving a nightclub in Queens. Public concern over the rampant serial killer has grown to panic, and New York nightclubs and restaurants have seen their activity plummet. A blistering heat wave and a 25-hour blackout in mid-July only increased the tension. On July 31, just two days after the anniversary of his first murder, Berkowitz shot dead a young couple kissing in a parked car in Brooklyn. Twenty-year-old Stacy Moskowitz was fatally injured and her boyfriend, Bobby Violante, lost her left eye and most of the vision in her right eye.
Days later, a major break in the case arose when an eyewitness appeared to report that she saw a man with what looked like a gun a few minutes before the shots were fired. be shot in Brooklyn. His information led to the first sketch of the Berkowitz police. More importantly, she reminded investigators that two police officers had written parking tickets on her street that evening. A search for issued tickets ultimately revealed Berkowitz’s car.
At the same time, Yonkers police investigated Berkowitz after stepping up a campaign of harassment against one of his neighbors. Convinced that he was the Son of Sam, they informed the Omega Task Force of their findings. Omega detectives eventually put two and two together, and on August 10, David Berkowitz was arrested as he left his home in Yonkers. He happily admitted to being the Son of Sam. On his person was a semi-automatic rifle, and he explained that he was about to commit another murder. The .44 caliber revolver was also recovered.
It was questioned whether Berkowitz was mentally fit to stand trial, but on May 8, 1978, he withdrew a defense of insanity and pleaded guilty to all six murders. Berkowitz, in fact, seemed to enjoy the media attention his case was receiving and proceeded to sell his exclusive story rights to a publishing house. This prompted New York State to pass the first in a nationwide series of so-called “Sam’s Son Laws” which take the proceeds a criminal earns from selling their story and donate them to a fund of compensation for victims.
Berkowitz was sentenced to six 25-year life sentences for the crime, the maximum sentence allowed at the time. He has since been denied parole. Since 1987, he has been held at the Sullivan Correctional Center in upstate New York, where he is said to have converted to Christianity.
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