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David Berkowitz Or Son Of Sam

Updated on August 12, 2013

David Richard Berkowitz

David Richard Berkowitz (Born:June 1, 1953), better known by his nickname Son of Sam, is an American serial killer who confessed to killing six people and wounding several others in New York City in the late 1970s.

Though Berkowitz remains the only person charged or convicted in relation to the case, some law enforcement authorities suspect that there are unresolved questions about the crimes, and that others might have been involved: according to John Hockenberry of MSNBC the "Son of Sam" case was reopened in 1996, and as of 2004 was officially considered open.

David Richard Berkowitz

David Richard Berkowitz aka Son Of Sam in 2003
David Richard Berkowitz aka Son Of Sam in 2003
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Lisa Singh on the Son of Sam

More About David Berkowitz

Early life

Berkowitz was born Richard David Falco in Brooklyn, New York, to Betty Broder and Joseph Kleinman. Broder was married to Tony Falco and had a daughter with him. Although Falco abandoned her, they never divorced. She later had an affair with the married Kleinman. When Broder told Kleinman that she was pregnant, he told her to have an abortion. However, Broder had the baby and listed Falco as the father.

A few days after his birth, the baby was adopted by Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz, a Jewish couple who reversed the order of the baby's first and middle names.

David Abrahamsen writes that "David's childhood was somewhat troubled. Although of above-average intelligence, he lost interest in learning at an early age and began an infatuation with petty larceny and pyromania."He was an avid baseball player, and earned a reputation as something of a bully in his neighborhood. Berkowitz's tense relationship with his father became even more strained, and he disliked the woman Nathan later married. Berkowitz joined the U.S. Army in 1971, and was active until 1974 (he managed to avoid service in the Vietnam War, instead serving in both the U.S. and South Korea.) Afterwards, he toyed with Christianity, briefly and enthusiastically describing himself as born again. He 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, and was employed by the U.S. Postal Service at the time of his arrest.

First attacks

Berkowitz claimed that his first attacks on women occurred in late 1975, when he said he attacked two women with a knife on Christmas Eve. One alleged victim was never identified, but Charles Montaldo writes that the other victim, Michelle Forman, was hospitalized due to her wounds.Berkowitz was never charged with committing either crime.

Not long afterwards, Berkowitz moved to a home in Yonkers.


In the summer of 1976, a series of shootings began that would terrify New York and gain international press coverage. The perpetrator was dubbed "The .44 Caliber Killer" after his weapon of choice.

In the evening of July 29, 1976, Donna Lauria, 18, and Jody Valenti, 19, 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. As the two young women had been victims of an apparently random crime, the shooting earned little attention.

On October 23, 1976, there was another shooting, this time in Queens. Again, the victims were in a parked car. Carl Denaro, 19, was shot in the head and survived. His companion, Rosemary Keenan, was not injured.

A month later (November 26, 1976) Donna DeMasi, 16, and Joanne Lomino, 18, were walking home from a movie when both were shot in Queens. Both recovered; however, Joanne would remain paralyzed from the waist down.

The new year brought more shootings. On January 30, 1977, an engaged couple, Christine Freund, 26, and John Diel were shot where they sat together in a parked car. Diel survived, but Freund died of her injuries. Police determined the shooter had used an uncommon .44 caliber Charter Arms Bulldog revolver in this shooting. The earlier victims had been struck with large-caliber bullets as well, and police now suspected the shootings were all connected. Authorities also noted that the shootings targeted young women with long, brown hair and/or young couples parked in cars.

On March 8, 1977, college student Virginia Voskerichian, 19, was shot by a passerby as she walked in Queens, dying instantly. The .44 caliber bullet from this shooting matched one from the July 29, 1976 shooting.

At a press conference on March 10, 1977, police announced that the same .44 caliber pistol had been used in several of the shootings. The Operation Omega task force, eventually comprising some 300 police officers, was charged with investigating the crimes under the direction of Deputy Inspector Timothy J. Dowd. Police speculated that the killer had a vendetta against women, perhaps due to chronic rejection.

The mass media had a field day with the shootings, publishing every detail and speculation of the case. Australian publisher Rupert Murdoch had recently purchased the fledgling New York Post, and the paper offered perhaps the most sensational coverage of the crimes.

Second page of the first  Son of Sam letter
Second page of the first Son of Sam letter

The "Son of Sam" letter

The "Son of Sam" letter

Police made extensive efforts, including tracking down many yellow Volkswagen cars (eyewitnesses had reported such a car at one of the shootings), and trying to locate the owners of many .44 Bulldog revolvers. Thousands of people were interviewed.

The killer struck again; Alexander Esau (20) and Valentina Suriani (18) were both killed in the Bronx, only a few blocks from the scene of the Lauria/Valenti shooting. On April 17, 1977, in the street near the victims, a hand-written letter was found by a police officer. It was addressed to the Captain Joseph Borrelli.

Riddled with spelling errors, the letter gave the shooter a new name: the Son of Sam.

In full, it read

I am deeply hurt by your calling me a wemon hater. I am not. But I am a monster. I am the "Son of Sam." I am a little brat. When father Sam gets drunk he gets mean. He beats his family. Sometimes he ties me up to the back of the house. Other times he locks me in the garage. Sam loves to drink blood. "Go out and kill," commands father Sam. Behind our house some rest. Mostly young -- raped and slaughtered -- their blood drained -- just bones now. Papa Sam keeps me locked in the attic too. I can't get out but I look out the attic window and watch the world go by. I feel like an outsider. I am on a different wavelength then everybody else -- programmed too kill. However, to stop me you must kill me. Attention all police: Shoot me first -- shoot to kill or else keep out of my way or you will die! Papa Sam is old now. He needs some blood to preserve his youth. He has had too many heart attacks. "Ugh, me hoot, it hurts, sonny boy." I miss my pretty princess most of all. She's resting in our ladies house. But I'll see her soon. I am the "Monster" -- "Beelzebub"-- the chubby behemouth. I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game -- tasty meat. The wemon of Queens are prettyist of all. It must be the water they drink. I live for the hunt -- my life. Blood for papa. Mr. Borrelli, sir, I don't want to kill anymore. No sur, no more but I must, 'honour thy father.' I want to make love to the world. I love people. I don't belong on earth. Return me to yahoos. To the people of Queens, I love you. And I want to wish all of you a happy Easter. May God bless you in this life and in the next. 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, bank, bang - ugh!! Yours in murder, Mr. Monster

Based on analysis of the letter, psychiatrists thought the shooter might have suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

The police sketch of the Son of Sam  juxtaposed with a mugshot of David Berkowitz.
The police sketch of the Son of Sam juxtaposed with a mugshot of David Berkowitz.

And More About David Berkowitz

Composite sketches

On June 26, 1977, there was another shooting. Sal Lupo and Judy Placido (17) had left the Elephas discotheque in the Bayside section of Queens. According to Chris Summers of the BBC, the young couple were sitting in their car when Placido said, "This Son of Sam is really scary - the way that guy comes out of nowhere. You never know where he'll hit next." Moments later, three gunshots blasted through the car. Both were struck, but neither was injured seriously. The shooter fled, and Lupo ran to the Elephas for help.

Police offered composite sketches of suspects in the shootings, based in part on the testimony of people who had witnessed or survived the shootings. 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 had either light brown or dark blonde hair. Although the composites differed, police publicly insisted that only a single suspect was being sought; they speculated that the killer was using a wig.

The Breslin letter

On May 30, 1977, columnist Jimmy Breslin of the New York Daily News received a hand-written letter from someone who claimed to be the .44 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 were 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?" July 29 would be the anniversary of the first .44 Caliber shooting.

Breslin urged the killer to turn himself in. In 2004, John Hockenberry quoted Breslin, who said he admired 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 letter caused a panic in New York. Reports that the victims all had long dark hair resulted in thousands of women either dying their hair or cutting it short in order to lessen the likelihood that they would become targets. Beauty supply stores had trouble meeting the demand for blonde wigs. Parents insisted that children stay inside and no longer hang out on their stoops despite 1977 being one of the hottest summers on record. The atmosphere of fear and foreboding was oppressive.

On July 31, 1977, the shooter killed again. It was near the one-year anniversary of the first .44 caliber shootings, and police set up a sizable dragnet focusing on the shooter's hunting grounds of Queens and The Bronx. However, the shooter struck in Brooklyn: Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante were both shot in the head as they sat in a parked car. Moskowitz died, and Violante was blinded.

Suspicion and capture

The evening of the Moskowitz and Violante shooting, Cecilia Davis, who lived near the crime scene, saw a man remove a parking ticket from his yellow Ford Galaxie which had been parked too close to a fire hydrant. Davis saw this man only a few minutes before the shooting, and two days later, though fearing vengeance by 'Sam' she contacted police. Authorities determined that Berkowitz had been issued the parking ticket.

As Hockenberry writes, "Thinking Berkowitz was now an important witness, an NYPD detective from Yonkers, a city 12 miles north of Manhattan, called and asked the police for some help tracking him down. Mike Novotny was a sergeant at the Yonkers Police Department. According to Novotny, the Yonkers police had their own suspicions about Berkowitz, in connection with other strange crimes in Yonkers, crimes they saw referenced in one of the Son of Sam letters. To the shock of the NYPD they told the New York City detective that Berkowitz might just be the Son of Sam."

When they investigated his car parked on the street outside his apartment, police found a rifle in the backseat. They searched the vehicle and found a .44 caliber Bulldog pistol, along with maps of the crime scenes and a letter to Sgt. Dowd of the Omega task force. When he emerged from the building hours later, Berkowitz was arrested outside his apartment on Pine Street in Yonkers, New York on August 10, 1977. His first words upon arrest were reported to be, "What took you so long?"

Police searched his apartment, and found it in disarray, with 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 tale that seemed to demand an insanity defense: the "Sam" mentioned in the first letter was one Sam Carr, a former neighbor of Berkowitz. Berkowitz claimed that Carr's dog, Harvey, was possessed by an ancient demon, and that it issued commands to Berkowitz to kill. Berkowitz said he once tried to kill the dog, only to see his aim spoiled due to supernatural interference.

During his sentencing, Berkowitz repeatedly chanted "Stacy was a whore" at a quiet yet audible volume. He was referring, presumably, to Stacy Moskowitz, who died in the final .44 caliber shooting. His behavior caused an uproar, and the courtroom was adjourned. He was sentenced on June 12, 1978 to six life sentences in prison for the killings, making his maximum term 365 years to be served in Attica Correctional Facility.

Speculation after the arrest

Berkowitz claimed that the Hall & Oates song "Rich Girl" motivated the murders. But the song was not released until February of 1977, after the first four shootings had already taken place.

Berkowitz also claimed to have been a Satanist at the time of the murders, and suggested that he did not act alone in the killings: he was part of an occult group that sacrificed animals to Satan and ran a child pornography racket. Though he claimed to be innocent of murder, Berkowitz said his involvement in other crimes should see him imprisoned for the rest of his life. He said that he was not the "Son Of Sam" shooter, but merely one of the many look-out men. He named John "Wheaties" Carr as one of the shooters, as well as Carr's brother, Michael, whom he claimed to be the shooter in the Queens disco shooting, Sam being the name of their father. John Carr lived in a house behind that of Berkowitz, and owned the labrador retriever that Berkowitz had claimed to be a "high demon". John Carr was killed in February of 1978 in a shooting in North Dakota (ruled a suicide), and Michael Carr was killed in a traffic accident in October 1979 in Manhattan's West Side Highway. Although Berkowitz did mention other names of alleged cult members in some interviews, he said he could not reveal any more details because it would endanger his family.

Journalist Maury Terry argued in favor of the cult theory, placing the blame on a violent offshoot of the Process Church. Queens' district attorney John Santucci, who thought the case against Berkowitz was lacking, was so impressed with Terry's research that, as Chris Summers of the BBC writes, "he agreed to reopen the Son of Sam case ... But to date no-one else has ever been charged in connection with the crimes."

In perhaps his first suggestion that the "Son of Sam" shootings were connected to other crimes, in October of 1978 Berkowitz mailed a book about witchcraft and other occult subjects to police in North Dakota. He had underlined several passages, offering 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 12, 1974. Her murder remains unsolved. Berkowitz also mentioned the Perry murder in a few letters, suggesting that he had heard details of the crime from the culprit. 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.

In 1979, there was an attempt on Berkowitz's life. He refused to identify the person(s) who had cut his throat, but suggested that the act was directed by the cult he once belonged to.

Berkowitz reportedly invited the former priest and exorcist Malachi Martin to visit him to discuss his past occult involvement.

Even without endorsing the cult theory, Hockenberry writes that "What most don't know about the Son of Sam case is that from the beginning, not everyone bought the idea that Berkowitz acted alone. On the list of skeptics, police who worked the case, even the prosecutor from Queens, where five of the shootings took place."


One major side effect of his murder spree were the "Son of Sam laws." The first of these laws was enacted in the state of New York after rampant speculation about publishers offering Berkowitz large sums of money for his story. The new law, named for Berkowitz, authorized the state to seize all money earned from such a deal from a criminal for five years, with intentions to use the seized money to compensate victims. The Supreme Court declared such laws unconstitutional in 1991, in the case Simon & Schuster v. Crime Victims Board.

As of 2005, Berkowitz is writing memoirs, which he plans to publish through Morning Star Communications despite outrage from the family members of his victims and victims' rights advocates. Berkowitz himself receives no money from publication and a portion of the proceeds goes to the NY state crime victims board for distribution to the victims of his crimes. Berkowitz has an "official" website maintained by a church group as he is not allowed access to a computer.

While in jail Berkowitz became a born again Christian and said that his obsession with the occult and 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 of 2004, he was denied in his second parole hearing after he stated that he did not want one. The board saw that he had a good record in the prison programs, but decided that the brutality of his crimes called for him to stay imprisoned. In July of 2006, the board once again denied parole on similar grounds, with Berkowitz not in attendance at the hearing. He is very involved in prison ministry and regularly counsels troubled inmates.

In 2006, Berkowitz sued his former attorney Mark Heller. The attorney took possession of letters and other personal belongings from Berkowitz in order to publish a book of his own. Berkowitz stated that he would only drop the lawsuit if the attorney signed over all money he makes to the victims' families. On October 25, 2006, Berkowitz and his attorney settled out of court.

What Do You Think? Did The Son Of Sam Act Alone Or Did He Have Help. Why Not Comment Now!

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    • profile image

      Jane Dixon 

      10 years ago

      I think, he have companion because he cannot do it alone.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Others had to of been involved. The College Student girl that got shot witnesses say that the shooter was similar to a teenager. One witness claims it might have been a girl shooter, and Berkowitz claimed in an interview that that shooting was done by a women. Also, in the Moskowitz case Cecilia Davis (a witness) claims that Berkowitz was blaring the horn when he was blocked from passing through with his car. Then you have Zano that said he saw a fit athletic guy with a wig do the shooting, shortly after witnesses see this person running into a Volkswagon car that had two other people in it and it speaded away. Also, the biggest thing here is how when Berkowitz got arested how all the evidence including future letters and some weapons were in his car for the whole world to see. It almost seems that he planned to get caught or the cult knew the jig was up and he was chosen to take the blame.

    • johnrunion profile image


      11 years ago

      he always reminded me of richard dreyfuss.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Mark Heller was the name of the attorney David Hired to sue his ex-attorney, whose name was Harmath.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Ive read the detailed case of Berkowitz, and there are questions i have that can be answered, and some things that dont make sense to me, the first is a serial killer likes to relive the event this means doing everything the same as the first, its there trade mark, so why after several point blank shootings would he start leaving son of sam letters, why would he give information about others 22 disciples before he was cut, about the brothers being son of a sam carr, I believe no matter how many were involved the 365 year sentence he received is justified, but from what i see no one asks the obvious question "WHY" ?

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      he didn't act alone bout time its realised. im out cult now but know they were twisted there are too many secrets they keep. 2 others need to stand up and be counted and be messiahs if that's what they think they are.

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      i have always had this feeeling that he did not od it alone i think he had help...

    • profile image


      13 years ago

      who was the policeman that gave berkowitz the ticket on his car?

      please e-mail the answer.

    • profile image


      13 years ago

      I'm sure Berkowitz did not act alone. I worked with one of the brothers that he says was a shooter. I believe it.


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