David Berkowitz

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David Berkowitz in 2003

David Richard Berkowitz (born June 1 1953), better known by his nicknames Son of Sam or The Bologna Sandwich Killer, is a 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.[1]


[edit] Biography

[edit] 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.[2] 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."[3] He was an avid baseball player, and earned a reputation as something of a bully in his neighborhood.

Pearl died of breast cancer in 1967. 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 and located his birth mother, but after a few visits, Berkowitz learned the details of his conception and birth, and they fell out of contact with one another.

Berkowitz worked at several jobs, and was employed by the U.S. Postal Service at the time of his arrest.

[edit] 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.[4] Berkowitz was never charged with committing either crime.

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

[edit] Shootings

In the summer of 1976, a series of shootings began that would terrify New York and earn even international press coverage. The perpetrator was dubbed the "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. Though two young women had been the victim 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 motion picture when both were shot in Queens. DeMasi recovered, but Lomino was paralyzed.

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, too, had been struck with large-caliber shells, 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, 21, was shot by a passerby as she walked in Queens. She died instantly. The .44 caliber shell 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 flagging New York Post, and the paper offered perhaps the most sensational coverage of the crimes.

[edit] 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 thousands of .44 Bulldog revolvers. Thousands of people were interviewed.

The killer struck again on April 16, 1977. Alexander Esau (20) and Valentina Suriani (18) were both killed in the Bronx, only a few blocks from the scene of the Demasi/Lomino shooting. In the street near the victims, a hand-written letter was found by a police officer. It was addressed to the Chief of Detectives, John Keenan.

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

In full, it read:

2nd page of the first "Son of Sam" letter
I am deeply hurt by your calling me a woman-hater. I am not. But I am a monster. I am the "son of Sam". I am a little brat. When father Sam gets drunk he gets mean. He beats our family. Sometimes he ties me up to the back of the house. Other times he locks me in the garage. Sam loves to drink blood. "Go out and kills" commands father Sam. Behind our house some rest. Mostly young - raped and slaughtered - their blood drained - just bones now. Pap Sam keeps me locked in the attic too. I can't get out but I look out the attic window and watch the world go by. I feel like an outsider. I am on a different wavelength then everybody else - programmed to kill. However, to stop me you must kill me. Attention all police: shoot me first - shoot to kill or else keep out of my way or you will die. Papa Sam is old now. He needs some blood to preserve his youth. He has too many heart attacks. "Ugh, me hoot, it hurts, sonny boy." I miss my pretty princess most of all. She's resting in our ladies house. But i'll see her soon. I am the "monster" - "Beelzebub" - the chubby behemouth. I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game - tasty meat. The wemon of Queens are prettiest of all. I must be the water they drink. I live for the hunt - my life. Blood for papa. Mr. Borelli, sir, I don't want to kill any more. No sur, no more but I must, "honour thy father". I want to make love to the world. I love people. I don't belong on earth. Return me to yahoos. To the people of Queens, I love you. And i want to wish all of you a happy Easter. May God bless you in this life and in the next. And for now I say goodbye and goodnight. Police: Let me haunt you with these words: I'll be back! I'll be back! To be interpreted as - bang, bang, bang, bang - ugh!! Yours in murder, Mr. Monster[5]

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

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."[6]

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.

The police sketch of "The Son of Sam" compared with a Mugshot of David Berkowitz

Police offered composite sketches of suspects in the shootings, based in part on the testimony of people who had witnessed or even survived the shootings. In some regards, however, the composites were quite different, though police publicly insisted that only a single suspect was being sought: one sketch and description roughly matched Berkowitz (medium height, slightly pudgy, with hair that was short, dark and curly). But another suspect was reported to be quite different: a taller and slimmer man, a "hippie" sort, with jaw-length hair that was either light brown or dark blonde. Police speculated that they might be seeking one killer who was using a wig.

[edit] The Breslin letter

On May 30, 1977, columnist Jimmy Breslin of the New York Daily News received a hand-written letter from the shooter. A week later, after consulting with police and agreeing to withhold portions of the letter, the Daily News published the letter. Reportedly, over 1.1 million copies of that day's paper would be sold[7].

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."[8] Ominously, the writer added, "What will you have for July 29?" (the anniversary of the first .44 Caliber shooting).

Breslin urged the killer to turn himself into police. In 2004, Hockenberry quoted Breslin, who said he had some admiration for the writer's prose: "He had that cadence. I remember when I read it, I said, this guy could take my place with a column. He had that big city beat to his writing. It was sensational.”

The writer ignored Breslin's suggestion, and killed again on July 30, 1977. 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 (20) and Robert Violante (20) were both shot in the head as they sat in a parked car. Moskowitz died, and though Violante survived, he was blinded.

[edit] 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."

David Berkowitz being placed under arrest on August 10, 1977

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 "occult" graffiti on the walls. They also found a diary wherein Berkowitz took credit for dozens of arsons throughout the New York area.

[edit] Questioning and sentencing

Police were worried that, if challenged in court, their initial search of Berkowitz's vehicle might be ruled unconstitutional. Police had no search warrant, and their justification for the search might seem flimsy - they'd searched initially based on the hunting rifle visible in the back seat, though possession of such a rifle was legal in New York City, and required no special permit.

To the relief of police, however, Berkowitz quickly confessed to the shootings, and expressed an interest in pleading guilty in exchange for receiving life imprisonment rather than facing the death penalty. Berkowitz was questioned for about 30 minutes, and confessed to the Son of Sam killings.

During questioning, Berkowitz told a bizarre tale that seemed to demand an insanity 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.

According to journalist Maury Terry's book The Ultimate Evil, during his sentencing, Berkowitz repeatedly chanted "Stacy was a whore" at a quiet though audible volume. He was referring, presumably, to Stacy Moskowitz, who died in the final .44 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 some 365 years to be served in Attica behind bars.

He later claimed that the Hall & Oates song "Rich Girl" motivated the murders. But the song wasn't released until February 1977, by which point the first four shootings had already taken place, so this may have been misleading on Berkowitz's part.

[edit] After the arrest

Berkowitz claims to have been a Satanist at the time of the murders, and suggested that he was part of a violent cult which actually perpetrated the crimes. Berkowitz claims that he did not act alone in the killings: he says he was part of an occult group which sacrificed animals to Satan and which ran a child pornography racket. Though he claims to be innocent of murder, Berkowitz says his involvement in other crimes should see him imprisoned for the rest of his life.

Berkowitz also claims that he is not the "Son Of Sam" shooter, but merely one of the many look-out men. Berkowitz names 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 was the name of the father of John and Michael Carr. John Carr lived in a house behind Berkowitz's, and owned the Labrador that Berkowitz had claimed to be a "high demon". John Carr was killed in February of 1978 in a shooting in North Dakota (ruled a suicide), and his brother, Michael was killed in a traffic accident in October 1979 in Manhattan's West Side Highway. Though Berkowitz did mention other names of alleged cult members in some interviews, he claims he cannot reveal any more details, as it would endanger his family. Journalist Maury Terry's 1987 book The Ultimate Evil argued in favor of the cult theory, placing the blame on a violent offshoot of the Process Church. Queens' district attorney John Santucci, who says he 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, 1978, Berkowitz mailed a book about witchcraft and other occult subjects to police in North Dakota. He had underlined several passages, and also offered some marginal notes, including the phrase: "Arliss [sic] Perry, Hunted, Stalked and Slain. Followed to Calif. Stanford University."

Arlis Perry, (only one "s" in her first name) 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. Writing in the San Jose Mercury News, Jessie Seyfer noted that "local investigators interviewed him in prison and now believe he has nothing of value to offer" regarding the Perry case.[9]

There was a 1979 attack on Berkowitz's life. Berkowitz refused to identify the person(s) who had cut his throat, but he has 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.[10]

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."

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

[edit] Aftermath

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.

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[11] maintained by a church group as he is not allowed access to a computer.

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.

[edit] References in popular culture

[edit] Film

  • In the film My Cousin Vinny, Joe Pesci's character falsely states that he represented the "first guy they arrested" in the Son of Sam case.
  • Berkowitz was one of the serial killers whose murders were recreated by the killer in the movie Copycat (1995).
  • The 1999 movie Summer of Sam, directed by Spike Lee, is set against the backdrop of Berkowitz's killing spree. Although Berkowitz (played by Michael Badalucco) is featured in a number of scenes, he is not the main focus of the film. Rather the film primarily addresses the oppressive effects of the atmosphere of fear and paranoia on a group of young friends as a result of the Son of Sam killings.
  • In September 2006 a trailer for Chain Gang's mythical "Mondo Manhattan" film project surfaced on YouTube. It's alleged to be "the backstory on the cult that was behind the Son of Sam murders."

[edit] Literature

[edit] Music

  • On the song 'Position of Power" from his album The Massacre, 50 Cent refers to himself as "the biggest crook from New York since Son of Sam."
  • Green Jelly, a parody metal band includes the lyrics "Toucan, Son of Sam" in their song "Cerial Killer" on the album "Cerial Killer Soundtrack."
  • The Vitamins, a local austin band, is considering a concept album based on the Son of Sam killings.
  • The aggressive hardcore punk band, .44 Caliber Killers is named after what the media dubbed Berkowitz before he was the known shooter in the killings.
  • In 1977 New York City punk/noise/art rock band Chain Gang released a single for their song "Son of Sam".
  • David Byrne, lead singer of Talking Heads, said the song "Psycho Killer" (from the album Talking Heads:77 (1977)) is about the Son of Sam.
  • Punk rock band The Dead Boys wrote and recorded a song about Berkowitz called "Son of Sam" for their second album We Have Come for Your Children (1978)
  • In the early/mid 90's original guitarist and co-founder of Marilyn Manson, Scott Putesky, used the pseudonym Daisy Berkowitz, a portmanteau of Daisy Duke and Berkowitz.
  • In the Billy Joel song "Close to the Borderline" (from the album Glass Houses (1980)) Son of Sam is referenced with the following lyrics: "Blackout, Heatwave, .44 Caliber homicide"
  • Macabre wrote a song about Berkowitz, titled "Son of Sam", featured on the album Grim Reality (1987).
  • Elliott Smith referenced the murders on his album Figure 8 in its opening song entitled "Son of Sam"
  • The Long Island hip-hop crew JVC Force reference Berkowitz in their track "Strong Island" (from the album Doin' Damage (1988)) which contains the lyrics: "B-Luv, I'm a top biller, part-time iller, permanent chiller, Son Of Sam killer".
  • The Beastie Boys song "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun"( from the albumPaul's Boutique (1989)) includes a reference to Berkowitz with the lyrics: "Predetermined destiny is who I am/They got your finger on the trigger like the Son of Sam."
  • Benediction recorded a song about Berkowitz, named "Jumping at Shadows" on the album The Grand Leveller (1991).
  • In the EPMD song "Can't Hear Nothing But The Music" (from the album Business Never Personal (1992))Parrish Smith referred to Berkowitz with the lyric: "a serial rap killer like Dave Berkowitz".
  • The Cypress Hill tune "Insane In The Brain" (from the album Black Sunday (1993))includes the lyrics: "I feel like the Son of Sam"
  • The lyrics to industrial metal band Electric Hellfire Club's song "Mr .44" (from the album Burn Baby Burn (1994)) paraphrase from Berkowitz's letters to the press.
  • On the Queensbridge emcee Nas song "Represent" (from the album Illmatic (1994))Berkowitz is referenced with the lyrics : "Could use a gun son but fuck being a wanted man/But if I hit rock bottom then I'ma be the Son Of Sam"
  • 311 references the Son of Sam in their 1995 song "Jackolantern's Weather," from their self-titled album: "I'll be your boogie man rather that Son-of-Sam, cause what I am is what I am"
  • Tori Amos references Son of Sam in her song "Way Down" off her third album Boys for Pele (1996).
  • Berkowitz also was referenced in the hip hop group Deltron 3030's song "Upgrade (A Brymar College Course) (from the album Deltron 3030 (2000)).
  • Berkowitz's "Son of Sam" nickname and links with arson crimes were referenced in The Offspring's song "Original Prankster" (from the album Conspiracy Of One) with the lyrics: "Son of Sam, Fire Always makes it better".
  • The Linkin Park song "X-Ecutioner Style" (from the album Reanimation (2002))mentions Berkowitz, but incorrectly; the line goes "45-caliber killer".
  • MF Grimm's song "Voices Pt. 0" contains the lyrics: "I hear voices from a dog like Son of Sam". (From the album "The Downfall of Ibliys: A Ghetto Opera" (2002), the album also contains Pt. 1 of the song by MF DOOM which was originally recorded on his 1999 album "Operation: Doomsday".
  • The underground rapper Immortal Technique references Son of Sam in his song "Leavin' The Past" (from the album Revolutionary, Vol. 2 (2003)) with the lyrics: "verbally murderous like David Berkowitz when I'm gunnin'"
  • Davey Havok started a band called "Son of Sam"

[edit] Television

  • In the Seinfeld episode The Diplomat's Club (1995), Newman claims to have worked with Berkowitz and to have inherited his mailbag and route following his arrest. He calls Berkowitz, "The worst mass murderer the post office ever produced." Commenting on the route he says "let me tell you, there were a lot of dogs on that route!", and when asked if any of them said anything to him, he replies, "Only to lay off the snacks!"
  • In the Seinfeld episode The Junk Mail (1997), George (while sitting in Jerry's van) is confronted by a friend of Jerry's yelling "Is this Seinfeld's van? Seinfeld's van? Seinfeld's van?!" George misinterprets "Seinfeld's van" for "Son of Sam" and says "I think he's saying 'Son of Sam'! Oh, my God! I knew it wasn't Berkowitz!"
  • In the Boston Legal episode "Tortured Souls" (2005) Catherine Piper uses Berkowitz's adoption into a Jewish family as an excuse for the argument that there's never been a Jewish serial killer.
  • In the season two episode of the Adult Swim cartoon The Venture Bros., titled Viva Los Muertos (2006), the parodies of Shaggy and Scooby (of Scooby Doo fame), named Sonny and Groovy, were based off of David Berkowitz and Harvey, the infamous dog from the Son of Sam case.
  • An Episode of Mad TV featured a skit titled "Davy and the Son Of Sam" which the figures were made of clay (which also poked fun of the Christian Children's TV Davy and Goliath) where Goliath, Davy's dog was telling Davy to kill people. At the end of the episode, Goliath says to Davy "Davy, Don't you know that God spelled backwards is Dog".

[edit] Other

[edit] Article References/Notes

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[edit] Further reading

  • Rowlett, Curt (2006). Labyrinth13: True Tales of the Occult, Crime & Conspiracy, Chapter 10, Charles Manson, Son of Sam and the Process Church of the Final Judgment: Exploring the Alleged Connections. Lulu Press. ISBN 1-4116-6083-8.
  • Terry, Maury (1987). The Ultimate Evil: An Investigation into America's Most Dangerous Satanic Cult. Doubleday. ISBN 038523452X.

[edit] External links

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David Berkowitz

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