How David Berkowitz Became “Son Of Sam” And Brought A City To Its Knees

Published December 7, 2017
Updated March 7, 2019
Published December 7, 2017
Updated March 7, 2019

David Berkowitz stalked New York's streets for prey by night, then taunted the cops with disturbing letters that brought the entire city to its knees.

David Berkowitz Mugshot

Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesDavid Berkowitz, a.k.a. “Son of Sam,” poses for a mugshot following his arrest. August 11, 1977.

Between the summers of 1976 and 1977, David Berkowitz, a.k.a. “Son of Sam,” terrorized New York, gunning down innocent young people in their cars and ultimately claiming that Satan possessed his neighbor Sam’s dog and thus sent him messages to kill.

While this story gave Berkowitz his nickname and helped cement his place in history, he later admitted that it was all a hoax. Likewise, he was never diagnosed with any mental disorders and, after several examinations, was found mentally competent to stand trial by the state.

So, as for who to blame for the Son of Sam’s six killings, in David Berkowitz’s own words, “It was just me, myself and I.”

In 1974, two years before the Son of Sam killings began, David Berkowitz returned from a three-year military stint in South Korea. The 21-year-old moved into a small apartment in Yonkers, New York and found that all his former friends and acquaintances had moved on. Alone and still dealing with emotions relating to both his own adoption and the death of his adoptive mother when he was just 14, Berkowitz grew despondent, lonely — and, most of all, angry.

The following year, at age 22, Berkowitz found out that his birth mother, who he’d believed had died in childbirth, was still alive. However, upon meeting her, she seemed somewhat distant and disinterested. This aggravated his belief that he was unwanted not just by her, but by all women.

Berkowitz’s troubles, however, had begun long before this point. As a child, he killed animals, started fires, and destroyed property. As he grew older, he lamented his lack of a social life and his inability to get a girlfriend.

“Sex, I believe, is the answer – the way to happiness,” he said. This key to happiness is what he felt he was being denied.

Finally, by Christmas Eve 1975, something inside David Berkowitz had snapped. He followed two teenage girls on the street and stabbed them from behind with a hunting knife. Both survived, but neither could identify their attacker. Unfortunately, this violent outburst was only the beginning.

On July 29, 1976, after acquiring a .44 caliber gun in Texas, Berkowitz approached a parked car from behind in a Bronx neighborhood. Inside, Jody Valenti and Donna Lauria were talking. Berkowitz fired several shots into the car, killing Lauria and wounding Valenti. He then left without looking inside the car, only finding out in the newspaper the next day that he’d just killed his fist victim.

After getting away with his first murder, Berkowitz went on a killing spree that lasted for the next 12 months. By the time he’d completed his eighth and final attack in July 1977, he’d killed six people and wounded eight, almost all of them young couples sitting in their cars at night.

Son Of Sam Letter

Bettmann/Contributor/Getty ImagesNote found by police in the car belonging to David Berkowitz upon his arrest. Aug. 10, 1977.

Since his sixth attack in April 1977, Berkowitz had been writing taunting letters to the New York Police Department, and then also to Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin. It was in these letters that “Son of Sam,” and the citywide fear of him, was born.

“To stop me you must kill me,” wrote Berkowitz in one of the letters. “Sam’s a thirsty lad and he won’t let me stop killing until he gets his fill of blood,” he also said.

By the end of the Son of Sam killing spree, New York had gone into a kind of panicked lockdown. The end of the killings came on July 31, 1977, when Berkowitz killed Stacy Moskowitz and seriously wounded her companion, Robert Violante, in the Bath Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Son Of Sam Crime Scene

NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesThe scene of the Moskowitz/Violante shooting.

After Moskowitz’s murder, police got a call from a witness who would break the Son of Sam case wide open. This witness saw a suspicious looking man near the scene holding a “dark object” and taking a parking ticket from his car window. Police searched the area ticket records for the day and pulled up the license plate number of David Berkowitz.

Thinking, at the very least, that they’d found another witness to the crime, police arrived outside Berkowitz’s Yonkers apartment and saw his car. Inside was a rifle and a duffel bag filled with ammunition, maps of the crime scenes, and another letter meant for the authorities.

Upon Berkowitz’s exit from the apartment, arresting officer Detective Falotico held a gun to him, and said, “Now that I’ve got you, who have I got?” “You know,” the man said in what the detective remembered was a soft, almost sweet voice. “No I don’t.” Falotico insisted, “You tell me.” The man turned his head and said, “I’m Sam.”

Soon, police found that Berkowitz’s apartment had Satanic graffiti scrawled onto the walls of Berkowitz’s apartment, where they also found diaries with details of his activities.

David Berkowitz Arrest

NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesOfficers take David Berkowitz, a.k.a. Son of Sam, into police headquarters following his arrest. Aug. 10, 1977.

With copious evidence stacked against him and attempts to use an insanity defense thwarted by psychiatric testing, Berkowitz pled guilty to all charges, and is now serving six 25-years-to-life sentences at Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Wallkill, N.Y.

Today, David Berkowitz is a born-again Christian with an official website, run by his supporters, that claims that this “former Son of Sam” is now “the son of hope.”

After this look at David Berkowitz, a.k.a. “Son of Sam,” check out serial killer quotes that will chill you to the bone. Then, read about some of the most infamous serial killers in history and discover how they finally met their fate.

Erin Kelly
Erin Kelly is a freelance writer, artist, and video editor that splits her time between the humid Midwest and the dusty corners of her mind.