How David Berkowitz Became “Son Of Sam” And Terrorized Late 1970s New York City

Published December 7, 2017
Updated September 25, 2020
Published December 7, 2017
Updated September 25, 2020

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

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

Between the summers of 1976 and 1977, a young man named David Berkowitz terrorized New York as he indiscriminately gunned down innocent young people in their cars. He went by the name “Son of Sam,” claiming that Satan had possessed his neighbor Sam’s dog and was sending him messages to kill.

Armed with a revolver, Berkowitz stalked Queens and the Bronx, searching for unsuspecting youths to shoot while hiding from a distance. He killed six people and wounded seven more, all while leaving cryptic messages with the police.

Berkowitz’s murder spree sent New York City in a panic and incited one of the largest manhunts in the state’s history.

David Berkowitz Had A Penchant For Violence From A Young Age

Berkowitz In Army Uniform

NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesA self-portrait Berkowitz took using a coin-operated photo booth during his stint in the Army.

Richard David Falco was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1953. His parents were unwed and after separating shortly after his birth, put him up for adoption. He was taken in by the Berkowitz family and so renamed David Berkowitz.

Even as a child it was obvious to those around Berkowitz that he had violent tendencies. He was caught thieving, destroying property, killing animals, and setting fires.

As he grew older, Berkowitz also lamented his lack of social life and his inability to get a girlfriend. “Sex, I believe, is the answer – the way to happiness,” he said once. And he felt he was being unfairly denied this key to happiness.

At 14, his adoptive mother died and his adoptive father remarried. Tensions in the family grew strained, especially as Berkowitz and his stepmother did not get along. The elder Berkowitz and his new wife eventually became exhausted with his son’s emotional problems and moved to Florida. Deeply depressed, Berkowitz enlisted in the Army at 18.

In 1974, two years before the Son of Sam killings began, David Berkowitz returned from a failed three-year military stint in South Korea. During that time, he had a sexual encounter with a prostitute and caught a venereal disease. This would be his first and last romantic tryst.

The 21-year-old then moved into a small apartment in Yonkers, New York. Alone and still dealing with those emotions relating to his adoption and the death of his adoptive mother, Berkowitz grew despondent, lonely — and, most of all, angry.

The following year, 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 supplemented a growing belief in Berkowitz that he was unwanted not just by his own mother, but by all women. He Lashed out.

The Son Of Sam Murders Send The City Into Chaos

Son Of Sam Letter

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

By Christmas Eve 1975, something inside David Berkowitz had snapped. According to his own account to police later, 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.

Berkowitz moved into a two-family home in Yonkers, a New York City suburb, but his new next door neighbor’s dog reportedly kept him up at all hours of the night with its howling.

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 just killed his first victim.

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

Note From Son Of Sam

NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesA photocopy of one of the many taunts Berkowitz sent to the police during his crime spree.

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. Up to this point, Berkowitz had been dubbed “The .44 Caliber Killer.”

“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 added.

By the end of the Son of Sam killing spree, New York had gone into a kind of panicked lockdown. As almost all of the female victims had dark hair, women across New York City began to dye their hair or buy wigs and the subsequent search for the so-called Son Of Sam was the largest manhunt in New York history at the time.

The end of the killings came on July 31, 1977, when Berkowitz killed Stacy Moskowitz and seriously blinded 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.

The Capture And Incarceration Of The Son Of Sam

After Moskowitz’s murder, police received 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 $35 parking ticket from his car window.

Police searched the area ticket records for the day and pulled up the license plate number of 24-year-old postal worker David Berkowitz.

Thinking, at the very least, that they had 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.

Son Of Sam Victim Stacy Moskowitz

Bill Turnbull/NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesStacy Moskowitz following two .44 caliber wounds to the head by David Berkowitz.

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,” Berkowitz 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.”

Berkowitz reportedly also taunted the arresting officers, asking them what took them so long to find him. Once in custody, Berkowitz informed the police that a man from 6,000 years ago named Sam spoke to him through his neighbor Sam Carr’s black Labrador Retriever, commanding him to kill.

When police search Berkowitz’s apartment they found Satanic graffiti scrawled on the walls and diaries with details of his cruel activities, including all the fires he had set since he was 21.

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.

After three separate mental aptitude tests, it was determined that the Son of Sam was certainly fit to stand trial. With copious evidence stacked against him and attempts to use an insanity defense thwarted by psychiatric testing, Berkowitz pled guilty to all charges.

He was given six 25-years-to-life sentences at Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Wallkill, New York.

His adoptive father, David Berkowitz Sr., sobbed for the victims of his son’s violence in a public press conference offering his condolences and apologies. When asked what the younger Berkowitz was like as a child, Berkowitz Sr. could not reply.

David Berkowitz would admit about three years later that he never truly believed that he’d been possessed by his neighbor’s dog.

Son Of Sam’s Portrayal On Mindhunter And Life Today

Sam Carr And His Black Lab

NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesSam Carr, neighbor of David Berkowitz, with his dog said by Berkowitz at point to be the host for a 6,000-year-old demon.

The Son of Sam killings of David Berkowitz were the subject in season two of Netflix’s Mindhunter crime series. He was portrayed by the actor Oliver Cooper and the actor opposite him, Holt McCallany, who plays the detective, actually tried to have an interview with the real David Berkowitz.

In 2011, Berkowitz stated he had no interest in pursuing parole.

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.

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