An American serial killer who murdered six people in New York City in 1976–77, David Berkowitz’s crimes plunged the city into a panic and unleashed one of the largest manhunts in New York history. Known as Son of Sam, Berkowitz was arrested on August 10, 1977, 11 days after his last murder, and was sentenced to 365 years in prison.
During the mid-1970s, serial killer David Berkowitz created terror in the hearts of the residents of New York City. He targeted single women and couples, taking the lives of six people and leaving several others injured.
Born Richard David Falco, he was adopted by Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz when he was only a few days old. According to some reports, David Berkowitz was an intelligent but troubled child growing up. He was close to his mother, and he was deeply affected by her death when he was a teenager. At the age of 18, Berkowitz joined the U.S. Army.
After leaving the service in 1974, Berkowitz returned to New York City. He eventually got himself a job at the post office and settled into an apartment in Yonkers. Neighbors and co-workers thought of him as a quiet loner, but they had no idea how lethal he was.
'Son of Sam'
Berkowitz's killing spree began on July 29, 1976, with the shooting of two teenage women outside a Bronx apartment building. At the time of the attack, Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti were sitting in Valenti's car in front of Lauria's home. Berkowitz shot the two women, killing Lauria and injuring Valenti.
Three months later, Berkowitz struck again. He shot at a couple sitting in a parked car, severely damaging the man's skull. That November, Berkowitz attacked two teenage girls walking home. He shot both of the girls, leaving one of them a paraplegic. At the time, the police did not think these shootings were related.
In January 1977, Berkowitz again targeted a couple sitting together in a car at night. He walked up to Christine Freund and her fiancé and fired twice, striking Freund in the head. She later died of her injuries. For all of his shootings, Berkowitz used a .44 caliber gun. Before long, the police would create a special task force to hunt down the .44-caliber killer.
That March, Berkowitz claimed another victim, Virginia Voskerichian, a college student. He killed her as she returned home from classes. The next month Berkowitz killed a couple, Valentina Suriani and Alexander Esau, in their parked car. This ruthless killer began taunting the police, leaving a letter for a police captain near the scene. In his note, Berkowitz called himself the Son of Sam.
Berkowitz's final attack occurred in the early hours of July 31, 1977. He shot another couple, Stacy Moskowitz and Bobby Violante, in Brooklyn. Moskowitz later died, and Violante was blinded in one eye and lost most of the vision in the other from his injuries. Fortunately for the police, a witness noticed something at the scene that helped in cracking the case.
Arrest and Imprisonment
At the scene of the Moskowitz-Violante shootings, a witness saw a man getting away in a car that had a parking ticket on it. Only a handful of tickets were given out that day, and one of them was for Berkowitz. The police arrested him on August 10, 1977. According to The New York Times, Berkowitz said, "Well, you've got me" when they took him into custody.
During questioning, Berkowitz explained that he had been commanded to kill by his neighbor Sam Carr, who sent messages to him through Carr's dog. "He told me to kill. Sam is the devil," Berkowitz said. Many months were spent on determining whether Berkowitz was fit to stand trial. He underwent numerous psychological evaluations. In August 1978, Berkowitz pled guilty to the six killings. He later received 25 years to life for each murder.
Berkowitz is currently serving a life sentence at Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York. Since entering prison, he has become a member of the Jews for Jesus religious group. Berkowitz has refused to attend any of his parole hearings since he became eligible for possible release in 2002. He was rejected for parole in 2014. His case will be reviewed again in 2016. In a New York Post report, Berkowitz's lawyer, Mark J. Heller revealed the infamous killer isn't interested in parole because he believes that "Jesus has forgiven him and set him free."
Berkowitz's crimes have become the subject of numerous books and documentaries, including 2001's Summer of Terror: The Real Son of Sam Story. Spike Lee also explored the effect Berkowitz's reign of terror had on a New York neighborhood in the drama Summer of Sam (1999).
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