Who Is David Berkowitz?
David Berkowitz is an American serial killer who murdered six people in New York City in 1976–77, plunging the city into a panic and unleashing 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 six consecutive 25-years-to-life terms.
Born Richard David Falco to an impoverished Jewish mother, he was adopted by Jewish-American hardware store retailers 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. A loner with a mean streak, he often bullied other children. Because he was close to his adoptive mother, he was deeply affected by her death when he was a teenager. At the age of 18, Berkowitz joined the U.S. Army and served in South Korea where he excelled as a proficient marksman.
After leaving the service in 1974, Berkowitz returned to New York City. He got a job working as a letter sorter for the U.S. Postal Service 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' Murders
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. As a result, the police created a special task force to hunt down the “.44-caliber killer” as he became known before adopting the “Son of Sam” moniker.
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. At the crime scene, he left a letter addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli and called himself “Son of Sam” for the first time. Throughout his murderous streak, Berkowitz left numerous letters near his victims’ bodies, taunting the police and eluding their capture. As a result, the media coverage of his crimes was widespread and Berkowitz relished the spotlight. All the while, New Yorkers lived in fear of being his next victim.
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 Berkowitz through his dog, a demon-possessed Labrador retriever named “Harvey.” Due to his outrageous claims, Berkowitz underwent numerous psychological evaluations, but was declared “competent” to stand trial. In 1978, Berkowitz pled guilty to the six killings, as well as nearly 1,500 fires he had set in and around New York City. He received 25-years-to-life for each murder. Berkowitz’s sentencing hearing was dramatic—he tried to jump out of a window of the seventh-floor courtroom upon hearing the judge’s decision.
Since his arrest, Berkowitz has retracted his possessed dog “Son of Sam” story—claiming “It was all a hoax, a silly hoax” as seen in his March 20, 1979 letter to his psychiatrist, Dr. David Abrahamsen. He has also made statements that he was a member of a violent satanic cult that orchestrated the murders along with fellow cult members John and Michael Carr (Sam Carr's sons). Berkowitz has been offered large sums of money for his story. However, nearly all states—including New York—have since passed laws, sometimes known as “Son of Sam laws,” that prevent convicted criminals from financially profiting from books, movies, or other enterprises related to their crimes. Although there are numerous media renditions of the Son of Sam case, Berkowitz does not receive any royalties or profit from any sales of his works or the works of others.
In 1996, Yonkers police reopened Berkowitz’s case but due to a lack of significant findings, the investigation has been suspended, but remains unclosed. Although he has been put up for parole on numerous occasions (most recently in 2016 and he will be eligible for parole for the 16th time in 2018), he has been consistently denied release. Berkowitz is currently serving his time in Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Wallkill, New York.
'Son of Hope'
While in prison, Berkowitz has become an evangelical Christian. Instead of "Son of Sam" he now prefers "Son of Hope” as seen in his book, Son of Hope: The Prison Journals of David Berkowitz (2006) and featured on his website (run by his supporters) because he is not allowed access to the Internet) where he provides an apology to his victims and their families. In prison, Berkowitz continues to write journal essays on faith and repentance as well as contribute to school-based projects for students in psychology, criminology, and sociology who want to learn more about the criminal mind and the criminal justice system.
On December 12, 2017, prison officials revealed that Berkowitz had been transferred from Shawangunk Correctional Facility to a nearby hospital. Although the officials would not offer specific medical details, the New York Post and the Times-Union of Albany reported that Berkowitz was set to undergo heart surgery.
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