‘Son of Sam’: America’s most notorious killer

During the summer of 1976, ‘Son of Sam’ David Berkowitz terrorized NYC through a series of random murders

Quick notes

  • Berkowitz grew up as a difficult and sometimes violent child

  • In the late 70s, he began a violent killing spree through NYC

  • He claimed his neighbor’s dog told him to murder

On August 10, 1977, David Berkowitz was arrested for murdering six people and wounding seven others with a .44 caliber revolver. More commonly known as “Son of Sam”, he is now one of the most notorious serial killers in American history.

During the late 1970s, Berkowitz terrorized residents of New York City for more than a year. Because he often targeted women with long brown hair, hundreds of young ladies chopped off their locks and died them blonde. Thousands of others simply chose to never leave their homes. This is how David Berkowitz became the “Son of Sam.”

A troubled child

Richard David Falco was born to a poor, single mother on June 1, 1953, in New York City. Just days later, he was adopted by affluent Bronx-based merchants Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz. Young Berkowitz lived a comfortable life and was reportedly a very bright child — though erratic and emotionally troubled at times. He was also very close with his adoptive mother and, when she died, had a difficult time coping.

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When Pearl Berkowitz died of cancer in 1967, her adoptive son, by all reports, went completely off the rails. When his adoptive father remarried in 1971 and moved to Florida without him, it got even worse. According to his diary, Berkowitz took to starting fires, setting roughly 1,500 in New York City during the mid-1970s alone. During this time, he also joined the Army, where he became an accomplished marksman. Later, he would be diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

The dog made me do it

Upon his return from the Army in 1976, Berkowitz moved into a two-family home in Yonkers, where he became convinced that the neighborhood dogs were possessed by demons who wanted him to kill. Later that same year, he moved into an apartment house — but this home also had dogs. His neighbor, Sam Carr, owned a black Labrador retriever, who Berkowitz believed sent him telepathic messages. The dog was urging him to commit homicide.

According to his diary, Berkowitz set roughly 1,500 fires in New York City during the mid-1970s

On July 29, 1976, Berkowitz finally gave in to the voices in his head and began a killing rampage that would terrorize the city for more than a year. That morning, he walked up to a parked car in the Bronx and fired his .44 revolver into the vehicle, killing 18-year old Donna Lauria instantly and injuring her friend Jody Valenti. The police could find no motive or suspects.

‘Son of Sam’ murders

For months, Berkowitz laid low. To the police, it must have seemed like the murder of Donna Lauria was a one-off thing. But in October, the killer struck again. This time, Berkowitz spotted a couple in a parked car and fired at them: 20-year-old Carl Denaro was critically wounded as he sat chatting with a female friend. Just a month later, two teen girls were shot as they walked home from a movie, leaving one of them permanently disabled.

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When another couple was attacked in January 1977, police began to suspect that the incidents were related. Because all of the hits involved the same .44 caliber gun, they began to refer to him as the “.44 caliber killer.”  Over the next few months, Berkowitz would claim several more victims — including his neighbor’s black Labrador. He began to leave letters near his victims’ bodies, referring to himself as “Son of Sam.”

Well, you’ve got me

Berkowitz’s final hit happened on July 31, 1977, when he shot Stacy Moskowitz and Bobby Violante. Fortunately for police, there was a witness, and the notorious “Son of Sam” was arrested just 11 days later. According to The New York TimesBerkowitz said, “Well, you’ve got me” when police took him into custody. In June of 1978, he was sentenced to 365 years in prison.

Upon hearing the judge’s decision, Berkowitz tried to jump out of the seventh-floor courtroom window. Since then, he has retracted his story about the possessed dog and instead claims that he was a part of a violent cult that helped him carry out the murders. Although there have been numerous movies, books, and television series created around his story, the law prevents him from collecting any of the profits.

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