David Berkowitz Known as Son Research Paper

  • Length: 10 pages
  • Sources: 5
  • Subject: Criminal Justice
  • Type: Research Paper
  • Paper: #91413393

Excerpt from Research Paper :

She notified police and the parking ticket (because Berkowitz had parked too close to a fire hydrant) was traced to Berkowitz. But the police were just thinking that Berkowitz might be a witness; however, when the Yonkers police searched that Galaxie belonging to Berkowitz, they found a rifle and a .44 caliber Bulldog pistol -- along with detailed maps of the crime scenes that Berkowitz had created with his lust for killing women.

"What took you so long?" Berkowitz is reported to have asked as the officers arrested him. In time during questioning, Berkowitz either played like he was mentally unbalanced -- which he of course was -- or was just rambling because he claimed that the dog he had killed was possessed by some kind of demon, and that the dog was demanding that Berkowitz go and do the killing. Other claims by Berkowitz included that he was a member of an occultist group

Breslin remembers the Kings County courtroom scene in Brooklyn on May 22, 1978, when Berkowitz was brought before the judge for sentencing. "This little ball of suet…he was in handcuffs chained around his middle and had a dozen guards. Now he detonated. From his fat, weak little body there came this eruption of power from a cave, a glacier, a swamp" (Breslin, 1993, 154). "He threw guards against the walls and trampled on them, and with a scream from the bottom of his stomach he rushed for the pale light of the window…they were able to drag him back, and more guards came…" (154). In the courtroom, Berkowitz charged Stacy Moskowitz's mother, "Stacy was a whore," he shouted. Stacy's mother screamed back, and "…for about 45 seconds David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, had everybody in hell with him" (Breslin, 154).

The Making of a Serial Killer - Theories

What theories are relevant to explain the behavior of Berkowitz? There are many theories and Dr. Berit Brogaard writes in the Superhuman Mind that psychopathy "…remains a mystery. We don't even have an answer to the question of whether psychopathy is a product of Mother Nature or a feature of upbringing." Brogaard references a study in Minnesota that showed that psychopathy is "…60% heritable," which means that the traits of a psychopath are more due to DNA than to the environment in which the person was raised (Brogaard, 2012).

Another study referenced by Brogaard took place in Madison, Wisconsin, at the University of Wisconsin. Brain scans revealed that "…psychopathy in criminals was associated with decreased connectivity between the amygdale," which is a part of the brain that processes "negative stimuli," and the "ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), a cortical region in the front of the brain that interprets the response from the amygdale" (Brogaard, p. 1). When these two regions of the brain don't connect sufficiently, the necessarily processing of "negative stimuli in the amygdale does not translate into strongly felt negative emotions" (Brogaard, p. 1).

What does this mean for the psychopath? Brogaard explains that because negative emotions are not experienced by the killer, they don't feel "…nervous or embarrassed" when caught committing a crime, or doing something that is antisocial. These people with the above-mentioned lack of communication between key brain parts do feel physical pain when injured, but they do not suffer from sad or hurt emotions, Brogaard explains.

Why is Brogaard's theory not likely to fit into Berkowitz's case? As to Brogaard's view of psychopaths, he claims they do not have "hallucinations or delusions" and do not "…hear the voices of strangers in their heads or hold elaborate false theories about the world." If the literature is correct vis-a-vis Berkowitz's behaviors, Brogaard is wrong because Berkowitz said on more than one occasion that he was hearing things and he believed (or pretended to believe) that the neighbor's dog was a demon and was speaking to him.

Freudian Theory: In the book, the Age of Sex Crime (by professor Jane Caputi) the author quotes a psychotherapist that was making reference to Berkowitz: "When Berkowitz assumed the position he did, he was not simply shooting the women. He was symbolically copulating with them, fucking them if you will" (Caputi, 1987). When Berkowitz wrote in one of his twisted letters that he "…only shoot[s] pretty girls," a psychotherapist during a police conference on Berkowitz explained this to the press: "Gentlemen. Every time he shoots his gun, he's ejaculating" (Caputi, 134). This theory may not apply because while there may have been some deep psychological issues regarding women in his life (and there were female issues vis-a-vis his biological mother) he did not sexually molest any of the women he attacked.

Labeling Theory: this theory would seem to have a good fit with the Berkowitz case. The labeling theory analyses how a person's "self-concept" affects his decision to go out and commit criminal offenses. Berkowitz's self-image / self-concept were not a positive in his life. Studies show that crime and deviance result from "…the interaction of offenders and those who respond to social violations…and to the nature of categorization (or labeling) that is used to identify some individuals as criminal" and others as people who abide by the law (Flood, et al., 2007). In other words, one individual can label another a certain thing, and that power to simply give a person a label is considered a key to labeling theory. A boy's self-concept is formed when the boy acts out certain "socially accepted masculine roles," Flood writes (88). From acting out those roles, the boy is in essence defining himself; and if he is a bully, as Berkowitz apparently was, he will get that label. And moreover, he may accept that label and "…actually engage in the criminal behaviors that society is attempting to abate" (Flood, 88).

Ashley Crossman writes about W.I. Thomas in About.com (a subsidiary of the New York Times); regarding the labeling theory, Thomas said that "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences" (Crossman, 2013). One could argue that Berkowitz defined situations as real (notwithstanding that they were the imaginations of a demented person) and hence, he believed them to be real, making the labeling theory applicable to Berkowitz. Meanwhile the police labeled Berkowitz as a killer, so he certainly carried out that role to extremes. "The deviant individual….likely accepts that...he is deviant" and acts in a way to fulfill the expectations of that label" (Crossman, p. 1).

In some respects then, Berkowitz either labeled himself early on in his psychopathy or read the newspaper stories about his killings and bought into the label that police put on him. The city's newspapers were "…trumpeting each attack… as he terrorized New Yorkers as no lone criminal has even done (no one is safe from son of sam, said a Post headline at the time) (Fishman, 2006). In Fishman's essay in New York Magazine the journalist quotes from a letter Berkowitz wrote while in prison, which tends to corroborate the view that he accepted and cherished his label. "I may, one day, evolve into a humanoid or demon in a more complete state," he wrote; three of the four court-appointed psychiatrists found Berkowitz unfit to stand trial because he was mentally unbalanced. But a fourth psychiatrist, Dr. David Abrahamsen, disagreed and believed Berkowitz was quite sane and yet "profoundly troubled" (Fishman, p. 7). Indeed Berkowitz wrote to Abrahamsen saying "I guess you see me as I really am -- an animal and unhuman" (Fishman, p. 7).

Conflict Theory: Flood explains that the conflict theory is based on the writings of Karl Marx: the cause of crime is due to the "…conflict that stems from the inequalities produced by capitalist society" (89). The Criminology Department at Florida State University explains on a website that conflict theory is based on "social and economic forces" that operate in society. There are the rich and powerful, and the poor and others out of the power structure; in one of his letters to police, Berkowitz wrote that "I feel like an outsider. I am on a different wavelength then everybody else -- programmed to kill." By this he could be thinking that his socioeconomic level was in conflict with the power structure of society. In fact Berkowitz egged the police on, he taunted them, perhaps placing himself socially at odds with the "moral standards" that the criminal justice system attempts to impose on society. While this theory has some merit in the Berkowitz case, the labeling theory would appear to have more legitimacy vis-a-vis theories of criminality.


It would appear that Berkowitz saw himself as a victim -- he learned later in life after finding his real mother that she had an affair with a married man and that he was the accidental result of that relationship -- because "He'd lost the love that should have been given…

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