summer of 1976 to the end of summer 1977, a reign of murderous terror gripped New York City - it was the year of the Son of Sam. David Berkowitz would eventually be arrested, tried, and convicted for the series of gun-attacks that left six people dead, seven wounded, and an entire city in fear. When caught, while there existed a potential for his being determined to be insane, Berkowitz pled guilty to the six murders and, under the sentencing rules of the time, was given twenty-five years to life. David Berkowitz comes up for parole next year.
The Son of Sam, while in jail, turned his crimes into profit by writing and authorizing books to be written about him.
Outrage against this led to the "Son of Sam Law" which now disallows criminals in jail from profiting from their crimes while behind bars.
Berkowitz has become an icon in the study of the psychology of murder, of serial killers, and of the sociology of fear. It is the purpose of this paper to first examine the life of David Berkowitz, the nature of his crimes, and to offer an analysis of the serial killer's mind.
On August 10, 1977, 24-year-old postal employee David Berkowitz was arrested and charged with being the "Son of Sam," the serial killer who terrorized New York City for more than a year, killing six young people and wounding seven others with a.44-caliber revolver. Because Berkowitz generally targeted attractive young women with long brown hair, hundreds of young women had their hair cut short and dyed blond during his protracted killing spree. Thousands more simply stayed home at night. After his arrest, Berkowitz claimed that demons and a black Labrador retriever owned by a neighbor named Sam had ordered him to commit the killings. There was some question about whether Berkowitz was mentally fit to stand trial, but in May 1978 he withdrew an insanity defense and pleaded guilty to the six.44-caliber murders. He was given six 25-years-to-life sentences for the crime, the maximum penalty allowed at the time. However, because the sentences are served simultaneously, he will be eligible for parole in 2003. Since 1987, he has been held at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in upstate New York, where he allegedly converted to Christianity (A&E., 2002).
David Berkowitz was adopted into what appeared to be a loving family with parents who dedicated themselves to him. His biological mother had grown up and lived in Brooklyn, New York, in a poor family that had struggled severely during the Great Depression. Betty Broder, his mother, had a daughter with her first husband. She later divorced after having a daughter, Roslyn, and started seeing a married man, Joseph Kleinman. When she became pregnant a second time, with Joseph's child, Betty arranged for David's adoption at the insistence of Kleinman. On the first of June, 1953, David was adopted into a Jewish family, Nat and Pearl Berkowitz. The Berkowitz' had been childless and were immediately attached to their son. David seemed to enjoy a very normal, uneventful childhood growing up in the Bronx. In hindsight, only the fact that David was something of a loner stands out as a possible indication of problems later on. But, as his parents were not very social themselves, David's behavior did not appear to be anything unusual to Nat and Pearl.
David became a neighborhood bully, demonstrated hyperactive behaviors, and proved to be quite difficult to manage for his parents. One of the first real tragedies David faced was the early loss of his adoptive mother to cancer when he was just 14 years old. Just a few years earlier, David's family had prepared to move into a mass of high-rise apartment buildings in a middle-class neighborhood - Pearl died just before the apartment was completed. On the heels of Pearl's death, David began a downward slide in his behavior and performance in school.
He lost his faith in God, his grades plummeted, and he disappeared into himself. David stayed like this, without improvement. In 1971, Nat and his new wife moved to Florida without David. At this point in his life, David Berkowitz had no purpose, no real meaning, no goals, and no direction - only fantasy.
David attempted to create a social life for himself, but he tended to make much more out of friendships with people, particularly women, than they actually were. In an attempt to please his father, David attended classes at a community college, took a few small jobs, but never really found anything he was good at. That is until he joined the Army. In the summer of 1971, David became an infantryman. Over the course of his three-year enlistment, David became an expert marksman. But, the army proved to not be the place where he would find a home either. David returned to New York in 1974.
One of the facts of David's life that would become known later was that he was a fire starter. David kept a journal, chronicling nearly fifteen-hundred fires that he had set in and around New York City. This acting out has been considered to be a method of controlling events, of establishing a sense of power over that which cannot be controlled. David wrote a letter in the winter of 1974 to his father in which he described his mood as being "gloomy" like the weather that surrounded him. He began to perceive that people around him hated him, that they wanted to kill him, and that it was the young people of the neighborhood that teased and taunted him the most. David became a prisoner in his apartment. Living in self-imposed exile from the world, he formed the idea that demons were directing him to find people to kill. So, he went out 'hunting' with a knife, found two people who the demons told him to kill, and stabbed them both. This was the winter of 1975.
David took a job as a night security guard, moved into the home of Jack Cassara. The Cassaras had a dog that would howl quite a lot and, in David's twisted mind, the howling was that of a demon which ordered him to hunt and kill young women. The demons would not let him rest and, after only three months of a two-year lease, David moved out. Then moved into another apartment where Sam Carr (who would become the "Sam" in "Son of Sam") and his dogs became a fixation of David's mind. He became convinced that Sam was Satan and that it was he who was ordering David to his first murder - that of Donna Lauria, who died on July 29th, 1976. Later, he described the voices as."..they acted human. But they weren't. They began to howl things. They wanted to get at children, to tear them up." (Chelser & Robb, 1996).
David, by that time, had graduated from the use of a knife to that of a.44 caliber pistol. David approached the car that Donna and a friend of hers, Jody Valenti, were sitting in. David casually fired five rounds into the front seat, killing Donna and seriously wounding Jody. In October of that year, twenty-year-old Carl Denaro and his girlfriend Rosemary Keenan were parked in a car and David approached, fired five bullets again, killing Rosemary and wounding Carl with a bullet in his head. At this point, the pattern began - the killing of women with long, brown, flowing hair. One month later, in November of 1976, David shot and wounded two teenage girls walking home from the bus - Donna DeMasi and Joanne Lomino (who was paralyzed by the attack).
In January of 1977, David found another couple in a car, fired two bullets, and killed Christine Freund and wounded John Diel (who would be able to give the police the first real description of the killer). In March, David killed Virginia Voskerichian. The bullet recovered from Virginia's body would provide the match police needed to link all of the killings together.
After the murder of Voskerichian, the police mounted Operation Omega, which would involve more than three-hundred police officers - the largest operation of its kind in New York's history. Within just a few days of the launch of Omega, David killed again. Again, targeting a couple in a car, David killed Valentina Suriani and Alexander Esau. David left his first note after this double murder - previously he had been called the."44 Caliber Killer," now, he was the "Son of Sam."
Dear Captain Joseph Borrelli,
I am deeply hurt by your calling me a wemon hater. I am not. But I am a monster. I am the 'Son of Sam.' I am a little brat. When father Sam gets drunk he gets mean. He beats his family. Sometimes he ties me up to the back of the house. Other times he locks me in the garage. Sam loves to drink blood. 'Go out and kill,' commands father Sam. 'Behind our…