David Berkowitz - the Son of Sam

Son of Sam
Hulton Archive / Stringer/Archive Photos

David Berkowitz, better known as Son of Sam and the .44 Caliber Killer, is an infamous 1970s New York City serial killer who killed six people and wounded several others. His crimes became legendary because of the bizarre content in the letters that he wrote to the police and the media and his reasons for committing the attacks.

With the police feeling the pressure to catch the killer, "Operation Omega" was formed, which was comprised of over 200 detectives; all working on finding the Son of Sam before he killed again.

Berkowitz's Childhood

Born Richard David Falco, June 1, 1953, he was adopted by Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz. The family lived in a middle-class home in the Bronx. The couple loved and doted on their son yet Berkowitz grew up feeling rejected and scorned because of being adopted. His size and appearance did not help matters. He was larger than most of the kids his age and not particularly attractive. His parents were not social people and Berkowitz followed in that path, developing a reputation for being a loner.

Berkowitz Was Plagued With Guilt and Anger

Berkowitz was an average student and did not show any particular flair for any one subject. He did, however, develop into a decent baseball player which became his main outside activity. Around the neighborhood, he had a reputation for being hyper and a bully. Believing his natural mother died while giving birth to him was the source of intense guilt and anger inside Berkowitz. Some believe it was the reason for his anti-social and aggressive behavior as a child.

The Death of His Mother

Pearl Berkowitz had a reoccurrence with breast cancer and died in 1967. Berkowitz was devastated and became severely depressed. He viewed his mother’s death as a master plot designed to destroy him. He began to fail in school and spent most of his time alone. When his father remarried in 1971, his new wife did not get along with the young Berkowitz, and the newlyweds moved to Florida leaving 18-year-old Berkowitz behind.

Berkowitz Reunites With His Birth Mother

Berkowitz joined the army and after a disastrous three years, he left the service. During that time, he had his one and only sexual experience with a prostitute and caught a venereal disease. When he returned home from the army, he found out his natural mother was still alive and that he had a sister. There was a brief reunion, but eventually, Berkowitz stopped visiting. His isolation, fantasies, and paranoid delusions were now in full force.

Driven by Demons

On Christmas Eve 1975, Berkowitz’s “demons” drove him out into the streets with a hunting knife to find a victim to kill. Later he confessed to plunging his knife into two women, one which could not be confirmed. The second victim, 15-year-old Michelle Forman, survived the attack and was treated for six knife wounds. Soon after the attacks, Berkowitz moved out of the Bronx to a two-family home in Yonkers. It was in this home that the Son of Sam would be created.

Howling dogs in the neighborhood kept Berkowitz from sleeping and in his deranged mind, he turned their howls into messages from demons that were ordering him to go kill women. He later said that in an attempt to quiet the demons, he began to do what they asked. Jack and Nann Cassara owned the home and in time Berkowitz became convinced that the quiet couple was in truth, part of the demon conspiracy, with Jack being General Jack Cosmo, commander in chief of the dogs that tormented him.

When he moved away from the Cassaras into an apartment on Pine Street, he failed to escape the controlling demons. His new neighbor, Sam Carr, had a black Labrador named Harvey, who Berkowitz believed was also possessed. He eventually shot the dog, but that did not offer him relief because he had come to believe that Sam Carr was possessed by the most powerful demon of them all, possibly Satan himself. Nightly the demons screamed at Berkowitz to go kill, their thirst for blood unquenchable.

The Arrest of the Son of Sam

Berkowitz was eventually caught after receiving a parking ticket at the time and near the place of the Moskowitz murder. That evidence along with letters he wrote to Carr and the Cassaras, his military background, his appearance, and an arson incident, led police to his door. When he was arrested he immediately surrendered to police and identified himself as Sam, telling the police, "Well, you've got me."

After being evaluated, it was determined that he could stand trial. Berkowitz stood trial in August 1978 and pled guilty to six murders. He received 25 years to life for each of the murders.

Berkowitz's Crime Spree

  • July 29, 1976 – Jody Valenti and Donna Lauria were shot as they sat talking in a parked car outside Donna’s apartment. Lauria died instantly from a gunshot wound to her neck. Valenti survived the attack.
  • October 23, 1976 – Carl Denaro and Rosemary Keenan were shot while sitting in Denaro’s parked car. Both survived, but Carl was struck in the head by one of the bullets.
  • November 26, 1976 – Donna DeMasi and 18-year-old Joanne Lomino were walking near Joanne’s home after a late movie. Berkowitz followed them briefly, then shot them. Donna survived without suffering permanent physical harm, but Joanne was paralyzed for life.
  • January 30, 1977 – 26-year-old Christine Freund and her fiance John Diel were shot as they sat in a parked car. Christine died and John Diel survived the attack.
  • March 8, 1977 – Virginia Voskerichian, a Barnard College honor student was shot and killed while walking home from class.
  • April 17, 1977 – 18-year-old Valentina Suriani and her 20-year-old boyfriend Alexander Esau, were shot twice. Both died as a result of gunshot wounds. Berkowitz left a letter at the scene, signed “Son of Sam.”
  • June 26, 1977 – Judy Placido and Sal Lupu were shot while leaving a disco. Both survived although Judy was shot three times.
  • July 31, 1977 – Bobby Violante and Stacy Moskowitz were shot in the car while parked at a lover’s lane. Stacy died from a gunshot wound to her head and Bobby lost vision in one eye and partial vision in the other eye.

The Ressler Interview

In 1979, Berkowitz was interviewed by FBI veteran, Robert Ressler. Berkowitz admitted that he invented the “Son of Sam” stories so that if caught he could convince the court that he was insane. He said the real reason he killed was because he felt resentment toward his mother and his failures with women. He found killing the women to be sexually arousing.

Throat Slashed

On July 10, 1979, Berkowitz was giving out water to the other inmates in his section when another inmate, William E. Hauser, attacked him with a razor blade and slashed his throat. Berkowitz was too afraid to cooperate with the investigation despite that it nearly cost him his life. Hauser's name was not released to the public until 2015 when the for Attica superintendent James Conway revealed it.

Serving His Time

Berkowitz is currently serving a life sentence at the maximum-security Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Wallkill after being transferred from Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York where he spent several years.

Since entering prison, he has become a member of the Jews for Jesus religious group. Berkowitz had refused to attend any of his parole hearings since he became eligible for possible release in 2002. However, in May 2016 he changed his mind and attended his parole hearing. Berkowitz, 63 at the time, told the parole board, “I was constantly putting myself out there to help other individuals, with kindness and compassion,” he said. “I mean, I feel that’s my life’s calling, all these years. My evaluations, and so forth, should show that to be true. I’ve done a lot of good and positive things, and I thank God for that.”

He was denied parole again and his next hearing is scheduled for May 2018.

Today Berkowitz is a born-again Christian and described as a model prisoner. 

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Montaldo, Charles. "David Berkowitz - the Son of Sam." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/david-berkowitz-the-son-of-sam-972728. Montaldo, Charles. (2021, February 16). David Berkowitz - the Son of Sam. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/david-berkowitz-the-son-of-sam-972728 Montaldo, Charles. "David Berkowitz - the Son of Sam." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/david-berkowitz-the-son-of-sam-972728 (accessed April 18, 2021).