A continuation of my series of short bios of the most infamous serial killers of the past 100 years or so. So far, we’ve covered Jack the Ripper and The Boston Strangler, and The Zodiak Killer and John Wayne Gacy.
All these guys are equals in crime – no ranking here.
5. David Berkowitz: Son of Sam
Born Richard David Falco in Brooklyn, NY, in 1953, David was adopted by Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz a few days after his birth. His childhood was described as troubled, and although intelligent, he started stealing and setting fires early on, and developed a reputation as a bully and a loner. Mrs. Berkowitz died when David was in his teens, and he viewed her. After his father remarried, David had difficulty accepting his stepmother. He later claimed that his new sister interested him in the occult. They moved to Florida, and the 18 year old David took an apartment on his own. He joined the army, serving for 3 years, and received an honorable discharge. When he was 21, David met his birth mother, who told him the details about his illegitimacy, which bothered him deeply. They did not build a lasting relationship, and David continued to foster fantasies and paranoid delusions about who he was and why he was alive.
On Christmas Eve, 1975, Berkowitz’s “demons” or inner voices led him out to the street in search of someone to kill. He inflicted 6 knife wounds upon a 15 year old girl, who survived. Shortly after this attack, he moved to a two family house in Yonkers, which was to become his base of operations. There were noisy dogs in the neighborhood that would awaken Berkowitz, who devised a fantasy about his landlord, Jack Cassaro, as the demon who was master of the dogs, which ordered him to kill women.
Although Berkowitz moved, his new landlord, Sam Carr, owned a black Labrador named Harvey, which David viewed as possessed. He shot the dog, but the demons simply infested Sam himself, and continually goaded David to kill to satisfy their lust for blood. In July, 1976, Berkowitz’s murderous spree began. His first victims were two girls, Donna Lauria, whom he killed with one shot, and Jodi Valenti, who survived. Within the course of a year, Berkowitz shot thirteen more young men and women, leaving 6 dead and several with permanent, life altering injuries. Operation Omega, a task force with more than 300 members of the police, was formed in March, 1977, as it became clear that the shootings were related. In April, a letter full of mis-spellings written by “Son of Sam” was left at the scene of a double murder. On May 30, NY Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin received a letter written in much the same vein. The paper published sections of the letter, and Breslin urged the killer to turn himself in. The residents of the city were thrown into a panic.
Although the police instituted traps, dragnets, and roadblocks, David Berkowitz was finally apprehended because of a parking ticket. A woman in the neighborhood of what became his final shooting reported seeing him loitering on the street, at one point removing the ticket from his windshield. Ironically, the police dispatcher who took the woman’s call was the daughter of Berkowitz’s landlord, Sam Carr.
David Berkowitz confessed to the killings, but later claimed he was personally responsible for only a few. The rest, he claimed, were committed by Satanic cult members, and he was only a witness. Active in the cult were the real sons of Sam Carr. The Berkowitz trial was sensational, and in June, 1978, he was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences. He later said that he invented the occult and insanity claims as a way to avoid the death penalty. Still imprisoned, Berkowitz is now a born again Christian, and says he deserves his life sentence. A website, The Official Home Page of David Berkowitz, is maintained on his behalf by his church. He is reportedly at work on his memoirs.
“I didn’t want to hurt them, I only wanted to kill them.”
Serial killer characteristics: fire setting, delusional, isolated, delinquency, age 25-35 when murder spree began.