SON OF SAM
Captain Joseph Borrelli of the New York City Police Department was one
of the key members of the Omega Group. Operation Omega was the task
force headed by Deputy Inspector Timothy Dowd to find the psycho who
was killing women in various parts of the city with a .44 caliber
The ".44 Caliber Killer" was getting a great deal of press and
Borrelli's name had appeared frequently. Now on April 17, 1977, he was
looking at a letter addressed to him that had been left at the scene of
the latest in this series of murders: With misspellings, it read:
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 house some rest. Mostly young -- raped and slaughtered --
their blood drained -- just bones now.
Papa Sam keeps me locked in the attic too. I can't get out but I look
out the attic window and watch the world go by.
I feel like an outsider. I am on a different wavelength then everybody
else -- programmed too kill.
However, to stop me you must kill me. Attention all police: Shoot me
first -- shoot to kill or else keep out of my way or you will die!
Papa Sam is old now. He needs some blood to preserve his youth. He has
had too many heart attacks. 'Ugh, me hoot, it hurts, sonny boy.'
I miss my pretty princess most of all. She's resting in our ladies
house. But I'll see her soon.
I am the 'Monster' -- 'Beelzebub' -- the chubby behemouth.
I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game -- tasty
meat. The wemon of Queens are prettyist of all. It must be the water
they drink. I live for the hunt -- my life. Blood for papa.
Mr. Borrelli, sir, I don't want to kill anymore. No sur, no more but I
must, 'honour thy father.'
I want to make love to the world. I love people. I don't belong on
earth. Return me to yahoos.
To the people of Queens, I love you. And I want to wish all of you a
happy Easter. May
God bless you in this life and in the next.
The letter did not have any useful fingerprints and the envelope had
been handled by so many people that if there were any of the murderer's
prints, they were lost. This letter was leaked to the press in early
June and the world finally heard the name, "Son of Sam."
One week before the latest Son of Sam murder, a retired city worker
named Sam Carr, who lived in Yonkers, N.Y., with his wife and children,
received an anonymous letter about his black Labrador, Harvey. The
writer was complaining about Harvey's barking. On April 19, two days
after the latest murder, another letter in the same handwriting came in
"I have asked you kindly to stop that dog from howling all day long,
yet he continues to do so. I pleaded with you. I told you how this is
destroying my family. We have no peace, no rest.
"Now I know what kind of a person you are and what kind of a family you
are. You are cruel and inconsiderate. You have no love for any other
human beings. Your selfish, Mr. Carr. My life is destroyed now. I have
nothing to lose anymore. I can see that there shall be no peace in my
life, or my families life until I end yours."
Carr and his wife called the police, but all they did was listen
sympathetically.Ten days later, Carr heard a gunshot coming from his
backyard where he discovered the black Labrador bleeding on the ground.
A man wearing jeans and a yellow shirt was bounding away.
He rushed Harvey to the veterinarian where he was saved. Carr phoned
the police again. This time, Patrolmen Peter Intervallo and Thomas
Chamberlain examined the letters and began an investigation.
At this time, the Son of Sam's letter to Captain Borrelli had not been
leaked to the newspapers so no one thought to connect these letters to
the Borrelli letter.
Operation Omega was growing in size and resources. It had expanded to
some two hundred detectives. With the city in the midst of panic, being
assigned to the Omega task force was considered an honor. Catching the
perpetrator of six murderous assaults would mean tremendous awards for
the detectives involved -- and they knew it. It was an extra incentive
to put in long hours to catch this nut.
Such long hours, however, brought frayed nerves. Detectives were at
each others' throats over trivialities, relationships with wives and
children were severely strained. Caffeine and alcohol consumption
increased. Cots were put in the Omega headquarters station so that the
officers could grab at least a few hours of sleep before they started
Several very talented players joined Operation Omega: In addition to
Captain Joe Borrelli, there was Sergeant Joseph Coffey and Detective
Redmond Keenan. Keenan's daughter Rosemary was present at one of these
assaults when her date was seriously injured. All in all, Operation
Omega comprised the cream of New York City detectives with a strong
sense of mission.
When Son of Sam first struck on the morning of July 29, 1976, no one
could expect that a serial killer was making his debut.
Two young women, Donna Lauria, an eighteen-year-old brunette, and her
nineteen-year-old friend Jody Valenti, were talking in Jody's car near
the entrance of the Lauria's apartment building in the Bronx, New York
City. Because of the dangerous hour (one o'clock in the morning), her
parents stopped by the car on their way home from an evening out and
told her it was time to come upstairs.
Donna promised she would. But, after her parents went inside, Donna
noticed a man standing alongside the passenger side of the car. "Who is
this guy?" she asked. "What does he want?"
Her question went unanswered. The man pulled out a Charter Arms .44
Bulldog handgun from a paper bag, squatted down and fired into the car
five times. Donna died immediately, hit in the neck. Jody, shot in the
thigh, leaned on the horn while the man continued to pull the trigger,
even though the chamber was now empty.
Jody scrambled from the car, screaming for help. Soon, Donna's father
heard the noise and ran down. In his pajamas and bare feet, he raced
his car to the hospital, hoping that doctors could save his Donna.
Police could find no motive for the attack. Finally, they theorized
that it may have been either a mob execution with mistaken victims or a
lone psycho. Jody, semi-shocked, did manage to give something of a
description of the assailant. But, under duress, her description lacked.
On the night of October 23, 1976, three months after the Lauria girl's
senseless murder, twenty-year-old Carl Denaro drank beer with his
friends at a bar in Queens. In a few days he would be entering the Air
Force for at least four years. He really wanted to live it up with his
buddies since it would be a while before he saw them all again. Among
his party was a girl, Rosemary Keenan, whom he knew from college.
The party broke up after 2:30 A.M and Carl drove Rosemary home. The
couple parked near her home and talked. Suddenly, a man appeared
outside the passenger side. He drew a gun and fired five times into the
car, wounding Carl in the head. Terrified, Rosemary drove the car back
to the bar from where friends rushed Carl to the hospital. There,
surgeons replaced a part of his damaged skull with a metal plate. His
injuries would haunt him for the rest of his life.
A little more than a month later, on the evening of November 26, 1976,
sixteen-year-old Donna DeMasi and her eighteen-year-old friend Joanne
Lomino were coming home from a movie late at night. The bus stopped
close to Joanne's house. Joanne noticed a man standing nearby. She
urged her friend to walk faster. He began following them.
"Do you know where..." he addressed them as though he was about to ask
directions, but he never finished his sentence. Instead, he pulled a
gun from beneath his jacket and fired at them. Both girls were hit.
Then their assailant emptied his gun by firing at a house.
Hearing the girls' screams, Joanne's family rushed from their house to
help the girls. When they reached the hospital, surgeons determined
that Donna would be okay. The bullet had passed within a quarter inch
of her spine and exited her body. Joanne was not so lucky. Her spine
had been shattered by the bullet. She would live, but was now
Of these three assaults which had occurred in two different areas, the
Bronx and Queens, only one bullet had been recovered intact.
Consequently, police were not yet able to link these attacks to a
Things quieted for two months. Then in the early hours of January 30,
1977, the killer went hunting for his next victim.
Twenty-six-year-old Christine Freund and her fiance John Diel left The
Wine Gallery in Queens around 12:10 A.M. and strolled towards his car.
They were too absorbed in each other to observe that man who had been
As they sat in the car, two shots broke the night, shattering the
windshield. Christine grabbed her head; both shots had struck her. John
rested her head on the driver's seat and ran for help, trying to flag
down passing cars, but to no avail. People in nearby homes had heard
the shots and had called the police.
A few hours later Christine died in the hospital.
Forty-three-year-old Detective Sergeant Joe Coffey was a big, handsome
Irishman known for his toughness and dedication. He and Captain Joe
Borrelli started to work on this latest homicide. They had two
theories: that the killer was either a psycho or someone who had
something personal against Christine Freund.
Coffey could see that the bullets used to kill her were not typical.
They had come from a powerful, large caliber gun. Investigating
further, he discovered that her murder matched those other assaults on
Donna Lauria, Donna DeMasi and Joanne Lomino.
Coffey had a hunch that they were dealing with one psycho packing a
.44, stalking women in various parts of the city. As his investigation
began to bear fruit, a homicide task force was formed under Captain
Borrelli. Ballistics reported that the weapon employed was a .44
Charter Arms Bulldog -- an unusual weapon.
After probing into the backgrounds of the murders and their victims,
police were unable to find any suspect on record; nor could they find
any common thread that linked the victims to one another or a third
party. It was beginning to look as though a psycho had randomly
targeted attractive young women for assassination.
On the evening of Tuesday, March 8, 1977, an attractive young Barnard
College honor student named Virginia Voskerichian was walking home from
classes in the affluent Forest Hills Gardens area. Virginia was a very
talented and hardworking young woman who had fled Bulgaria with her
family in the late 1950's.
As she followed Dartmouth Street towards her home, a man approached her
from the opposite direction. When they were very close, he pulled out a
.44 and aimed it at her. She raised her books to protect herself, but a
single shot hit her in the face. Virginia died immediately.
As the killer ran away, he passed a man who had witnessed the whole
thing. "Hi, mister," the killer said to the middle-aged man.
A passing patrol car spotted the running man. But, when they heard on
their radio that a woman had been shot on Dartmouth Street, they
abandoned their plan to stop the suspicious man and immediately raced
to the crime scene.
The police felt helpless, unable to find the murderer. As well, these
murders were taking a huge toll on the officers who had been working
non-stop to track down every possible lead.
Laurence D. Klausner in his book Son of Sam quotes Joe Borrelli on the
aftermath of this crime. "If you watch detectives at any homicide,
you'll notice that they go about their jobs unemotionally....they
didn't want to look at her. They knew it was senseless. She was someone
beautiful and she was laying under the sheet, a bullet in her face had
destroyed her. It began to grab at them, in the guts, and they just
turned away. These were veterans and they couldn't take it."
The next day, the police had a match on the bullet. It had come from
the same gun that had killed Donna Lauria. They were looking for a
psycho and they knew he was going to kill again. Some random shooting
of an attractive young woman. How would they ever prevent it?
The following day, the police commissioner held a press conference to
announce to the City of New York that they had linked the various
shootings. The commissioner stated that the only description of the
murderer was that of "a white male, twenty-five to thirty years old,
six feet tall, medium build, with dark hair."
More emphasis was put on finding this psycho before he killed again.
Deputy Inspector Timothy Dowd was given the job of organizing the
Operation Omega task force and staffing it with the highly experienced
men it needed. Dowd, a native of Ireland, was not a typical cop. The
sixty-one-year-old veteran had majored in Latin and English at City
College and had studied for a master's degree in business at the Baruch
School of City College. Pragmatic and persistent despite political
setbacks, he was not easily discouraged.
Captain Borrelli had a new boss. This crime series had become too big
to be handled by just a captain.
As expected, the phantom reappeared. On April 17, 1977, two young
lovers sat kissing in their parked car near the Hutchinson River
Parkway, not far from where Donna Lauria had been murdered the previous
year. Eighteen-year-old Valentina Suriani, an aspiring actress and
model, sat in the car with her twenty-year-old boyfriend Alexander
Esau, a tow truck operator.
At 3 A.M. that Sunday, another car pulled up along side them. Its
driver shot each of them twice. Valentina died immediately and
Alexander a bit later at the hospital. This was just what the police
department had been fearing -- the next inevitable attack in the series
of the .44 caliber murders. This psycho who would keep on killing until
he could be found among the millions of men who fit his description.
But -- this time there was something different: the killer's letter
left at the scene of the murders addressed to Captain Borrelli. The
letter in which the killer gave the police his "name" -- the Son of Sam.
New York City Mayor Abraham Beame called what he saw as a much needed
press conference to discuss the Son of Sam case. It was the kind of
name that the press would really grab on to and create a media persona.
Beame dreaded the whole thing: "The killings were a horror. The police
were under terrible strain. Everyone was beginning to question his
ability to capture the gunman. The letter fused everything together. It
was a man against an entire city. He had written this one policeman,
but I knew it wasn't that captain he was writing about. It was every
cop who was after him, all twenty-five thousand of them."
Dr. Martin Lubin, former head of forensic psychiatry at Bellevue, along
with some forty-five other psychiatrists, convened to contribute to the
psychological profile of the man they were seeking. In May of 1977, the
police knew they were looking for a paranoid schizophrenic, who may
have considered himself possessed of a demonic power. The killer was
almost certainly a loner who had difficulty with relationships,
particularly relationships with women.
The Omega task force was flooded with calls. Everyone, it seemed, knew
the killer: he was the neighbor who came home late every night, the odd
brother-in-law who played with guns all the time, the weird guy in the
bar who hated pretty girls. The list of suspects was endless. Every one
of these thousands of leads had to be checked out and disqualified -- a
huge chore for any task force.
While the police were chasing down every suspect, checking
registrations for .44 weapons, tracing activities of former mental
patients and generally running themselves ragged, the Son of Sam had
become emboldened by the publicity. He decided to write to Jimmy
Breslin, a reporter for the Daily News.
"Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of NYC and from the ants that
dwell in these cracks and feed in the dried blood of the dead that has
settled into the cracks.
"Hello from the gutters of NYC, which is filled with dog manure, vomit,
stale wine, urine, and blood. Hello from the sewers of NYC which
swallow up these delicacies when they are washed away by the sweeper
"Don't think because you haven't heard [from me] for a while that I
went to sleep. No, rather, I am still here. Like a spirit roaming the
night. Thirsty, hungry, seldom stopping to rest; anxious to please Sam.
"Sam's a thirsty lad. He won't let me stop killing until he gets his
fill of blood. Tell me, Jim, what will you have for July 29? You can
forget about me if you like because I don't care for publicity.
However, you must not forget Donna Lauria and you cannot let the people
forget her either. She was a very sweet girl.
"Not knowing what the future holds, I shall say farewell and I will see
you at the next job? Or should I say you will see my handiwork at the
next job? Remember Ms. Lauria. Thank you.
"In their blood and from the gutter-- 'Sam's creation' .44"
The Daily News withheld some portions of the letter at the insistence
of the police. The omitted passage read: "Here are some names to help
you along. Forward them to the Inspector for use by the NCIC [National
Crime Information Center] Center. They have everything on computer,
everything. They just might turn up, from some other crimes. Maybe they
could make associations.
"Duke of Death. Wicked King Wicker. The twenty-two Disciples of Hell.
And lastly, John Wheaties, rapist and suffocator of young girls. P.S.,
drive on, think positive, get off your butts, knock on coffins, etc."
Partial fingerprints were salvaged from the letter, which were of no
value in finding the suspect, but would be valuable to match against a
suspect once captured.
On June 10, a man named Jack Cassara, who lived in New Rochelle, found
an odd get-well note in his mailbox from someone named Carr in Yonkers.
The card included a picture of a German shepherd dog. It read: "Dear
Jack, I'm sorry to hear about that fall you took from the roof of your
house. Just want to say 'I'm sorry' but I'm sure it won't be long until
you feel much better, healthy, well and strong: Please be careful next
time. Since your going to be confined for a long time, let us know if
Nann needs anything. Sincerely: Sam and Francis."
Cassara had not fallen off his roof nor had he ever met Sam and Francis
Carr. He called them up and, discussing the odd situation, they agreed
to meet at the Carrs' home that evening. The Carrs told the Cassaras
about the strange letters they had received about their dog Harvey and
how Harvey had been shot. Sam Carr told them about a German shepherd in
the neighborhood that also had been shot.
Carr had his daughter, Wheat, a dispatcher for the Yonkers police,
bring in officers Intervallo and Chamberlain to investigate, while
Cassara had contacted New Rochelle police.
Later, Cassara's nineteen-year-old son Stephen drew an interesting
conclusion. He remembered the odd guy, David Berkowitz, who had briefly
rented a room in their house in early 1976. "He never came back for his
two-hundred dollar security deposit when he left. Well, he was always
bothered by our dog, too."
Nann Cassara, Jack's wife, called the Carrs, who promised that their
daughter would have the Yonkers police act on that information. She
also called the New Rochelle police, who waited some two months later
to call her back. When they did contact her, she was sure that
Berkowitz was the Son of Sam.
The detective mentioned that Craig Glassman, a deputy sheriff and
neighbor of Berkowitz, had received an anonymous letter talking about a
demon group composed of Glassman, the Cassaras and the Carrs. All that
proved, however, was that Berkowitz was a little strange, but not a
killer and not the Son of Sam. Police are often confronted with odd,
yet perfectly legal, behavior on the part of citizens, but cannot do
much about it.
In the meantime, Chamberlain and Intervallo of the Yonkers police put
Berkowitz's name into their computer and learned his address, the
registration number of his Ford Galaxy and the fact that his license
had just been suspended.
At 3 A.M. June 26, 1977, attractive young Judy Placido turned to Sal
Lupo, the young man she was talking with, and suggested that it was
time for him to take her home from the the Elephas, a disco in Queens.
The disco was almost empty. The Son of Sam had thinned out crowds all
across the city.
"This Son of Sam is really scary," she told Sal. "The way that guy
comes out of nowhere. You never know where he'll hit next."
Then as if she had just predicted the future, she later recounted: "All
of a sudden, I heard echoing in the car. There wasn't any pain, just
ringing in my ears. I looked at Sal, and his eyes were open wide, just
like his mouth. There were no screams. I don't know why I didn't scream.
"All the windows had been closed. I couldn't understand what this
pounding noise was. After that, I felt disoriented, dazed."
Sal's first impression was that someone had thrown rocks at the car, so
he ran back to the disco for help.
Judy looked in the mirror and found herself covered with blood. Her
right arm was immobile. She collapsed when she tried to run back to the
disco. Sal had also been hit in the forearm. Both victims were very
lucky. Although Judy had been shot three times, she had avoided serious
injury and death.
Ironically, Detective Coffey had been outside the Elephas about fifteen
minutes before the shooting. Once the news came over the radio, he
returned to the scene in a flash, but there was nothing to learn from
either Judy or Sal about the identity of the assailant.
Donna Lauria, Son of Sam's first victim, had been murdered on July 29,
1976. Considering the Son of Sam letter that was sent to reporter Jimmy
Breslin, in which she alone was prominently mentioned, police were
worried about an anniversary killing. The newspapers made absolutely
certain that the entire city expected another killing on or around that
The Omega task force was desperate. How to protect a whole city of
young women from a random killer? Detective Coffey even considered
placing cops in bullet-proof cars with mannequins to try to lure the
killer. It was a waiting game. Tensions built steadily until July 29
and nerves were at a breaking point all that day and night, but no Son
of Sam. Not that day. Two days later when the police were beginning to
feel relieved that the anniversary had passed without another murder,
the Son of Sam took his last victims.
In the early morning of Sunday, July 31, 1977, a pretty, vivacious
young woman named Stacy Moskowitz sat with her handsome young boyfriend
Bobby Violante in his dad's car. They had gone to see a movie and had
ended the evening parked in a quiet spot near Gravesend Bay.
"How about taking a walk in the park?" He suggested.
Stacy was reticent. "What if the Son of Sam is hiding there?"
"This is Brooklyn, not Queens. Come on," he urged her. They got out of
the car and walked over to the park swings. Bobby leaned forward to
kiss her and she saw something.
"Someone's looking at us," she whispered.
Bobby saw a man nearby, but the stranger turned away and disappeared
behind the parked cars.
Stacy was frightened and wanted to go back to the car. When they got to
the car, Stacy wanted to leave, but Bobby persuaded her to stay for
another few minutes while they kissed.
"All of a sudden," Bobby recalled, "I heard like a humming sound. First
I thought I heard glass break. Then I didn't hear Stacy any more. I
didn't feel anything, but I saw her fall away from me. I don't know who
got shot first, her or me."
Bobby Violante had been shot twice in the face. Stacy had been shot
once in the head. Bobby could hear her moaning. He hit the car's horn
and then pulled himself from the car and cried for help.
Police were on the spot in short order and Stacy and Bobby were on
their way to Coney Island Hospital. Stacy's parents arrived at the
hospital just in time to see her being wheeled out of the hospital. The
seriousness of her head wounds required her to be moved to Kings County
Hospital where the facilities for head trauma were more extensive.
Together, the parents of Bobby and Stacy waited for hours as surgeons
worked to save their children. Thirty-eight hours later, Stacy
Moskowitz died. Bobby Violante survived, but he had lost his left eye
and had only 20% vision in his right eye.
On August 3, 1977, several days after the attack on Stacy Moskowitz and
Bobby Violante, the two Yonkers cops, Chamberlain and Intervallo,
talked about the bizarre letters received by the Carrs and Cassaras and
the shooting of the two dogs -- Carr's Labrador and the Wicker Street
shooting of a German shepherd.
They were concerned that if they started to investigate this David
Berkowitz, it would look as though they were trying to do the work of
detectives rather than the patrolmen that they were. They proceeded
cautiously and queried the state computer network about Berkowitz. The
computer gave a brief profile of him from his driver's license.
Berkowitz appeared to be approximately the same age, height and build
as the Son of Sam, as described by various witnesses.
The patrolmen talked to the rental agent of the building at 35 Pine
Street, Berkowitz's place of residence. All she could tell him was that
he paid his rent on time and that he wrote on his rental application
that he worked at IBI Security in Queens. That sparse information
indicated that Berkowitz probably had some knowledge of guns if he
worked for a security company.
Next, they called IBI and found out that Berkowitz quit in July of 1976
to go work for some cab company. The first Son of Sam murder was in
July of 1976. Between the two of them, they called a couple hundred cab
companies based in the Bronx area. None of them employed Berkowitz.
However, hundreds of other cab companies operated in the Greater New
York area. Calling them all seemed insurmountable.
The two policemen were certain that they were on to something, however,
and confided in their boss who was impressed with the information they
had collected. He urged them to talk to New York City Detective Richard
Salvesen. They showed Salvesen all the letters. The latter was
favorably impressed and agreed to pass on the information to the Omega
Another development in the case occurred a couple of days after the
Moskowitz-Violante shooting. Mrs. Cacilia Davis, an attractive
middle-aged Austrian immigrant, reluctantly came forward with the claim
that she had seen the man who shot the couple. Detective Joe Strano
went to see her at her home on Bay 17th Street, a block from the scene
of the shooting.
Davis told Strano that she came home in the early morning hours and had
to walk her dog Snowball. She thought a man was following her. "...he
looked like he was trying to hide behind a tree. But the tree was too
small, too narrow. He stood out. He kept staring in my
direction....Then he began walking in my direction, smiling a peculiar
smile. It wasn't anything sinister, just a friendly kind of smile,
When she got a closer look at him,she thought that he had a gun
concealed in his hand. "I was frightened. I walked into my house and
began to slip off Snowball's collar. Just then I heard pops, or
something that sounded like firecrackers. They were kind of loud, but
far off. I didn't think too much of it at the time.
"The next morning...there were crowds of people at Shore Road. It was
then that I learned what happened the night before. Suddenly I realized
that I must have seen the killer. I panicked, and I couldn't say
"I would never forget his face until the day I die. It was frightening."
In the meantime, things seemed to be popping all over. Officer
Chamberlain of the Yonkers PD responded to a call about a suspected
arson at Berkowitz's apartment house at 35 Pine Street. The call had
been made by Craig Glassman, a male nurse and part-time sheriff's
deputy. (Glassman had been the fellow descibed in Berkowitz's letter as
one of a group of demons along with the Cassaras and the Carrs.)
Glassman explained what happened: "I smelled the smoke and ran to the
door. When I opened it the fire was almost out...It probably never got
hot enough to set the bullets off." He showed Chamberlain the .22
caliber bullets that had been put into the fire outside his door."
Then Glassman showed them the squirrelly letters he had received from
Berkowitz, who lived just above him. The handwriting looked identical
to the letters that the Carrs had received.
That same afternoon, Sam Carr, still upset over the shooting of his dog
and what he saw as non-action by the police, independently pursued the
matter with the Omega Task Force. He drove down to the police station
where the task force was headquartered.
Not much happened when Sam Carr related his story of the shootings of
the dogs, the weird letters, the eccentric David Berkowitz. The task
force had been inundated for many months with leads by people who spoke
as passionately as Sam Carr. They put the information in a folder of
level two priorities and forgot about it -- for a little while.
The fact was, despite the subsequent excuses, Sam Carr had just handed
them the name of the killer and they sat on it.
Two days later, August 8, Chamberlain and Intervallo called Detective
Salvesen to tell him about the Craig Glassman event and the letters
that Glassman had received. One of the letters was amazingly
confessional: "True, I am the killer, but Craig, the killings are at
your command." Salvesen promised to inform the task force immediately,
but the information didn't get to the task force for days.
In the meantime, several traffic tickets that had been written the
night of the shooting, outside witness Davis' apartment, were at last
found. All but one were investigated and yielded nothing. One final
ticket was yet to be investigated -- one belonging to a Yonkers man
named David Berkowitz.
Detective Jimmy Justus called the Yonkers Police Department and talked
to Wheat Carr, the daughter of Sam Carr, who had lost her dog. She gave
him a real earful about David Berkowitz and everything her father had
tried to impress upon the police days earlier. Officer Chamberlain
called Justus shortly afterwards and told him everything he knew. They
Then after the Carr family and officers Chamberlain and Intervallo had
connected all the dots repeatedly for the New York City Police, the
latter were more than anxious to go in for the collar and the glory
that went with it. On August 10, Shea, Strano, William Gardella and
John Falotico put 35 Pine Street under surveillance. The number of cops
grew as everyone wanted to be in on the arrest.
Just after 7:30 P.M., a heavy-set Caucasian male walked out of the
apartment building and seemed to head towards Berkowitz's Ford Galaxy.
The police started to close in on him. Falotico pulled his gun and
stopped the man. "David, stay where you are," he warned him.
"Are you the police?" the man wanted to know.
"Yes. Don't move your hands."
It was not David Berkowitz, but Craig Glassman, the part-time deputy
sheriff who realized that these men surrounding him were not the
Yonkers police but New York City's "finest." Glassman figured it out
fast that Berkowitz was a suspect in the Son of Sam murders.
Several hours later another figure emerged from the apartment building,
carrying a paper bag. The man was heavy with dark hair and he walked
slowly toward the Ford Galaxy. This time, the police waited for the man
to get into the car and put the paper bag on the passenger seat. "Let's
go!" Falotico yelled and the officers advanced. The man inside did not
see the approaching figures. Gardella came from the rear of the car and
put the barrel of his gun against the man's head. "Freeze!" he yelled.
The man inside the car turned around and smiled idiotically at them.
Falotico gave him very explicit instructions to slowly get out of the
car and put his hands up on the roof. The man obeyed, still smiling.
"Now that I've got you," Falotico said, "who have I got?"
"You know," the man said politely.
"No, I don't. You tell me."
Still smiling his moronic smile, he answered, "I'm Sam. David
The day of Berkowitz's arrest, Sergeant Joseph Coffey was called in to
interview him. Calmly and candidly, David told him about each of the
shootings. When the interview was over there was no doubt that
Berkowitz was the Son of Sam. The details that he supplied about each
assault were bits of information that only the killer would know.
At the end of the session, Berkowitz politely wished him "good night."
Coffey was amazed by Berkowitz. "When I first walked into that room I
was full of rage. But after talking to him....I feel sorry for him.
That man is a fucking vegetable!"
Who was David Berkowitz anyway and how did he become the Son of Sam?
While David did not start his life under the most auspicious
circumstances, he grew up in a middle-class family with doting adoptive
parents who showered him with gifts and attention. His real mother,
Betty Broder, grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.
Her family was poor and she had to struggle to survive during the
Depression. Her Jewish family opposed her marriage to Tony Falco, who
was Italian and a gentile.
The two of them scraped some money together to start a fish market in
1939. Then, Betty had a daughter Roslyn. After that, things did not go
well with the Falcos' marriage and Tony left her for another woman. The
fish market went bust and Betty had to raise Roslyn by herself.
The loneliness of being a single parent was relieved when she began an
affair with a married man named Joseph Kleinman. But things went awry
when she became pregnant. Kleinman refused to pay any child support and
vowed to leave her unless she gave up the baby. Even before David was
born on June 1, 1953, she had arranged for his adoption.
Her sadness at giving up her child was mitigated somewhat by the
knowledge that a good Jewish couple was ready to adopt her son. With
her newborn gone, Betty resumed her affair with Kleinman until he died
of cancer in 1965
David was lucky to be adopted by Nat and Pearl Berkowitz, a childless
couple who were devoted to their new son. He had a normal childhood in
the Bronx with no clear warning signs of what was yet to come. Perhaps
the most significant factor in his life was that he was a loner. His
parents weren't particularly socially oriented and neither was David.
He was always big for his age and always felt different and less
attractive than his peers. All through his youth he was uncomfortable
with other people. He did have one sport -- baseball -- which he played
His neighbors remember him as a nice-looking boy but with a violent
streak, a bully who assaulted neighborhood kids for no apparent reason.
He was hyperactive and very difficult for Pearl and Nat to control.
David did not realize that Pearl had suffered from breast cancer before
he was born. When it recurred in 1965 and again in 1967, David was
shocked. Nat hadn't kept his adopted son very well informed about the
prognosis and David was therefore shocked to see how badly Pearl
dissipated from the chemotherapy and the illness itself. He was
devastated when Pearl died in the fall of 1967.
When David was in his early teens, his parents tried to flee their
changing neighborhood to the middle-class safety of the enormous
sprawling high-rise development of Co-Op City. By the time their
apartment was ready, Pearl had died. David and his father lived in the
new apartment alone.
David began to deteriorate after Pearl's death. His grade average
nose-dived. His faith in God was shaken. He began to imagine that her
death was a part of some plan to destroy him. He became more and more
In 1971, Nat remarried a woman that did not get along with David. The
couple moved to a Florida retirement community without him, leaving him
to drift, absent of a purpose or a goal. He just existed until his
fantasy life had become stronger than his real life.
He did have one relationship with a girl named Iris Gerhardt. The
relationship was more fantasy on Berkowitz's part. Iris considered him
only a friend. He attended a few classes at Bronx Community College,
more to appease Nat than anything else.
David joined the Army in the summer of 1971 and stayed there for three
years. He was an excellent marksman, particularly proficient with
rifles. During his time in the Army, he briefly converted from Judaism
to the Baptist faith, but then lost interest.
At one point, David found his biological mother Betty Falco. She and
her daughter Roslyn did everything they could to make David feel
welcome in their family. For a while, it worked and David seemed happy
in their company, but eventually he drifted away from them too, making
excuses for not coming to visit.
Anger and frustration with women, coupled by a bizarre fantasy life,
started him down the road to violence when he got out of the Army in
1974. The only consummated sexual experience with a woman that he ever
had was with a prostitute in Korea. He contracted a venereal disease as
Even before the murders began, David had set some 1,488 fires in the
city of New York and kept a diary of each one. He was acting out a
control fantasy. Robert Ressler in his book Whoever Fights Monsters
explains: "Most arsonists like the feeling that they are responsible
for the excitement and violence of a fire. With the simple act of
lighting matches, they control events in society that are not normally
controlled; they orchestrate the fire, the screaming arrival and
deployment of the fire trucks and fire fighters, the gathering crowds,
the destruction of property and sometimes of people."
Klausner points out in his book that David's state of mind in November
was very bleak when he wrote to his father in Florida: "It's cold and
gloomy here in New York, but that's okay because the weather fits my
mood -- gloomy. Dad, the world is getting dark now. I can feel it more
and more. The people, they are developing a hatred for me. You wouldn't
believe how much some people hate me. Many of them want to kill me. I
don't even know these people, but still they hate me. Most of them are
young. I walk down the street and they spit and kick at me. The girls
call me ugly and they bother me the most. The guys just laugh. Anyhow,
things will soon change for the better."
This letter was a real cry for help. After writing the letter, he
locked himself in his tiny apartment for almost a month, leaving only
for food. He wrote wacky things on the walls with a marker: "In this
hole lives the Wicked King. Kill for my Master. I turn children into
Around Christmas of 1975, David later claimed to psychiatrists that he
was giving into the demons with the hopes that they would stop
tormenting him if he did what they asked. On Christmas Eve, he was in a
crisis mentally and emotionally. In the early evening he took a large
hunting knife and drove around for hours looking for a young female
victim. The demons would let him know when he found the right woman.
That night, he had returned to Co-Op City where he and Nat had shared
the solitary apartment after Pearl's death. A woman was leaving a
grocery store. Suddenly, David's demons ordered him to kill her. "She
has to be sacrificed," they told him.
He plunged the hunting knife into her back once and then again. He was
shocked at her reaction. "I stabbed her and she didn't do anything. She
just turned and looked at me." Then she began to scream and he ran
away. Later, police tried unsuccessfully to verify this story.
Then he saw another young woman. He hid the knife and attacked her from
behind, stabbing her in the head. Fifteen-year-old Michelle Forman was
seriously wounded, but she fought back. Her screaming scared David off
and she was able to make it to one of the apartment buildings for help.
She had six wounds from the hunting knife.
The attack on Michelle pacified David's demons for the time being. He
was relaxed and went out for a burger and fries.
After the two Christmas Eve attacks, David went back to his security
guard job at IBI Security. He moved from his tiny Bronx apartment in
January to a two-family home in Yonkers owned by Jack and Nann Cassara.
He wanted a 2-year lease and paid a $200 security deposit.
Cassara's German shepherd was a noisy dog and howled frequently. The
neighborhood dogs howled back. In David's diseased mind demons lived
within the dogs and their howling was the way they ordered David to go
hunting for blood -- the blood of pretty young women.
Berkowitz was driven to the edge: "I'd come home to Coligni avenue like
at six-thirty in the morning. It would begin then, the howling. On my
days, off, I heard it all night, too. It made me scream. I used to
scream out begging for the noise to stop. It never did.
"The demons never stopped. I couldn't sleep. I had no strength to
fight. I could barely drive. Coming home from work one night, I almost
killed myself in the car. I needed to sleep....The demons wouldn't give
me any peace."
After three months, he moved out of the Cassara's house and into an
apartment house at 35 Pine Street in Yonkers, never asking for his
security deposit back. The Cassaras had taken on a frightening role in
David's family life: "When I moved in the Cassaras seemed very nice and
quiet. But they tricked me. They lied. I thought they were members of
the human race. They weren't! Suddenly the Cassaras began to show up
with the demons. They began to howl and cry out. 'Blood and death!'
They called out the names of the masters! The Blood Monster, John
Wheaties, General Jack Cosmo." As David's fantasies developed, Cassara
became General Jack Cosmo, commander in chief of the devil dogs roaming
the streets of New York. The demons had a constant need for blood which
David helped replenish with his murderous assaults.
David's apartment on Pine Street also had its dogs. Sam Carr's black
Labrador, for example. David tried to kill the demon lurking in Harvey
with a Molotov cocktail, but it fizzled. Finally, he shot Harvey with a
Sam Carr, in David's elaborate delusion, was the host of a powerful
demon named Sam who worked for General Jack Cosmo. When David called
himself the Son of Sam, it was the demon living in Sam Carr to which he
referred. David warned people that they should take him seriously.
"This Sam and his demons have been responsible for a lot of killing."
Unfortunately, in David's scheme of things, only God could destroy Sam
at Armageddon. At various times in David's mind, Sam was the Devil.
The day before he murdered Donna Lauria, David quit his job as a
nighttime security guard and went to work as a taxi driver. He claims
that he didn't want to kill Donna and her friend Jody, but the demons
forced him to shoot. But once it was done, he felt pleasure, exhaustion
from doing a job well. Sam was pleased. Pleased enough to promise Donna
to him as a bride. Sam had led David to believe that Donna would some
day rise from the dead to join him.
David was classified by the defense psychiatrists as a paranoid
schizophrenic. The believed that David's difficulties relating to
people drove him further into isolation. The isolation was a fertile
ground for wild fantasies. Eventually the fantasies crowded out reality
and David lived in a world populated by the demons his mind had
created. As his state of mind deteriorated, tension grew and was only
released when he successfully attacked someone. For a brief time, the
assaults relieved the tensions, but inevitably, the tensions began to
increase again and the cycle repeated itself.
When he was arrested, David remained calm and smiling. It appeared as
though he was relieved at being caught. Perhaps he thought that finally
in jail the demon dogs would stop howling for blood.
However, according to Dr. David Abrahamsen, the prosecution's forensic
psychiatrist, "While the defendant shows paranoid traits, they do not
interfere with his fitness to stand trial....the defendant is a normal
as anyone else. Maybe a little neurotic."
Ultimately, it didn't matter because David Berkowitz pleaded guilty. He
was sentenced to 365 years in jail.
In 1979, Robert Ressler, the FBI veteran, interviewed Berkowitz in
Attica Prison three times. Berkowitz had been allowed to keep a
scrapbook he had compiled of all the newspaper stories about the
murders. He used these scrapbooks to keep his fantasies alive.
Ressler made it clear that he didn't buy the demon dog theory one bit
and eventually he was able to get the truth out of Berkowitz. The demon
story was to protect him when and if he was caught so that he could try
to convince the authorities he was insane. He admitted to Ressler "that
his real reason for shooting women was out of resentment toward his own
mother, and because of his inability to establish good relationships
with women." He would become sexually aroused in the stalking and
shooting of women and would masturbate after it was over.
He also admitted to Ressler that stalking women had become a nightly
adventure for him. If he didn't find a victim, he would go back to the
scenes of his earlier murders and try to recall them. "It was an erotic
experience for him to see the remains of bloodstains on the ground, a
police chalkmark or two: seated in his car, he would often contemplate
these grisly mementos and masturbate." So murderers do return to the
scene of the crime, not out of guilt, but because they want to revive
the memories of their crimes for sexual pleasure.
He wanted to go to the funerals of his victims but was afraid that the
police would become suspicious. However, he did hang around diners near
the police stations hoping to overhear policemen talking about his
crimes. He also tried unsuccessfully to find the graves of his victims.
Like many serial killers, he nourished his sick ego from the newspaper
attention he received for his crimes. He got the idea of sending the
letter to Jimmy Breslin from a book on Jack the Ripper. Ressler found
out that "after the press started calling him Son of Sam he adopted the
moniker as his own, and even fashioning a logo for it."
This story is repeated time after time in every city experiencing the
attacks of a serial killer. The demands of the citizens to know what is
happening is balanced against the reality that feeding these demands
for information virtually ensures that the killer will keep on killing.
Legitimate police work is seriously hampered by a deluge of bogus tips
from well-meaning citizens. The only party that benefits from this
common problem is the media.
On July 9, 2002, David Berkowitz's first parole hearing was conducted
at the place of Berkowitz's incarceration, Sullivan Correctional
Facility in Fallsburg, N.Y. David Berkowitz, 49, attended this hearing,
but had chosen not to attend the hearing that had been scheduled a
month earlier. Commissioner Irene Platt asked him why he didn't attend
in June, but did in July.
"I had a lot of anxiety," Berkowitz answered, "and I thought it would
be best for the families that I not come at all and I after a lot of
soul searching and a lot of praying I just decided it would be best to
just come and face you and apologize. I'm not seeking parole. I don't
feel that I deserve parole."
Commissioner Platt asked him why he felt that he didn't deserve parole.
Berkowitz responded, "Well, for the crimes that were committed and
people that are suffering today because of my actions. I know they have
a lot of pain and hurt that will probably never go awayI wish that I
can go back and change the past. I can't, so I have to I came to terms
with this and realize that I'm here in prison."
Commissioner Platt stated that she wanted to continue with the hearing,
unless he had an objection.
Berkowitz had mixed feelings. He was very concerned about the media, "I
was hoping that after this was over with, after the 25-year mark and
the media says all that they can possibly say, that everybody, myself,
my family, the victims' families can all get on with their lives."
Commissioner Platt asked him what "attracted you to their whereabouts
and your need to kill them?"
Berkowitz replied, "Ma'am, I'm sorry. I don't know. I don't understand
what happened.It was a nightmare. I was tormented in my mind and in my
spirit. My life was out of control at that time and I have nothing but
regret for what happened."
"What was this torment," she probed.
"It was just my mind was not focused right. I thought I was a soldier
for the devil and all kinds of crazy thingsI had things like the
satanic bible that I was reading. I just got stupid ideas out of it.
I'm not pushing the blame on anything. I take full responsibility, but
I just at the time things got twisted."
At the end of the short hearing, Commissioner Platt suggested that
Berkowitz had not developed much of an understanding of the motivations
of his crimes. Berkowitz answered, "Ma'am, in all honesty I really
haven't. I still struggle with coming to grips with the things of the
past. There are still issues that I have to deal with. I'm not there
Not surprisingly, parole was formally denied. Although the panel
recognized his good behavior, his activities in helping other inmates
and his role as a chaplain's clerk, his completion of a 2-year degree
from the state university, and his successful completion of other
prison rehabilitation programs, and his expression of remorse for his
crimes, "the extraordinary pain, suffering and anger that you have
inflicted on the families and the community at large continues.
Discretionary release at this time would deprecate the seriousness of
these atrocious crimes and diminish respect for the law."
Berkowitz's next parole hearing will be in 24 months in June, 2004.
Berkowitz's first years in prison were filled with conflict. He was a
disciplinary problem. However, after his conversion to Christianity,
his attitude changed dramatically and the disciplinary problems went
away. Many people are skeptical of the dramatic embrace of religion,
but in the final analysis it really doesn't matter whether people
believe Berkowitz or not. Berkowitz is smart enough to understand that
he is never getting out of prison and has learned to adjust to the
realities of that life.
Is his new Christian persona really a hoax to deceive the parole board
into someday granting him parole? I don't think so because he knows
that parole is beyond his reach. His religious beliefs have provided
him a spiritually comforting and socially-acceptable lifestyle in an
environment where few comforts are normally found. While Berkowitz was
not technically insane when he committed murder, he was a very troubled
and emotionally unstable personality. Now that he is middle aged, off
the hallucinogenic drugs and, possibly, taking more therapeutic
medications for his mental state, he is trying to overcome the freakish
image that he had created for himself as a young man.
Berkowitz is a long way from normal and always has been. It appears as
though he understands this fact and is trying to do the best he can to
straighten himself out. He has the rest of his life to work on it in
prison, where, he realizes, that he definitely belongs.