New York's 'Son of Sam' Killings: Everything to Know About Serial Killer David Berkowitz's Reign of Terror
The manhunt dedicated to tracking David Berkowitz down would become one of the most extensive in the history of New York City.
The new Netflix four-part docuseries “The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness,” which premieres Wednesday, is making bold claims about the case that left New York terrorized, killed six and wounded seven.
The new docuseries suggests that the man who claimed a Satanic dog gave him orders to shoot and kill people did not act alone and suggests a cult could have been behind the brutal slayings that horrified New York City in the late 1970s.
The series also follows the extensive and exhaustive research of former IBM employee-turned-citizen reporter Maury Terry, who felt there was more to Berkowitz than the media portrayed at the time. Terry believed that a cult was behind the “Son of Sam” attacks and David Berkowitz was the fall guy. Terry died in 2015.
The “Son of Sam” would seek out young women, many with dark hair, or couples in parked cars on lovers’ lanes in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn at first, when the crimes started in July 1976. The random attacks continued until a calling card of sorts was left at an April 1977 crime scene in the Bronx. In addition to the victim profile, another pattern police had identified at the numerous scenes was the use of .44 caliber bullets, of which casings had been left behind. The NYPD concluded there was a “direct link” between the crimes, Lt. John Powers of the 8th homicide zone said at the time.
In the weeks leading up to his killings in the spring of 1977, the murderer sent letters to New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin.
He started his correspondence by saying, "Hello from the gutters of NYC," and promised there would be more deaths because he felt compelled to kill. The note went on:
“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 wrote in his letter to police.
“I LOVE TO HUNT. PROWLING THE STREETS LOOKING FOR FAIR GAME-TASTY MEAT. THE WEMON OF QUEENS ARE Z PRETTYIST OF ALL. I MUST BE THE WATER THEY DRINK. I LIVE FOR THE HUNT-MY LIFE. BLOOD FOR PAPA. MR. BORELLI, SIR, I DONT WANT TO KILL ANYMORE NO SIR, NO MORE BUT I MUST, "HONOUR THY FATHER."
He signed off the notes “Son of Sam,” a moniker that made it to the media.
But the man who claimed to be carrying out Satan’s work between July 1976 and July 1977 has since said he’s found God while doing time in prison.
“If I had not become a Christian, I may have died a long time ago,” Berkowitz told Inside Edition in a 1993 jailhouse interview.
The manhunt for the shooter later identified as Berkowitz became the largest in the city’s history and it only came to an end with his arrest on Aug. 10, 1977 in Yonkers.
He confessed to the killings of Donna Lauria, 18; Christine Freund, 26; Virginia Voskerichian, 19; Alexander Esau, 20; Valentina Suriani, 18; and Stacy Moskowitz, 20. He claimed he’d been given orders to kill from his neighbor Sam Carr’s dog. Berkowitz once shot the dog, a black Labrador retriever, and it survived, albeit with the bullet lodged in its backside.
On May 8, 1978, Berkowitz pleaded guilty to the six murders and was given six 25-years-to-life sentences.
Following his sentencing, he was sent to Attica State Prison in upstate New York. In 1979, Berkowitz was slashed in the throat.
"Another inmate tried to take my life by cutting my throat with a prison-made razor blade,” he told Inside Edition in 1993. "I’m lucky to be alive. The doctor there who stitched me up said, ‘It is a miracle you are alive.'"
It took 56 stitches to close the wound. His neck still bears the scar.
“As with many inmates, life in prison is a struggle,” he wrote on his website, AriseandShine.org. “I have had my share of problems, hassles and fights. At one time I almost lost my life when another inmate cut my throat. Yet all through this — and I did not realize it until later — God had His loving hands on me.”
A decade after claiming he’d killed in the name of Satan, Berkowitz said he became a Christian.
In 1987, he was transferred 250 miles away to Sullivan and soon met another inmate who introduced him to Christianity. In the 1993 interview with Inside Edition, Berkowitz recalled picking up a Bible for the first time.
“The words began to seem very real as if God were talking to me,” he said.
“It was at that moment, in 1987, that I began to pour out my heart to God," he wrote on his website. "Everything seemed to hit me at once. The guilt from what I did. The disgust at what I had become. “I told Him that I was sick and tired of doing evil. I asked Jesus to forgive me for all my sins. I spent a good while on my knees praying to Him.
“As I have communicated many times throughout the years, I am deeply sorry for the pain, suffering and sorrow I have brought upon the victims of my crimes. I grieve for those who are wounded, and for the family members of those who lost a loved one because of my selfish actions. I regret what I've done and I'm haunted by it."
Berkowitz, or inmate No. 78-A-1976 inside the notorious Shawangunk Correctional Facility in upstate New York, calls himself the “Son of Hope.”
Now 67, Berkowitz preaches behind bars as a minister. He has also created a video series where he discusses his reform and gives sermons. He insists that neither he nor his webmaster profit from the money they make from his speeches or interviews.
In the late '90s, he sold a series of self-help VHS tapes about reform. He later released his prison journals as a book, "Son of Hope: The Prison Journals of David Berkowitz."
He has also spoken to high school, college and law school students around the world via email and handwritten letters.
“It is like a nightmare that just keeps coming back,” he told Inside Edition in a 1999 interview. “Every time you hear, ‘Son of Sam! Son of Sam!’ I don’t even know who that person is.”
Since August 2002, Berkowitz has been up for parole every two years and has been denied each time. He is up next for parole in May 2022.
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