The lives of five young women and one man, their families’ grief, and the tension of a city under siege are the heritage of the Son of Sam killer, one of the most notorious serial killers ever. North and South of La Guardia airport, inside New York City for about a year residents never knew when a pair of hands would reach for them, or when a gunshot would herald their last breath. Killing some but leaving seven others wounded, the “Son of Sam” haunted the Bronx and Brooklyn streets in the dawn hours, leaving a grisly aftermath.
The city of New York was undeniably held in the grip of terror in the mid-1970’s by a Brooklyn born killer known as the “Son of Sam”. The Son of Sam was also known by his weapon of choice as the “44-caliber killer”. But the pathology of this killer was so twisted that it was not the anonymous city life or face-in-the-crowd anomaly, or even sexual lust, that drove him wild, but a hybrid chain of attempts of one man’s mind to make sense of it all.
Born in 1953, David Berkowitz might have been any child in the northernmost precincts of NYC. The child of kosher Orthodox Jews, Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz enjoyed their family life with their adopted son. But the concept of being an adopted child and the unwelcome peer mockery for this in a time of little tolerance subdued Berkowitz’ spirit. An only child, Berkowitz would have few confidantes and no peers to know of his internal torments.
The motivation of a serial killer has been in many cases a psychotic aberration, a sexual lust for gratification in deviant methods, even displaced rage at a woman or persons unidentified. But the “Son of Sam” followed a different path. Berkowitz’ feelings of guilt, shame, and lack of genuine connection to others energized an apathy toward authority and even his father. The cryptic notes the killer sent to newspapers later would reveal an isolated, weirdly erratic psychological entity mismatched with typical communication manners and cultural norms.
David Berkowitz had a Southeast Bronx childhood. He would paint the atmosphere of his childhood in New York in later life with a layer of anxiety and mortal fear. The cultural phenomenon of anxiety, fear, trepidation, and public attitudes toward crime and serial killer rampages was in a nutshell best encapsulated by the sensation of “Son of Sam” killings. The source of this murderous rage was all too human. Feelings of total psychological anger and rage had bred an angry man with no outlet but total assault left to his mind.
The perspective of the contextual environment must be considered in any discussion of the “Son of Sam” killings. Unknown at that time were hateful notes and cryptic threats published in newspapers alongside reports of the latest grisly killings. The “Son of Sam” would later be an armed forces sharpshooter. Dealing with life’s tribulations was too much for him. But the serial killer personality eventuating the murders was looking for revenge for past crimes perpetrated upon him and release for an isolated and unhappy life.
Later identified as David Berkowitz, this serial killer raised a public terror palpable in the memories of New Yorkers even today. But the allegations of mental instability and self-identified satanic pursuits don’t quite mesh with the lack of remorse shown and the irrational behaviour observed in the courtroom. The conflicts driving the Son of Sam were deeply inside his interior landscape, not evident to the naked eye.
Even as the interior psyche of David Berkowitz sought a bulwark against the random chance and unhappy tragedy of his life, no thread of stability remained. Berkowitz in young adulthood was a wounded, paranoid, delusional psyche looking for a rebalancing that would never happen.
The roots of the Son of Sam killings were based on perceived familial rejections, discovery of his birth mother and his conception circumstances, and paranoid stress and frustration. Richard David Falco was his birth name, and he discovered a birth history unappetizing to his fantasies and delusions. But his suppressed anger and rage at being “tricked”, forced a psychotic break. The first killing occurred after this period, exacerbated by barking dogs near his apartment.
Experts note that serial killers often take a long time to develop the active form of their nascent fantasies. When the Son of Sam was caught, many people were surprised to find the killer such a young man, instead of a bitter oldster. But inside, David Berkowitz was in truth a bitter old man. The anger and fruitless anxiety of his entire life found an outlet in fantasies of murder acted out against hapless strangers who could “share” his unhappy role of being tossed about by the winds of fate.
The murders were in fact angry statements against his birth mother, anger at being emotionally abandoned by his adoptive mother, and envious “connection” to pretty women out of his orbit and beyond his reach. Berkowitz’ social skills occupied a dark world he’d known for childhood, traveling in a downward spiral to total psychological isolation. Killings began with female victims, but sometimes men “interfered” with the opportunities. Appalled at his messy and harmful debut effort at a knifing, Berkowitz/Falco reverted to the firearms he was more comfortable with and chose a 44-caliber weapon.
Where did the bitterness come from? A complex backdrop must be considered. David Berkowitz was raised as an only child in a somewhat dangerous area of New York, and then after his mother died (1966) the father moved them to a better part of New York. Remarried in 1971, the father established a new life for himself in Florida but did not discern the dangerous instability and depression of his young son left behind in NYC. Berkowitz would be attached, yet emotionally removed from his father and resented the family life his father enjoyed via the new stepmother and her daughter. But the rage was suppressed internally.
By this time a sense of isolation had set in. Berkowitz has described his childhood as a fugue of aimlessness and pointless alienation of social patterns. The Berkowitzes were not part of a small tight knit community but the largest city on earth. His psychological “land lines” disappeared one by one. His guilt over his mother’s death giving birth to him and fear of a murderous (natural) father developed a psychological burden he bore alone except for confiding in friends. He had no skills, motivations, or hobbies. His army experience trained him in firearms but the rigorous structure of service life palled.
Berkowitz was then set adrift in a life with no connection and little purpose. A brief flirtation with religion yielded further disappointment. His loner status realized itself when a dangerous set of new influences entered his life. Berkowitz acquired Satanic worship rituals and witchcraft influences from acquaintances and older peers. At this time Berkowitz started pursuing information about his birth mother. His sense of alienation from his adopted father grew when it was confessed his mother was actually still alive, he had suffered all those fears and so much guilt for nothing. Berkowitz realized he had lived in fear and anxiety under a false flag. The internal volcano was ready to erupt.
Berkowitz’s capture was anticlimactic after the dramatic terror mentality the public had lived in. This polite smiling man who paid his parking tickets was not the hydra-headed monster envisioned by the public. The families of victims and the assault survivors watched as the “monster” serial killer showed up in court and evinced no fear or remorse. The pathology of Berkowitz as a serial killer allowed feelings of sympathy for bereaved victims’ families without acknowledgment of guilt and shame for the violence.
The pathology of the “Son of Sam” was one of many 1970’s murders cases where social anomie would be ignored and a serial killer could continue killing with no alteration to the status quo. Except in the case of the Son of Sam, the frequency and violence of the killings and assaults sparked fear in everyday city occupants. Nobody knew when he would strike, or where. Sentencing for the murders excluded parole and many watching the trial were angry the death penalty was not involved.
The moniker the Son of Sam was born of a landlord whose name was Sam. Berkowitz’s many notes and abusive letters allowed police to catch him, in an uneventful arrest where overprepared police converged on the killer, who had the 44 caliber gun on him. Berkowitz had calmly been led into custody, leaving little or no friends, life, social identity or relationships behind. Law enforcement personnel operating on double shifts under tremendous pressure to capture the killer remember the event as a sonic wave of relief dissipating throughout the city.
The glib responses and the inevitably smiling face of the “Son of Sam” would register everywhere as the news media transmitted the image of the “monster” to living rooms and televisions around the globe. The face of a serial killer ended up looking like someone you knew from the neighbourhood, whose crimes hardly showed on his countenance. Finally, outraged families and friends of the victims had an individual they could hold responsible. Berkowitz never denied the killings.
The new David Berkowitz has influenced the Christian Evangelism movement significantly. As cynical prison guards and fellow inmates watched, in 1987 Berkowitz “got religion”, and has become a symbol of rebirth and religious totemism as the “Son of Hope”. The faith profiled from Berkowitz’ testimony and opinions from ministers and friends support a genuine introspection and changed heart. Media coverage of Berkowitz’ spiritual life visits a somewhat revisionist perspective to the serial killer crime profiling.
If people can forgive an individual the crimes of a serial killer, and a notoriously violent evil one at that, and respect that individual for providing spiritual support and benediction to others, the otherwise sickening fatality-count algebra of the typical serial killer is somewhat overturned. Many former guards and law enforcement personnel have challenged and accepted the legitimacy of Berkowitz’ religious beliefs and spiritual change. Uniquely among serial killers, David Berkowitz illustrates that the curious personal impact of his serial killings is a bitter yet wondrous fruit indeed.
Yet against this wondrous overturning of harsh fate, the names of the victims must be held in perspective. The expense of police patrols, 200 extra detectives forming the ‘Omega Force” and After his Jewish upbringing, during his satanic worship phase, and even within his Christian evangelism, the lives the “Son of Sam” killer ended cannot be forgotten.
December 25, 1975 Unknown woman and Michelle Forman, knifed.
July 29, 1976 – Jody Valenti and Donna Lauria were shot. Valenti survived the attack.
October 23, 1976 – Carl Denaro and Rosemary Keenan were shot. Traumatized, both survived.
November 26, 1976 – Donna DeMasi and 18-year-old Joanne Lomino were shot walking home.Donna survived and 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 and both died. Berkowitz left his “Son of Sam” letter at the scene.
June 26, 1977 – Judy Placido and Sal Lupu were shot yet both survived.
Article by Roy Whyte. Visit his Google+ page for more.