Note from Son of Sam: Serial Killers

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Note from Son of Sam: Serial Killers


By: David Berkowitz

Date: 1977

Source: Corbis

About the Author: This is a photograph of a note left by David Berkowitz. Berkowitz is a serial killer who terrorized the city of New York with his shooting sprees in 1976 and 1977. He killed six people, five of them women, and wounded several others. He was sentenced on June 12, 1978, to 365 years in prison.


Berkowitz's first victim was eighteen-year-old Donna Lauria; initially, this was assumed to be a gangland killing but police became seriously concerned after two more murders and several attacks. All the crimes appeared to involve a 0.44 caliber revolver, suggesting a serial killer was on the loose. On April 17, 1977, a young couple—Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani—were shot to death. The killer left a note—part of which is seen in the image below—in a nearby street. He claimed he had been ordered to carry out the murders by his father, Sam, a vampire. The notes were kept secret, but the killer sent a letter to a journalist for the New York Daily News who published it and gave him the name "Son of Sam." Another attack took place in Queens in June—but neither of the intended young victims was seriously hurt. On July 31, 1977, Son of Sam claimed his sixth and final victim, 20-year-old Stacy Moskowitz, who was attacked with her boyfriend Bobby Violante, who survived his injuries.

Witnesses to the last murder saw Berkowitz flee in a car with a parking ticket on it. This provided police with the final clue they needed to identify Berkowitz as the Son of Sam killer. Police in Yonkers had already begun monitoring him because of odd behavior reported by his neighbors. When taken into custody, he admitted all six murders and the other shootings. He claimed that he had been ordered to kill by his neighbor Sam Carr, who passed messages through his "demon" dog. Psychiatrists disagreed as to whether or not he was a paranoid schizophreniac. In the end, he was judged fit to stand trial and sentenced to six life sentences.



See primary source image


Berkowitz's note, from its content, suggests insanity. After his conviction, he claimed that the letters and tales of demonic voices were hoaxes. Sexual frustration and a hatred of women had driven him to kill. There is another theory, supported by the mother of his last victim, that Berkowitz, along with Sam Carr's two sons, was involved in a cult called the Disciples of Hell and the killings were part of an occult ritual. Thus far Berkowitz has neither confirmed nor denied this theory. His two supposed accomplices both died under mysterious circumstances.

The motives of a serial killer are usually much less obvious than those of a person who commits a single homicide. Victims are often picked on at random and are not usually known to the attacker. As the homicides mount, the pressure on the police to catch the perpetrator becomes intense. Often they call upon a psychological profiler to tell them what kind of man they are looking for. This knowledge, combined with the increasing likelihood that the killer will make a mistake as the killing spree escalates, often results in capture. In addition, many serial killers—including Berkowitz—like to generate their own publicity, typically in the form of notes left at the scene or sent to police.

Serial killers are psychopaths. They are often sentenced to the maximum because they either cannot or will not express any remorse for their crimes. They are manipulative too, so any guilt they may express could be a ploy to obtain parole. When Berkowitz first appeared before the parole board, in 2002, the two members judged him to have only limited insight and understanding of the motivation for his crimes. It would have been a relief to the families of his victims to learn that Berkowitz does not want parole and says he will appear before the board only to apologize publicly for his crimes. He has also written to Governor George Pataki expressing remorse.

Berkowitz remains something of an enigma—he has become a born-again Christian with his own website which he uses to spread his faith. He has also released two evangelical videos which have been distributed to prison chaplains and youth conselors. There has even been a film about him—Spike Lee's Summer of Sam which was released in 1999.



Douglas, Lyle. Forensics for Dummies. Hoboken, N.J.: 2004, Wiley

Web sites

USA Today. "Son of Sam Killer Denied Parole." 〈〉 (accessed February 4, 2006).

BBC. "Crime Case Closed: Infamous Criminals—David Berkowitz, Son of Sam" 〈〉 (accessed February 4, 2006).