Berkowitz, David (1953-)
Berkowitz, David (1953-)
David Berkowitz, a serial killer known as the Son of Sam, complained that his killing activity was forced upon him by demon voices in his head. Berkowitz was born out of wedlock on June 1, 1953, to Betty Falco and her boyfriend Joseph Kleinman, but was adopted by Nat and Pearl Berkowitz soon after his birth. They gave him a somewhat normal upbringing in the Bronx, New York. It was noted that he was a loner and had a tendency to bully his peers. He became even more introverted after Pearl Berkowitz's death in 1967. Four years later his father remarried and moved to Florida. Berkowitz remained in New York, but within a few months joined the Army. He served for three years.
During the 1970s, it would later be discovered that Berkowitz had become an arsonist. He kept a record of more than 1,400 fires he had started. In 1975 he also began to hear voices. He believed them to be coming from demons, and he identified several of his neighbors and their German shepherd dogs as the locus of the demons. He first gave into the demonic voices on Christmas Day 1975. He claimed to have stabbed two women, though the police were later able to verify only one of the incidents. His victim, Michelle Forman, survived in spite of multiple stab wounds.
On January 29, 1976, he shot Donna Lauria, who was parked in a car with her boyfriend. The shooting of victims sitting in parked cars with his .44 pistol would become his trademark. Sometimes the boyfriend escaped with a bullet wound; sometimes he was killed. However, it was obvious Berkowitz was primarily targeting women. On several occasions he attacked women on the street. On April 17, 1977, he killed Valentina Suriani and Alexander Esau, and left a letter in their car signed Son of Sam. In the letter, he described his father Sam as a bloodthirsty blood drinker. He also said of himself, "I am the 'Monster'—'Beelzebub'—the chubby behemouth." When the letter was released to the press several weeks later, the Son of Sam became an instant celebrity.
Meanwhile Berkowitz started a correspondence with the people he thought of as demons. He complained to Jack Carr, a former neighbor, that his dog, a black Labrador, was barking too much. On April 19, 1977, he sent a second letter. On April 29 he shot the dog. In June he sent a letter to Jack Cassara but signed it with the names of Jack Carr and his wife. Carr and Cassara soon had a meeting, shared stories, and first tied the letters to David Berkowitz, who had lived in the Cassara house. They shared their speculations with the police, who initially ignored them; they were already overloaded on leads.
Berkowitz would strike twice more before police put the murdered women together with the attack on Carr's dog. Shortly thereafter, however, they arrested Berkowitz, who freely admitted his identity as the Son of Sam. Berkowitz was tried and sentenced to 365 years in prison.
There are three theories as to Berkowitz's motivation in the murders. One accepts his basic story of demon possession. One, put forth by writer Maury Terry, has built a picture of Berkowitz operating within the context of a Satanic group that had members in New York and at several locations across the country. Many of the police came to believe that he was a typical serial killer who had set up the demon possession idea as a defense should he ever be caught. This latter hypothesis now dominates serious thinking about Berkowitz.
In 1987, Berkowitz converted to Christianity. From his prison cell, he now has a webpage, http://www.inetworld.net/hutrcc/davidb.htm, hosted by a Christian church in San Jose, California. In his testimony published on that site, he mentioned that before he began his killing spree he had read The Satanic Bible written by Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan . As a result, he began to dabble in the occult and do Satanic rituals. He does not mention demon voices.
Abrrahamsen, David. Confessions of the Son of Sam. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.
David Berkowitz. http://www.inetworld.net/hutrcc/davidb.htm. May 16, 2000.
Klausner, Lawrence. Son of Sam. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.
Terry, Maury. The Ultimate Evil. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1999.