David Berkowitz (Serial Killer Biography)

practical psychology logo
Published by:
Practical Psychology

When David Berkowitz, a 24-year-old postal worker living in Yonkers, was approached by police outside of his apartment, he told them, “I’m the Son of Sam, and you got me.” His arrest was the end of a year of fear in New York City, and young women who had stayed indoors to avoid being the next Son of Sam victim rejoiced.

Did David Berkowitz act alone? Was he possessed by a demon, or was he just angry with women? The answers appear to change every few years. What we do know about David Berkowitz, however, is that he played a major role as one of the most notorious serial killers in the 1970s.

Who Is David Berkowitz?

David Berkowitz, also known as the Son of Sam or the .44 Caliber Killer, is an American serial killer. Today, David Berkowitz is still living, imprisoned, in New York, but his role as “the Son of Sam” is still debated in documentaries and among journalists throughout the country. 

Early Life

David Berkowitz was born in 1953 in Brooklyn, New York. His birth name was Richard David Falco, but he was quickly given up for adoption as an infant. He was adopted by Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz, who lived in the Bronx. There weren’t many stories about David Berkowitz that would suggest that he would go onto become one of the most notorious criminals in New York City. He was smart, but quiet. Occasionally, he committed small theft crimes or set fires, but they weren’t enough to get him more than a visit to a psychiatrist.

At 17, Berkowitz joined the Army, serving in Korea and at Fort Knox. He trained in firearms and was honorably discharged a few years later. At age 21, he made contact with his birth mother. The interaction didn’t go well and the two ended up losing touch shortly before the Son of Sam killings started.

Alleged First Victim

Although he is most known for deadly shootings throughout New York, Berkowitz claimed that he first committed attempted murder by stabbing. The victims were two young women in the Bronx. The first woman was never identified, but the second was hospitalized for seven days and survived the attack.

The next year, David Berkowitz had found steady work at the Postal Service and lived in Yonkers. This is when the infamous Son of Sam killings began.

The Son Of Sam Killings

New York City was known for high crime rates in the 1970s, but a string of possibly connected murders and attempted murders shook the city to the core. On July 29, 1976, a woman named Donna Lauria was shot while she was sitting in her friend’s car. Her friend was shot but survived the incident.

Three months later, Carl Denaro and Rosemary Keenan were shot in Denaro’s car. Despite having a bullet wound in his head, Denaro was able to speed away in his car and both survived the incident.

A month later, another shooting occurred, paralyzing Joanne Lomino and injuring Donna DeMasi. Both women were high-school students.

Two months after that, Christine Freund and John Diel were shot in their car. Freund died from the incident.

Five weeks later, Columbia University student Virginia Voskerichian was shot and killed. The shooting took place a block away from where the previous shooting of Christine Freund had taken place. All of the incidents happened within the Bronx and Queens.

In eight months, five shootings took place, taking the lives of three young women and injuring six more. It wasn’t until the later murders that police discovered that they didn’t have a string of hoodlums to investigate - they most likely had one shooter.

Who Did David Berkowitz Target?

There were a lot of commonalities in the shootings. All of the victims appeared to be young, college-age women with long, dark hair. There appeared to be no motive behind any of the killings. And although these don’t usually connect cases in a high-crime city like New York, one commonality brought all of the cases together: a .44 caliber revolver.

The bullets from these revolvers stood out to police - they’re much larger than bullets in other handguns. Once the bullets were identified in all of the shootings, police started investigating them as if they were done by one person.

The news swept the city and terrified young women throughout New York. Some even cut their hair or started wearing it in scarves so they wouldn’t look like the rest of the victims. Everyone was scared of where the “.44 caliber killer” would strike next.

First Mention of Son of Sam

In April 1977 (less than a year after the killings began,) a young man and woman were killed as they were sitting in their car. Both victims died. When NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli approached the scene, he saw that a letter was left by the killer - and the letter was addressed to him. The letter identified himself as the “Son of Sam,” describing Sam as a satanic monster. The letter warned that he would be back to kill again, ending the letter with:

“Let me haunt you with these words: I'll be back! I'll be back!

To be interpreted as—bang, bang, bang, bank, bang—ugh!

Yours in murder, Mr. Monster”

The letter made its way into the news. After New York Daily News reporter Jimmy Breslin publicly responded to the letter, he received a letter of his own from the Son of Sam. The letter included multiple strange nicknames, including “"The Duke of Death" "The Wicked King Wicker," "The Twenty Two Disciples of Hell,” and "John 'Wheaties' – Rapist and Suffocator of Young Girls.” The letter was published in the New York Daily News, further inciting the fear surrounding these shootings.

Two months after the letters started going out, another shooting took place. Both women survived, but one of the bullets missed a woman’s spinal cord by less than an inch.

Police were worried that the killer might strike on the anniversary of the first shooting, but the next shooting came two days after the anniversary. Another shooting killed a blonde woman and blinded her boyfriend. Witnesses saw the murder but there was conflicting reports on the color of the shooter’s hair and what he looked like.

When Was David Berkowitz Caught?

There was an immense amount of pressure on the NYPD to catch the Son of Sam killer. They didn’t have a lot of leads, but they chased anyone who might match the multiple sketches from eyewitnesses. In early August 1977, police were made aware of David Berkowitz through a parking summons. A police officer actually lived next to Berkowitz and mentioned that he had shot her father, Sam’s, dog. Police were intrigued, especially after hearing the connection to the name “Sam.” They didn’t know what David Berkowitz looked like, but that was okay. When they searched his car without a warrant, they found a letter from the Son of Sam and a gun.

Berkowitz came out of his home, looking slightly different than you would expect from a maniacal killer. At the time, he was an average-looking guy with a heavy-set build. Still, the police investigated. When Berkowitz was approached by the police, he said, “I’m the Son of Sam and you’ve got me.” He was smiling as he was taken into custody.

As the police breathed a sigh of relief that their killer was in custody, Berkowitz was happy to share what he had done and why he had committed so many shootings. He believed that the dog that he had shot was possessed by a 6,000-year-old being named Sam. The dog told him to kill - at least that’s what he initially told police.

Was David Berkowitz Actually Son of Sam?

One of the things that slightly confused detectives at the time was that the eyewitness reports of the shooters didn’t always match David Berkowitz’s appearance. David Berkowitz was a heavy-set guy, around 5’8” and 5’9” when you included his hair. Some of the eyewitnesses believed that he was 6’, skinny, and blonde.

The case appeared to be closing on the Son of Sam, but some police officers and reporters weren’t so sure. When psychiatrists interviewed David Berkowitz to determine his mental capacity, they learned some key facts that could explain his involvement in the crimes, but weren’t always satisfying. It was easy for some to believe that this man was a woman-hater that was taking his bad luck in dating and a rejection from his birth mother out on the young women of New York. Others took his story about Sam the dog as enough of an explanation.

Did David Berkowitz Act Alone?

Many believe that despite some evidence that suggested that David Berkowtiz worked with other people, the investigation was rushed through. The police wanted the case to be closed, especially with the knowledge that David Berkowitz’s weapons and Son of Sam letters were uncovered during an illegal break-in. David Berkowitz was happy to admit guilt, and the police were happy to pin everything on him alone.

One journalist in particular, Maury Terry, was highlighted in the Netflix series The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness. He devoted his life’s work to uncovering that David Berkowitz didn’t act alone. He could have worked with neighbors, the Carr family. The Carr family was the same family that owned the dog that Berkowitz claimed was instructing him to make his kills. At the head of the Carr family was a father named Sam, who was allegedly abusive to his sons in ways that eerily matched some of the descriptions in the Son of Sam letters. Additional letters to NYPD investigators from David Berkowitz also suggested that there were multiple “Sons of Sam” out there.

Was the Son of Sam in a Satanic Cult?

Further investigations found a path leading from the area where Berkowitz and the Carr family lived to an underground tunnel. The tunnel had blood on the walls, Satanic messages, and the bodies of dogs who had been sacrificed. People speculated that Berkowitz, and possibly the Carr family, were part of a Satanic cult that influenced the killings. Many clues in the Son of Sam letters referenced Satanism and the occult.

Still, the case continued on with David Berkowitz at the center. He plead guilty to the killing of six people and was sentenced to six consecutive 25-year jail sentences at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in the Catskills. In 1993, he told interviewers that members of the Carr family, specifically sons Joe and Michael Carr, were involved in the Sons of Sam murders.

Where Is David Berkowitz Now?

David Berkowitz is still in prison, and his life has changed drastically since he was arrested back in 1977. He has given multiple interviews about the case, all with slight changes to his story. Instead of being instructed by a dog, Berkowitz has more recently claimed that he was possessed by a demon. Berkowitz has also denied being part of the Satanic cult that was “discovered” by Maury Terry and other reporters who suspected that the Carr brothers were involved in the murders.

But Berkowitz is no longer the “soldier on a mission” that he believed he was at the time of the Son of Sam murders. He became a born-again Christian ten years into his jail sentence but has lately described himself as a Messianic Jew. He has apologized for the shootings and expressed disinterest in parole, but that opinion has changed over time, too. In a 2017 interview on the 40th anniversary of the first Son of Sam killing, he told CBS News that he didn’t want to talk about the killings anymore and that God had already forgiven him for his crimes.

No murders have been connected to the Son of Sam killings since David Berkowitz was arrested. John Carr died from a gunshot wound to the head in North Dakota. The killing appeared to be a suicide, although there were claims that he was murdered in relation to the Son of Sam killings. His brother, Michael, died less than two years later in a car accident. Were they involved? Possibly, although the stories of David Berkowitz haven’t always told the full story. What we do know is that David Berkowitz is living a new life and is unlikely to be released anytime soon, if at all.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2021, July). David Berkowitz (Serial Killer Biography). Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/david-berkowitz-biography/.

About The Author

Photo of author