|“||I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game — tasty meat. The wemon [sic] of Queens are prettyist [sic] of all.||”|
David Richard Berkowitz (born Richard David Falco), a.k.a. "Son of Sam" and "The .44 Caliber Killer", is an American serial killer who was active for roughly a year between 1976 and 1977.
Berkowitz was born on June 1, 1953, to Betty Broder, who was having an affair with Joseph Kleinman, a married man. Broder herself was married to one Anthony Falco at the time. Before Berkowitz was even a week old, he was put up for adoption. He was placed in the care of hardware store owners Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz, who changed his name to David Richard Berkowitz and gave him a normal upbringing. Being large for his age, Berkowitz often felt different and unattractive. He was hyperactive, difficult for his adoptive parents to control and enjoyed playing baseball. When he was five years old, he sometimes had to take showers with Nathan, and the following year, he noticed the power men have over women after seeing a man enter the women's side of a bathhouse, frightening the current occupants. In 1960, Berkowitz had two separate incidents in which he suffered head injuries: when he was hit by a car and then when he ran into a wall. The following year, he was hit in the head with a pipe and suffered a four-inch gash on his forehead. When he was twelve years old, Berkowitz began to set hundreds of fires, and then started torturing and killing animals the following year, usually killing bugs by burning and gluing them with rubber cement. Later, the Berkowitzes moved in order to get away from the changing neighborhood they lived in, but Pearl died of breast cancer on October 5, 1967. After that, Berkowitz began deteriorating, his average grades declining and his religious beliefs wavering. He was also teased for being overweight and became antisocial.
In 1971, he graduated from high school and joined the U.S. Army on June 23, serving in the U.S. and South Korea. During his service, Berkowitz began using drugs and got into trouble frequently. He also began to set fires again after a long period of inactivity. He was honorably discharged in 1974 and held down a number of blue-collar jobs, including as a security guard and a taxi driver. In one incident of the former job, he was bitten by a dog, which presumably fueled future delusions that involved dogs. He also enrolled in Bronx Community College. That same year, Berkowitz was reunited with his birth mother and learned the details of his conception, eventually starting a relationship with her. However, greatly disturbed by this knowledge, he eventually stopped seeing her but remained in touch with his half-sister, Roslyn. On August 28, presumably in response to learning his real heritage, Berkowitz began setting a series of fires in New York City, which gradually grew worse by June of the following year. By that time, he was hired as a security guard for the John F. Kennedy International Airport, but decided to quit after saying that he heard voices of dogs accompanying him during his shift. These delusions began to grow worse, and by November 1975, he allegedly started listening to them, which would eventually lead to his serial killings. At that time, Berkowitz slid into a deep depression. At the time of his arrest, he was employed by the U.S. Postal Service.
Shootings, Arrest, and IncarcerationBerkowitz has claimed that his first killings were in late 1975 when he committed a knife attack on two women, just a day after he set his last fire. Both of them are said to have survived and only one of the attacks, that of Michelle Foreman, was confirmed to have happened. However, he has never been charged with these attacks and the killing spree that would make him infamous began on the streets of New York in the summer of 1976. On July 29, 1976, he shot Jody Valenti and Donna Lauria. They had been sitting in a parked car outside of Donna Lauria's apartment when they were shot. Jody Valenti survived the attack and the attack didn't get much media attention. Then on
October 23, 1976, Berkowitz went to Queens and attacked another pair sitting in a parked car. This time Carl Denaro survived being shot in the head but his companion wasn't injured. Just over a month later, on November 26, 1976, he shot teenagers Donna DeMasi and Joanne Lomino when they were walking home from a trip to the cinema. Donna DeMasi recovered from the shooting but Joanne Lomino was left paralyzed. Berkowitz took a few months off but, on January 30, 1977 he started his shootings again. This attack was on engaged couple, Christine Freund and John Diel. John Diel survived but Christine Freund died from her injuries. It was after this attack that the police determined that the weapon used in the shootings was a .44 caliber Charter Arms Bulldog. The weapon used in the other shootings had been from a similar gun and so they began to suspect the shootings were connected and the killer was given the nickname the ".44 Caliber Killer". The police also made the connection that the shootings targeted young women with long, dark hair and/or young couples parked in cars. On March 8, 1977, Berkowitz shot Virginia Voskerichian as he walked by her and she died on the spot. Once again, the bullet came from a .44 caliber gun. With this information, the police went public on March 10, 1977, and announced that the same .44 caliber gun had been used in a number of shootings. The media went in an uproar and began following up every little detail so that the stories they published could become more and more sensational.
On April 16, 1977, Berkowitz shot and killed Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani. A police officer found a hand-written letter near the bodies that was addressed to captain Joe Borelli of Operation Omega (it was the task force set up to investigate the shootings), in which he described himself as a monster and taunted them for not being able to catch him. On May 30, 1977, columnist Jimmy Breslin of the New York Daily News received a hand-written letter from David Berkowitz. After getting advice from the police, the paper published it. The letters changed David Berkowitz's name in the media from the ".44 Caliber Killer" to the "Son of Sam". On June 26, 1977, Berkowitz shot another couple that was sitting in a car but neither of them was injured seriously and were able to give the police a description of their attacker. The other survivors in the past were also able to give some account of their attacker and the police were able to draw up sketches of a suspect. Nearly a year after the first shooting in his killing spree, David Berkowitz went to Brooklyn and shot both Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante in the head as they sat in a car. Stacy Moskowitz died and Robert Violante was left blind.
That same evening, Cacilia Davis, who lived near the crime scene, had witnessed a man remove a parking ticket from his car that had been parked too close to a fire hydrant. The event had taken place right before the killing and the woman called the police to inform them. Putting two and two together, the police assumed that whoever had gotten that ticket must have been a witness to the shootings. So, they called another police department and asked for help in tracking down the owner of the car. When the name David Berkowitz came up in connection with the car it came to light that the police in Yonkers had Berkowitz in the frame as a suspect for some of the crimes referenced in one of the "Son of Sam" letters. However, until then, they hadn't thought he was the actual "Son of Sam". Berkowitz was arrested on August 10, 1977, when coming out of his apartment. His first words at that moment were, "You got me. What took you so long?" When the police searched David Berkowitz's car they found a .44 caliber Bulldog pistol, maps of
the crime scenes, and a letter to Sgt. Dowd of the Omega task force. Looking through his apartment, they found Satanic graffiti on the walls and a diary in which he claimed responsibility for several arsons. During questioning, Berkowitz claimed the name "Son of Sam" referred to his former neighbor, Sam Carr, who owned a Labrador which he claimed had instructed him to kill people. During the trial, he kept chanting at a low, but audible volume "Stacy was a whore", presumably referring to Stacy Moskowitz, his last murder victim. After his sentencing, there were rumors that Berkowitz was being approached by movie studios and publishers about the rights to his story. As a result, the state of New York instituted what's become known as "Son of Sam laws", which prevent convicted criminals from profiting from their stories. The same laws were also used to keep Mark David Chapman, the assassin of John Lennon, from doing so. Berkowitz is currently serving time at the Sullivan Correctional Facility for his six murders as well as his attempted murders. In 1987, after a few troublesome years, he declared himself a born-again Christian and has remained as such since. He has been denied parole five times, most recently in May 2010. His next parole hearing was scheduled for May 2012, though he never applied for parole.
Modus OperandiBerkowitz's weapon of choice was a .44 Special Charter Arms Bulldog revolver, which holds five rounds and is designed for close-quarter combat. Most of the shootings were blitz attacks, although he did sometimes use ruses to disguise his original intent, such as during the Lauria-Valenti shooting when he concealed the gun in a paper bag, and also the DeMasi-Lomino shooting when he approached them asking for directions. His victims varied in age, race, and socio-economic class, but they were usually couples in their late teens seated in cars. He also attacked on weekends in the late night or early morning. Berkowitz would also masturbate at the crime scenes after the murders.
While he was still active, Berkowitz was profiled as being a paranoid schizophrenic who believed himself to be the victim of demonic possession. He later admitted in an interview conducted by FBI veteran Robert Ressler in prison that he had pretended to be insane to get a lighter punishment and that he actually killed out of resentment towards his mother and contempt for women in general. His M.O. suggests that he was highly disorganized in manner, using blitz attacks and leaving victims alive.
On Criminal Minds
- Season One:
- "L.D.S.K." - Though Berkowitz was not mentioned or referenced directly, his mugshot appeared alongside the mugshots and photos of several infamous assassins, presumably because Berkowitz also shot his victims.
- "Unfinished Business" - Berkowitz was compared to the case at hand, because both were serial killers who sought recognition in the media, wrote taunting letters to police, and gave themselves their own serial killer nickname.
- Season Two:
- "The Last Word" - Berkowitz was mentioned by Reid as one of three modern examples of two independent serial killers active at the same time in the same area. He may have also provided some inspiration to one of the episode's unsubs, the Hollow Man, who also used .44 Magnum revolvers as his weapon of choice, targeted women, killed his victims at night by shooting them, and sent letters to the police that contained their nicknames in regards to their crimes. In addition, the Hollow Man was active at the same time as another unsub, the Mill Creek Killer.
- Season Three:
- "Lucky" - While he wasn't mentioned or referenced in the episode, Berkowitz may have provided some inspiration to the episode's unsub, Floyd Feylinn Ferell. Like Berkowitz, Floyd was a mentally-ill Satanist serial killer who claimed to have committed his murders at the request of a demonic entity.
- "Tabula Rasa" - While he wasn't mentioned or referenced in the episode, Berkowitz may have provided inspiration for Brian Matloff, the so-called "Blue Ridge Strangler", as both were adopted by a Polish-Catholic couple and began killing due to resentment they felt for their birth mothers and towards other women.
- "Lo-Fi" - Berkowitz was mentioned a few times when the New York Terrorist Cell was originally believed to be a single serial shooter. The cell's initial M.O. was compared to that of Berkowitz's in the sense that they both used firearms and attacked people at random. Also, one of the investigators, Detective Brustin, mentions having been a beat cop when Berkowitz was active; he twice expresses bitterness over the case because he was mocking the NYPD for not being able to catch him and because they were later able to so through a parking ticket.
- Season Four:
- "Zoe's Reprise" - Berkowitz was mentioned when copycat serial killer Eric Olson used his M.O. for a double homicide. Eric went as far as using the same kind of revolver, a Charter Arms Bulldog.
- "Omnivore" - While he wasn't mentioned in the episode (unlike BTK and the Zodiac Killer), Berkowitz may have provided a prominent portion of inspiration for George Foyet, as both attacked couples in their cars and used .44 revolvers. The primary difference is that Berkowitz attacked people in the city using blitz attacks while Foyet attacked people on empty highway roads after using some sort of ruse to get them to lower their guard.
- Season Six:
- Season Eleven:
- "Tribute" - Berkowitz was prominently mentioned when international copycat serial killer Michael Peterson mimicked some of his shootings, going as far as using a Charter Arms Bulldog as Berkowitz did. For his first Berkowitz-based killings, Michael copied Berkowitz's first shootings to such an extent that he intentionally left one of his victims alive as a reference to Jody Valenti, who survived the first shooting. However, he became more disorganized in the second set of killings; though Michael shot a couple in Queens as an emulation of Berkowitz's second shooting, both victims died (just like Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani, a Bronx couple who died in Berkowitz's sixth shooting) and Michael reloaded twice, which Berkowitz never did in any of his crimes.
- "Killer Profile" - Berkowitz was mentioned when copycat serial killer Daniel Dryden used his M.O. for a double homicide. Daniel went as far as trying to commit his double homicide on the anniversary of the Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani shootings (missing the deadline by only a few minutes). However, Daniel didn't use the exact type of revolver Berkowitz used, even though it was also a .44 Magnum.