|“||I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game — tasty meat. The women of Queens are prettiest of all.||”|
David Richard Berkowitz (born Richard David Falco), also known as the "Son of Sam" and the ".44 Caliber Killer", is an American serial arsonist and serial killer who was active in New York City 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 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.
The Son of Sam Killings
Berkowitz has claimed that his first attacks 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 it didn't get much media attention.
Then, on October 23, 1976, Berkowitz went to Queens and attacked another couple 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. DeMasi recovered from the shooting but Lomino was left paralyzed. Berkowitz took a few months off but, on January 30, 1977 he started his shootings again. This attack was on an engaged couple, Christine Freund and John Diel. Diel survived but 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 was similar and so they began to suspect the shootings were connected, and the shooter 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 (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. Moskowitz died and Violante was left blind.
Arrest, Trial, and Incarceration
The same evening of the Moskowitz/Violante shooting, 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 serial killer. Berkowitz was arrested on August 10, 1977, while coming out of his apartment. His first words at that moment were, "Well, you got me". 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.
Berkowitz'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.
Berkowitz can be classified as an assassin personality: he fits the assassin mold, but did not actually act like an assassin, in the sense that he didn't target a specific, famous individual he was fixated with. Assassin personalities are usually paranoid loners with military and/or guns fetishes, who come from a troubled childhood and have self-esteem problems. They write journals detailing their acts, and claim their crimes to be part of something bigger (such as prompted by a pseudo-political motive). In Berkowitz's case, his claims of being possessed by hellish forces originally oriented psychiatrists towards a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Later, during an interview conducted by FBI profilers John Douglas and Robert Ressler, he admitted (though he later recanted this) that his entire story of being pushed into his killings by a demon dog was a fraud, and that he started killing because of his long brooded resentment, and desire for revenge, towards women (which probably spurred from his feelings of having been rejected by his biological mother, and lied to by his adoptive one). Berkowitz was ultimately a narcissistic control-seeker who killed because he wanted to, not because he was "forced" to.
Some argued that Berkowitz chose a .44 caliber revolver because of its "phallic shape", thus suggesting he was a sexual sadist who killed as a substitute of sex. Indeed, Douglas and Ressler concluded, from the interview, that Berkowitz harbored sexual fantasies involving control over women, which he could achieve through the shootings and later relive by revisiting the crime scenes.
- New York City, New York:
- December 24, 1975: Co-Op City, The Bronx: (injured both with a knife)
- Michelle Forman
- An unnamed Hispanic woman (allegedly)
- July 29: Pelham Bay, the Bronx:
- Donna Lauria, 18 (fatally shot in the neck, arm, and chest)
- Jody Valenti, 19 (shot in the thigh; survived)
- October 23: Flushing, Queens: (both survived):
- Carl Denaro, 25 (shot in the head)
- Rosemary Keenan, 38 (slightly injured by flying glass)
- November 26: Bellerose, Queens: (both survived):
- Donna DeMasi, 16 (shot in the neck)
- Joanne Lomino, 18 (was rendered a paraplegic from her gunshot wounds)
- July 29: Pelham Bay, the Bronx:
- January 30: Forest Hill, Queens:
- Christine Freund, 26 (fatally shot twice in the head)
- John Diel, 30 (survived)
- March 8: Exeter Street, Queens: Virginia Voskerichian, 19 (fatally shot in the head)
- April 17: Hutchinson River Parkway, the Bronx:
- Alexander Esau, 20 (died several hours later in the hospital)
- Valentina Suriani, 18
- June 26: Bayside, Queens: (both survived with slight injuries; struck by three bullets):
- Sal Lupo, 20
- Judy Placido, 17
- July 31: Bath Beach, Brooklyn: (both shot in the head):
- Stacy Robin Moskowitz, 20 (killed)
- Robert Violante, 20 (survived)
- January 30: Forest Hill, Queens:
- December 24, 1975: Co-Op City, The Bronx: (injured both with a knife)
- Notes: Berkowitz also claimed in his diary to have set a large number of fires (some sources claim the total number to have been as many as 1.411).
On Criminal Minds
- Intro: David Berkowitz's mugshot from March 31st, 2003 is one of the many mugshots that appear during the opening intro before the episodes start.
- Season One
- Extreme Aggressor
- "L.D.S.K." - Being an assassin personality, Berkowitz's mugshot appeared alongside the mugshots and photos of several infamous assassins.
- "Unfinished Business" - Berkowitz was compared to the case at hand, Walter Kern, and may have been an inspiration for him - Both are serial killers who primarily targeted women (though Berkowitz also killed a man), sought recognition from the media, wrote taunting letters to police, and gave themselves their own serial killer nicknames.
- 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 two unsubs, the Hollow Man - Both are serial killers with an assassin personality who used .44 Magnum revolvers as their weapons of choice, targeted women, killed their victims at night by shooting them, and sent letters to the police that contained their nicknames in regards to their crimes. In addition, Berkowitz was active at the same time as another independent serial killer, mirroring the Hollow Man's synced activities with the Mill Creek Killer.
- Season Three
- "Lucky" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Berkowitz appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Floyd Feylinn Ferell - Both are serial killers who primarily targeted women (though Berkowitz also killed a man), and claimed to be Satanists who killed their victims to appease a demonic entity (though this turned out to be a lie for Berkowitz, while Ferell simply held psychotic delusions).
- "Tabula Rasa" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Berkowitz appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Brian Matloff - Both are serial killers who were adopted by a Polish-Catholic couple, began killing due to resentment they felt for their birth mothers and other women, and were given nicknames by the media for their crimes.
- "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 - Both killed random victims in public places using small hand-held guns. 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. Olson went as far as using the same kind of revolver, a Charter Arms Bulldog. Also Olson's habit of having sex with his girlfriend at his old crime scenes may be also based on Berkowitz' tendency to return to his crime scenes and masturbate there.
- "Omnivore" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Berkowitz appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, George Foyet - Both were narcissistic serial killers who attacked couples (but mainly targeted women out of hatred), shot them with 44. revolvers, left things at their crime scenes to taunt law enforcement and were self-nicknamed.
- Season Six
- "Compromising Positions" - Berkowitz was mentioned by Reid again while he was comparing the cooling-off period and M.O. of the episode's unsub, James Thomas, who may have been based on him - Both were serial killers who shot and killed at least one couple in their car with a hand-held gun at night, and had a similar cooling-off period.
- 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.
- Season Thirteen
- "Neon Terror" - Berkowitz was referenced again and was apparently the source of inspiration for the episode's unsub, Jeffrey Whitfield - Both are narcissistic serial killers who targeted victims (primarily women, though they also killed men) in cars, shot them with 44. caliber revolvers, interacted with the media in some way after each of their attacks, and were given nicknames for their crimes.
- Season Fifteen
- 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.