David Berkowitz: The Daring Son of Sam Killer

Last week’s blog discussed English serial killer John Christie. This week, we’re back in the U.S. for the case of another serial killer, David Berkowitz. You may know him as the “Son of Sam.”

David Berkowitz

David Berkowitz was born Richard David Falco in Brooklyn in 1953. His mother gave him up for adoption a few days after his birth. Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz, a Jewish couple who owned a hardware store in the Bronx adopted the infant. They reversed his first two names and gave him their last name. He became David Richard Berkowitz.

Young David was intelligent but not much interested in learning. Instead, he gravitated toward petty larceny and fire-starting. After graduating from high school, he served in the U.S. Army at Forth Knox, Kentucky and in South Korea.

David Berkowitz
David Berkowitz

Berkowitz Begins His Crime Spree

On Christmas Eve, 1975, David Berkowitz attacked two women with a hunting knife. Police never identified one victim but the other, 15-year-old Michelle Forman, spent a week in the hospital. Authorities never suspected Berkowitz in these attacks.

The killings began in July 1976. In the early hours of July 29, Emergency medical technician Donna Lauria, 18, and nurse Jody Valenti, 19, sat talking in a double-parked car. When Lauria opened the door to leave, a man approached and she said, “Now what is this?” The man pulled a pistol from a paper bag, crouched, and began firing. A bullet hit Lauria, killing her instantly. Another bullet hit Valenti in the thigh and a third shot missed entirely.

Victim Donna Lauria (New York Daily News)
Victim Donna Lauria (New York Daily News)

The shootings continued. A gunman shot at Carl Denaro and Rosemary Keenan in Queens on October 23 hitting Denaro, but both survived. On 27, high school students Donna DeMasi and Joanne Lomino were shot as they stood on Lomino’s front porch. Both women survived, but her injuries rendered Lomino a paraplegic. Christine Freund and John Diel were sitting in Diel’s car on January 30, 1977, when three shots hit the car. Diel drove off looking for help. His wounds were superficial, but Freund died several hours later.

After the attacker fatally shot Columbus University student Virginia Voskerichian on Mach 8, 1976, authorities began to link the shootings. New York Mayor Abraham Beame declared that the same .44 caliber Bulldog revolver was the weapon used in both the Lauria and Voskerichian killings. However, he didn’t say that conclusive evidence was lacking.

Victim  Virginia Voskerichian (New York Daily News)
Victim Virginia Voskerichian (New York Daily News)

Son of Sam

At about 3:00 a.m. on April 17, 1977, Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani became the latest victims. Attacked while they sat in a car on a service road, Suriani suffered one gunshot wound and Esau two. Suriani died at the scene and Esau died in the hospital several hours later. A handwritten note left at the scene taunted police and identified the killer as “Son of Sam.” Although police tried to keep the letter under wraps, some details emerged. “Son of Sam” soon replaced “the .44 Caliber Killer” as press’s name for the shooter.

Two more shooting incidents occurred during the summer of 1977. Sal Lupo and Judy Placido were shot on June 26 but both survived. On July 31, the victims were Robert Violante and Stacy Moskowitz. Moskowitz died and Violante lost his left eye.

Arrest of David Berkowitz

Walking her dog near the scene of the Moskowitz and Violante shootings, Cacilia Davis noticed a police officer ticketing a car parked near a fire hydrant. A man with a “dark object” in his hand walked past her, studying her intently. Davis ran home only to hear the four shots fired at Moskowitz and Violante. She hesitated for four days, but then called police.

David Berkowitz's mugshot
David Berkowitz’s mugshot

One of the cars ticketed in the area was the yellow 1970 Ford Galaxie belonging to David Berkowitz. On August 10, police investigated Berkowitz’s car, finding a gun, ammunition, crime scene maps, and a threatening letter to police. Officers decided to wait for Berkowitz to leave his apartment rather than risk a violent encounter inside. Berkowitz left the apartment and got in his car at about 10:00 p.m. Detective John Falotico pointed his gun at Berkowitz and made the arrest.

The Yonkers apartment occupied by David Berkowitz (New York Daily News)
The Yonkers apartment occupied by David Berkowitz (New York Daily News)

Epilogue

David Berkowitz quickly confessed the next day, August 11, 1977. He claimed that his former neighbor, Sam Carr was the “Sam” in “Son of Sam.” According to Berkowitz, Carr’s black Labrador Retriever, Harvey, ordered him to kill. He later admitted this was a hoax.

Three separate mental evaluations determined that Berkowitz was competent to stand trial. Despite this, his lawyers advised him to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Berkowitz refused. Instead, he pled guilty to all the shootings. At sentencing, he caused an uproar by trying to jump out of a seventh-floor window, triggering yet another psychiatric evaluation. Ultimately, he received a 25-years-to-life sentence for each murder, to be served consecutively.

David Berkowitz in 2019 (Christopher Capozziello/Genesis)
David Berkowitz in 2019 (Christopher Capozziello/Genesis)

In prison, Berkowitz claimed to have become a born-again Christian. Although now eligible for parole, he has consistently refused to ask for his release and remains in prison.

Lawrence D. Klausner produced a detailed account of the case, Son of Sam, to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of Berkowitz’s killing spree.

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