The Berkowitz SOS Murders
David Richard Berkowitz (born Richard David Falco, June 1, 1953), also known as the Son of Sam and the .44 Caliber Killer, is an American serial killer who pled guilty to eight separate shooting attacks that began in New York City during the summer of 1976.
Berkowitz grew up in New York City and served in the U.S. Army before beginning his crimes. Using a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver, he killed six people and wounded seven others by July 1977. As the number of victims increased, Berkowitz eluded the biggest police manhunt in the history of New York City while leaving letters that mocked the police and promised further crimes, which were highly publicized by the press. The killing spree terrorized New Yorkers and gained worldwide notoriety.
On the night of August 10, 1977, Berkowitz was taken into custody by New York City police homicide detectives in front of his Yonkers apartment building, and he was subsequently indicted for eight shooting incidents. He confessed to all of them, and initially claimed to have been obeying the orders of a demon manifested in the form of a dog belonging to his neighbor “Sam”. Despite his explanation, Berkowitz was found mentally competent to stand trial. He pled guilty to second-degree murder and was incarcerated in state prison. He subsequently admitted that the dog-and-devil story was a hoax. In the course of further police investigations, Berkowitz was also implicated in many unsolved arsons in the city.
Intense coverage of the case by the media lent a kind of celebrity status to Berkowitz, and some observers noted that he seemed to enjoy it. In response, the New York State Legislature enacted new statutes known popularly as “Son of Sam laws”, designed to keep criminals from profiting financially from the publicity created by their crimes. The statutes have remained law in New York in spite of various legal challenges, and similar laws have been enacted in several other states.
Berkowitz has been incarcerated since his arrest and is serving six consecutive life sentences. During the mid-1990s, he amended his confession to claim that he had been a member of a violent Satanic cult that orchestrated the incidents as ritual murder. A few law enforcement authorities have said that his claims might be credible, but he remains the only person ever charged with the shootings. A new investigation of the murders began in 1996 but was suspended indefinitely after inconclusive findings.
David Berkowitz was born Richard David Falco in Brooklyn, New York, on June 1, 1953. His mother, Elizabeth “Betty” Broder, grew up as part of an impoverished Jewish family. She married Tony Falco, an Italian-American, in 1936. After a marriage of less than four years, Tony Falco left her for another woman. In 1950, Broder started a relationship with a married man named Joseph Klineman. Three years later, she became pregnant with a child to whom she chose to give the surname Falco and, within a few days of Richard’s birth, Broder gave the child away. Although her reasons for doing so are unknown, later writers have surmised that Klineman threatened to abandon her if she kept the baby and used his name.
The infant boy was adopted by Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz of the Bronx. The Jewish-American couple were hardware store retailers of modest means, and childless in middle age. They reversed the order of the boy’s first and middle names and gave him their own surname, raising young David Richard Berkowitz as their only child.
Berkowitz’s childhood was somewhat troubled. Although of above-average intelligence, he lost interest in learning at an early age and became infatuated with petty larceny and starting fires. Neighbors and relatives would recall Berkowitz as difficult, spoiled, and a bully. His adoptive parents consulted at least one psychotherapist due to his misconduct, but his misbehavior never resulted in a legal intervention or serious mention in his school records. Berkowitz’s adoptive mother died of breast cancer when he was fourteen years old, and his home life became strained during later years, particularly because he disliked his adoptive father’s second wife.
In 1971, at the age of 17, Berkowitz joined the United States Army and served in the United States and South Korea. After an honorable discharge in 1974, he located his birth mother, Betty. After a few visits, she disclosed the details of his birth. The news greatly disturbed Berkowitz.
During the mid-1970s, Berkowitz started to commit violent crimes. He bungled the first attempt at murder using a knife, then switched to a handgun and began a lengthy crime spree throughout the New York boroughs of the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. He sought young female victims. He was purportedly most attracted to women with long dark wavy hair. All but one of the crime sites involved two victims; he infamously committed some of his attacks while the women sat with boyfriends in parked cars. He exhibited an enduring enjoyment of his activities, often returning to the scenes of his crimes
Son of Sam letter
Police discovered a handwritten letter near the bodies of Esau and Suriani, written mostly in block capitals with a few lower-case letters, and addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli. With this letter, Berkowitz revealed the name “Son of Sam” for the first time. The press had previously dubbed the killer “the .44 Caliber Killer” because of his weapon of choice. The letter was initially withheld from the public, but some of its contents were revealed to the press, and the name “Son of Sam” quickly replaced the old name.
The letter expressed the killer’s determination to continue his work, and taunted police for their fruitless efforts to capture him. In full, with misspellings intact, the letter read:
Final page of the first Son of Sam letter
I am deeply hurt by your calling me a wemon hater. I am not. But I am a monster. I am the “Son of Sam.” I am a little “brat”. When father Sam gets drunk he gets mean. He beats his family. Sometimes he ties me up to the back of the house. Other times he locks me in the garage. Sam loves to drink blood. “Go out and kill” commands father Sam. Behind our house some rest. Mostly young—raped and slaughtered—their blood drained—just bones now. Papa Sam keeps me locked in the attic, too. I can’t get out but I look out the attic window and watch the world go by. I feel like an outsider. I am on a different wave length then everybody else—programmed too kill. However, to stop me you must kill me. Attention all police: Shoot me first—shoot to kill or else. Keep out of my way or you will die! Papa Sam is old now. He needs some blood to preserve his youth. He has had too many heart attacks. Too many heart attacks. “Ugh, me hoot it urts sonny boy.” I miss my pretty princess most of all. She’s resting in our ladies house but I’ll see her soon. I am the “Monster”—”Beelzebub”—the “Chubby Behemouth.” I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game—tasty meat. The wemon of Queens are z prettyist of all. I must be the water they drink. I live for the hunt—my life. Blood for papa. Mr. Borrelli, sir, I dont want to kill anymore no sir, no more but I must, “honour thy father.” I want to make love to the world. I love people. I don’t belong on Earth. Return me to yahoos. To the people of Queens, I love you. And I wa want to wish all of you a happy Easter. May God bless you in this life and in the next and for now I say goodbye and goodnight. Police—Let me haunt you with these words; I’ll be back! I’ll be back! To be interrpreted as—bang, bang, bang, bank, bang—ugh!! Yours in murder Mr. Monster.
At the time, police speculated that the letter-writer might be familiar with Scottish English. The phrase “me hoot it urts sonny boy” was taken as a Scottish-accented version of “my heart, it hurts, sonny boy”.
The killer’s unusual attitude towards the police and the media received widespread scrutiny. Psychologists observed that many serial killers gain gratification by eluding pursuers and observers. The feeling of control of media, law enforcement, and even entire populations provides a source of social power for them. After consulting with several psychiatrists, police released a psychological profile of their suspect on May 26, 1977. He was described as neurotic and probably suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and believed himself to be a victim of demonic possession.
Local resident Cacilia Davis was walking her dog at the scene of the Moskowitz and Violante shooting when she saw patrol officer Michael Cataneo ticketing a car that was parked near a fire hydrant. Moments after the traffic police had left, a young man walked past her from the area of the car, and he seemed to study her with some interest. Davis felt concerned because he was wielding in his hand some kind of “dark object”. She ran to her home only to hear shots fired behind her in the street. Davis remained silent about this experience for four days until she finally contacted police, who closely checked every car that had been ticketed in the area that night.
Berkowitz’s 1970 four-door yellow Ford Galaxie was among the cars that they investigated. On August 9, 1977, NYPD detective James Justis telephoned Yonkers police to ask them to schedule an interview with Berkowitz. The Yonkers police dispatcher who first took Justis’ call was Wheat Carr, the daughter of Sam Carr and sister of Berkowitz’s alleged cult confederates John and Michael Carr.
Justis asked the Yonkers police for some help tracking down Berkowitz. According to Mike Novotny—a sergeant at the Yonkers Police Department—the Yonkers police had their own suspicions about Berkowitz in connection with other strange crimes in Yonkers, crimes that they saw referred to in one of the Son of Sam letters. Yonkers investigators even told the New York City detective that Berkowitz might just be the Son of Sam.
The next day, August 10, 1977, police investigated Berkowitz’s car that was parked on the street outside his apartment building at 35 Pine Street in Yonkers. They saw a rifle in the back seat, searched the car, and found a duffel bag filled with ammunition, maps of the crime scenes, and a threatening letter addressed to Inspector Timothy Dowd of the Omega Task Force.
Police decided to wait for Berkowitz to leave the apartment, rather than risk a violent encounter in the building’s narrow hallway; they also waited to obtain a search warrant for the apartment, worried that their search might be challenged in court. The initial search of the vehicle was based on the rifle that was visible in the back seat, although possession of such a rifle was legal in New York State and required no special permit. The warrant still had not arrived when Berkowitz exited the apartment building at about 10:00 p.m. and entered his car. Detective John Falotico approached the driver’s side of the car. Falotico pointed his gun close to Berkowitz’s temple, while Detective Sgt. William Gardella pointed his gun from the passenger’s side.
A paper bag containing a .44-caliber Bulldog revolver of the type that was identified in ballistics tests was found next to Berkowitz in the car. Berkowitz then stated flatly, “Well, you got me.” As described in Son of Sam (1981) by Lawrence D. Klausner, Detective Falotico remembered the big, inexplicable smile on the man’s face:
“Now that I’ve got you”, Detective Falotico said to the suspect, “who have I got?”
“You know,” the man said in what the detective remembered was a soft, almost sweet voice.
“No I don’t. You tell me.”
The man turned his head and said, “I’m Sam.”
“You’re Sam? Sam who?”
“Sam. David Berkowitz.
Police searched his Yonkers Apartment 7-E and found it in disarray, with Satanic graffiti on the walls. They also found diaries that he had kept since he was 21 years old—three stenographer’s notebooks nearly all full wherein Berkowitz meticulously noted hundreds of arsons that he claimed to have set throughout New York City. Some sources allege that this number might be over 1,400. Soon after Berkowitz’s arrest, the address of the building was changed from 35 Pine Street to 42 Pine Street in an attempt to end its notoriety. After the arrest, Berkowitz was briefly held in a Yonkers police station before being transported directly to the 60th Precinct in Coney Island, where the detectives’ task force was located.
In 1987, Berkowitz became a Christian in prison. According to his personal testimony, his moment of conversion occurred after reading Psalm 34:6 from a Bible given to him by a fellow inmate. He says he is no longer to be referred to as the “Son of Sam” but the “Son of Hope”
After his admission to Sullivan prison, Berkowitz began to claim that he had joined a Satanic cult in the spring of 1975. In 1993, Berkowitz made these claims known when he announced to the press that he had killed only three of the Son of Sam victims: Donna Lauria, Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani. In his revised version of the events, Berkowitz said that other shooters were involved and that he fired the gun only in the first attack (Lauria and Valenti) and the sixth (Esau and Suriani). He said that he and several other cult members were involved in every incident by planning the events, providing early surveillance of the victims, and acting as lookouts and drivers at the crime scenes. Berkowitz stated that he could not divulge the names of most of his accomplices without putting his family directly at risk.
Among Berkowitz’s alleged unnamed associates was a female cult member whom he claims fired the gun at Denaro and Keenan, both of whom survived, Berkowitz said, because the alleged accomplice was unfamiliar with the powerful recoil of a .44 Bulldog. Berkowitz declared that “at least five” cult members were at the scene of the Freund–Diel shooting, but the actual shooter was a prominent cult associate who had been brought in from outside New York with an unspecified motive—a cult member whom he identified only by his nickname, “Manson II”.
Berkowitz did name two of the cult members: John and Michael Carr. The two men were sons of the dog-owner Sam Carr and they lived on nearby Warburton Avenue. Both of these other “sons of Sam” were long dead: John Carr had been killed by a shooting judged a suicide in North Dakota during 1978, and Michael Carr had been in a fatal car accident in 1979. Berkowitz claimed that the actual perpetrator of the DeMasi–Lomino shooting was John Carr, and he added that a Yonkers police officer, also a cult member, was involved in this crime.
Unholy Communion: Does a Satanic Cult Connect ‘Son of Sam’ to Charles Manson?
Emerging in 1966 from the London counterculture, The Process Church of the Final Judgment preached a unique and fascinating creed that proposed a Holy Trinity, of sorts, consisting of Jehovah, Lucifer, and Satan, with Jesus Christ acting as emissary between the three — and humanity.
Founded by couple Robert Moor (also known as Robert de Grimston, Robert de Grimston Moore, and Robert De Grimstone) and Mary Ann MacLean, Process members walked around in colorful robes, raised and kept German Shepherds as companions, and hobnobbed with adventurous celebrities such as Mick Jagger.
The Church also published The Process, a mind-blowing magazine of art, culture, and philosophy that proved powerfully influential on other outlier thinkers and provocateurs — including homicidal hippie cult leader Charles Manson.
In fact, one popular conspiracy theory proposes that the Process Church directly connects Manson to David Berkowitz, bound by a splinter group called The Children, animal sacrifice (particularly of German Shepherds), and the “ritual murders” for which both of notorious figures are best known.
The Manson-Process association dates all the way back to the Manson Family’s late-1960s heyday. Definitive answers remain elusive, but many strands of evidence have continually intrigued investigators.
It’s been reported that when the Church caught wind of Manson incorporating their theology into his own crackpot take on existence, they sent an emissary to visit the Family. Later, Manson himself contributed an article to the “Death” issue of The Process magazine.
The Ultimate Evil, a 1987 best-seller by investigative journalist Maury Terry, plainly lays out the book’s premise in its original subtitle: An Investigation Into America’s Most Dangerous Satanic Cult, With New Evidence Linking Charlie Manson and the Son of Sam.
According to Terry, David Berkowitz started out as a sad-sack postal worker looking for a larger purpose in life. He found it one evening in 1976, when he happened upon Michael Carr, the eldest child of his landlord, Sam Carr. Yes, indeed, that makes Michael a “son of Sam.”
Terry claims that Michael Carr took his father’s tenant to a Process Church meeting in the woods of a nearby park and, in short order, Berkowitz was “cutting prints in his finger and pledging his soul to Lucifer.”
The Ultimate Evil states that this Westchester chapter of The Children, a subgroup of the Process Church, acted out with arson and a multitude of animal sacrifices, focusing on the Church’s signature German Shepherds.
Just before Christmas 1976, authorities discovered three dead Shepherds in Yonkers, the town where Berkowitz lived. By the following October, 85 slaughtered Shepherds turned up in Walden, about an hour’s drive upstate.
At the same time, police artists issued six sketches of the Son of Sam shooter based on witness testimony. None resembles the other, let alone David Berkowitz. One, in fact, is said in The Ultimate Evil to look like John Carr — Michael’s brother and, thereby, another son of Sam.
Berkowitz eventually told Maury Terry that he was on hand for all the shootings, but only pulled the trigger on three of them. He said:
New York Daily News, August 10, 1977
“We made a pact, maybe with the devil, but also with each other … We were going to go all the way with this thing. We’re soldiers of Satan now. I was just too far in, too loyal, too much playing the role of the soldier and trying to please people [in the cult].”
During Son of Sam’s petrifying grip on the city, many police investigators and even the Queens District Attorney suspected multiple participants in the crimes. Some continue to speak about it, including bullet-in-the-head Sam survivor Carl Denaro. Denaro says, “In all, there are probably between 150 and 250 pieces of circumstantial evidence that point toward there being more than one shooter.”
Decorated former NYPD Detectives Jim Rothstein and Michael Cordella espouse not just the multiple-shooter notion, but that the Process Church enacted the entire campaign. Both ex-cops state that they came to this conclusion after being involved when the city reopened the Son of Sam case in the early 1990s, looking to tie up loose ends.
Codella says that, in America, the Process Church established ties with outlaw biker gangs, primarily to make money by running drugs, but also for human trafficking and other unsavory criminal activities. Cordella further alleges that one of his biker informants personally witnessed the Process sacrifice a human being.
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