In the mid-1970s, New Yorkers were growing accustomed to violence and a climate of fear permeating its boroughs. But in the summer of 1976, an unseen menace emerged.
A serial killer who came to be known as the “Son of Sam” and the “.44 Caliber Killer” carried out a series of shootings over a year.
He killed six people and severely wounded seven at close range with a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver.
Several months before the shootings, a young lady was nearly stabbed to death by the killer as she walked home.
The serial killer typically targeted young women with long dark hair and couples sitting in parked cars late at night.
There were no ties between the victims. It seemed to be a case of senseless stranger-on-stranger killings.
The trail of carnage was dictated by Satanic voices that only the Son of Sam could hear.
It sent a chill through New Yorkers who feared they might be next.
In April 1977, the serial killer left a handwritten letter near the bodies of his latest victims, identifying himself as the “Son of Sam” for the first time.
The killer taunted police and the media with “catch me if you can letters” signed with the scribbled monikers “Wicked King Killer,” “Duke of Death,” and the one that gripped the public, “Son of Sam.”
Additional rambling letters were sent to newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin and police, with the killer taunting officers and promising further attacks.
The extensive media coverage lent a grim celebrity status to the Son of Sam, with international newspapers closely following the case.
As 1976 bled into 1977, more young couples and individuals fell victim to the phantom shooter.
The discos where young New Yorkers danced the night away to The Bee Gees closed early so ladies could return home at a safe hour to their anxious parents.
During the TV broadcast of game two of the 1977 World Series from Yankee Stadium, viewers saw a fiery inferno in the background.
It is believed that legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell exclaimed, The Bronx is Burning. The statement underscored the calamity that was New York City in the 1970s.
In May of 1977, the serial killer taunted the upcoming anniversary of the first shooting in a letter to Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin. The Son of Sam boasted about his thirst for blood and promised more murders. “What will you have for July 29th?” he asked.
As the date approached, NYPD assigned 75 detectives and 225 other department members to a dragnet of the Queens and the Bronx to find the man they dubbed “Mr. Monster.” Named the OMEGA task force, officers beamed large flashlights into parked cars to tell young people to go home.
On the night of July 13th at 9:37 PM, a lightning strike knocked out power to the city’s largest power generator, triggering a power failure and plunging New York City into darkness for 25 hours.
Mobs looted 1,616 stores. They smashed shop windows, stole furniture, clothes, and electronics in an orgy of violence. Dozens of Pontiacs were stolen from a Bronx auto dealership. The looters set fire to a five-block stretch in the Crown Heights. And they assaulted 550 officers.
Two weeks later, the Son of Sam struck again in the suffocating summer heat on July 31st. Stacy Moskowitz and her boyfriend were each shot in the head while kissing in their parked car in Brooklyn.
The headline on the front page of the New York Post the following day blared, “No One Is Safe From The Son of Sam.” New York City lived on the edge. Women dyed their hair to avoid being the typical brunette target.
Then, detectives got a break in the case.
A woman walking her dog the night of the Moskowitz murder remembered seeing a patrolman ticketing illegally parked cars near the crime scene.
A detective tracked down a ticket issued to a David Berkowitz of Yonkers for a Ford Galaxie parked too close to a fire hydrant.
On August 10th, Detective Edward Zigo, with his gun drawn, arrested 24-year-old David Berkowitz after ordering him out of his car at the apartment house where he lived.
“Well, you got me,” Berkowitz said, adding a moment later, “I am the Son of Sam”.
Berkowitz was a chubby, curly-haired, baby-faced postal worker with no criminal record.
His Ford Galaxie contained a rifle, a letter threatening to attack a disco, and .44 caliber ammunition.
Once in custody, Berkowitz claimed his neighbor, Jack Carr, owned a black labrador retriever, Harvey. And that Harvey had been possessed by a demon and commanded the killings. He quickly confessed to all eight shootings and received six life sentences in prison.
Later, Berkowitz claimed that a cult assisted him in the murders. That set off a flurry of TV shows and books.
I did all the shootings.
Berkowitz confessed that he acted alone and that no cult members were involved in the murders, as has been widely speculated and reported in a new book titled Monster Mirror,
In an interview on my True Crime Reporter® Podcast, Dr. Michael Caparrellia, a pastor turned behavioral scientist, looks inside the mind of one of America’s most frightening serial killers.
Dr. Caparrelli gained extraordinary access to Berkowitz inside the Shawangunk Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison in upstate New York.
After sending Berkowitz a copy of his book “Dr. Jesus,” a faith-based book for people with mental illnesses, Berkowitz quickly replied, “I’ve been looking for a guy like you to tell my story. He said, Would you visit me? Your dual qualifications, both as a clergyman and a behavioral scientist, I believe is a perfect fit to tell my story.”
Berkowitz, now 70 years old, is serving six life sentences.
While not excusing Berkowitz’s horrific acts, Dr. Caparrelli aimed to shed light on what got into Berkowitz, “the mental health factors behind his maniacal deeds.”
As a behavioral scientist, Dr. Caparrelli built trust and carefully constructed a psychological profile based on 1600 documents and his in-depth face-to-face conversations of 100 hours over 34 sessions.
At five years old, I felt empty and simultaneously allured by the mysterious.
According to Dr. Caparrelli, rarely can a complex phenomenon like serial murder be reduced to a single causal factor. “It was a buildup of blocks,” he observed, much like the game of Jenga.
Isolation played a critical early role for Berkowitz. “The more isolated people are, the more their aggression levels go up,” said Dr. Caparrelli. “David Berkowitz was always a part of groups. He grew up in New York City. He’s unlike the Unabomber, shaggy beard, a hermit, and a cabin. So he’s around people a lot. But he’s always sort of the outsider in the group.”
People with blank stares and empty souls are demon’s pick of the litter.
Dr. Caparrelli says isolation and emptiness led to Berkowitz’s heavy involvement in Satanism. He believed a 5,000-year-old demon named Samhain had spoken to him through his neighbor’s dog, Harvey. Berkowitz’s neighbor was named Sam, and his barking black labrador was a constant source of irritation.
Shame also built gradually from abusive schoolteachers, bullying relatives, and childhood trauma. Head injuries, self-injury, paranoia, violent urges, involvement with the Satanic Cult, and anger entered the equation at various stages. Combined over the years, these “building blocks” created a ticking bomb, according to Dr. Caparrelli.
Dr. Caparelli says the seedlings of Berkowitz’s homicides were his pyromania. Inside Berkowitz’s apartment, NYPD officers discovered a handwritten log documenting more than 1,411 fires set throughout the city, noting dates, locations, and weather conditions.
Some of the fires coincided with the exact dates of his murders.
I was an adrenaline junkie. Always doing dangerous things. Jumping subway trains, climbing mountains, lighting fires.
Dr. Caparelli says Berkowitz revealed he started lighting fires when he was six. He would place his toys on the windowsill and light them on fire. He played dumb the few times his parents asked about the scorched windowsill.
I fell under some kind of spell.
Everyone wants to know why Berkowitz committed those awful crimes. Berkowitz still can not face his actual crimes. “The weight of his crimes is still too much for him to bear. His eyes pool with tears. Berkowitz stated, “I told you before that I was doing the devil’s work.”
It is much easier to say that Satan possessed him than a desire overtook him,” Dr. Caparrelli observed.
Dr. Caparrelli says Berkowitz’s reactions suggested deep remorse. “I’d say, David Berkowitz, his jailhouse conversion to Christianity is real,” he concluded. According to Dr. Caparrelli, Berkowitz fully acknowledges his crimes, “There’s no justifying or minimizing it, but it still affects him personally.”
The former pastor rhetorically asked, “Maybe demonic powers manifest in everyday life more than we are aware. Have you ever behaved out of character?”
Confronting the Crisis in Young Males
Reflecting on America’s mass shooting epidemic, Dr. Caparrelli lamented the isolation permeating modern life. “We live in a very extroverted nation of social media, yet much interaction remains superficial,” he noted. According to Dr. Caparrelli, “the emotional intelligence of the masses has to increase” through actively building empathy and relationships from early childhood.
More Stories From Inside The Crime Scene Tape
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