Who was David Berkowitz and how did he become the Son of Sam?
David did not start his life under the worst circumstances, he grew up in a middle-class family with loving adoptive parents who showered him with gifts and attention. However, his real mother, Betty Broder, grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. Her family was poor and she had to struggle to survive during the Depression. Her Jewish family opposed her marriage to Tony Falco, who was Italian and a gentile.
They scraped by together, and managed to start a fish market in 1939. Betty had a daughter Roslyn and after that, things did not go well with the Falco's marriage and Tony left her for another woman. The fish market went broke and Betty had to raise Roslyn by herself.
Betty soon began an affair with a married man named Joseph Kleinman. Things went awry when she became pregnant. Kleinman refused to pay any child support and vowed to leave her unless she give up the baby. Even before David was born on June 1, 1953, she had arranged for his adoption.
News came that a Jewish couple was ready to adopt her son, and with her newborn gone, Betty resumed her affair with Kleinman until he died of cancer in 1965.
David was fortunate in adopted by Nat and Pearl Berkowitz, a childless couple who were devoted to their new son. He had a normal childhood in the Bronx that left no signs of what was yet to come. Perhaps the most significant factor in his life was that he was a loner. His parents weren't particularly socially oriented and neither was David.
He was always big for his age and always felt different and less attractive than his peers. All through his youth he was uncomfortable with other people. He did have one sport -- baseball -- which he played well.
His neighbors remember him as a nice-looking boy but with a violent streak, a bully who assaulted neighborhood kids for no apparent reason. He was hyperactive and very difficult for Pearl and Nat to control.
David did not realize that Pearl had suffered from breast cancer before he was born and when it recurred in 1965 and again in 1967, David was shocked. Nat hadnít kept his adopted son very well informed about the prognosis and David was therefore shocked to see how badly Pearl dissipated from the chemotherapy and the illness itself. He was devastated when Pearl died in the fall of 1967.
When David was in his early teens, his parents tried to flee their changing neighborhood to the middle-class safety of the enormous sprawling high-rise development of Co-Op City. By the time their apartment was ready, Pearl had died. David and his father lived in the new apartment alone.
David began to deteriorate after Pearl's death. His grade average nose-dived and his faith in God shaken. He began to imagine that her death was a part of some plan to destroy him. He became more and more introverted.
In 1971, Nat remarried a woman that did not get along with David. The couple moved to a Florida retirement community without him, leaving him to drift, absent of a purpose or a goal. He just existed until his fantasy life had become stronger than his real life.
He did have one relationship with a girl named Iris Gerhardt. The relationship was more fantasy on Berkowitz's part. Iris considered him only a friend. He attended a few classes at Bronx Community College, more to appease Nat than anything else.
David joined the Army in the summer of 1971 and stayed there for three years. He was an excellent marksman, particularly proficient with rifles. During his time in the Army, he briefly converted from Judaism to the Baptist faith, but then lost interest.
At one point, David found his biological mother Betty Falco. She and her daughter Roslyn did everything they could to make David feel welcome in their family. For a while, it worked and David seemed happy in their company, but eventually he drifted away from them too, making excuses for not coming to visit.
Anger and frustration with women, coupled by a bizarre fantasy life, started him down the road to violence when he got out of the Army in 1974. The only consummated sexual experience with a woman that he ever had was with a prostitute in Korea. He contracted a venereal disease as a souvenir.
Even before the murders began, David had set some 1,488 fires in the city of New York and kept a diary of each one. He was acting out a control fantasy. Robert Ressler in his book Whoever Fights Monsters explains:
"Most arsonists like the feeling that they are responsible for the excitement and violence of a fire. With the simple act of lighting matches, they control events in society that are not normally controlled; they orchestrate the fire, the screaming arrival and deployment of the fire trucks and fire fighters, the gathering crowds, the destruction of property and sometimes of people."
Klausner points out in his book that David's state of mind in November was very bleak when he wrote to his father in Florida:
"It's cold and gloomy here in New York, but that's okay because the weather fits my mood -- gloomy. Dad, the world is getting dark now. I can feel it more and more. The people, they are developing a hatred for me. You wouldn't believe how much some people hate me. Many of them want to kill me. I don't even know these people, but still they hate me. Most of them are young. I walk down the street and they spit and kick at me. The girls call me ugly and they bother me the most. The guys just laugh. Anyhow, things will soon change for the better."
This letter was a real cry for help. After writing the letter, he locked himself in his tiny apartment for almost a month, leaving only for food. He wrote wacky things on the walls with a marker:
"In this hole lives the Wicked King. Kill for my Master. I turn children into Killers."
Around Christmas 1975, David later claimed to psychiatrists that he was giving into the demons with the hopes that they would stop tormenting him if he did what they asked. On Christmas Eve, he was in a crisis mentally and emotionally. In the early evening he took a large hunting knife and drove around for hours looking for a young female victim. The demons would let him know when he found the right woman.
That night, he had returned to Co-Op City where he and Nat had shared the solitary apartment after Pearl's death. A woman was leaving a grocery store. Suddenly, David's demons ordered him to kill her.
"She has to be sacrificed," they told him.
He plunged the hunting knife into her back once and then again. He was shocked at her reaction. "I stabbed her and she didn't do anything. She just turned and looked at me." Then she began to scream and he ran away. Later, police tried unsuccessfully to verify this story.
Then he saw another young woman. He hid the knife and attacked her from behind, stabbing her in the head. Fifteen-year-old Michelle Forman was seriously wounded, but she fought back. Her screaming scared David off and she was able to make it to one of the apartment buildings for help. She had six wounds from the hunting knife.
The attack on Michelle pacified David's demons for the time being. He was relaxed and went out for a burger and fries.
After the two Christmas Eve attacks, David went back to his security guard job at IBI Security. He moved from his tiny Bronx apartment in January to a two-family home in Yonkers owned by Jack and Nann Cassara. He wanted a 2-year lease and paid a $200 security deposit.
Cassara's German shepherd was a noisy dog and howled frequently. The neighborhood dogs howled back. In David's diseased mind demons lived within the dogs and their howling was the way they ordered David to go hunting for blood -- the blood of pretty young women.
Berkowitz was driven to the edge:
"I'd come home to Coligni avenue like at six-thirty in the morning. It would begin then, the howling. On my days, off, I heard it all night, too. It made me scream. I used to scream out begging for the noise to stop. It never did.
"The demons never stopped. I couldn't sleep. I had no strength to fight. I could barely drive. Coming home from work one night, I almost killed myself in the car. I needed to sleep....The demons wouldn't give me any peace."
After three months, he moved out of the Cassara's house and into an apartment house at 35 Pine Street in Yonkers, never asking for his security deposit back. The Cassaras had taken on a frightening role in David's family life:
"When I moved in the Cassaras seemed very nice and quiet. But they tricked me. They lied. I thought they were members of the human race. They weren't! Suddenly the Cassaras began to show up with the demons. They began to howl and cry out. 'Blood and death!' They called out the names of the masters! The Blood Monster, John Wheaties, General Jack Cosmo."
As David's fantasies developed, Cassara became General Jack Cosmo, commander in chief of the devil dogs roaming the streets of New York. The demons had a constant need for blood which David helped replenish with his murderous assaults.
David's apartment on Pine Street also had its dogs. Sam Carr's black Labrador, for example. David tried to kill the demon lurking in Harvey with a Molotov cocktail, but it fizzled. Finally, he shot Harvey with a gun.
Sam Carr, in David's elaborate delusion, was the host of a powerful demon named Sam who worked for General Jack Cosmo. When David called himself the Son of Sam, it was the demon living in Sam Carr to which he referred. David warned people that they should take him seriously.
"This Sam and his demons have been responsible for a lot of killing."
Unfortunately, in David's scheme of things, only God could destroy Sam at Armageddon. At various times in David's mind, Sam was the Devil.
The day before he murdered Donna Lauria, David quit his job as a nighttime security guard and went to work as a taxi driver. He claims that he didn't want to kill Donna and her friend Jody, but the demons forced him to shoot. But once it was done, he felt pleasure, exhaustion from doing a job well. Sam was pleased. Pleased enough to promise Donna to him as a bride. Sam had led David to believe that Donna would some day rise from the dead to join him.
David was classified by the defense psychiatrists as a paranoid schizophrenic. The believed that David's difficulties relating to people drove him further into isolation. The isolation was a fertile ground for wild fantasies. Eventually the fantasies crowded out reality and David lived in a world populated by the demons his mind had created. As his state of mind deteriorated, tension grew and was only released when he successfully attacked someone. For a brief time, the assaults relieved the tensions, but inevitably, the tensions began to increase again and the cycle repeated itself.
When he was arrested, David remained calm and smiling. It appeared as though he was relieved at being caught. Perhaps he thought that finally in jail the demon dogs would stop howling for blood.
However, according to Dr. David Abrahamsen, the prosecution's forensic psychiatrist, "While the defendant shows paranoid traits, they do not interfere with his fitness to stand trial....the defendant is a normal as anyone else. Maybe a little neurotic."
Ultimately, it didn't matter because David Berkowitz pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to 365 years in jail.
In 1979, Robert Ressler, the FBI veteran, interviewed Berkowitz in Attica Prison three times. Berkowitz had been allowed to keep a scrapbook he had compiled of all the newspaper stories about the murders. He used these scrapbooks to keep his fantasies alive.
Ressler made it clear that he didn't buy the demon dog theory one bit and eventually he was able to get the truth out of Berkowitz. The demon story was to protect him when and if he was caught so that he could try to convince the authorities he was insane. He admitted to Ressler "that his real reason for shooting women was out of resentment toward his own mother, and because of his inability to establish good relationships with women." He would become sexually aroused in the stalking and shooting of women and would masturbate after it was over.
He also admitted to Ressler that stalking women had become a nightly adventure for him. If he didn't find a victim, he would go back to the scenes of his earlier murders and try to recall them.
"It was an erotic experience for him to see the remains of bloodstains on the ground, a police chalkmark or two: seated in his car, he would often contemplate these grisly mementos and masturbate."
So murderers do return to the scene of the crime, not out of guilt, but because they want to revive the memories of their crimes for sexual pleasure.
He wanted to go to the funerals of his victims but was afraid that the police would become suspicious. However, he did hang around diners near the police stations hoping to overhear policemen talking about his crimes. He also tried unsuccessfully to find the graves of his victims.
Like many serial killers, he nourished his sick ego from the newspaper attention he received for his crimes. He got the idea of sending the letter to Jimmy Breslin from a book on Jack the Ripper. Ressler found out that
"after the press started calling him Son of Sam he adopted the moniker as his own, and even fashioning a logo for it."
This story is repeated time after time in every city experiencing the attacks of a serial killer. The demands of the citizens to know what is happening is balanced against the reality that feeding these demands for information virtually ensures that the killer will keep on killing. Legitimate police work is seriously hampered by a deluge of bogus tips from well-meaning citizens. The only party that benefits from this common problem is the media.