This Day in Jewish History, 1977

'Son of Sam’ Caught; Asks 'What Took So Long?’

After terrorizing New York for a year in the late 1970s with shooting attacks that targeted young women with long, dark hair and that he later said were commanded by a dog, Berkowitz was arrested.

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On August 10, 1977, David Berkowitz was finally arrested for the year-long “Son of Sam” murder spree that had terrorized New York for a year and prompted the biggest manhunt in the city’s history. After being apprehended, he reportedly asked the police, “What took you so long?”

The man who would be convicted of six nearly random murders — he targeted young woman with long, dark hair — was born Richard David Falco on June 1, 1953, to Betty Broder, who was Jewish. Broder’s Italian-American husband, Tony Falco, abandoned her while she was pregnant with Berkowitz. The couple had operated a fish market together. Broder had a married lover, Joseph Kleinman, who threatened to leave her if she kept the baby. Richard was put up for adoption, with Falco listed as the father. Within days the newborn was adopted by Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz, hardware retailers in the Bronx, who switched his first and middle names and gave him their last name, renaming him David Richard Berkowitz.

David was bright but socially awkward and reportedly also had a penchant for stealing, animal abuse and apparently for pyromania as well. Yet he stayed in school and at home, though his beloved adoptive mother Pearl was to die of cancer when he was 14. Later he would tell criminology professor Scott Bonn that he also loved his father deeply.

At age 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in the United States and South Korea and earning an honorable discharge in 1974. He later told interviewers that while in Korea he had sex with a woman for the first and only time in his life, an experience he described as terrible.

Berkowitz later claimed that his first attacks were the stabbings of two women, both on December 24, 1975 — Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, he worked at the post office and set out to find his birth mother.

It is not clear when he found out about the circumstances of his birth and his adoption, but reportedly he was ashamed by the discovery and felt a loss of identity.

The killer who would be dubbed “Son of Sam” because of letters he wrote to the police (and to reporter Jimmy Breslin), saying “I am a monster. I am the Son of Sam,” and who claimed to be directed by a dog possessed by the devil himself, committed his first murder on July 29, 1976. He shot at two young women at close range while they were sitting in a car, a pattern he was to repeat. Donna Lauria, 18, died; Jody Valenti, 19, took a bullet in the thigh.

Valenti provided the first description of the killer, at what was to be the start of a yearlong shooting spree: white male, around 30, with curly hair. The gun used was identified as a .44-caliber Charter Arms Bulldog revolver.

Over the next year, at intervals of between one and three months, Berkowitz would attack again. He mainly targeted people in cars, but on November 27, 1976 he shot two friends sitting on a stoop — Donna DeMasi, 16, and Joanne Lomino, 18, whose spine was shattered. Both survived. And on March 8, 1977, he shot Virginia Voskerichian, 19, in the head as she passed him in the street. In what was to be his final attack, on July 31, 1977, he shot a couple in their car. Stacy Moskowitz, 20, died within hours. Bobby Violante, also 20, was rendered blind.

In all, he murdered six people and wounded seven more.

After his arrest, he confessed to all the shootings. He claimed to be a devil-worshipper and said that Satan had possessed Harvey, a neighbor’s Labrador retriever, and commanded him to kill. Berkowitz also had meticulous records of 1,400 fires he said he started.

His case won worldwide media attention, leading to some disgust at his apparent reveling in the spotlight.

At the age of 24, David Berkowitz was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences for murder. Psychologists call him a “disorganized serial killer” who had early signs of paranoia. He remains incarcerated at Sullivan Correctional Facility, in upstate New York.