This Day in Jewish History: Son of Sam Saga Ends

New York detective arrests David Berkowitz, who had shot and killed six people over the course of a year.

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On August 10, 1977, New York police detective John Falotico approached a Ford Galaxie parked on a residential street in Yonkers, New York. Pointing a gun at the head of the man in the driver’s seat, while another officer covered the driver from the passenger’s window, Falotico asked the man, “Now that I’ve got you, who have I got?”

“You know,” said the man, who was in his mid-20s.

“No I don’t,” responded the detective, insisting he identify himself.

After a little more back and forth, he got his answer: “Sam. David Berkowitz.”

With that, the “Son of Sam” saga, in which, over the course of a year, a lone gunman shot and killed six people and wounded another seven, and terrorized the population of America’s largest city, came to an end.

David Richard Berkowitz – the killer, whose alias was “Son of Sam” – was born on June 1, 1953, in Brooklyn. His Jewish mother, Betty Broder Falco, was not married to the father, so put the baby up for adoption at birth. The infant was taken in by a childless, middle-aged Jewish couple from the Bronx, Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz, who gave him his name.

Troubled youth

Although intelligent, Berkowitz had a troubled youth, both at home and school. After graduating high school in 1971, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving for three years – part of that time in South Korea. After his return, Berkowitz held a variety of blue-collar jobs, including with the U.S. Postal Service. He also apparently began attending a Baptist church in 1976.

Although he later claimed his attacks had begun in 1975, the first “Son of Sam” shooting took place on July 29, 1976, and was followed over the next year by another seven ambushes, generally focused on young, long-haired women sitting in cars, late at night. The attacks took place in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, and resulted in the murder of six victims – five of them women.

Because of the geographical dispersion of the attacks, and a paucity of physical evidence and witnesses, it wasn’t until after the fourth shooting, in January 1977, that police announced a suspected connection between the shootings; they were all carried out with a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver. Two attacks later, in April 1977, a several-pages-long letter was found at the site, signed by “Mr. Monster,” who also identified himself in the text as the “Son of Sam” whose “father” had commanded him to “Go out and kill.”

'Sam's a thirsty lad'

The letter taunted police, addressing one of them by name, and promised that, “I’ll be back! I’ll be back!”

In a second letter, sent to Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin, the author explained that “Sam’s a thirsty lad and he won’t let me stop killing until he gets his fill of blood.”

After his arrest, Berkowitz claimed that “Sam” was his former neighbor, Sam Carr, and that it was Sam’s dog, Harvey, who had been giving him orders to kill.

The final attack came on July 31, at a parking lot in Bath Beach, Brooklyn, where Berkowitz killed Stacy Moskowitz and badly wounded her boyfriend, Robert Violante. This time there were witnesses, and police were able to connect the assailant’s car to Berkowitz, who lived in Yonkers, north of the city.

Berkowitz immediately confessed to the crimes and, at his trial, pleaded guilty. On June 12, 1978, he was sentenced to 25 years to life for each of the killings, The terms were to be served consecutively, but with parole possible after the first 25 years.

In the 37 years since the trial, Berkowitz has consistently expressed remorse for his crimes and rejected the biennial opportunity to apply for parole. At the same time, now a devout Evangelical Christian and prison missionary, Berkowitz has changed his story about the crimes: He told journalists he didn’t act alone and was assisted by other members of a satanic cult, whose members included the (now-deceased) sons of Sam Carr.