On This Day

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LIFE Magazine

On This Day: Son of Sam Arrested

August 10, 2011 06:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
On Aug. 10, 1977, David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam killer, was captured after a 13-month killing spree in New York that left six dead.

The Son of Sam Killings

The Son of Sam killer, also known as the .44 caliber killer, terrorized New York City for over a year, killing six and wounding seven in a series of eight attacks. Using his .44 Charter Arms Bulldog, a distinctively high caliber gun, he targeted young brunette women or couples late at night, often near bars and nightclubs.
The first Son of Sam attack was July 26, 1976, in the Bronx, but it was not until his fourth attack, committed on Jan. 30, 1977, in Forest Hills, Queens, that authorities began to suspect that the attacks were being carried out by the same man. The NYPD created the Operation Omega task force, a group of 50 officers dedicated to finding the killer that would eventually swell to 300 officers.

Following the next attack, committed on March 8 just a block from the fourth attack, the police publicly declared that the killings were the work of a serial killer. The killer struck next on April 17, killing a couple in the Bronx. He left a note at the scene of the crime addressed to Police Capt. Joseph Borelli. It said:


New Yorkers, particularly residents of Queens and the Bronx, began to live in fear of the Son of Sam. Bars and discos were deserted, and young brunette women cut or dyed their hair. Authorities received hundreds of tips a day, but the killer remained at-large.

On May 30, New York Daily News reporter Jimmy Breslin received a letter from the killer reading, “Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C. which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine, and blood.” He also made an ominous reference to July 29, the anniversary of his first killing.

The killer attacked a couple in Queens on June 26, but the couple survived. He let July 29 pass, but two days later he shot a couple in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, far from his previous attacks.

The Capture of the Son of Sam

On the night of the Brooklyn murder, a woman walking her dog spotted a suspicious-looking man who had received a parking ticket. Police examined the tickets issued that night and saw that one was issued to a cream-colored Ford Galaxy owned by Yonkers resident David Berkowitz.

Berkowitz was known in Yonkers for his erratic behavior. He had sent threatening letters to neighbors, including Sam Carr, whose dog tormented Berkowitz with its barking. Berkowitz, who killed the dog, claimed after his arrest that the dog had commanded him to kill.

On Aug. 10, police visited Berkowitz’s apartment at 35 Pine Street and saw his car. “Detectives who found the car said they had looked inside and had seen the butt of a machine gun sticking out of a gunny sack,” reported Robet D. McFadden in The New York Times. “They said they had also found a letter with printing that resembled that on the two letters known to have been written by the killer, as well as a message later found in the suspect's apartment.”

The police waited for Berkowitz to leave his apartment before arresting him. As he was surrounded by officers, Berkowitz quipped, “Well, you’ve got me.”

Berkowitz in Prison

Berkowitz admitted to his crimes, describing the murders to police in great detail. He claimed to have been driven by demons living inside Sam Carr and his dog. “It was a command,” he claimed. “I had a sign and I followed it. Sam told me what to do and I did it. … [Sam Carr] really is a man who lived 6,000 years ago. I got the messages through his dog. He told me to kill. Sam is the Devil.”

Despite Berkowitz’s “demons,” he was deemed mentally fit to stand trial. He pleaded guilty in 1978 and received a sentence totaling 365 years.

In 1979, Berkowitz admitted to an Associated Press reporter that he had made up the stories of demons: “There were no real demons, no talking dogs, no satanic henchmen. I made it all up via my wild imagination so as to find some form of justification for my criminal acts.”

That same year, he told FBI agent Robert Ressler that his demon stories were an attempt to be declared insane. He admitted that his crimes were caused by hatred toward women, both because he had trouble starting relationships and because he held resentment toward his birth mother, who gave him up for adoption. He said that killing women was an “erotic experience” for him.

Berkowitz has also claimed that the killings were the work of a satanic cult he belonged to and that he had only carried out only two of the shootings. This theory was presented in detail by journalist Maury Terry in his 1987 book “The Ultimate Evil.”

Berkowitz became a born-again Christian in 1987 and has developed a loyal circle of Christian friends who praise him for his conversion. “For a Christian, consorting with the Devil is not necessarily a liability,” writes Steve Fishman in New York magazine. “Instead, as David learned, it can be a mark of election. David’s admirers seemed to think that the bigger the sin, the better the Christian. What, after all, demonstrates God’s power better than redeeming someone like Son of Sam?”

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