David Berkowitz, also known as Son of Sam, was an American serial killer who murdered six people and wounded seven others in New York City over 13 months in 1976 and 1977. He was apprehended in August 1977 and sentenced to 365 years in prison.
Berkowitz was born Richard David Falco on June 1, 1953, in Brooklyn, New York. He was the son of Nat Falco, a truck driver, and Pearl Falco, a homemaker. Berkowitz had an older sister, Roslyn.
Berkowitz’s childhood was marked by instability and violence. His father was an alcoholic and his mother was a devout Catholic who instilled in her son a fear of hell. Berkowitz was also bullied at school and he began to develop a fascination with death and violence.
In 1971, Berkowitz joined the U.S. Army and served for two years. After his discharge, he returned to New York and worked as a security guard. He also married a woman named Deborah Knipp in 1977.
Berkowitz’s first murder was on July 31, 1976. He shot and killed Donna Lauria, 18, and her boyfriend, John Valenti, 20, in their car in the Bronx. He then killed two more young couples in Queens in August and September of that year.
In 1977, Berkowitz’s murders continued. In February, he shot and killed Valentina Suriani, 19, and her fiancé, Alexander Esau, 20, in the Bronx. In March, he shot and killed Stacy Moskowitz, 19, and her boyfriend, Robert Violante, 20, in Queens.
Berkowitz taunted the police and the press with typo-ridden letters, and his attacks caused widespread fear and panic. One chilling aspect of the Son of Sam case was his choice of victims. He specifically targeted young women with dark hair. Sales of wigs reportedly skyrocketed in the wake of his attacks as many women were afraid to go out in public, fearing that they would be targeted by the killer.
Berkowitz’s attacks also had a significant impact on nightlife in New York City. Many popular discos in Queens and the Bronx became ghost towns, as people were afraid to go out at night. The city was in a state of fear, and it seemed like the Son of Sam would never be caught.
His final murder was on July 31, 1977. He shot and wounded Sal Lupo, 20, and his girlfriend, Judy Walker, 18, in the Bronx.
Berkowitz was arrested on August 10, 1977. He confessed to the murders and said that he was under the influence of a demon-possessed neighbor’s dog, Harvey. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 365 years in prison.
Berkowitz has been in prison ever since and eventually renounced his Satanism and became a born-again Christian. He has also written several books about his life and crimes.
Motivations of a Serial Killer
Berkowitz claimed that his neighbor’s black Labrador Retriever, Harvey, was possessed by a demon that ordered him to kill. Bad dog!
He also believed that his neighbor, Sam Carr, was a powerful demon and that he was referring to Carr when he later called himself “Son of Sam.” I tend to believe that he was mentally ill and that the shootings were a manifestation of his psychosis.
However, Berkowitz’s motivation for the shootings may be complex and has been the subject of much speculation. Some experts believe that Berkowitz was motivated by a desire for attention and notoriety. Others believe that he was motivated by a deep-seated hatred of women. The mentally ill diagnosis is also quite obviously on the table.
It is likely that Berkowitz’s motivation was a combination of factors. He was certainly a disturbed individual who was capable of great violence. However, he may also be a product of his environment and his upbringing. Berkowitz was raised in a dysfunctional family and he was exposed to violence at a young age. He also struggled with mental health issues, including schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder.
Ultimately, only Berkowitz knows for sure what motivated him to commit the shootings. However, by understanding his background and his mental health issues, we can begin to piece together the puzzle and get a better understanding of why he did what he did.
Self-Defense Tips Against Son of Sam
Self-defense tips to have prevented being one of David Berkowitz’s victims
There is no surefire way to prevent yourself from being a victim of a crime, but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. David Berkowitz targeted young couples sitting in parked cars. He would often approach the couples and ask for directions, and then he would shoot them. Here are some self-defense tips that may have helped prevent you from being one of David Berkowitz’s victims:
To defend against Berkowitz, you could:
- Avoid sitting in parked cars at night.
- If you must sit in a parked car at night, make sure that you are in a well-lit area and that there are other people around.
- If you are approached by a stranger, do not talk to them. Roll up your windows and lock your doors.
- If you feel threatened, drive away or call the police.
It is important to remember that there is no surefire way to prevent becoming a victim of crime. However, by being aware of your surroundings and taking precautions, you can help to protect yourself.
Here are some additional tips that may help you stay safe:
- Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, trust your gut and leave the situation.
- Be aware of your surroundings and be on the lookout for anything suspicious.
- If you are followed, do not go home. Go to a public place and call the police.
- If you are attacked, fight back. Use whatever means necessary to defend yourself.
Much like Jack the Ripper’s crimes, these were also horrific and senseless. They serve as a reminder that even in the safest of cities, it is important to be aware of your surroundings and to take precautions to protect yourself. Pepper spray, stun guns, or CCW firearms are never a bad idea. Even if Harvey claims otherwise.
As always, be safe and be prepared.
See More of our Serial Killer Profile series: