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David Berkowitz

Notable Quotable
“The demons were howling for blood.”

On July 26, 1976, Donna Lauria, a pretty, petite eighteenyear-old, sat in an Oldsmobile chatting with her friend Judy Valenti. The car was parked in front of Donna’s apartment building at 2860 Buhre Avenue in the Bronx, New York, one of a number of apartment buildings that lined the quiet street in the middle-class neighborhood.
David Berkowitz

At about one in the morning, Donna’s father, who had been out, returned to the building and spotted Donna and Judy in the car. He suggested Donna come in soon, and she said she would be right up. Less than a minute later, the two women were distracted by the appearance of a dark-haired man wearing a denim jacket and jeans and carrying a paper bag. They watched as he calmly walked to the passenger side of the car where Donna was sitting. Donna turned to Judy, “What does he want?”

Suddenly, a pistol emerged from the bag and the man dropped into a squatting position, the gun held in both hands. He was in the classic combat shooter’s pose and fired five shots through the passenger window, shattering it—and shattering Donna Lauria. Upstairs, her father was startled by the rapid-fire crescendo and thought a car was backfiring. He went downstairs and was assaulted by the horrendous sight of his daughter covered with blood, her friend shrieking hysterically.

Soon Donna Lauria would be dead, the first victim of the Son of Sam, a name that would terrorize New York City.

David's Demons
Berkowitz believed that demons talked to him. The killing of Donna Lauria had a calming effect on those demons, but gradually the demands began again. The demons wanted more blood, more shooting, more death. Soon the demands were so strong that Berkowitz, who tried to fight them, could no longer refuse.

On October 23, 1976, he went to Queens, again on the hunt. In the Flushing area, he spotted a red Ford Galaxie and followed it in his white Ford. Berkowitz saw that there were two people in the car, but he couldn’t tell whether they were male or female. One had long, dark hair, a favorite of the demons. Soon the couple parked the car near the corner of 33rd Avenue and 159th Street. Berkowitz parked behind them.

Inside the car was Carl Denaro, a young man who was soon to enter the air force. Driving the car was Rosemary Keenan, eighteen years old, whose father was a New York City police officer. Berkowitz approached the car, concealing the heavy gun under a denim jacket. He went to the passenger side of the car and, without further ado, fired five times through the window.

Denaro was shot in the head, but miraculously Rosemary Keenan was not hit and bolted from the car screaming. Despite being shot five times, Denaro amazingly survived, but required a metal plate in his head to replace the bone fragments blown away in the shooting.

The demons were howling for blood again in less than a month, and on the chilly, windy night of November 26, 1976, Berkowitz was back in his predatory mode. Two girls, sixteen-year-old Donna DeMasi and eighteen-year-old Joanne Lomino, had returned to Queens after seeing a movie in Manhattan. They got off a bus at 262nd Street and Hillside Avenue and started walking home. Joanne had a twelve-thirty curfew, and it was almost midnight. As they walked, they noticed a man starting to follow them. They were worried and walked faster, but by the time they got to Joanne’s home, he was nowhere in sight. Then they saw him coming toward them, and Joanne searched her bag for her keys. The girls were nervous, but the man—dark haired, stocky, wearing a denim jacket—didn’t seem terribly threatening.

In the next instant he was firing at them, and he hit both. Then he was gone. The girls both lived, but Joanne Lomino paid a terrible price: one of the bullets had severed her spine and she was paralyzed from the waist down.

Unconnected Crimes
Unfortunately, the police did not assume that one shooter perpetrated all of these assaults, simply because they didn’t have any physical evidence that tied the crimes together. These assaults were in the days before computers were in common use, which help immensely in making connections between apparently unconnected cases. Without looking at all the evidence side by side, why would they assume someone was shooting complete strangers for no apparent reason?

The next shooting resulted in another death. A young engaged couple - Christine Freund, age twenty-six, and John Diel, age thirty - had gone out to see the movie Rocky. They returned to their car, which was parked at Station Plaza on Continental Avenue near the Long Island Railroad line in Queens. In fact, they had to walk under a railroad bridge to get to the car, a blue Pontiac Firebird.

It was a bitterly cold night, just five or six degrees above zero, and they had just gotten into the car when out of nowhere shots smashed through the passenger-side window. Christine Freund was shot twice in the head and once in the chest, but, miraculously, Diel was not hit at all. Someone called 911 after hearing the shots, and within four minutes the emergency service team was on the scene. But it was too late for Freund. She died at St. John’s Hospital at four in the morning, never regaining consciousness.

After Christine Freund’s murder, panic set in over New York. Police put out word across the city to find out whether there were any similar homicides, and the random shootings of six people were finally lumped together. The cops knew that a large-caliber revolver was involved in them all. A homicide task force was formed.

On March 8, 1977 - a little more than a month after Freund was killed - there was another shooting. Virginia Voskerichian, an honor student at Barnard College, was walking to her home in Queens along Dartmouth Avenue near Seventy-first Street when she spotted a man coming toward her. No one will know what she thought, but it might have been that he was overdressed for the day: It was unseasonably warm and he was wearing a ski coat.

The Son of Sam had been searching the area for a pretty girl to shoot and kill for the last hour, as his demons had ordered. Virginia fit the bill; she was slim and pretty. When he was within twenty-five feet of her, he pulled out the revolver. Instinctively, Virginia pulled the books she was carrying up to her face to shield herself. Berkowitz fired once, the bullet entering Virginia’s head above the lip. She fell into the bushes that flanked the road. Virginia was rushed to St. John’s Hospital, but she never regained consciousness and died at four the next morning.

If the police had any doubts as to whether there was a psycho loose in the city, the investigation into Virginia’s death erased those doubts. A .44 caliber bullet was recovered from the scene, and the New York Police Department’s ballistics unit matched it to one of the bullets used to kill Donna Lauria only six months earlier. They now knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was a serial killer on the loose.

Police Commissioner Michael Codd called a press conference on March 10 and announced to the world that a crazy man was on the loose, and that women - particularly pretty girls with dark hair - were at risk. Panic spread and then deepened. The .44 caliber killer was front-page news, and more shootings - and a frightening letter - whipped the city’s fear into a frenzy.

On April 17, a young couple, Alexander Esau, age twenty, and Valentina Suriana, age eighteen, were shot dead while parked just a block short of 1950 Hutchinson River Parkway in the Bronx - only three blocks from where Donna Lauria had been killed. The killer was getting better: fewer shots and more deaths. Only four shots had been fired this time, two into each victim. Along with the bodies that displayed the killer’s newfound marksmanship, there was another new development with these murders - police found this letter at the scene (shown as written):

Dear Captain Joseph Borrelli, I am deeply hurt by your calling me a wemon hater. I am not. But I am a monster. I am the ‘Son of Sam.’ I am a little brat.

When father Sam gets drunk he gets mean. He beats his family. Sometimes he ties me up to the back of the house. Other times he locks me in the garage. Sam loves to drink blood. ‘Go out and kill,’ commands father Sam. Behind our house some rest. Mostly young - raped and slaughtered - their blood drained-just bones now. Papa Sam keeps me locked in the attic too. I can’t get out but I look out the attic window and watch the world go by. I feel like an outsider. I am on a different wavelength then everybody else-programmed too kill. However, to stop me you must kill me. Attention all police: Shoot me first - shoot to kill or else keep out of my way or you will die! Papa Sam is old now. He needs some blood to preserve his youth. He has had too many heart attacks. ‘Ugh, me hoot, it hurts, sonny boy.’ I miss my pretty princess most of all. She’s resting in our ladies house. But I’ll see her soon. I am the ‘Monster’ - ‘Beelzebub’ - the chubby behemouth. I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game - tasty meat. The wemon of Queens are prettyist of all. It must be the water they drink. I live for the hunt - my life. Blood for papa. Mr. Borrelli, sir, I don’t want to kill anymore. No sur, no more but I must, ‘honour thy father.’ I want to make love to the world. I love people. I don’t belong on earth. Return me to yahoos. To the people of Queens, I love you. And I want to wish all of you a happy Easter. May God bless you in this life and in the next. I say goodbye and goodnight. Police, let me haunt you with these words: I’ll be back! I’ll be back!
To be interrupted as - bang, bang, bang, bang, bang- ugh! “Yours in murder Mr. Monster.”
Now the newspapers had an official name for the killer: the Son of Sam.

More Shootings
On June 26, two months after the killings of Esau and Suriana, the killer struck again, this time shooting Judy Placido, age seventeen, and Salvatore Lupo, age twenty. They had been at the Elephas dance club, and their car was parked across the street at 4539 211th Street in Queens. Ironically, the young couple was talking about the Son of Sam when suddenly there was a booming echo inside the car. Unbelievably they both survived the shooting, though Placido was shot in the temple, near the spine, and in the shoulder. Lupo was hit in the arm.

So the Son of Sam made his way into Brooklyn on the night of July 31, 1977, looking for people to shoot, and he found them: Stacy Moskowitz, a pretty twenty-year-old blonde, and her date, twenty-year-old Robert Violante. The couple had parked on Shore Parkway, next to a cyclone fence, after another very lucky couple had pulled out of the area just moments before. It was just after two-thirty in the morning, and the Son of Sam fired five shots into the car. The shots made Robert Violante blind. They killed Stacy Moskowitz.

A Break in the Case
As often happens in matters of great consequence, the thing that ultimately resulted in the capture of Son of Sam was something utterly pedestrian: a traffic ticket. It was fortunate timing, because as he would later report, the killer was getting bored with these types of homicidal forays and wanted to do something a little more dramatic and climactic—a mass murder. In fact, he almost did it.

On Saturday, August 6, he decided that he would slaughter a bunch of people at a campground in Southampton, Long Island, a place he knew because he had camped there the year before. The campground was at the peak of its season, loaded with young people. Berkowitz showered, dressed in fresh clothes, and loaded his revolver and a .45 caliber semiautomatic rifle.

It was a two-and-a-half-hour drive to Southampton, and the weather, which had started out fine, changed as he went. Great thunderheads dominated the gray sky, and before he knew it, raindrops spattered on his windshield and soon turned into a torrent. The sky shredded with lightning. It got so bad that Berkowitz pulled off to the side of the road to wait out the storm and await word from his demons. The demons decided that the storm had cleared away too many potential victims. They instructed Berkowitz to go home. A summer shower had prevented a bloodbath.

Then the demons turned on him. In his apartment in Yonkers, a community just north of the Bronx, they ripped at him for not being able to fulfill his mission. They didn’t accept rain as an excuse, even though they had ordered him to abort the plan. Berkowitz’s punishment was simple: He had to die. But while the Son of Sam wrestled with his demons, forces were combining that would result in his capture.

The night he killed Stacy Moskowitz and blinded Robert Violante, Berkowitz had parked at 290 Bay Seventeenth, only a block and a half from the scene of the crime. During the investigation into the deaths of the young couple, a woman who had been walking her dog said that she spotted a policeman writing a ticket for a cream-colored car parked in that spot. But none of the officers could remember it, and the ticket seemed to have vanished. Then, about two weeks later, someone found the ticket squirreled away with some others in the backroom of the precinct where it had been issued. The car belonged to David Berkowitz, of 35 Pine Street, Yonkers, New York. Some detectives went to Berkowitz’s address and found his car parked in the street—and spotted something inside that electrified them. Sticking out from under a gunnysack was the butt of a machine gun. They also saw two letters, in handwriting that resembled the handwriting that Son of Sam had used in the terrifying letters he had been writing to Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin.

Soon there were three hundred police officers surrounding Berkowitz’s building, and the district attorney had gone on a frantic foray for a search warrant. They waited and waited and waited, and finally Berkowitz appeared. The cops weren’t sure what to do. Should they grab him? Arrest him before the search warrant arrived? Then, perhaps with the idea that he was leaving to go kill again, they acted when Berkowitz got into his car: Guns drawn, they tapped on the car window and shouted at Berkowitz to freeze. Berkowitz looked at one of the detectives, Bill Gardella. “He had that stupid smile on his face,” the detective was to say later, “like it was all a kid’s game.” But that could hardly describe what Berkowitz had done. He was put under arrest and the killing finally stopped.
Fifty-six Stitches
On July 10, 1979, David Berkowitz was attacked and nearly killed in the segregation block of Attica Correctional Facility. A fellow inmate used a homemade knife to attack Berkowitz from behind and slash his throat. The wound required fifty-six stitches to close. Berkowitz felt that the attack may have been retribution for talking about the satanic cult that he claimed took part in the Son of Sam murders.
Rich Girl
David Berkowitz once claimed that the No. 1 song “Rich Girl,” by Hall and Oates, was the motivation behind the murders he had committed, but because the song came out after the killings had begun, it was in all likelihood just more disinformation Berkowitz enjoyed telling the investigators
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