The Terror Begins
The Son of Sam saga began on July 29, 1976. Donna Lauria (18) and Jody Valenti (19) were sitting innocently in their car outside Lauria’s Bronx apartment when Donna noticed a man peering into the car window. “Who is this guy? What does he want?” Donna never lived to hear her questions answered. David Berkowitz pulled his .44 caliber Charter Arms Bulldog pistol out of a paper bag and fired five times into the car. Donna died instantly. Jody survived the attack and was able to give the first vague description of a man that was soon to be known as the .44 caliber killer(police were able to obtain evidential bullets from the shooting). Police surmised that the attack was a mob (organized crime) attack or possibly a case of mistaken identity.
On October 23, 1976, Carl Denaro (25) and Rosemary Keenan (38) had just returned from a party and were parked near Rosemary’s home in a secluded area of Forest Hills Garden , talking in Carl’s red Volkswagen Beatle. David approached the car, again from the passenger’s side, and fired five shots into the vehicle. Rosemary died instantly, Carl survived, recovering from a bullet wound to his head. At this point, a pattern had already begun to emerge. David Berkowitz struck out at women, most with long, flowing hair.
One month later, on November 26, 1976, Donna DeMasi (16) and Joanne Lomino (18) had just returned home in a bus after watching a movie at a local theatre. They exited the bus within a few blocks of Joanne’s house and began to walk the remaining distance home. One of them noticed a strange man following them but tried to pay him no attention. David finally closed the gap between him and the two woman and briefly addressed them with “Do you know where….”. Before finishing the sentence, he quickly pulled the .44 from underneath his jacket and fired several shots at the two women. In a strange aftermath, David emptied the remaining shots into a nearby house. Both women survived the attack, Donna being struck by a bullet in her neck that barely missed her spine. Joanne was not as lucky and unfortunately became a paraplegic from a bullet wound to her spine.
At this point, only a single bullet had been recovered so no link was made between the three separate incidents. Police had theorized a relationship between the three events but quietly dismissed the idea due to varying descriptions of the assailant.
On January 30, 1977 (conflicting sources place the event on 01/29) Christine Freund (26) and John Diel (30 were sitting in John’s car (a Pontiac Firebird) after a night out at a bar. David fired three shots through the front windshield of the car. Christine died immediately. John survived and was able to offer police a vague description of the attacker.
A Serial Killer?
Detective Sergeant Joe Coffey noted that the weapon used on Christine was a large caliber gun and tied this similarity together with the Donna Lauria, Donna LaMasi, and Joanne Lomino incidents. Ballistics confirmed that a .44 Charter Arms Bulldog was the weapon (which was not a common handgun). Since police could find no common thread between the victims, they began to fear a serial killer was on the loose.
On March 18, 1977, police received the irrefutable proof that a dangerous killer was on the loose. Virginia Voskerichian (19), a Barnard College honor student was walking home from school on Dartmouth Street (in Queens) around 7:30 pm when David approached from opposite direction. At the precise moment when they met, David pulled his .44 from his waist and fired directly at Virginia. She died immediately. Police made a perfect ballistics bullet match against the bullet obtained from the earlier Donna Laurie incident giving them definitive confirmation that their worst fears had been realized. A serial killer was loose in their city.
A witness to the event was able to give a accurate description of David Berkowitz – white male, 25-30 years old, 6 feet tall, medium build with dark hair. In fact, David actually spoke to the witness as they passed. The witness recounted that David calmly spoke, “Hi mister”. In an unusual twist, police realized later that they themselves had spotted David running away from the scene before the call from dispatch came in. They were about to give chase to the “running man” when the report came in on the radio so they abandoned their plan to give chase and quickly moved to the scene of the shooting instead.
With irrefutable proof of a manic serial killer, police held a press conference and released a description of the man. A special task force was put together on April 14, 1977, Operation Omega, which would become the single largest operation ever mounted by the New York police. Led by Deputy Inspector Timothy J. Dowd, it would eventually involve over 300 detectives – and cost taxpayers over $90,000 a day.
Son of Sam and the Media Frenzy
Three days after the formation of Operation Omega, the sixth attack occurred. Valentina Suriani (18) and Alexander Esau (20, a tow truck operator) were necking in Alexander’s car (a Mercury Montego) near the Hutchinson River in the Bronx area (only a block away from the Donna Laurie crime). At 3:00AM, a car pulled next to them and the ‘.44 caliber killer’ fired two shots at each victim. Valentina died immediately and Alexander died several hours later. A note, addressed to Captain Joseph Borrelli, was left at the scene. In the note, the killer identified himself as ‘Son of Sam‘.
…I am deeply hurt by your calling me a woman hater. I am not. But I am a monster. I am the ‘Son of Sam.’…
… 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…
“I’ll be back, I’ll be back! To be interpreted as – bang, bang, bang – ugh!”.
The note was signed “Yours in murder – Mr. Monster”.
With evidence collected thus far, including the above note (the first of many), Dr. Martin Luber, former head of forensic psychiatry at Bellevue and 45 other psychiatrists were able to from a psychological profile of the Son of Sam. He was deemed a paranoid schizophrenic who may consider himself possessed with a demonic spirit. He was suspected to be a loner with difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships (especially with women). With a description this vague, thousands of calls began flooding the New York Police headquarters.
Two weeks later, on April 30, 1977, David Berkowitz continued his letter campaign. A note was sent to Jimmy Breslin, a reporter for the New York Daily news. The Daily News sat on the note for a few days, building suspense with short teaser articles, and then released it to the public on May 2. All copies of the Daily News sold out within an hour. The press continued rolling and by the end of the day over 1,116,000 copies were sold, a record that would not be beaten until the day of David Berkowitz’s arrest.
….Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of NYC and from the ants that dwell in these cracks and feed on the dried blood of the dead that has settled into the cracks…
…Sam’s a thirsty lad. He won’t let me stop killing until he gets his fill of blood…. …However, you must not forget Donna Lauria and you cannot let the people forget her either. She was a very sweet girl…
The Daily News withheld some portions of the letter at the insistence of the police (it mentioned the N.C.I.C – National Crime Information Center). The omitted passage read:
…here are some names to help you along…
…Duke of Death. Wicked King Wicker. The twenty-two Disciples of Hell. And lastly, John Wheaties, rapist and suffocator of young girls…
Cassara’s and the Carr’s
Our story takes a strange turn on June 10, 1977. Jack Cassara from New Rochelle, received an odd note in the mail from ‘Carr in Yonkers’. Included with the letter was a picture of a German Shepherd dog.
Dear Jack, I’m sorry to hear about that fall you took from the roof of your house. Just want to say ‘I’m sorry’ but I’m sure it won’t be long until you feel much better, healthy, well and strong: Please be careful next time. Since your going to be confined for a long time, let us know if Nann needs anything.
Sincerely: Sam and Francis
Jack had no idea who Sam and Francis Carr were so he looked them up and gave them a call. Sam and Francis too were intrigued by the letter and agreed to meet with Jack and his son Stephen Cassara to discuss the event.
During the discussion and examination of the letter and picture, the Carr’s told Jack that they had a small dog who was shot and also of a German Shepherd that had also been shot in their neighborhood. Stephen Cassara, Jack’s 19 year old son, recollected that a strange guy, David Berkowitz, who had rented a room in their house in 1976, had a strange aversion to their dog. “He never came back for his two-hundred dollar security deposit when he left. Well, he was always bothered by our dog, too.”
This stunned the Carrs after they realized that David Berkowitz had been a neighbor of theirs too – a neighbor who always complained about their barking dog and was the one person they highly suspected to be involved with the shooting of the animal.
The New Rochelle and Yonkers police were notified. Nann Cassara, Jack’s wife, drew the correct conclusion that David Berkowitz was the Son of Sam.
In an even stranger twist, one of the responding Yonkers officers remembered a deputy sheriff, Craig Glassman, was a neighbor of David Berkowitz’s. The name’s all came together because the officer recollected that Glassman had received an anonymous letter about a ‘demon group’ consisting of Glassman, the Cassaras, and the Carrs! Yonkers police reacted to this by pulling address and registration information on David Berkowitz. He drove a Ford Galaxy and they noted that his license was suspended…
On June 25, 1977 Judy Placido (17) and Salvatore Lupo (20) had just left the Elephas, a disco in Queens when Judy remarked “This Son of Sam is really scary. The way that guy comes out of nowhere. You never know where he’ll hit next.” And as Judy would later explain, “All of a sudden, I heard echoing in the car. There wasn’t any pain, just ringing in my ears. I looked at Sal, and his eyes were open wide, just like his mouth. There were no screams. I don’t know why I didn’t scream. All the windows had been closed. I couldn’t understand what this pounding noise was. After that, I felt disoriented, dazed.” Sal was struck in the arm. Judy was shot 3 times. Both survived.
Police Put Together all the Clues
On July 29, 1977, exactly one year after the first incident, the New York police feared an anniversary killing. They anxiously waited and were relieved when all remained quiet. But, two days later on July 31, 1977, Son of Sam struck for the last time. Stacy Moskowitz and Bobby Violante were parking at Gravesend Bay in Brooklyn around 1:45 AM after seeing a movie together. Bobby suggested they go for a walk and Stacy reluctantly agreed. While walking they caught a glimpse of a man who quickly ducked between some parked cars. At Stacy’s insistence, they returned to their car. After returning to their car, Bobby convinced Stacy that everything was OK and they continued their date. “All of a sudden,” Bobby recalled, “I heard like a humming sound. First I thought I heard glass break. Then I didn’t hear Stacy any more. I didn’t feel anything, but I saw her fall away from me. I don’t know who got shot first, her or me.” Bobby was shot twice in the face. Stacy was shot once in the head. Stacy died 38 hours later in a New York hospital. Bobby survived the attack but was declared legally blind after losing his left eye and 80% of the vision in his right eye.
A witness to the incident, Cacilia Davis, gave police a eyewitness report that to some, seemed confusing. She reported seeing a VW Van speed away from the scene? She also told of seeing a man trying to hide, a man that she thought was concealing a gun. She gave a detailed description of the man but police were disappointed to hear that the description differed from the profile of David Berkowitz that they had already compiled. They practically discounted her story but did follow up on her insistence that there was a policeman in the area that night writing tickets on parked cars. A list of offenders who received tickets that night was compiled and among that list was a David Berkowitz, registered as 561-XLB, who lived at 35 Pine Street in Yonkers.
Meanwhile, on August 03, 1977, the Yonkers policemen who were involved with the Casssara and Carr letters, decided to do a little detective work on their own. After digging around in the police database they discovered that David Berkowitz fit the description of the Son of Sam. They even went as far as talking to David’s landlord who mentioned that David had once been a security guard. This led the two Yonker’s officers to the correct conclusion that David Berkowitz would have been familiar with guns. They passed this information on to their superior officer who in turned passed it along to the Omega Force.
Days later, a call arrive to the Yonkers police from a Deputy Sheriff, Craig Glassman about a suspected arson. Glassman, if you recall, was a neighbor of David Berkowitz whose name came up during the course of the Cassara and Carr letters incident. Craig told officers that a fire had been set outside his door and someone had dropped .22 caliber bullets into the flames. He recounted his suspicion about the neighbor that lived above him, David Berkowitz, who had already left threatening letters on his doorstep. One stated: “True, I am the killer, but Craig, the killings are at your command.”
It was at this point that Stan Carr became very angry and annoyed at the New York police for discounting his story of the strange letter, the shot dog, and his insistence that David Berkowitz was the Son of Sam. Sam stormed the New York Police station and went directly to the Omega Force team.
Finally, the Cecilia David ticket incident, Stan Carrs wild ascertains, Glassman’s weird run in with his neighbor, and the Carr’s/Cassara letter forced the police to consider David Berkowitz a prime suspect. They formed a surveillance of David’s home. At first they mistakenly apprehended a suspect whom they thought was about to enter David Berkowitz’s car – the suspect turned out to be David Glassman himself. Several hours later, David did come out of his home carrying a brown paper bag. As soon as he entered his car the police surrounded him and one officer quickly placed a gun to his head ordering him to freeze.
“Now that I’ve got you,” Falotico said, “who have I got?”
“You know,” David replied
“No, I don’t. You tell me.” Falotico countered.
Still smiling, he answered, “I’m Sam. David Berkowitz.”
David Berkowitz freely confessed to all the murders, giving accurate details that only the real killer would have known. He seemed fascinated and pleased with all the attention he was receiving and offered no remorse for his crimes. David was found guilty and sentenced to 364 year in prison, a sentence he continues to serve at the Attica Correctional Facility. David had killed six people, blinded one, paralyzed one, and wounded seven.
After the arrest and subsequent trial, the bizarre details of David’s life began to emerge…
The Life of David Berkowitz
David was born on June 1, 1953. His parents, Nat and Pearl Berkowitz, adopted David at birth since they could not have children of their own. David grew up in the Bronx and was known to be a loner, hyperactive, and sometimes violent. He was always rather large for his age and had the reputation for being a bully.
As far back as I can remember my childhood was not that of a normal child. It started when I was about five or six years old. I was completely uncontrollable. I would rampage through the house, sometimes overturning furniture. A tremendous force would come upon me and urge me to do destructive things to property or even to myself. Other times I would be in total silence to my parents and not respond to their outreaches of love. I would lock myself in the closet in the darkness and stay there for hours. I was depressed at times and my parents would have to pull me away from the window to keep me from committing suicide. I was a tormented child, always having psychological problems. School officials sent me to a child psychologist.
In 1967, Pearl Berkowitz died of cancer. David was 14 years old. He was raised by his father, Nat, until 1971 when Nat remarried. Nat’s new wife was quite disturbed with David’s unusual and violent behavior and soon Nat and his bride moved to Florida, leaving the 18 year old David on his own in the Bronx.
The lonely and confused David joined the Army that same year (1971) where he became an excellent marksman. It was said that David’s only sexual encounter occurred during his stay in the Army – an unfortunate flay with a Korean prostitute that resulted in David contracting a venereal disease. After serving his military term he returned to the Bronx, still with no real direction.
It was at this time (in 1974) that David, who knew he was adopted, decided to track down his real parents. Using the Bureau of Records, he determined that his real name was Richard Falco. Looking through a phone book, by chance, he found a Betty Falco (Broder) and gave her a call. She eagerly agreed to talk to David and he soon learned of the events surrounding his birth.
Betty Falco was married to Tony Falco, the owner of a fish market, and had one child, Roslyn. Around 1953, Tony left Betty for another woman. The despondent Betty soon began an affair with a married man named Joseph Kleinman, an affair that resulted in Betty becoming pregnant. Joseph Kleinman agreed to care for Betty’s family but only if she gave up the child for adoption. Before David was even born, the adoption was arranged and immediately after his birth he was given his new name and handed over to the Berkowitz family.
Although David must have been quite disturbed to hear of the details of his birth, he continued to visit Betty and Roslyn for a while (Joseph Kleinman had already passed away in 1965 from a bout with cancer). Gradually, during the year of 1975, they began to drift apart again until he no longer had any contact with them. This was shortly before the first crime and Josyln, David’s sister, was already becoming worried about David who frequently complained of massive headaches.
David’s disturbing behavior was beginning to reveal itself to those around him:
… the girls call me ugly and they bother me the most. The guys just laugh. Anyhow, things will soon change for the better…
Shortly before the killings, David turned to arson as a way to vent his anger. His diary indicates he set over 1400 fires in New York during 1975 (yes, he recorded the dates and location of each fire). He also claims that during this period he attempted two (some sources indicated three) knife attacks against women. Both women survived. David indicated that his feelings at that time were of demons, harassing him through the continual barking of his neighbors dogs, and ordering him to initiate these dastardly attacks
Three months before the first murder, David moved to 35 Pine Street in Yonkers where he felt the demons followed him and continued their assault through the incessant barking of the neighbor’s dogs at his new address.
When I moved in the Cassaras seemed very nice and quiet. But they tricked me. They lied. I thought they were members of the human race. They weren’t! Suddenly the Cassaras began to show up with the demons. They began to howl and cry out. ‘Blood and death!’ They called out the names of the masters! The Blood Monster, John Wheaties, General Jack Cosmo.
At last, David Berkowitz broke and his killing rampage began. Exhilarated by the attention he began receiving from the media, David experienced for the first time a sense of self respect. Finally, people were beginning to pay attention to the loner from the Bronx.
David claimed that he stalked women every night and if unsuccessful he would simply return to the scene of one of his previous crimes in order to ‘relive’ the experience. He indicated that he wanted to attend the funerals but was afraid he would be noticed (although he admits that he did visit the graves). His letter writing campaign arose after a reading of a Jack the Ripper book. Once the media penned the Son of Sam name, it stuck and he liked it so much that he even created a logo for it.
Berkowitz’s Life in the Aftermath
After the capture of Son of Sam, David proudly resolved that he would spend the remainder of his life behind bars. Even in prison the strange events continued – an attempt was made on his life. Although unsuccessful, the incident resulted in David receiving 56 stitches on his throat and a lifelong scar.
About 10 years into David’s prison sentence, a prison inmate approached David with the prospect of religion being an outlet for his anger. As David explains:
There was a time back in 1987, one cold winter’s night, when I was in the prison yard. Another inmate walked up to me, introduced himself, and boldly told me that Jesus loved me and had a plan for my life. After he said those words I laughed at him and told him that there was no way God could love me. I told him I was too evil, that he was wasting his time. But this man had such a compassionate attitude, and I saw that he was really sincere. I cannot describe it. Let’s just say he had a special glow about him. One day he offered me a small pocket New Testament which included the Psalms. He urged me to read portions of it, especially the Psalms. Some nights I would peek into the Bible just to check it out. I had never read the Bible before. I started to read the Psalms for the first time in my life, and said to myself, “My God, these are some of the most beautiful words I’ve ever read. I began to cry like never before. I shut my light out, got down on my knees in the darkness, and began to pour out my heart to the Lord. This was all new to me. Feelings of grief and deep remorse welled up inside. I called upon the God of Israel and talked to Him as if He were right in the cell with me. I didn’t even know if God was listening. I just had to pray. And He heard my prayer.”
The police and the news media used to call me ‘The Son of Sam’, but God has given me a new name, ‘the son of Hope’, because now, my life is about hope.
He has been reviewed for parole several times including one instance where he refused to show up for the hearing. Berkowitz explained:
“Frankly, I can give you no good reason why I should even be considered for parole. I can, however, give you many reasons why I should not be. The loss of six lives and the wounding of even more are reasons enough for the latter. In all honesty, I believe that I deserve to be in prison for the rest of my life.”
There are a couple of additional, unusual ancillary notes we can add to the Son of Sam story.
The demon connection
The demonic obsession David often spoke about has resulted in a few ‘conspiracy’ type theories. David claimed to have been involved in a Satanic cult, a claim that has yet to be confirmed. David himself has given conflicting accounts of this and at one time told FBI agent Robert Ressler that he conjured up the entire story in order to cop an insanity plea (which did not work). The possibility of the involvement of a cult has intrigued some. Rumors abound that the killing spree was not initiated by a single man, but rather by a group of people, as a part of some unknown ritual. Varying descriptions of the suspect seem to support this theory.
Finally, Sam Carr (the neighbor with the barking dog) himself supported this theory. Sam had a son named John ‘Wheaties’ Carr (mentioned in one of Berkowitz’s letters as one of the demons’ masters) who committed suicide in the late 70’s (after David had been captured). The number ‘666’ was carved on John’s hand and next to John’s lifeless body, scrawled in blood, were the letters S.S.N.Y.C., a acronym that Sam attributed to ‘Son of Sam, New York City’.
Update: 2/20/2005 – Problems with money?
Here at Altered Dimensions, we frequently receive unusual (but interesting) communications from the readers. On February 20, 2005, attorneys of Lawrence Klausner, author of one of the many Son of Sam books, contacted Altered Dimensions and requested that all full transcripts of David’s letters be removed from this article. It seems as if Lawrence had worked out some kind of an agreement with David Berkowitz – an agreement that allows Lawrence to profit off of the letters from David. With Lawrence owning the rights to all of Berkowitz’s letters, even letters that appeared in public newspapers, they can no longer be shared with readers. Other than for profit motives, we’re not really sure why the contents of these letters are being repressed. We complied, removed the boring or inconsequential parts of the letters, and included explanations and synopsis’s instead.
Update: 5/20/2008 – Legal problems?
Altered Dimensions received communications from David Berkowitz himself informing us that the legal arrangement mentioned above was not true. He said he was currently initiating a legal case against his former attorney. Below are the notarized letters that David Berkowitz sent Altered Dimensions.
Here is a transcript of the above letters:
The following is the introductory letter to Altered Dimensions sent in 2008.
I am sending this letter to you along with the notarized paperwork that’s attached. It’s self-explanatory.
Because of the prison’s correspondence rules I am not allowed to send letters that have an incomplete name or address. Thus I am forwarding this to you through a friend.
Thank you for allowing me to make a statement and provide correct information. If you have any questions, feel free to write me directly.
Sullivan Correction Facility
P.O. Box 116
Fallsburg, NY 12733-0116
Below is the text of the three-page letter sent to Altered Dimensions explaining the ownership dispute between him and his ex-attorney.
Dear Altered Dimensions and Brian
I am responding to an item you have on your Web site with regard to me, David Berkowitz, and a man by the name of Lawrence Klausner who, many years ago, wrote a book about me (a biography) and the so called “Son of Sam” case.
Please be advised, and for your information, I do not know Mr. Klausner. I have never met him or have I assisted him in any manner with regards to his book. I believe that, to the best of my recollection, his book came out in 1980 and was published by the McGraw-Hill Book Company. As far as I know it was not a successful venture and it is long since out of print. A careful reading of it, however, would clearly show that Mr. Klausner never interviewed or communicated with me. In addition there is no law prohibiting a person from writing about any individual who is in prison, or about crimes.
Apparently the material that’s on your Web site states that Lawrence Klausner and I had some kind of deal or arrangement. This is not the case. I had nothing to do with the book. I recall speed-reading through it when it first came out because, obviously, I was curious as to what it said. I did not find anything in it, however, that was of any interest to me. I discarded the copy, and this had to be at least twenty-five or more years ago.
Your Internet page also says that attorneys for Mr. Klausner had contacted you recently and requested you removed old drawing and letters that I wrote which you had at once featured on your site. I did not see these, however, but I assume Mr. Klausner requested their removal because he had obtained these things through my former attorneys who had represented me after I was arrested, and they turned this material over to Mr. Klausner who used them in his book. Therefore those pages must be copyrighted, and this is why his lawyers contacted you. But again, I had never seen the pages in question – I have no Internet access here – and do not even know what these things were.
Again, Brian, I stress that I was never involved with a book deal with Lawrence Klausner. I did not in any way cooperate with his writing the book. I never met with or communicated with this man. I don’t even know what he looks like. Furthermore, I have never made any money from writing books. I do not believe in doing this. My prayers have been and always will be with the victims of my crimes.
If I could be of further help to you, or if you have any questions, feel free to write to me. Thank you!
Very truly yours,
David Berkowitz 78-A-1976
Sullivan Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 116
Fallsburg, NY 12733-0116
Sworn to before this 3rd day of August 2006.
Charles A. Gramlich
Notary Public, State of New York
Sullivan County Clerk’s #2086
Commission Expires September 6, 2008
In June 2005, Berkowitz sued his former attorney, Hugo Harmatz, claiming he had taken possession of Berkowitz’s letters and other personal belongings in order to publish a book of his own. Berkowitz stated that he would only drop the lawsuit if the attorney signed over all money he makes to the victims’ families. On October 25, 2006, Berkowitz and Harmatz settled out of court, with Harmatz agreeing to return the disputed items to Berkowitz’s present attorney Mark Jay Heller, and to donate part of his book profits to the New York State Crime Victims Board.