The murder spree of serial killer Son of Sam between 1976 and 1977 triggered one of the largest police manhunts in New York City history. Now a new show on Foxtel's History channel uses rare home movies and police footage to put together an immersive, vivid account of how the killing spree unfolded — and how a serial killer came to be.
THE HUMBLE BEGINNINGS OF A MONSTER
David Richard Berkowitz was born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 1, 1953, and was given up for adoption. He lost interest in learning at a young age and became infatuated with petty theft and starting fires. By the age of 17, he had joined the US Army and served time in South Korea in 1971. After a dishonourable discharge three years later, Berkowitz managed to track down his birth mother, who disclosed the details of his illegitimate birth. This news greatly disturbed him, and shattered his sense of identity.
During the mid-1970s, Berkowitz started committing violent crimes in the New York City boroughs of the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. He favoured female victims, most often with long, dark, wavy hair. In 1976, one of Berkowitz's army friends gifted him a .44 calibre Bulldog gun. Now there was no stopping him.
On the morning of July 29, 1976, Berkowitz walked up to a parked car in the Bronx where two young women were talking and fired five bullets from his revolver into the vehicle. Donna Lauria, 18, was killed instantly and her friend, Jody Valenti, was wounded. Police found no motives or leads.
On October 23, Berkowitz struck again, critically wounding Carl Denaro, 20, as he sat in a car chatting with a female friend Rosemary Keenan.
Just over a month later, on November 27, Donna DeMasi, 16, and Joanne Lomino, 18, were shot while sitting on the porch outside Lomino's home. Lomino was left paraplegic.
On January 30, 1977, Berkowitz fatally shot Christine Freund, 26, as she sat in a car with her fiance Jon Diel, 30. They were heading out for a dance after watching the movie Rocky.
On March 8, Columbia University student Virginia Voskerichian, 19, was shot to death and killed while walking home in Manhattan.
At the murder scene, a bullet was found intact, and it proved to be a match with the bullet found at the scene of Berkowitz's first murder. The New York police announced a serial killer was on the loose. He was described as a white male in his 20s, with black hair and average height and build. The city was thrown into a frenzy — and the killing didn't stop.
On April 17, Valentina Suriani, 18, and Alexander Esau, 20, were shot and killed while they kissed in their parked car. What's unique about this double murder is the killer left a note addressed to New York Police Department captain Joseph Borrelli, written mostly in capitals, where he identified himself as the Son of Sam.
On June 26, Son of Sam struck again, wounding Judy Placido, 17, and Sal Lupo, 20, as they sat in their car after leaving a disco.
On July 31, just two days after the anniversary of his first killing, Berkowitz shot a young couple kissing in a parked car in Brooklyn. Stacy Moskowitz, 20, was fatally wounded, and her boyfriend, Bobby Violante, also 20, lost his left eye and nearly all the vision in his right eye.
CAPTURING A SERIAL KILLER
The NYPD formed a 200-person task force to capture the Son of Sam, with many officers working undercover throughout the night hoping to catch the killer in the act. But simple, old fashioned police work ended up bringing the Son of Sam's killing rampage to an end.
When a witness reported a strange man on the street at the scene of the final shooting, police cross-checked the traffic tickets issued in the area and traced a yellow Ford Galaxie to Berkowitz's Yonkers home.
On August 10, 1977 at 10pm Berkowitz walked out of his Yonkers apartment — and into the arms of waiting cops.
"What took you so long?" Berkowitz infamously asked detectives at the scene.
In his confession, Berkowitz claimed that his neighbour's dog — a black labrador retriever — was possessed by an ancient demon and commanded him to kill.
On May 8, 1979, Berkowitz pleaded guilty to eight separate shootings and was sentenced to 25-years-to-life for each murder, to be served consecutively.
Berkowitz, who is now 65, remains in the Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Wallkill, New York. Today he's found Jesus and now refers to himself as the "Son of Hope".