Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Summer of Sam (1999) >>

See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the essay.

David Berkowitz

In the summer of 1977, New York City crumpled under a record-shattering heatwave . . . and the unbridled madness of a serial shooter. Initially know as the ".44-Caliber Killer" and later as "Son of Sam," David Berkowitz had yet another name: his birth name, Richard David Falco. This is where the true story of "Son of Sam" begins . . .

1) The Early Years:

Married and pregnant with another man's child, Betty Broder Falco gave birth to Richard David Falco on June 1, 1953. Terminating her parental rights, Mrs. Falco permitted the infant's adoption to Nat and Pearl Berkowitz. (This was the first occasion on which David was abandoned.)

Although lavished with affection and gifts, young David was plagued by a persistent sense of rejection. To compound his mental vulnerability, young David physically matured at an earlier age than his peers. Consequently, young David compensated for these feelings of inadequacy by exhibiting bully-like behavior. According to research conducted by Lawrence Klausner, "Bullying, even by a ten year old, can call for urgent behavior-modification treatment. No one on the staff of David's school suggested he seek help" (43).

While David's childhood was not blessed with a litany of accomplishments, he did exude talent in one area: playing baseball. So gifted was he that "one acquaintance, Bruce Handler, says David was a great baseball player, looked up to by the other kids'" (Klausner 43). Nevertheless, that which gave David pleasure was stripped from him. Prior to his thirteenth birthday, David was forced to quit baseball in order to prepare for his bar mitzvah.

A contributing factor in his disturbed adolescence, David's adoptive mother Pearl succumbed to breast cancer in 1967. (This is the second occasion on which David was abandoned.) Throughout the duration of his mother's illness, David was unaware of her dire condition. Unprepared for her death, David was devastated. Although never an academic superstar, David's grades deteriorated. He plunged into a life of isolation.

2) indications of the Terror to Come:

Upon remarrying, Nat Berkowitz and his new wife moved to Florida -- without David. (This is the third occasion on which he was abandoned.) Although David attempted classes at Bronx Community College, he ultimately exchanged his books for a gun . . . in 1971 David Berkowitz registered with the Army. Remarkably, he "qualified as a sharp shooter with the M-16 rifle" (Klausner 32).

After completing his enlistment with the Army in 1974, David Berkowitz returned to the Bronx. Working the night shift as a security guard, he recommenced his life of solitude. During this time David wrote to his father in Florida. Easily detected in the following letter are signs of David's mental declination:

Dear Dad,

It's cold and gloomy here in

New York, but that's okay because

the weather fits my mood -- gloomy.

Dad, the world is getting dark

now. I can feel it more and more.

The people, they are developing a

hatred for me. You wouldn't

believe how much some people

hate me. Many of them want

to kill me. I don't even know

these people, but still

they hate me. Most of them are young.

I walk down the street and

they spit and kick at me.

The girls call me ugly and

they bother me the most. The

guys just laugh. Anyhow, things

will soon change for the better.

Shortly after issuing this letter, David took a leave of absence from his workplace. Other than going out to purchase food, David confined himself to his apartment. His psychosis full-blown, David now began to scribble violent messages on his apartment walls.

During the year of 1975, David set 1,488 fires in New York City. He kept meticulous notes of each fire in a diary (now in police possession). Not merely a year laden with arson, 1975 is the year David Berkowitz first attempted homicide. On three separate occasions, he brutally stabbed three individual women. In each case, the women survived because David did not have the will to finalize the act. Unable to grapple with a "hands-on" approach, David resorts to more detached, efficient approach to murder . . . a gun.

3) Demon Dogs:

By this time, David was perpetually haunted by aural hallucinations. Transmitted through the barking of neighborhood dogs, "demonic voices" instructed David to commit murder. In a futile attempt to avoid dogs, David changed his place of residence several times. Near his last apartment, a black Labrador barked incessantly. Although David wrote a letter to the dog's owner, the barking never ceased. In an unsuccessful bid to stop the tormenting voices, David tossed a Molotov cocktail at the Labrador. According to Klausner, "He [David] returned to his apartment. He locked the door. He stood against the door listening for the death shrieks of demons, caught in an auto-da-f. Instead, he heard sneering laughter. Immortal demons snickering at him for trying to destroy them with a weapon from the wars of mortal men" (85). Only weeks after this incident David Berkowitz commenced his reign of terror.

4) The Serial Shootings:

July 29, 1976. Donna Lauria (18 yrs. old) and Jody Valenti (19 yrs. old) were conversing in a parked car when Berkowitz approached the women. Tearing a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver from a paper bag, David fired five shots into the car and ran. According to Maury Terry's research, "Donna raised her right arm as the bullets shattered the closed passenger's window. One of the slugs entered above her right elbow, traveled downward through her forearm, exited beneath her wrist, entered her back and killed her instantly" (24). Although Berkowitz succeeded in killing one of the women, Jody survived and was able to provide a description of the assailant.

October 23, 1976. Rosemary Keenan (18 yrs. old) and Carl Denaro (20 yrs. old) were relaxing in a parked car when Berkowitz approached the vehicle, "drew the .44 from his belt and fired five times" (Klausner 88). Although Rosemary escaped the barrage of bullets unharmed, Carl Denaro was hit once in the head. Carl survived the attack.

November 27, 1976. Donna DeMasi (16 yrs. old) and Joanne Lomino (18 yrs. old) were returning home from a trip to the theater. On Joanne Lomino's very doorstep (as Lomino was unlocking the door) David approached the girls and opened fire. Both Joanne and Donna were struck. According to the research of Lawrence D. Klausner, "In a burst of elation, David emptied the .44. He fired two shots at the front window of the Lomino home, shattering it. The last round was fired at the sky. David Berkowitz was happy. The demons wouldn't taunt him tonight" (99). Although Donna escaped David's wrath with a recoverable wound, Joanne was permanently paralyzed.

January 30 1977. Christine Freund (26 yrs. old) and John Diel (30 yrs. old) sought a quiet place to be alone after an evening at the theater. In John's parked car, the couple shared a kiss. Having followed Christine and John from the theater, Berkowitz watched the two from behind a tree. "Demonic voices" instructed him to murder the girl only. Berkowitz approached the vehicle. After releasing three shots into the car, he ran. While John emerged unharmed, one bullet "passed through Christine's shoulder and entered her back" (Terry 31). Christine perished in the hospital that morning.

March 8, 1977. Virginia Voskerichian (19 yrs. old), a Russian-language major at Barnard College, was walking home from class when David approached her. As he lifted his .44, Virginia "raised her schoolbooks in front of her face as if to protect herself" (Klausner 120). David fired once and rushed back to his car. Virginia died instantly. A witness to the crime was able to provide the police with a description of David . . . and ballistics confirmed that this was the same gun used to shoot Donna Lauria on July 29.

April 17 1977. Valentina Suriana (18 yrs. old) and Alexander Esau (20 yrs. old) returned home from an evening of dinner and a movie. In a parked car, the couple lingered in an embrace. David approached the vehicle and fired four times. Before departing the scene, David intentionally dropped a note addressed to Captain Joseph Borrelli on the pavement (this is the note which begins, "I am deeply hurt by your calling me a woman hater . . ."). While Valentina died only minutes after being shot, Alexander died in the hospital later that evening.

May 30, 1977. David Berkowitz mailed journalist Jimmy Breslin the letter which begins, "Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of NewYork City . . . ."

June 26 1977. Salvatore Lupo (20 yrs. old) offered to drive home new acquaintance Judy Placido (17 yrs. old) after a long night of dancing. In the parked car, the couple began discussing the "Son of Sam" crisis. As the conversation progressed, Judy noticed a man outside the window. David opened fire. Although David fully intended to kill Judy, both she and Salvadore were only dazed and wounded. Noting his failure, Berkowitz ran.

July 31, 1977. Bobby Violante (20 yrs. old) and Stacy Moskowitz (20 yrs. old) were walking in a darkened park when they spotted a suspicious person watching them from a distance. The couple returned to their car but did not promptly leave. Approaching the vehicle, Berkowitz shot the couple while they were still locked in a kiss. Although Bobby was hit twice in the head, he survived the attack. Stacy sustained one bullet to the head and died hours later in the hospital. Bobby was permanently blinded from the assault.

5) Berkowitz's Apprehension:

A witness to Berkowitz's final shooting noticed a parking ticket on his windshield. From this information the detectives were able to deduce him as the perpetrator. The police surrounded Berkowitz while he sat in his Ford Galaxy outside of his apartment building. With a gun pointed directly at David Berkowitz's head, Officer Falotico explains, "The guy [Berkowitz] just turned around and smiled at us. He had that stupid smile on his face like it was all a kid's game" (Klausner 351). David Berkowitz did not struggle against arrest and openly admitted to being "Son of Sam." According to Klausner's research, "It was 10:20 P.M., Wednesday, August 10, 1977. Thirteen days, twelve months, and five deaths after the murder of Donna Lauria, the police at last had their man" (353).

Berkowitz pled guilty to all charges and was sentenced to 365 years in jail. His first official parole hearing is schedule for the year 2002.

Print Resources

Klausner, Lawrence. Son of Sam: Based on the Authorized Transcription of the Tapes, Official Documents and Diaries of David Berkowitz. New York: McGraw, 1981.
Comprehensive and precise, Klausner's research yields a relatively objective examination of this intensely publicized case. Providing insight into Berkowitz's dementia, Klausner includes a cascade of pertinent biographical information. Berkowitz's hasty adoption, lonely upbringing, and premature development are all addressed. Not only does Klausner devote an entire chapter to Berkowitz's paranoid fear of dogs, he does likewise for Berkowitz's years as an Army sharpshooter. Moreover, in an effort to recognize David Berkowitz's victims, Klausner dedicates boundless effort in relating the story of each. On the technical side, Klausner painstakingly chronicles police involvement in the serial shooter's capture. Included in Klausner's book are photos of Berkowitz's original letters and drawings, candid pictures of his victims, police sketches of Berkowitz before his arrest, and snapshots of Berkowitz's unkempt apartment. By far, Klausner's book is the most exact, thoroughly annotated research text available.
Terry, Maury. The Ultimate Evil. New York: Doubleday, 1987.
Unlike Klausner, Terry focuses on wild speculations and conspiracy theories. The text's sole value rests in the meticulously detailed account of each shooting. All else is strictly conjecture. While Terry extends gargantuan efforts to support his theory that Berkowitz was merely an instrument of a satanic cult called "The Process Church," he has a tendency to resemble a paranoid psychiatric patient. For example, in Terry's introduction he explains, "I was subjected to a false, unsuccessful smear campaign waged by a few officials in the New York City Police Department; and a well-known ‘church' -- actually a disguised cult -- devised intricate plans to discredit me because its leaders feared the investigation would lead to their front door" (xi). Although popular, this book can serve only as a companion to other well-researched, documented works (such as Klausner's Son of Sam) . . . and even then, it must be regarded with the utmost of scepticism.

See Also

Carpozi, George. Son of Sam: The .44 Caliber Killer. New York: Manor, 1977.

Video/Audio Resources

Biography: David Berkowitz: Son of Sam. A & E Entertainment, 1998.
Comprehensive, this documentary addresses all aspects of David Berkowitz's life. In addition to interviews with police detectives and journalists, this video provides a psychological examination of Berkowitz's homicidal motives. Highlights include interviews with the families of Berkowitz's victims and an interview with Berkowitz himself. Although a very repentant Berkowitz acknowledges his guilt in the commission of the shootings, he ultimately points an accusatory finger at Satan. As can also be found at his official web site, Berkowitz discusses his new position as "Son of Hope" (a messenger of the word of God) and ventures on a tirade about Satanic Cults.

Online Resources

Bardsley, Marilyn. "Son of Sam." The Crime Library 11 June 2001.
This is the ultimate "Son of Sam" web site. The height of online professionalism, every aspect of Berkowitz's life, crimes, and capture is presented in exquisite detail. Rare photos of Berkowitz's father, car, and victims are included. Carefully researched, this site could easily be considered a credible companion to Klausner's aforementioned text. Highly recommended.
Official Homepage of David Berkowitz.
Having doffed the pseudonym "Son of Sam," David Berkowitz testifies to the glory of God as "Son of Hope." From his prison cell, Berkowitz has created this site in an effort to illustrate the redemptive powers of God. Although his infinite religious references can be a bit heavy-handed, Berkowitz provides a worthwhile account of his personal history. Particularly, Berkowitz permits noteworthy insight into those events which he believes shaped his dementia. While fanatical, this site undoubtedly supplies information one could not procure elsewhere . . . whether true or not, these are the actual words of David Berkowitz and must not be ignored.
True Crime Net. "The Son of Sam David Berkowitz." [Archived]
Although "amateur," this is an exceptionally well-researched, objective site. If reading an entire biography of David Berkowitz seems a daunting task, this is the place for you. Presented on a single page, a precise synopsis of Berkowitz's life and crimes provides all the fundamental information one may desire. Recommended for quick references.