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Today in History, August 10th

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Old 08-11-06, 12:00 PM
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Cool Today in History, August 10th

SON OF SAM ARRESTED:
August 10, 1977


On August 10, 1977, 24-year-old postal employee David Berkowitz is arrested and
charged with being the "Son of Sam," the serial killer who terrorized New York
City for more than a year, killing six young people and wounding seven others
with a .44-caliber revolver. Because Berkowitz generally targeted attractive
young women with long brown hair, hundreds of young women had their hair cut
short and dyed blond during the time he terrorized the city. Thousands more
simply stayed home at night. After his arrest, Berkowitz claimed that demons and
a black Labrador retriever owned by a neighbor named Sam had ordered him to
commit the killings.David Berkowitz was brought up by adoptive parents in the
Bronx. He was traumatized by the death of his adoptive mother from cancer in
1967 and thereafter became more and more of a loner. In 1971, he joined the army
and served for three years, where he distinguished himself as a talented
marksman. In 1974, he returned to New York and worked as a security guard. His
mental condition began to severely deteriorate in 1975 (he would later be
diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic). Feeling isolated from the world around
him, he became an arsonist and set hundreds of fires in New York City without
being arrested. He began to hear voices of "demons" that tormented him and told
him to commit murder. On Christmas Eve, 1975, he gave into these internal voices
and severely wounded 15-year-old Michelle Forman with a hunting knife.In January
1976, he moved into a two-family home in Yonkers, a suburb of New York.
Berkowitz became convinced that the German shepherd that lived in the house and
other neighborhood dogs were possessed by demons who ordered him to murder
attractive young women. One of the neighborhood dogs was shot during this time,
probably by Berkowitz. He also began to see his neighbors as demons.In April,
Berkowitz moved to an apartment house in Yonkers, but his new home also had
dogs. His neighbor, retiree Sam Carr, had a black Labrador retriever named
Harvey, who Berkowitz believed pleaded with him to kill. He also saw Sam Carr as
a powerful demon and was referring to him when he later called himself Son of
Sam.On July 28, 1976, Berkowitz quit his job as a security guard. Early the next
morning, he walked up to a parked car in the Bronx where two young women were
talking and fired five bullets from his.44 revolver into the vehicle.
Eighteen-year-old brunette Donna Lauria was killed instantly, and her friend
Jody Valenti was wounded. Police could find no motives or leads in the
shooting.In the early morning of October 24, Berkowitz struck again, critically
wounding 20-year-old Carl Denaro as he sat in a car and talked with a female
friend in Queens. A little more than a month later, on November 26, 16-year-old
Donna DeMasi and 18-year-old Joanne Lomino were shot and seriously wounded in
the street on their way home from a movie. On January 30, 1977, Berkowitz
fatally shot Christine Freund as she sat in a car in Queens with her fiancée.
Police began to suspect that these crimes were perpetrated by a single killer,
but few bullets were found intact to confirm the assumption.On March 8,
19-year-old college student Virginia Voskerichian was shot to death as she
walked home in Manhattan. A bullet was found intact, and it matched a bullet
found at the scene of Berkowitz's first murder. The New York police announced
that a serial killer was on the loose, known to be a white male in his 20s, with
black hair and of average height and build. A large group of detectives was
organized--the "Omega" task force--to track the killer down. On April 17,
18-year-old Valentina Suriani and 20-year-old Alexander Esau were shot and
killed by the same gun as they kissed in their parked car near the Hutchinson
River Parkway. This time, the .44-caliber killer left a note in which he
referred to himself as the Son of Sam.On April 29, Berkowitz shot Sam Carr's
Labrador retriever. He had previously sent an anonymous, threatening letter to
Mr. Carr concerning the animal. The dog recovered, and the Yonkers police began
an investigation. Meanwhile, Berkowitz began sending bizarre letters to other
neighbors and his former landlords. These individuals began to suspect Berkowitz
to be the Son of Sam and reported their suspicions to local police. The Omega
task force was subsequently notified, but the detectives had received thousands
of reports of Son of Sam "suspects" and were having a difficult time sifting
through all the dead-end leads.On June 26, the Son of Sam struck again, wounding
Judy Placido and Sal Lupo as they sat in their car after leaving a Queens disco.
Public concern over the rampaging serial killer grew to panic proportions, and
New York nightclubs and restaurants saw a dramatic drop in business. A
blistering heat wave and a 25-hour blackout in mid-July only increased the
tension. 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.
Twenty-year-old Stacy Moskowitz was fatally wounded, and her boyfriend, Bobby
Violante, lost his left eye and nearly all the vision in his right eye.A few
days later, a major break in the case came when an eyewitness came forward to
report that she had seen a man with what looked like a gun minutes before the
shots were fired in Brooklyn. Her information led to the first police sketch of
Berkowitz. More important, she reminded investigators that two police officers
had been writing parking tickets on her street that night. A search of tickets
issued eventually turned up Berkowitz's car.At the same time, Yonkers police
investigated Berkowitz after he escalated a harassment campaign against one of
his neighbors. Convinced he was the Son of Sam, they informed the Omega task
force of their findings. The Omega detectives finally put two and two together,
and on August 10 David Berkowitz was arrested while leaving his Yonkers home. He
gleefully admitted to being the Son of Sam. On his person was a semiautomatic
rifle, and he explained he was on his way to commit another murder. The
.44-caliber revolver was also recovered.There was some question about whether
Berkowitz was mentally fit to stand trial, but on May 8, 1978, he withdrew an
insanity defense and pleaded guilty to the six .44-caliber murders. He was given
six 25-years-to-life sentences for the crime, the maximum penalty allowed at the
time. However, because the sentences are served simultaneously, he will be
eligible for parole in 2003. Since 1987, he has been held at the Sullivan
Correctional Facility in upstate New York, where he allegedly converted to
Christianity.
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