David Berkowtiz

A Description and Analysis of the Son of Sam


The Son of Sam was a serial killer who terrorized the citizens of New York City for an entire year with his killings. From July of 1976 to July of 1977, The Son of Sam (legal name David Berkowitz) made his mark on New York City by targeting women and their lovers, and by eluding and taunting the police. Berkowitz's killings set off a citywide manhunt that put New Yorkers in a state of panic. After finally being arrested after his eighth and final killing (Biography.com, "David Berkowitz"), Berkowitz would plead guilty and receive 25 years in prison for each of the eight murders. David Berkowitz is currently serving his prison sentence at Sullivan Correctional facility in Fallsburg, New York (Biography.com, "David Berkowitz").


Berkowitz was born Richard David Falco, on June 1st 1953, but was adopted at birth. His birth mother Betty Broder placed him up for adoption due to the lack of desire for a child by Joseph Kleinman, the man she was in a relationship with. Young David Falco would be adopted by Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz, a middle class Jewish family that wanted a child. Berkowitz was believed to have been a child who possessed above-average intelligence, but was deeply troubled. According to his own accounts, his childhood was fraught with issues. Berkowitz claims to have battled severe depression and suicidal thoughts as a child, in addition to being exceptionally violent and disruptive in school (Berkowitz, "Testimony Translations"). Berkowitz's behaviour was deemed so destructive to others that his school required that he visit a child psychiatrist regularly, or face expulsion (Berkowitz, "Testimony Translations"). The troubles did not end there, as Berkowitz was often isolated from his peers, and his parents had difficulty coping with his hyperactive and destructive behaviour ("David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) Crime Scene Investigation UK").

Life Before the Killings

His childhood troubles only escalated when his mother died of cancer. This tragic event was very traumatic for Berkowitz, due to his close relationship with his mother. The suicidal urges that he would feel became stronger, as did his depression and rebelliousness. After graduating high school in 1971, Berkowitz joined the army, hoping that enlisting would help him escape the troubles of his life and start anew (Berkowitz, "Testimony Translations").

After serving three years in the army, Berkowitz returned to New York. Despite securing a job, Berkowitz's mental condition would continue to deteriorate, so much so that he would be diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. Berkowitz became an arsonist to help deal with his feeling of isolation, setting hundreds of fires throughout New York City without being caught, but the biggest turning point would come after a party would lead to his first experiences with the occult (Berkowitz, "Testimony Translations"). Berkowitz would become obsessed with witchcraft, Satanism and the occult, so much so that he believed a demonic presence was trying to convince him to commit murder. Before the Son of Sam killings, a young teen would be severely wounded by Berkowitz, on Christmas Eve of 1975.

In 1976, Berkowitz moved into a New York suburb, and later became convinced that his neighbour’s dog was possessed by demons ("Son of Sam arrested"), and that these demons were telling him to kill attractive young women. Berkowitz would move again in April of that year, this time seeing his neighbour Sam Carr as a powerful demon that wanted the same thing as the previous demons.

The Attacks Begin

The first killing took place on July 29th, 1976. David Berkowitz had quit his job the day before, and would strike early in the morning. Berkowitz shot five bullets into a parked car with two young women, killing one instantly and wounding the other ("Son of Sam arrested"). Berkowitz would go on to shoot 11 other people, killing six, and wounding the rest with varying severity (" 'Son of Sam' David Berkowitz speaks to the Daily News"). His weapon of choice was a .44 calibre revolver, which earned him the name “The .44 Calibre Killer”, until he referred to himself as the Son of Sam in a letter to the police. All of the murders were late night surprise attacks on young women with dark hair, with only one of the attacks being an exception.("David "SON OF SAM"").

Since all of the attacks were spontaneous in nature, and none of the witnesses’ statements provided much to go on, it was difficult for police to link the murders. During the investigation period, Berkowitz taunted the police and frightened the public with satanic themed letters (Breslin). The two factors that contributed most to the arrest of Berkowitz however, was his usage of the .44 calibre pistol and a single parking ticket. Berkowitz used the same .44 calibre pistol in all eight of his attacks, and shell casings remained at each crime scene. When he attacked his neighbour's dog, Berkowitz again used the same pistol, which allowed the police to make a connection between the killer and Berkowitz. This connection from their investigation proved fruitful, when a witness testimony about a Ford Galaxy and a parking ticket allowed NYPD to pinpoint their suspect as David Berkowitz (Rothman).

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After his arrest, the mental state of Berkowitz was examined multiple times, with Berkowitz being found fit for trial. Berkowitz maintained his claims of satanic possession until 1979, when FBI veteran Robert Ressler interviewed him inside a prison. During this interview inside the famed Attica Correctional facility, Berkowitz revealed that the “real reason” that he attacked and killed multiple people were because of a deep resentment for women. This attitude stemmed from his inability to develop successful relationships with women ("David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) Crime Scene Investigation UK").

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David Berkowitz is a combination of two serial killer typologies, the visionary, and the comfort-oriented hedonist. Berkowitz was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic shortly after being apprehended (Fishman), which offers some explanation as to why he believed the devil him to kill these people. Paranoid schizophrenia is the most common type of schizophrenia in the world (World Health Organization), and common symptoms include delusions of persecution, special missions and hallucinatory voices. The letters that Berkowitz sent to reporter Jimmy Breslin seemed to confirm the concept that Berkowitz was taking pleasure from killing these people (Breslin), possibly as a result of the schizophrenia.

Even though the typologies relate to a mental illness three court-appointed psychiatrists believed that Berkowitz had, the psychiatrist whose advice was followed during the case stated that Berkowitz was not in fact mentally ill, and that these ideas were constructed. While some believe that Berkowitz was in fact mentally ill at the time, if he was not, he would more closely identify with the missionary typology. Berkowitz killed attractive young women on dates as a result of the deep-seated issues he had in his life involving women.

Berkowitz also showed a variety of patterns of aggressive behaviour. Berkowitz had a history of suicidal tendencies throughout his childhood, before and after his mother passed away. Berkowitz was also the result of an unwanted pregnancy since he was the product of an affair between his mother and her lover. Berkowitz suffered multiple head injuries when he was seven years old (Fowler). Berkowitz had clear arsenal tendencies, as he kept a notebook that documented the 1400+ fires that he set across New York City (Fowler). While each behavioural pattern varies in significance, all of these factors contribute to his serial killer profile. Each trait plays a part in how Berkowitz's brain developed.

Although Berkowitz did not take any trophies or pose his victims, he still showed other tendencies and traits common in serial killers. Berkowitz was a functionally disorganized serial killer. His lack of preparation or planning even contributed to his capture since a woman he had bumped into provided the witness statement that allowed police to track him to his car. Berkowitz made himself more identifiable as an unknown subject by consistently targeting similar people for his crimes, and attacking his targets in the same way. The appearance of the .44 calibre bullets in all the attacks made it easy for police to connect the dots. Berkowitz was deemed mentally fit for trial, but the question remains as to whether or not he was an evil man doing despicable things, or actually mentally unstable. This stems from the fact that four different court-appointed psychiatrists evaluated him, and only one found him to be mentally stable.

Criminological Theories that are Relevant to the Son of Sam

Neurophysiological Theory

The head injuries and behavioural problems point to possible connections to the neurophysiological criminology theory. This theory argues that there is a correlation between neurological dysfunction and criminal actions. Berkowitz's behaviour in his childhood was so problematic that his school required him to consult a child psychiatrist or be expelled. Berkowitz also suffered moderate head injuries as a young child. In addition to this, Berkowitz also suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts for his entire childhood. Head injuries to children can be especially damaging to the brain since the brain is still in development at that age. Mental health issues can also stunt brain growth (Bergland), and so the family environment that Berkowitz dealt with at an early age likely contributed to his mental health as an adult. These different factors connect back to the theory, as they would contribute to the neurological dysfunction that Berkowitz experienced during that period of his life.

Rational Choice & Deterrence Theory

David Berkowitz claimed to not have been thinking rationally at the time, and three psychiatrists agreed with his claims. If they had been true, Berkowitz would have been acting rationally from his point of view since the voices inside his head were telling him to commit these murders. Paranoid schizophrenia affects the thought process of the individual that has it, and as a result change what one may believe to be a rational choice.

Berkowitz had already been breaking the law, as documented in the notebook that detailed the 1400+ acts of arson he commit around New York City. When setting fires no longer excited him, he moved on to more serious crimes. The deterrence theory applies because Berkowitz enjoyed committing these crimes, and did not think that he would get caught. When the police finally apprehended Berkowitz, he told them that “it was about time”, and described how he had planned to stage an attack on a club with an automatic rifle so that he could “go out in a blaze of glory”. His statements indicate that he was going to move on to an even more serious criminal act since he was no longer receiving satisfaction from attacking and killing people.


David Berkowitz commit some heinous crimes, and is a polarizing figure in New York history. Not long after his capture, the Son of Sam laws were created. This legislature prevents criminals from being able to profit off of selling their stories to the press. This was done in an effort to prevent serial killers to gain additional recognition for their crimes. Berkowitz has renounced his title, and even though he has served enough prison time to be eligible for parole, he believes that his place is in prison.

Works Cited

Bergland, Christopher. "Childhood Family Problems Can Stunt Brain Development." Psychology Today. Psychology Today, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 2 Jan. 2016.

Berkowitz, David. "Testimony Translations." AriseandShine.org. Web. 30 Dec. 2015.

Breslin, Jimmy. "'Son of Sam' Sends Jimmy Breslin a Letter in 1977." NY Daily News. NY Daily News, 5 June 1977. Web. 30 Dec. 2015.

"David "SON OF SAM"" 17 Feb. 2012. Web. 30 Dec. 2015.

"David Berkowitz." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television. Web. 30 Dec. 2015.

"David Berkowitz (Son of Sam)." Crime and Investigation. 17 Feb. 2014. Web. 30 Dec. 2015.

Fishman, Steve. "The Devil in David Berkowitz." NYMag.com. New York Magazine. Web. 30 Dec. 2015.

Fowler, Leann, Teresa Brewer, Charlie Puckett, and Charles Zimmerman. "David Berkowitz Information Summary." Web. 31 Dec. 2015.

Rothman, Lily. "How the Son of Sam Serial Killer Was Finally Caught." Time. Time, 10 Aug. 2015. Web. 30 Dec. 2015.

Samuels, Tanyanika. " 'Son of Sam' David Berkowitz Speaks to the Daily News." NY Daily News. NY Daily News, 10 Aug. 2012. Web. 30 Dec. 2015.

"Schizophrenia.com - Paranoid Schizophrenia Symptoms, Paranoid Schizophrenia Diagnosis." Schizophrenia.com - Paranoid Schizophrenia Symptoms, Paranoid Schizophrenia Diagnosis. World Health Organization. Web. 30 Dec. 2015.

"Son of Sam Arrested." History.com. A&E Television Networks. Web. 30 Dec. 2015.