Four decades ago, a lowly postal worker from Yonkers held all of New York City in the grip of terror, carrying out a deadly string of late-night shootings that killed six and injured seven, triggering one of the largest police manhunts in the city’s history.
David Berkowitz — the self-proclaimed “Son of Sam” — evaded police for more than a year but was arrested on Aug. 10, 1977, outside his apartment building.
Investigation Discovery’s two-hour documentary, Son of Sam: The Hunt for a Killer, ran Aug. 5 and is now available on ID’s TV Everywhere platform, ID GO. (A clip is above.)
The program follows the parallel stories of Berkowitz’s victims and the detectives who brought him down.
In the clip, retired N.Y.C. police detective William Gardella recounts how he and others first took Berkowitz into custody — and he reveals what Berkowitz said as he was being handcuffed:
“You got me. What took you so long?”
“Forty years have passed since 1977’s ‘Summer of Sam,’ and while New York has changed dramatically, the scars of that horrifying year are still felt profoundly by the people who lived through it,” Henry Schleiff, group president of Investigation Discovery, American Heroes Channel and Destination America, said in a statement.
Berkowitz, now 64, is serving six consecutive terms of 25 years-to-life after pleading guilty to the murders in 1978. He was denied parole in 2016, for the 15th time, and will appear before the board again in May 2018.
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Berkowitz’s shootings began on July 29, 1976, when he opened fire on two young women parked outside a Bronx apartment, instantly killing one of them, 18-year-old Donna Lauria. Investigators eventually linked his attacks — several of which targeted couples parked in dimly lit lovers’ lanes — by the .44-caliber handgun he used in all of them.
The cat-and-mouse game he played with police escalated after a shooting the next year, on April 17, 1977, when Berkowitz first called himself the “Son of Sam” in a letter left behind for authorities.
The next month, on May 30, another letter from the killer delivered to then-New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin fed the growing panic.
Ironically, it was a simple parking ticket that finally broke the case: Berkowitz had illegally parked near the scene of his last attack, on July 31, and while investigators first thought he may be a witness, their suspicions grew when they called the police precinct near his home and learned of letters sent to a local family that were strikingly similar to the Son of Sam missives.
After his capture in August 1977, Berkowitz’s claims that he’d been ordered to kill by a demon (through a barking dog) initially led him to be judged mentally unfit. After that ruling was reversed and he was ordered to face charges, Berkowitz avoided a trial by pleading guilty.
“He is very aware of the public’s fear and incredible fascination with him,” explains criminologist Scott Bonn, who interviewed Berkowitz in prison in 2013 for his book Why We Love Serial Killers: The Curious Appeal of the World’s Most Savage Murderers.
“He is a gnome-looking, bald, chubby guy with red cheeks, and he comes bouncing in to meet you,” Bonn tells PEOPLE. “He is quite different from the sullen ‘Son of Sam’ from the ’70s.”
As viewers of Saturday’s special will discover, Berkowitz rejected the “Son of Sam” moniker long ago. These days, he claims to be a born-again Christian and has dubbed himself the “Son of Hope.”
New Jersey minister Roxanne Tauriello, who regularly visits him in prison, tells PEOPLE that Berkowitz seems like a changed man.
“He is genuinely sorrowful and does not want to get out of prison,” Tauriello says. “He knows he deserved to die and deserves to be exactly where he is.”
Tauriello says that Berkowitz wants to “warn young people on the road to destruction. One of his ministries is to reach out to young people to show them the consequences of [their] actions.”
In an interview with ID, however, retired N.Y.C. police Capt. Joe Borrelli wasn’t sold on Berkowitz’s religious conversion, saying, “It doesn’t make up for all those young women that he killed.”
Son of Sam: The Hunt for a Killer is available on ID’s TV Everywhere platform, ID GO.