Carl Denaro talks to PEOPLE about surviving a shooting by David Berkowitz, the self-proclaimed "Son of Sam" who terrorized New York City in the '70s

By Chris Harris
July 27, 2017 10:11 AM

On the evening of Oct. 23, 1976, David Berkowitz — the self-proclaimed “Son of Sam,” who killed six people in eight shootings in New York City over nearly two years — was in Flushing, Queens, and he was on the prowl.

That same evening, 20-year-old Carl Denaro was sitting in a car with Rosemary Keenan, 18. The two were kissing when, all of a sudden, the car’s windows shattered.

Berkowitz had struck again.

Keenan sustained only cuts from the broken glass, but Denaro was shot five times and doctors had to use a metal plate to replace a part of his skull, which was shattered by the bullets.

On the 40th anniversary of the end of Berkowitz’s spree, Denaro, now 61, tells PEOPLE he is doing fine physically — and he understands how rare that is to say as one of the Son of Sam’s victims.

“I have some limited vision but no other negative effects from being shot that night,” he says. “I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world. I didn’t realize how lucky I was until my 30s. When you’re 20, you’re invincible. It took 10 years before I understood the severity of what had happened.”

• For more on the Son of Sam case then and now, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday. 

Carl Denaro
Courtesy Carl Denaro

Denaro’s story will be part of a new documentary special on Berkowitz airing Aug. 5 on Investigation Discovery, Son of Sam: The Hunt For a Killer, which is exclusively previewed above.

Speaking to PEOPLE about his brush with the notorious murderer decades ago, Denaro says that early reports about being attacked tarnished his reputation — and he says he doesn’t actually believe Berkowitz pulled the trigger.

“The cops thought I was shot during a drug deal,” Denaro explains. “I smoked weed, but I never sold drugs. They accused me of being a drug-dealer, so I was victimized twice: by the cops and when I was shot.”

All these years later, Denaro says he’s done extensive research on Berkowitz and the shooting that changed his life forever. From what he has read and heard, he says, he thinks it was a woman who shot him that night.

“I believe other people were involved,” Denaro says. “He [Berkowitz] had help, and I am not alone in thinking this. Berkowitz in an interview comes right out and says he did not shoot Carl Denaro and claims that it was woman.”

David Berkowitz in 2010
The New York Times

Now 64, Berkowitz is serving six consecutive terms of 25 years-to-life after pleading guilty to the shootings in 1978.

N.Y.C. investigators tell PEOPLE they are sure it was him — and him alone — who carried out the attacks to which he confessed and which terrorized the city through the scorching summer of ’77.

“There was never any doubt in anybody’s mind that he was the killer,” says retired N.Y.C. police Capt. Joe Borrelli.

Denaro reached out to Berkowitz himself, he says, writing him letters in prison. A meeting had been arranged several years ago, but Berkowitz backed out at the last moment. Denaro says he’s fine living the rest of his life without that conversation.

“I don’t have a need to talk to him, and I don’t see any upside to meeting with him,” he says. “An apology from him would be a hollow apology, anyway.”

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