Inside the 'Son of Sam' Case: The Deadly Crime Spree that Gripped New York City 45 Years After Arrest

David Berkowitz, the self-styled Son of Sam, terrorized New York with a 13-month shooting spree. He believed demons commanded him to do it

01 of 13

1977: The 'Summer of Sam'

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The. AP

Before his arrest on August 10, 1977, serial killer David Berkowitz — the self-styled Son of Sam — held the city of New York in the grip of fear for more than a year. Believing demons were commanding him to kill, communicating these demands through his neighbor's barking dog, Berkowitz killed six people and wounded seven in eight separate shootings throughout New York's outer boroughs.

Media coverage of the shootings helped to augment that sense of fear that paralyzed the city through one of its hottest summers. Because most of the victims were women with long, dark hair, New York City's female denizens filled hair salons seeking pixie cuts and bleach jobs.

Berkowitz, now 69, has been behind bars ever since his arrest.

02 of 13

Donna Lauria: The First Victim

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NY Daily News/Getty

The Son of Sam first struck on July 29, 1976, targeting two young women in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx. Shots rang out shortly after 1:10 a.m., and Donna Lauria, 18, and her friend, 19-year-old Jody Valenti, were both struck by bullets while sitting in Valenti's car.

One bullet killed Lauria instantly. Valenti was shot in the thigh, and survived the attack. She said the killer walked away briskly, and didn't say a word before or after the shooting.

03 of 13

The Second Victim: Christine Freund

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Berkowitz non-fatally shot two people before killing his second victim.

On January 30, 1977, Christine Freund, 26, and her fiancé John Diel, 30, were sitting in his car near a train station in Forest Hills, Queens. The two had just seen Rocky, and were about to go dancing.

Berkowitz fired three bullets into the car. Diel drove off for help, but only sustained minor injuries. However, Freund was shot twice and was pronounced dead several hours later at a nearby hospital.

04 of 13

Third Victim Virginia Voskerichian -- and Someone Sees the 'Son of Sam'

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Columbia University student Virginia Voskerichian, 19, was walking home in Queens on March 8, 1977, when she was approached by Berkowitz. He brandished a gun, and the teen raised her textbooks defensively. The bullets went through the books and struck Voskerichian in the head.

A neighborhood resident who'd heard the gunshots almost collided with someone who was fleeing the scene. He described Berkowitz as a "chubby teenager" but failed to get a good look at his face.

05 of 13

Victims Valentina Suriani and Alexander Esau -- and a Taunting Letter

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Vic DeLucia/New York Post Archives

On April 17, 1977, Alexander Esau, 20, and Valentina Suriani, 18, were sitting in her car, which was parked in the Bronx. Both were shot twice; Suriani died at the scene, and Esau lived long enough to make it to a nearby hospital.

Police found a letter at the scene addressed to the NYPD's chief of detectives. The letter explained the killings would not stop, and was signed "Son of Sam." Berkowitz even taunted detectives for their lack of progress in the investigation.

"I live for the hunt—my life," Berkowitz wrote. "I dont want to kill anymore no sir, no more but I must, 'honour thy father.'"

06 of 13

Stacy Moskowitz, the Last Victim

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The Son of Sam struck for the last time on July 31, 1977, when he shot into a car occupied by Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante, both 20. Fresh from their first date, the two were kissing when the bullets started to fly.

Both were shot in the head, and Moskowitz died several hours after arriving in a hospital for treatment. Violante lived but has suffered from a visual impairment ever since.

07 of 13

'Son of Sam' Claimed He's Evangelical 'Son of Hope'

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The New York Times

Berkowitz has been incarcerated since his arrest. He was sentenced to six life sentences after being convicted of multiple counts of murder and attempted murder.

Two years into his sentence, a fellow prisoner slashed his throat from ear to ear. It required 50 stitches to close. Berkowitz refused to identify his assailant, saying he deserved such treatment for his crimes.

In 2017, the serial killer, claiming to be an evangelical Christian, referred to himself as the "Son of Hope." He said he found God in 1987, and runs a website that expresses his religious views and beliefs.

08 of 13

Carl Denaro, Survivor

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Courtesy Carl Denaro

Not all of Son of Sam's shooting victims died. In 1976, when he was 20, Carl Denaro was shot five times by Berkowitz. Doctors had to use a metal plate to replace a part of his skull, which had been shattered by the bullets.

Today, Denaro says he's in fine physical shape, but is tormented by unanswered questions – like his belief that Berkowitz did not, in fact, shoot him.

"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."

09 of 13

Sensational Headlines

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New York Post

The series of shootings that held New York City in the grip of fear back in the late 1970s dominated newspaper headlines both across the Tri-State area and nationwide.

Detectives who worked the Son of Sam case told PEOPLE there was one newspaper headline in particular that really helped to spread the hysteria.

The August 1, 1977, front page of the New York Post declared "No One Is Safe From Son Of Sam," and suggested investigators were no closer to making an arrest. However, nine days later, Berkowitz was arrested.

10 of 13

Disturbing Scribbles on His Apartment Walls

AP Photo

The walls of Berkowitz's Yonkers apartment gave investigators just a small glimpse inside the mind of the Son of Sam.

The killer had punched holes in the walls, trying to silence the voices he said he heard coming from behind them. He'd scribble down descriptions of the voices he had heard next to each corresponding hole.

The most infamous of the voices was "Mr. Williams." The Son of Sam believed the man was keeping "several children" he was "turning into killers…Wait 'til they grow up."

Detectives who worked the case tell PEOPLE they get chills when they recollect entering Berkowitz's apartment.

11 of 13

Notes that Taunted Police

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The Son of Sam enjoyed the attention and media coverage his crimes created, according to psychiatrists who spoke to PEOPLE.

To help perpetrate the attention, Berkowitz began leaving notes at the scenes of each shooting for detectives. Most taunted the police for failing to identify and apprehend him. In one, he even offered to buy all the officers he was troubling new shoes. Other notes provided insight into the killer's mindset.

"Sam loves to drink blood," he wrote in one. "'Go out and kill' commands Father Sam. Behind our house, some rest. Mostly young — raped and slaughtered, their blood drained, just bones now."

12 of 13

Clues to Future Killings in His Apartment?

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The Son of Sam lived in a small one-bedroom that was sparsely furnished and totally unorganized. His bed had no sheets and records were strewn all across the floor.

One detective who worked the case tells PEOPLE his apartment was "your typical bachelor pad," with dirty dishes and empty food containers. But ominously, he also had maps of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut opened up on the floor.

Investigators say they arrested Berkowitz just as he was planning to carry out similar shooting attacks in New Jersey, Connecticut and on Long Island. He even planned an attack in The Hamptons, and had a getaway cottage in Shelter Island rented out for late summer.

13 of 13

'You got me. What took you so long?'

Berkowitz being led into a police station after his 1977 arrest. Alan Aaronson/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

After Son of Sam's arrest, New York residents breathed a sigh of relief that his reign of terror was finally over. To this day, the name Son of Sam remains synonymous with evil.

What were Berkowitz's first words to investigators upon being handcuffed and taken into custody? Another taunt: "You got me. What took you so long?"

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