David Berkowitz (Son of Sam)

David Berkowitz (Son of Sam)

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Today, the topical area of serial murder generates much interest among scholars in the U.S. Walter (2017) believes there is no country in the contemporary world that do not have serial killers among them, thus creating the urge to work towards regulating or ceasing their heinous acts. The report sheds light on the activities of Berkowitz who is acknowledged to be the serial killers who prompted one of the deadliest manhunts in the history of New York. The man who claimed to get devilish instructions to carry out killings across New York took time to study his victims before attacking, first with a knife, then later with a 44 caliber gun, and it is because of the cautious approaches that he managed to stay unnoticed for many years. Berkowitz depicts the character of a bully since his childhood, and his service in the military introduced him to guns. These, however, did not make him lose his mind as when he became aware of his uncaring parents.    

David Berkowitz (Son of Sam)

Description of David’s Background

When Elizabeth Broder gave birth to David Berkowitz on June 1, 1953, she was in a relationship with Joseph Klineman whom she met in 1950. Elizabeth had married an Italian American ten years before she gave birth to Berkowitz, but the couple lasted only four years when the man, Tony Falco, opted to elope with another woman (Berkowitz, 2009). The couple named their child Richard David, and together they resided in Brooklyn, New York. Not many days after she gave birth, Elizabeth, for unknown reasons, chose to give the child away, with some sources such as Klausner (2010) stating that her husband threatened to quit the marriage if she continued keeping the infant. Luckily, young David found new guardians, Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz, who were Jewish-Americans (Berkowitz, 2009). The middle-aged coupled had desired to adopt a baby because of their biological incapability to conceive, and when they got David, they maintained his first two names, but added their surname; thus the child became Richard David Berkowitz.

As a child, Berkowitz was quite troublesome, although he was of above average in intelligence. Unfortunately, the child became less interested in learning and paid more attention to things that fancied him. Berkowitz’s relatives and neighbors noted he was challenging to deal with and appeared to be a bully forcing his parent to consult a psychotherapist with the hope of rectifying the child’s conduct (Berkowitz, 2009). Even though his tribulations never raised any legal issues or alarming incidences at school, he became uncontrollable when his adoptive mother succumbed to cancer when he was approaching fourteen years, forcing his father to marry a second wife, who he did not like.

He was fortunate to be part of the U.S. Army when he attained the age of 17 years in 1971 where he was partly posted in Vietnam before being re-stationed in the U.S. Berkowitz was honorably discharged from duty in 1974, and he decided to use the free time to locate his biological mother, Elizabeth. He successfully found her, and this was when he knew the circumstances surrounding his adoption. The news greatly disturbed him as it would do to any other person, and as Berkowit (2009) explains in his book; the awareness of the adoption and the careless father was the leading cause of the crisis in Berkowitz’s life. Berkowitz (2009 proceeds to mention that the revelation dashed his sense of humanity and identity. He later ceased his communication with his mother, but still contacted his step-sister, Roslyn, and during this time, he performed several jobs, including the U.S Postal Service.

Criminal’s Behavior

Evaluating the behaviors of serial killers, it emerges that not all of them are alike. Warren et al. (2012) write that there is a general and incorrect perception that all serial killers have similar behaviors, and that their motive for the killing is the same, sex. The fact is serial killers and murderers are different not only in their anticipated gains but also in their motives. In other words, serial murderers and killers take away the lives of people to achieve different forms of satisfaction. Actually, it is possible to categorize how serial murderers such as Berkowitz behave by using words such as power control, visionary, hedonistic, and mission-based persons (Walter, 2017). Nonetheless, the primary factors distinguishing one serial killer from the other are the gains they anticipate to acquire from the act, and the murderer’s chief motivation and aspirations (Mazerolle et al., 2012). The following specific sections provide detailed descriptions of Berkowitz’s behavior while he indulged in the crimes.

Geographical Mobility

Geographical mobility is another critical factor we must look into to understand David well. Walter (2017) argues that serial killers in many instances are highly mobile individuals, frequently moving and attracted to the victims where they feel they are not likely to raise any attention. Such offenders mostly have a vehicle that is always ready, which they utilize to familiarize with their victims and areas they would dispose of the body. Terry and Malone (2011) give the example of serial killers such as John Gacy and Wayne Williams, both of whom conducted their activities in a single metropolitan location, while shifting from Chicago and Atlanta, and affirm that the mobility of such killers could be as a result of so much movement, but not necessarily over a long distance. Nonetheless, Walter (2017) inform that it is possible to categorize the mobility of serial killers based on three categories; those who carry out murder while transiting from one place to the other, and who account for about 28% of all such murderers, those who stay within a given urbanized area, and who account for nearly 45% of all such criminals, and those who are place-specific, meaning that they kill within their own homes, workplaces, or other specific sites, accounting for 27% of all such killers.

Based on the attacks Berkowitz made during his time as a serial murderer, it appears he falls among the majority of such killers who carry out their acts within a given urban community or locality. Berkowitz does not carry out any attack outside New York City, thus showing serial killers may choose a mobility approach that suits them. Based on the descriptions by Klausner (2010) however, Berkowitz used a car to move from one place to the other to identify the right spot and does not carry out attacks in the same location or neighborhood. Berkowitz, for example, carries out the first shooting in Pelham Bay in the Bronx and carries out his second attack at Flushing, Queens (Klausner, 2010). Berkowitz perceived his approach as one that would raise little suspicion as compared to carrying out the attacks within the same place.


Berkowitz took the time to study his victims. Even though it would appear that he made sudden attacks, the killer first surveyed the areas he targeted before hitting. The killer depicted the skills of a strategic person in the way he never rushed before knowing how he would escape. Berkowitz before attacking Lauria and Valenti in 1976, accounts by the neighbors to the police, as well as Laura’s father’s testimony showed they have spotted on several instances a strange man sitting in a yellow cab without knowing his intentions (Berkowit, 2009). The neighbors further reported that they saw the yellow car patrolling the neighborhood for several hours before the gunshots disrupted the peace. Other than being conversant with the places where he carried out the attacks, Berkowitz showed much interest in women as opposed to men (Berkowit, 2009). He attacks women in all instances, and in one of the attacks, the shooting of Danero and Keenan, he hits on Denaro who the police speculated might have become a victim because of his long hair that made him look like a woman.

Modus Operandi

Berkowitz’s mode of operation as it appears in the way he killed his suspects might be said to entail the use of a knife or a gun. Soon when he started to indulge in dangerous criminal acts in the mid-1970s, he tried his first attack using a knife, and would mostly haunt women with long dark hair. He would also stab women sitting with their boyfriends inside cars, and as it appears, he gained much enjoyment from his acts in the way he often returned to the scenes of crimes (Klausner, 2010). According to Berkowitz (2009), he carried out his initial on the Christmas Eve of 1975 when he stabbed a couple of women. One of the victims who were identified by the police, Michelle Forman, sustained severe injuries and had to be hospitalized.

Berkowitz’s friend with whom they served in the Army bought him a 44 caliber gun, and to him, the gift provided a suitable tool for killing. On July 29, 1976, Berkowitz carried out his initial murder with the weapon offered to him by his friend when he aimed at two women, Donna Lauria who died on the spot, and Jody Velenti who survived with a fatal injury (Berkowit, 2009). The serial murderer carried out a similar attack on October 23, 1976, when a couple, Rosemary Keenan and Carl Denaro were sitting inside a parked car. Both survived the attack, but Denaro had to undergo surgery to replace a portion of his skull that broke as a result of gunshot (Berkowit, 2009). Berkowitz also shot Joanne Lomino and Donna DeMasi who were from watching a movie. He appeared to the two ladies who were walking alone shortly after midnight and in a demanding voice, asked to know the direction to a particular place. No sooner did the girl start talking did he produce his revolver gun and shot at them, one at the neck and the other on the back (Berkowit, 2009). Berkowitz also shot at John Diel and his fiancée Christine Freund on January 30, 1977, while they were sitting in Diel’s automobile that was parked outside a dance hall, as well as Virginia Voskerichian on March 8, 1977, who died on the spot.


Looking at the Berkowitz’s signature, it might be appropriate to conclude that one could identify the killings by the son of man if a 44 caliber gun were used in the murder. The police were confonfidedentt that a 44 caliber gun was used in the shooting of Keenan and Denaro, even though the bullets were so much damaged that it was difficult to identify them (Klausner, 2010). The police also believe the serial killer used a 44 caliber gun in the Lauria and Valenti shootings, as well as in the attack of Freund and Diel (Klausner, 2010). The same rifle as it appears was used in the shooting of Valentina Suriani and Alexander Esau who all died from the injuries they sustained. Indeed, the New York Police Department carried out investigations and later held a press conference in the presence of Abraham Beame who served as Mayor of New York City then, and declared that the suspect used a 44 Bulldog gun in nearly all his attacks (Klausner, 2010). The press, during the entire period of the killing, also referred to Berkowitz at the 44 caliber murderer because of the weapon he mostly used. The 44 Bulldog gun, therefore, can be termed to be one of Berkowitz’s signature.

Other than the gun he used to carry out his killings, Berkowitz is associated with leaving letters at the crime scene and sending threatening messages to his target. The killer addressed a letter to Joseph Borrelli, who served as NYPD Captain that was found near the lifeless bodies of Suriani and Esau (Klausner, 2010). The letter, as it read, was from the ‘Son of Man’ and this is how the killer acquired the nickname (Klausner, 2010). The main idea of the letter that was considerably long expressed the attacker’s desire and determination to continue his killings, and ridiculed the police for their inability to identify, capture, and imprison him. Berkowitz also sent a letter on May 30, 1977, to Jimmy Breslin, who served as a columnist for the Daily News (Klausner, 2010). The letter that had some symbols and logos on it warned the public about the attacker who said he would hit anytime. The evaluation shows the use of letters could be one of Berkowitz’s signatures.

Impact of Psychological Theories and Research

Berkowitz tried to kill Cacilia Davis, but she managed to escape unhurt. Four days later, she reported the incident to a police officer registering all vehicles entering the locality, and upon checking, the officer learnt Berkowitz’s yellow car had entered the place on the day of the attack. The officer, James Justis, contacted the Yonkers police station and informed them of the revelation, which helped them narrow their search to Berkowitz, who was the primary suspect (Klausner, 2010). The next day police impounded his house, which had satanic graffiti everywhere. They found the gun and other ammunitions inside the suspect’s car, and once they were sure he was the one they were looking for, they arrested him (Klausner, 2010). The killer quickly confessed and narrated the killings he committed, and after health inquiry on his mental state ruled he was fit to stand trial, he was sentenced to 25 years for each death he caused (Klausner, 2010). He received psychiatrist attention while serving at the Attica Correctional Facility, and it is at this point that it became apparent he indulged in evil practices as well at the time he killed people.   

Considering the provisions of Strain theory could help to understand why Berkowitz, as well as understand the factors surrounding his arrest and sentencing. According to the theory, the social elements and structures in society could lead people to indulge in criminal practices (Tyler et al., 2015). Strain theory holds that a person is more likely to indulge in criminal acts when they experience disturbing social effects, or injustice than when they have a healthy relationship with others or do not encounter so much constraint (Moore, 2011). Berkowitz’s encounters and early life are adequate testimony why he turned into a serial killer. The thought of his parents issuing out to foster parents must have driven him into acts he would not do if he were under the care of his biological parents. It is why the police spared his life upon his arrest, and why the court ordered he undergoes medical checkup as well as psychiatry attention to help him overcome the disturbing thoughts. His apprehenders, as well as the jury, seemed to understand how social factors could drive one into acts they would not do without the unbearable social pressure.


The study evaluates the actions of Berkowitz and shows how disturbed ways of thinking could lead one to acts they may not be able to regulate. Soon after learning of his adopting and the circumstances surrounding his stay with the Jewish-Americans, Berkowitz becomes violent and uncontrollable in the way he indulges in serious crimes. He kills after surveying the area, and his tactics allow him to continue shooting for several years. The analysis elaborates how psychological theories and research played vital roles in aiding the arrest, sentencing, and understanding the criminal by considering the Strain theory, which holds that people are highly likely to indulge in crime when they battle so many social problems and injustice.


Berkowitz, D. (2009). Son of hope: The prison journals of David Berkowitz. New York, NY: Morning Star Communications.

Klausner, L. (2010). Son of man: Based on the authorized transcription of the tapes, official documents and dairies of David Berkowitz. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Mazerolle, L., et al. (2012). Shaping citizen perceptions of police legitimacy: A randomized field trial of procedural justice. Criminology, 51, 1–31.

Moore, M. (2011). Psychological theories of crime and delinquency. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 21, 226-239.

Terry, G., & Malone, M. (2011). The “Bobby Joe” long serial murder case: A study in cooperation. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 56(11), 12-18. 

Tyler, R., et al. (2015). The impact of psychological science on policing in the United States: Procedural justice, legitimacy, and effective law enforcement. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 16(3), 75-109.

Walter, D. (2017). What is inside the mind of a serial killer? London: University of London Press. 

Warren, J., et al. (2012). Prediction of rape type and violence from verbal, physical, and sexual scales. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 6, 1-23.

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