Most evil people aren’t born that way. Whatever atrocities they might commit later in life, when a person is born they are exactly the same as every other baby on this planet. People aren’t born good and they aren’t born bad either. It is the circumstances of their upbringing and their life experiences that change them for the better or sometimes, for the worse.
Even history’s most reviled people were once children. When we think of figures like Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer we don’t think of them as innocent children just struggling to grow up. Instead, we think about the horrible crimes they committed and the lives they took before they were apprehended.
The little boy pictured below might look like innocence incarnate, but he would grow up to become one of the most infamous serial killers in American history. His name was David Berkowitz, but you might know him by the name the police and the press gave him once his reign of terror began: the Son of Sam.
Looking at this school photograph it is almost impossible to believe that the little boy would grow up to be one of America’s most infamous serial killers. This is an early school photograph of David Berkowitz, otherwise known as the Son of Sam, taken long before the killing spree that would make him infamous.
Berkowitz was born on June 1, 1953 as Richard David Falco in Brooklyn, New York. Berkowitz was the product of his mother Elizabeth Borden’s three-year affair with a married man. Elizabeth was terrified that having a child would make her less attractive to her lover, so after just a handful of days, she put Berkowitz up for adoption.
Luckily for him, Berkowitz was very quickly adopted by a lovely married couple from the Bronx named Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz. They renamed their adopted son and positively doted on the infant. Before long they began to realize that their son was exceptionally intelligent. However, he was also troubled and seemed to misbehave more than other children.
As Berkowitz grew, his bad behavior only seemed to increase. He was constantly getting in trouble for petty theft and for bullying his fellow students. When Berkowitz’s adoptive mother died of cancer when he was just 14, his father remarried and Berkowitz grew to hate his new stepmother. As soon as he was 18 he fled home to join the U.S. Army.
Berkowitz served for three years in the army. Once his service ended he found himself lost, alone, and searching for answers. He tried to hunt down his birth mother, but their reunion only made him feel more angry and isolated. He learned about the identity of his father and felt embarrassment and shame at being “illegitimate.”
Berkowitz’s anger stoked, his thoughts finally turned to true violence. On December 24, 1975 he brutally attacked a teenage girl named Michelle Forman with a massive hunting knife. Michelle was able to get help and was quickly hospitalized. She managed to survive the attack and Berkowitz escaped all suspicion.
To keep a low profile, Berkowitz moved to a small place in the city of Yonkers just outside of New York. However, he couldn’t stay away from the Bronx where he was raised. In July of 1976, armed with a gun, Berkowitz spotted a young couple, Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti, kissing in a parked car. He shot them both. Lauria died at the scene while Valenti survived with scars both physical and emotional.
True Crime Story
With his first murder completed, the floodgates had opened for Berkowitz. For two years he would continue to murder innocent strangers, terrifying an entire city and earning his first nickname from the police officers of the New York Metropolitan area. They called him the .44 Caliber Killer, after the type of gun he used to commit his crimes. Imgur
By 1977 Berkowitz had killed two other people and had left other would-be victims wounded by his bullets. On April 17, he changed his pattern ever so slightly. After fatally shooting Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani while the couple sat in their car, he left a note behind at the crime scene.Murderpedia
The note Berkowitz left was addressed to New York City police Captain Joseph Borelli. Berkowitz’s handwriting was like that of a child’s, and his messy block letters made sure to get his message through loud and clear: He had committed these murders, he had committed other murders, and he would commit more of them before he was caught.
Murderpedia / Son of Sam
Also included in this note was a new nickname for Berkowitz, one of his own choosing: The Son of Sam. The message angered police officers and made people living in the city even more terrified. Because many of the women Berkowitz had attacked had long dark hair, women across the city began cutting and dying their hair in the hopes of escaping his notice.
Tragically, cutting and dying her hair did not save Stacy Moskowitz. Stacy and her boyfriend Robert Violante were seated in their car when Berkowitz attacked them on July 31, 1977. Moskowitz was fatally shot, while Violante survived the attacks. This time, however, Berkowtiz had been sloppy. A man named Tommy Zaino witnessed the entire attack.
Find A Grave
Thanks to a description provided by Zaino, the police finally felt like they were getting closer to making a real break in the case. Their optimism only increased when a local woman named Cacilia Davis admitted to having seen a man acting strangely in the area on the day Moskowitz and Violante were attacked. She said that when she turned to avoid the man she heard gun shots and ran.
Thanks to this woman’s description, the police were able to narrow down their search to one small block in the huge city. Eventually, the found Berkowitz’s car (a bright yellow Ford Galaxie) and inside of it they found a rifle, maps of the different scene areas and another note directed to a police officer named Timothy Dowd.
On August 10, 1977, David Berkowitz was finally caught by the police. Berkowitz admitted to all of his crimes, but then shared something very unsettling. Berkowitz claimed that the “Sam” in his notes was a former neighbor, Sam Carr. Berkowitz claimed that Sam’s dog was possessed by an evil spirit who made Berkowitz kill young women.
Because of his strange claims and bizarre behavior, there was concern that Berkowitz would not be mentally capable of standing trial. However, in the end the judge ruled him competent and Berkowitz was sentenced to 25 years in prison for every single person he killed. That was more than enough time to see him locked up for his natural life and longer.Murderpedia
In 1987, just 10 years after Berkowitz was caught and sentenced for his crimes, he claimed to have converted to Evangelical Christianity. Berkowitz insisted on being called The Son of Hope after his conversion. He also refused to go to any of his parole hearings telling officials that he was guilty and so should serve the sentence given to him.
In 1990, Berkowitz made the news once again, only this time it wasn’t talk of his new religious experience that made headlines. Berkowitz claimed that just before he began committing the murders he had joined a Satanic cult and they had forced him to murder people. He went on to say that while he committed three of the murders, the rest were committed by other members of this alleged cult.
The police reopened the Son of Sam case in 1966 to investigate Berkowitz’s claims of cult activity. Though police have been unable to find any evidence that Berkowitz had an accomplice of any sort, the case remains open and is a source of much fascination for amateur detectives all over the world.
David Berkowitz started a website from prison where he posts bible verses and apologies to his victims. His newly acquired faith is still very important to him. On the surface he is a completely different man from the one who was sentenced to spend his life behind prison. What’s going on beneath the surface, no one really knows except Berkowitz himself. AriseandShine.org
It’s so scary to think of the troubled little boy at the beginning of this story turning into the man who did all of these terrible things. Eerie and upsetting, but an unforgettable piece of history just the same.
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