After watching Netflix's new true crime series Sons Of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness, it's time to revisit the Son of Sam interview on Mindhunter. Especially since, by all accounts, that prison chat with the "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz (played by Oliver Cooper) was true to real life. It could offer insight into the theory of whether the "Son of Sam" acted alone all those years ago.
In the season 2 episode 2, FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) go to see Berkowitz in New York's Attica Correctional Facility where he was serving six consecutive 25-years-to-life terms for killing six people and wounding seven others. His year-long reign of terror, which ended with his arrest in the summer of 1977, was considered the largest manhunt in U.S. history at that time.
The agents hope he can help them better understand the BTK killer, who was known for blinding, torturing and then killing his victims. John Douglas and Robert Ressler, the real life FBI agents who inspired Manhunter's fictional agents, believed BTK had modelled himself after the Son of Sam. The BTK Killer had referred to the "Son of Sam" in his letters to the press. The "Son of Sam" had also written taunting letters to the police and journalists in the months leading up to his arrest.
After his 1977 arrest, Berkowitz had claimed that a 3,000-year-old demon inhabiting his neighbour's dog made him do it. "People need to know demons are real," Cooper's Berkowitz says on Mindhunter. "The Exorcist is based on real shit." Berkowitz tells Holden that his neighbour's dog howled every night. "He would not shut up. He kept saying he needed blood," he claims. "He demanded blood. I had no choice."
Knowing this, Holden wonders why he didn't plead not guilty by reason of insanity since this is the textbook definition of insanity. "I'm not insane," Berkowitz says. (The real Berkowitz was found mentally competent to stand trial.) Holden calls Berkowitz out on the claims, saying it's something he made up after seeing The Exorcist. "So if everything went to shit," Holden says, "you'd have a way out."
Holden then compliments the guy for tricking the police and psychologists into believing his bogus story. That's when Berkowitz cracks. "Especially the shrinks," he says smugly. "Hell, I believed some of it. I'm very suggestible."
Agent Douglas, who wrote the book that Mindhunter is based on, claimed that when he interviewed Berkowitz he also dismissed the demon dog confession. "Early on in the interview, we came to the topic of this 3,000-year-old dog that made him do it," Douglas writes, according to Esquire. "The psychiatric community had accepted the story as gospel and thought it explained his motivation. But I knew that that story hadn't actually emerged until after his arrest. It was his way out."
When Berkowitz started talking about the dog in their prison interview, Douglas claims he said, "Hey, David, knock off the bullshit. The dog had nothing to do with it." Apparently, Berkowitz laughed and then nodded. He "admitted I was right," Douglas said.
In 1979, Berkowitz said that he had faked the tales of demons. In a prison interview with The New York Times, the Associated Press, and the Long Island, NY paper Newsday, he said that there was “no real demons, no talking dogs, no satanic henchmen” that led him to kill. It was “just invented by me in my own mind to condone what I was doing.”
Over the years, he has continued to stray from his initial dog story. In 2013, Berkowitz once again said that he had not been driven to kill by his neighbour's dog, but by Satan. He has continued to flip-flop on whether he was in a cult or just obsessed with the occult. In 2020, he said he had been demon-possessed when he committed the crimes and had been part of a cult.
The new documentary series Sons of Sam questions whether the Son of Sam acted alone, but knowing how often Berkowitz, who plead guilty to all of the Son of Sam killings, has changed his story, any admission must be taken with a grain of salt.
In the past, he has hinted that he had help. He even told investigative reporter Maury Terry in an Inside Edition interview that his neighbors, the brothers John and Michael Carr, the sons of Sam Carr, were involved in the shootings. But he has never publicly named any other accomplices. Most often, he says he was possessed by "demons," which, as we've learned, could be a lie. Or, maybe, to steal the words of Mindhunter, he's just "very suggestible" to whatever story may offer him a way out.