Netflix’s new true crime series The Sons of Sam: Descent Into Darkness takes a closer look at a case that, in the late ‘70s, terrorised the city of New York. Between July 1976 and July 1977, the Son of Sam, originally known as the .44 killer due to the revolver he used, shot 13 people and killed 6. A majority of his victims were young women with shoulder length brown hair. He taunted the police, writing letters signed “Son of Sam,” a possible reference, officers thought, to Satan or “Uncle Sam.” On August 10, 1977, David Berkowitz, a 24-year-old postal worker, was arrested. It was a parking ticket that led to his arrest. “Well,” he reportedly said when the cops found him. “You’ve got me.”
It was believed that the city could rest easy, that the Son of Sam had been caught. However, investigative journalist Maury Terry, who died in 2015, long thought that the case went far beyond Berkowitz. Netflix’s four-episode limited series is focused on the “Sons of Sam,” Terry’s theory that Berkowitz didn’t act alone. It’s unclear if that is true, but, after more than 40 years, Berkowitz is still in prison. He's the only one who was ever charged with the Son of Sam murders.
Berkowitz's Confession To The Son Of Sam Murders
In Sons of Sam, a former cop who interviewed Berkowitz after his arrest says he “couldn’t have been happier to talk about what he’d done and why he’d done it.” He confessed to the murders, telling the police that “Sam” was a 600-year-old being that was talking to him through his neighbour Sam Carr’s dog. He said he drove around every night waiting for “the sign.” The .44 gun found in his car was believed to be the murder weapon in the killing of Stacy Moskowitz, who was shot while sitting in a car in Brooklyn. She would be the Son of Sam’s last victim.
In 2013, Berkowitz told CBS News that, at the time of the shootings, he was obsessed with the occult and Satan. He said, after being released from the army in 1974, he was drawn to the occult. He was never ordered to kill by his neighbor’s dog, but instead, he said, his urge to kill made him feel like “a soldier on a mission.” He felt that Satan would set him free if he killed, but his killing only made him feel empty. In that interview, he said he acted alone.
The Issue With The Son Of Sam Police Sketches
Those who knew the mild-mannered Berkowitz at the time of the shootings were surprised that he was the killer. His neighbours in Yonkers, NY said he was “a nice man.” Others wondered why Berkowitz didn’t resemble the police sketches of the Son of Sam. That included then mayor, Abraham Beane. “I was a little surprised that I saw a person of his stature,” he told the press after the arrest. “He seemed to be a well-built and heavy person. And he didn’t resemble the recent set of sketches.” Terry also wondered this, writing, at the time, “How could all of those witnesses and all of those sketches be wrong?”
Despite the inconsistencies in the sketches, Berkowitz was arraigned in Brooklyn, six days after his arrest. He was brought to court in an eight vehicle motorcade as locals lined the streets to get a look at him. The crowd jeered as he was taken to court, where he was seen smiling. He had also flashed a smile the night he was arrested.
Berkowitz's Trial, Apologies, & Recent Interviews
After an eventful trial in which Berkowitz was nearly attacked, he plead guilty to killing six people and wounding seven others. In 1978, he was sentenced to six consecutive 25-years-to-life sentences at the maximum-security Sullivan Correctional Facility in the Catskills, NY. A state Supreme Court justice at the time said that they would have sent him to the electric chair if it had been an option because “it would have been a deterrent to the obviously absolutely senseless killings that come into my courtroom.”
In 1987, Berkowitz became a born again Christian and started calling himself the “Son of Hope.” Twenty years later, he wrote an apology on his website ariseandshine.org. “I grieve for those who are wounded, and for the family members of those who lost a loved one because of my selfish actions,” he wrote. “I regret what I've done and I'm haunted by it.”
He continues to express remorse for the shootings, which, in 2017, he again claimed he committed while being possessed by a demon. On the 40th anniversary of the killings, he told CBS New York that his killing spree was “a break from reality. I thought I was doing something to appease the devil. I’m sorry for it, but I really don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
In that same interview, when asked if he was the sole assailant, he said, he did take full responsibility for the Son of Sam shootings, “but let’s put it this way, there were demons.”
Berkowitz believes that he has moved on from that time and that God has forgiven him. In a 2011 letter to Fox News, he wrote, “Jesus Christ has already forgiven and pardoned me. I am not saying this jokingly. I really am. He has given me a whole new life, which I do not deserve." He added that "while society will never forgive me, God has."
In that same letter, he wrote that he would stop seeking parole, which he has been eligible for since 2002. "Not many people who are incarcerated don't want to get out," Carole Weaver, a spokeswoman for the New York State Division of Parole, told Fox News. She said that Berkowitz is a standup inmate, but his victim Robert Violante, who lost his eye after being shot in the summer of 1977 while on a date with Moskowitz, was not interested in his apologies. “He can say all he wants to say. He knows he deserves to be where he's at,” Violante told Fox News in 2011. “He isn't ever going to get paroled. He killed a lot of people."
David Berkowitz Now: An Ever Changing Story
Berkowitz has continued to not seek parole, often choosing to not even show up to his hearings. In 2016, he attended his parole hearing only to let them know he was not interested in parole. But in 2020, he admitted that he thinks about parole “all the time,” but doesn’t think he deserves it. “But at the same time I’m thinking, ‘Wow, if I was ever granted parole, all the good things I could do out there,’” he told WORLD, a biblically-focused magazine.
At 67, he’s become a spiritual advisor and mentor to his fellow inmates. His redemption has allowed him an unexpected "image makeover," as The New York Times put it in 2010. Three years ago, he had a quadruple bypass and has moved prisons numerous times to secure his safety. He has also changed his story over the years in terms of whether he was a member of a cult. (In 2020, he said he was.) He has also hinted that he may not have acted alone, even telling Terry in a 1993 interview for Inside Edition, that Joe and Michael Carr, the sons of Sam Carr, were involved in the murders. But since that interview, when he revealed he had not pulled the trigger in every Son of Sam murder, he has not publicly named any other accomplices. Instead, he refers to the "demons" that possessed him.
What has stayed consistent is Berkowitz's commitment to share his story of redemption on his website. He now describes himself as a Messianic Jew, and says his faith is what has helped him survive. “I don’t deserve anything, any goodness from the Lord,” he told the WORLD in 2020. “But I’m telling you, God has delivered me.”