New York is the city that never sleeps. But in 1976 and 1977, as a killer known as the Son of Sam was on the loose, the city held its breath.
By then, Berkowitz had killed six people, injured seven, and left a trail of letters to the police. The oddest part? He blamed a dog for his actions.
In the show Mindhunter, agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) think Berkowitz might be able to help them track down a killer in Wichita, KS, who also sends taunting letters to the police. While they both leave a paper trail, Berkowitz is different from the BTK Killer: After being arrested, Berkowitz claimed he was forced into murder by a demonic possession.
When police finally tracked Berkowitz down, he asked detectives, “"What took you so long?" He pleaded guilty and almost immediately began unspooling his unusual confession. He claimed his neighbor’s black Labrador retriever was possessed by a 3,000-year-old demon, and that Berkowitz was merely following orders. In letters to the NYPD police chief, Berkowitz refers to his neighbor, Samuel Carr, as “Sam, my Lord,” and “Papa God.”
“People need to know that demons are real. The Exorcist is based on actual shit," Berkowitz says in Mindhunter, giving an idea of what his actual testimony. “Possession isn’t just what you see on the outside. The torment inside is horrible. Demons are powerful beings. They use your own voice and thoughts against you. They make you feel crazy...they are in complete control.”
But there were many inconsistencies in Berkowitz’s possession story. In 1979, psychiatrist David Abrmson examined Berkowitz. He noticed that the demons’ appearances changed from story to story. To Abramson, it was obvious that Berkowitz could control his murderous impulses.
There was only one explanation. As Abramson wrote in the New York Times, “Berkowitz created his demons as an alibi, an excuse for his murders. He could then say, ‘I didn't kill, the demons did it,’ thereby lessening his guilt in the world's eyes.”
The Exorcist, which came out in 1973, turned demonic possession into a cultural touchstone. Berkowitz admitted he was inspired by The Exorcist and The Omen (1976), about a young boy who is the Antichrist, when spinning his story.
Tench and Ford’s real life-counterparts, John Douglas and Robert Ressle, also debunked Berkowitz’s story about a 3,000-year-old dog. “I knew that that story hadn't actually emerged until after his arrest. It was his way out,” John Douglas writes in his book, Mindhunter. “So when he started spouting about the dog, I said simply, "Hey, David, knock off the bullshit. The dog had nothing to do with it." He laughed and nodded and admitted I was right.”
Berkowitz was sentenced to serve 25 years for each of his six murders. In jail, Berkowitz converted to Christianity and started going by the Son of Hope. But given his track record, who knows what to believe.