The Son of Sam
It began in the summer of 1976, only weeks after the Bicentennial festivities ended. What started as a year of patriotic celebration would soon find Long Islanders learning of a serial killer stalking young victims.
The top story in the months ahead would be about a man the press labeled “The .44-Caliber Killer” and who called himself “The Son of Sam.”
The killer claimed his first victims on the warm summer evening of July 29th, when he shot two Bronx teenagers at point blank range as they sat in a parked car. One survived, but the other sadly became the first casualty of the up-and-coming psychopath.
Police determined the weapon was a .44 caliber handgun, and by the end of the year, four other people would be shot with what they believed to be the same .44. Miraculously, they all survived, enabling the police to compile a number of composite sketches, none of which looked anything alike. Police had no leads.
In 1977, he killed more often than injured, murdering five by the end of April. Soon after, he contacted police by leaving a note next to his latest pair of victims. Sportscaster Jimmy Breslin also received a note in the mail, and in each of the handwritten letters, he proclaimed himself the “Son of Sam.”
He taunted police and told them they could expect more murders. Unfortunately, he kept that promise.
An unseasonably hot summer arrived in ’77, one that would cause a notable blackout in NYC on July 13th. Meanwhile, the Son of Sam shot another couple in Queens at the end of June, and killed a young woman in Brooklyn at the end of July.
The latter incident brought about an unlikely lead, however, when a woman reported an encounter with a suspicious man, shortly before shots rang out in the neighborhood. Turns out, she also saw his car get a ticket for being near a hydrant.
Police were able to trace the car to its owner – a middle aged man from Yonkers named David Berkowitz. After searching his car, they found a rifle in the backseat and brought Berkowitz in for questioning. He readily confessed to all of the killings and was convicted, sentenced to six consecutive life sentences. He currently resides at Attica Prison.
In the years that followed, a number of people have suggested that there was more than one Son of Sam shooter, mainly due to notable differences in eyewitness accounts. The police re-opened the case in 1996, and although nothing new has come to light, its status remains the same.
Meanwhile, Berkowitz was recently denied parole again and has stated repeatedly that he feels he should never be released from prison. In this rare instance, we agree with David.
No matter what age you were in the 70s, it was impossible to escape the topic of the Son of Sam, from rumors of sightings throughout the island to the well-publicized story of his plans to shoot up the Elephant Disco on Long Island when he was apprehended.
Then, finally the relief we all felt when the news broke of his capture, and later his conviction. The fear would subside, and Long Islanders would return to their normal way of life, but they wouldn’t soon forget that fearful summer of Sam and the horror David Berkowitz unleashed on an innocent populace.
If you have any personal recollections that you would like to share to help us collectively remember these notable events, I welcome your contributions in our comments section below.
This article strays noticeably from the fun atmosphere I’ve tried to cultivate on this site. It is, however, an iconic, albeit horrific, series of events on the island that everybody, young and old, remembers. If I am to be true to recapturing the era as a whole, the Son of Sam story is simply impossible to ignore. I hope you understand the reason for this topic’s inclusion, and that I mean no disrespect to the victims of these awful crimes.
Editor, Long Island 70s Kid.