Brooklyn was just bad luck for .
Long before he was the infamous serial killer “Son of Sam,” even before he was David Berkowitz, he was Richard Falco, an abandoned bastard from Brooklyn.
That’s a pretty harsh way of putting it, but accurate.
Berkowitz’ mother, Betty Broder, came from a poor Jewish family and married outside her faith, to Anthony Falco, an Italian American merchant. The young couple ran a fish market in Brooklyn and had a daughter, but Falco abandoned Broder to raise the child by herself.
Broder was not yet divorced when engaged in an affair with Joseph Kleinman, a married man who sold real estate in Brooklyn. When she became pregnant, Kleinman demanded that she get rid of the baby or he would leave her. This was years before New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller signed into law a measure legalizing abortions in 1970. Broder had the baby in June of 1953, naming him Richard David Falco.
Days later Broder put him up for adoption.
It would be years before Berkowitz came to terms with the nature of his birth.
Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz, a Jewish-American couple in the Bronx that owned a hardware store, adopted the infant, transposing his first and middle name, and adding their last name. David Richard Berkowitz grew up an only child in a middle-class family.
While he was intelligent, young David did not excel in school and was a troubled child. He was a loner, a bully, started fires, picked fights, stole, yet nothing that resulted in trouble with the law. His adoptive parents tried intervening with a psychotherapist, with no discernable effect.
Many accounts of Berkowitz’ upbringing cite the severe psychological trauma he suffered in 1967 when his adoptive mother, Pearl, succumbed to breast cancer. Berkowitz was 14 years of age. David exhibited signs of alienation and depression. His remaining teenage years were unpleasant, and he did not mix well with a new stepmother. His adopted father relocated to Florida leaving a damaged young man twisting in the wind.
Like many disaffect youth short on prospects, David enlisted in the United States Army when he turned 18 years old. He served stateside as well as overseas, stationed in South Korea. While in the service, he did distinguish himself in one area: as a marksman. Otherwise, his time in the military was uneventful, though he did contract a venereal disease from a prostitute, his first sexual encounter.
Honorably discharged in 1974, Berkowitz returned to Brooklyn to seek out his birth mother. After several meetings, Betty Falco revealed the background story of his birth and subsequent adoption, as well as the painful news that his biological father had died years earlier. Berkowitz later claimed his biological mother’s rejection fueled his inner rage.
Cycling through several failed employment stints he finally settled in as a sorter at the United States Postal Service. Outside work hours, though, Berkowitz was a prolific arsonist.
Yet it was not until the summer of 1976, the bicentennial of the nation, that Berkowitz launched his campaign of terror. The “Son of Sam” moniker would come later, as he was first known by police and media as the unimaginative moniker “The .44 Caliber Killer,” as he perpetrated a series of shooting attacks with the same .44 caliber Bulldog revolver.
Unlike a mass murderer that kills all of his victims in one encounter, a serial killer murders a series of victims over the course of time, almost always with a pattern rooted in a need to satisfy some disturbed psychological craving.
By the time he ran into a bit of bad luck in Brooklyn in July 1977, leading to his capture, Berkowitz had killed six and wounded seven.
From the publics’ perspective, the murders were disturbing enough, but it is the discovery of a pattern and the anticipation of where the serial murderer will strike next, that got people so on edge. Speak to any adult in Brooklyn that lived during that period and they’ll likely have a story or two of how the “Son of Sam” spree affected them in some way. Berkowitz mocked the authorities with letters, warning of future attacks, chronicled in New York’s tabloids, ratcheting up the fear factor.
As the body count climbed and bizarre messages continued to hit the local papers, Berkowitz achieved international notoriety. The people of New York were panicking, changing their behavior. No one wanted to be the next victim. News that Berkowitz set his .44-caliber sights on young, attractive, long-haired brunettes sent thousands of women throughout New York scrambling into hair salons to trim and dye their locks. Many more stayed home to ride out the reign of the Son of Sam.
Berkowitz’ return to Brooklyn proved his undoing. The final murder that tripped him up took place in Bath Beach along a tree-lined lovers’ lane, nearly a year after his first crime took place.
With police focusing on Queens and the Bronx, sites of other attacks, Berkowitz stalked a quiet street that rims the shore of Brooklyn just beyond the Verrazano Narrows. It was 2:30 a.m. the early morning hours of July 31, 1977, and Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante were parked in a car, doing what two 20-somethings do in such situations.
Distracted, the young lovers never noticed Berkowitz approach and pump four bullets into the car, killing Moskowitz and maiming Violante. Nineteen-year-old Tommy Zaino was a few cars away with his own date, and witnessed the shooting. Berkowitz was well-illuminated in an eerie glow cast by the mix of faded yellow streetlights and the moon.
Another witness provided police with a partial license plate number. Other witnesses provided bits and pieces of what they saw, yet it was Cecilia Davis, out walking her dog, who days later tipped off cops that she passed a suspicious stranger shortly before the shooting, near the crime scene. She revealed that his car had been ticketed.
Sure enough, Berkowitz’ 1970 Ford Galaxie had been ticketed near the crime scene, and that led to his capture.
When confronted by police storming his Yonkers apartment, Berkowitz meekly surrendered, asking “What took you so long?”
In custody, Berkowitz confessed, spewing a bizarre tale. He explained how he was ordered to commit the crimes by a demon who inhabited a black Labrador retriever named Harvey owned by his neighbor.
The neighbor’s name was Sam Carr.
In Berkowitz’ apartment, police found satanic scrawlings and incriminating evidence, including the murder weapon. Aside from evidence related to the murders, police uncovered detailed notebooks chronicling the more than 1,400 arson fires Berkowitz set throughout New York.
Though clearly unbalanced, Berkowitz was found mentally competent to stand trial in court proceedings that became a media circus. Berkowitz has been a serial-killer superstar ever since.
Berkowitz received 25-years-to-life for each murder, with the sentences to be served consecutively, not concurrently. He has since discovered religion, is periodically profiled in the media, and continues to serve his time in the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York.
Due to the intense coverage of his crimes, lucrative production deals started to pour in for books and movies. As a result, the New York State passed the so-called “Son of Saw Laws” to prevent criminals from profiting from their crimes, and instead channeling proceeds to survivors and victims’ families. Since then, similar legislation has been enacted in other U.S. states.