David Berkowitz, aka the .44 Caliber Killer and Son of Sam, struck terror into the city of New York in 1977. In what were random killings of people parked in cars on city streets, he had helped shut down much of the night life of that vibrant city, and sent a population of millions into shuddering fear. Despite those fears some people did venture out. Sometimes they got bullets from Berkowitz’s gun. In reading the 1981 book, Son of Sam by Lawrence D. Klaussner, I am struck by a couple of things. The police, as they usually do, tried looking for patterns. There were no patterns in Berkowitz’s actions because he was operating on orders given him by voices in his head. Demons told him when to go out. The demons told him when, and whom, to kill. As Berkowitz moved about the city, from borough to borough, the frustration of the police and terror of the public began to wear everyone thin. The shootings are described in the book. Here is one:
Valentina Suriani, eighteen, and Alexander Esau, twenty, were youngsters in love.
. . . Valentina had just received her driver’s license, and as she usually did, when the couple began their journey home, she asked if she could drive. . . . Just one block from the high-rise apartment where she lived, the young woman nudged the car to the curb and brought it to a halt. She had chosen a parking place only three blocks from the home of David’s [Berkowitz] first victim, Donna Lauria. Valentina and Alexander turned toward each other in a last embrace.
At 3:00 a.m. Sunday, four shots shattered the passenger-side window. Two shots struck each of the lovers. Valentina died in that first minute, Alexander within two hours, at Jacobi Hospital.
. . . Discussing the double murder with psychiatrists later, Berkowitz is embarrassed by the fact he killed a man for the first time. He admits the demons had demanded he kill a man as well as a woman, but is reluctant to say more.
But why, David? Why would the demons suddently want a man?
“General Jack Cosmo had a wife.”
I don’t understand.
“General Jack Cosmo has a wife named Nancy Cosmo,” (Jack Cassara, Berkowitz’s landlord in New Rochelle, was married to a woman named Nann.)
“Nancy Cosmo wanted some action too.”
Action? What kind of action?
“You know...” Berkowitz says, “Sex.”
The word loosens the flood of madness: “When the soul of a victim leaves the body, demons are right there. They snatch the souls and take them to the attic of 316 Warburton Avenue [Yonkers], or to the houses at 18 and 22 Wicker Street. They chain the souls and have sex with them forever. The demons take the victims’ souls and drag them into houses and rape them and molest them. It’s messy. It’s brutal. There’s no sleep for the victims’ souls, no resting no peace.
“Not for a while.”
Police called the killer “the .44” after the Bulldog .44 he used. The name Son of Sam came later. Berkowitz thought he was a conduit to murderous demons. Sam Carr owned a dog that Berkowitz was suspected of shooting. The dog figured into David’s madness, and Berkowitz signed a note to police “Son of Sam.”
More is explained later in the book:
As he drove, he listened to the voices of Sam and the demons. They instructed him to kill. “I purposely drove out to Long Island to kill someone,” he says. “It didn’t matter who I’d kill, whoever I’d come across. When I’d find the right one I’d be told.
“Sam would tell me through his dog, as he usually did when the night would be right. But the dog’s not really a dog. It just looks like a dog. . . . Sam just gave me an idea where to go. When I got the word, I didn’t know who I would go out to kill, but I would know when I saw the right people.”
There are a lot of mentally ill people out there. Only a very small percentage of them are dangerous. But I’ve noticed that when we do have an incident of a mass shooting like those in Newton, Massachusetts or the theater shooting in Denver, Colorado, we often try to find reasons why the shooters did what they did. Sometimes, as with Berkowitz, the answers are locked into a spiral of madness and anger and paranoia. It is difficult, if not impossible, to know what such people are really feeling or thinking, or what their grievances are that cause them to commit such antisocial acts.
Elliott Smith was a singer/songwriter who died, presumably of suicide, in 2003. He had his own mental problems to contend with, fueled by paranoia and according to some stories I’ve read, drugs. Smith (real name Stephen Paul Smith) wrote a song called “Son of Sam” which could probably bear some interpretation, both as to what he thought about Son of Sam, but also what was going on in his own head.
"Son Of Sam"
By Elliott Smith
Copyright ©2000 Stephen P. Smith
Something's happening, don't speak too soon
I told the boss off and made my move
Got nowhere to go
Son of Sam, son of the shining path, the clouded mind
The couple killer each and every time
I'm not uncomfortable, feeling weird
Lonely leered, options disappeared
But I know what to do
Son of Sam, son of a doctor's touch, a nurse's love
Acting under orders from above
King for a day
Son of Sam, son of the shining path, the clouded mind
The couple killer running out of time
Shiva opens her arms now to make sure I don't get too far
I may talk in my sleep tonight 'cos I don't know what I am
I'm a little like you
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