“Son of Sam” killer was ar­rested 40 years ago

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Colleen Long As­so­ci­ated Press file

NEW YORK» For a year, David Berkowitz ter­ror­ized New York.

The pa­pers called him the “.44 Cal­iber Killer.” In taunt­ing notes to po­lice and a jour­nal­ist, he called him­self “Mr. Mon­ster,” the “Son of Sam.”

When the po­lice fi­nally got him, 40 years ago Thurs­day, the man be­hind the killings was un­masked as a schlubby civil ser­vant with a boy­ish face and a dopey smile.

“I re­mem­ber the court­room was packed to the rafters. And it was al­most like the air was taken out of the room when he walked in,” said Richard Brown, the judge who presided over Berkowitz’s first court ap­pear­ance, the day af­ter his 1977 ar­rest.

The room fell silent, ex­cept for a wail­ing cry from the mother of vic­tim Stacy Moskowitz.

Brown looked at Berkowitz and was sur­prised.

“He was sad sack,” said Brown, now the Queens district at­tor­ney.

Six peo­ple died and seven were wounded, some­times hor­ri­bly, as Berkowitz stalked the city, tar­get­ing young women and cou­ples sit­ting in cars.

Fanned by news re­ports, and Berkowitz’s own lo­qua­cious let­ters sent to news­pa­per colum­nist Jimmy Bres­lin, the “Son of Sam” saga whipped up fear. Young peo­ple turned down dates or par­ties to stay home. Be­cause the killer ap­peared to fa­vor women with long, dark hair, women cut or dyed their hair.

Brown, who lived in Queens, said his own two daugh­ters were afraid to leave the house.

“The city was just gripped with fear. Stores were closed early. There was no one on the street. It was like noth­ing any­one had seen,” he said.

Donna Lau­ria was the first vic­tim, shot and killed July 29, 1976, in the Bronx. But it wasn’t un­til af­ter the fifth at­tack, on March 8, 1977, that po­lice put the pat­tern to­gether; bal­lis­tics tests con­firmed that one gun­man was re­spon­si­ble for all five shoot­ings. By then, three young peo­ple were dead and four oth­ers had been wounded.

“I am a mon­ster,” the killer had writ­ten. “I am the ‘Son of Sam.’ ”

The New York Po­lice Depart­ment formed a 200-per­son task force to solve the crime. Many un­der­cover of­fi­cers worked all night on the streets, hop­ing to catch the shooter in the act.

But it was rou­tine po­lice work that cracked the case.

When a wit­ness re­ported a strange man on the street near the fi­nal shoot­ing, po­lice checked traf­fic tick­ets that had been is­sued in the area and traced them to Berkowitz’s car and Yonkers home. He was ar­rested Aug. 10, 1977.

“You, sir, are David Berkowitz?” Brown asked, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script of the hear­ing.

“Yes, sir,” Berkowitz replied, the only time he spoke. He wasn’t re­quired to en­ter a plea and was sent to Kings County Hos­pi­tal for a psy­chi­atric eval­u­a­tion.

Berkowitz later pleaded guilty to the crimes and was sen­tenced to life in prison.

Vic­tim Carl De­naro, who was 20 when he was struck in the head Oct. 23, 1976, by a .44-cal­iber bul­let while sit­ting in a Volk­swa­gen, said he heard about the ar­rest on the news.

De­naro needed a steel plate in his head and was hos­pi­tal­ized for weeks. He had to forgo a post in the Air Force. Still, De­naro, now 61, said he doesn’t feel em­bit­tered and he’s had a good life, a suc­cess­ful ca­reer and a lovely daugh­ter, now 24.

“I’m the luck­i­est man alive. I re­ally am,” he said. “And while I live with this, I don’t think I let it de­fine me. I’ve had a great life.”

Berkowitz, now 64, re­mains in an up­state New York prison. The bor­na­gain Chris­tian has a web­site called “Son of Hope.”

“I see that peo­ple will never un­der­stand where I come from, no mat­ter how much I try to ex­plain it,” he told CBS News in an in­ter­view from prison air­ing Fri­day. “They wouldn’t un­der­stand what it was like to walk in dark­ness.”

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