Everyone has something to offer, even serial killer David Berkowitz the “Son of Sam”
I contend that in his own way David Berkowitz is a contributing member of society behind bars where he will remain for the rest of his natural life. I have been corresponding regularly with David Berkowitz in prison for some time. David is a born again Christian who spends most of his time working one-on-one with emotionally disturbed prisoners and also reaching out from his prison cell to comfort physically and emotionally ill people around the world. He has quite a following. This is his story.
Better known to the public as Son of Sam, David Berkowitz is an infamous 1970s New York City serial killer who killed six people and wounded several others. He became legendary because of the bizarre letters that he wrote to the police and news media throughout his killings, and due to his explanation for committing the attacks. He claimed to be driven to kill by messages sent from demons in the form of howling dogs.
David Berkowitz, born June 1, 1953, was the adopted son of Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz. The family lived in a middle-class home in the Bronx. The couple loved their son yet David grew up feeling rejected and scorned because of being adopted. He was told that his natural mother died while giving birth to him. This became the source of intense guilt and anger in the young Berkowitz. Around the neighborhood he developed a reputation for being hyperactive and a bully.
Pearl Berkowitz died in 1967 of breast cancer. David was devastated and became severely depressed. He viewed his mother’s death as a grand conspiracy that was designed to destroy him. He began to fail in school and spent most of his time alone. When his father remarried in 1971, his new wife did not get along with the young Berkowitz. The newly married couple moved to Florida, leaving 18-year-old David behind.
Berkowitz joined the army but after a disastrous three years he left the service. During that time he had his one and only sexual experience with a prostitute and caught a venereal disease. When he returned home from the army, he found out that his natural mother was still alive and that he had a sister. There was a brief reunion but, eventually, David Berkowitz stopped visiting them. His isolation, fantasies, and paranoid delusions progressed into full force and he lost touch with reality.
On Christmas Eve, 1975, Berkowitz’s self-reported demons drove him into the streets with a hunting knife to find a victim to kill. Later he confessed to plunging a knife into two female victims that first night, one of which could not be confirmed. The second victim, 15-year-old Michelle Forman, survived the attack and was treated for six knife wounds. Soon after the attacks, Berkowitz moved out of the Bronx to Yonkers. It was in his new home that the Son of Sam was born.
Howling dogs in the neighborhood kept Berkowitz from sleeping. In his troubled mind the howls were messages from demons ordering him to kill women. Berkowitz later said that in an attempt to quiet the demons, he began to do what they ordered. His neighbor, Sam Carr, had a black Labrador named Harvey that Berkowitz also believed was possessed. He eventually shot Harvey but that did not stop the torment because David believed that Sam Carr was actually Satan.
Throughout his murderous rampage in the summer of 1977, Berkowitz wrote letters to the police and news media, including legendary reporter Jimmy Breslin. In those letters Berkowitz introduced himself as the Son of Sam and claimed responsibility for his murders. Berkowitz was caught in August, 1977, due to a chain of events stemming from a parking ticket he received at the time and place of one of his murders. After being evaluated, it was determined that he was competent to stand trial. He pled not guilty and ultimately received a 365-year prison sentence.
In 1979, Berkowitz was interviewed by legendary FBI profiler, Robert Ressler. Berkowitz told Ressler that he invented the Son of Sam stories so that if ever caught he could persuade the court that he was insane. He said the real reason he killed was because he felt resentment toward his mother and his failures with women. He found killing the women to be sexually arousing.
Berkowitz is currently housed in Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York. In 1979, there was an attempt on his life. David refused to identify the person(s) who had attacked him with a knife, but he suggested that the act was in retaliation by a cult he once belonged to. David bears a permanent scar from the wound that took 52 stitches to close.
In 1987, David became a born again Christian in prison. According to his personal testimony, his moment of conversion occurred after reading Psalm 34:6 from a Gideon’s Pocket Testament Bible given to him by a fellow inmate. He is now deeply remorseful for his murderous past. David believes that God has forgiven him for his terrible crimes and he now calls himself the “Son of Hope.”
David has written a memoir titled, Son of Hope: The Prison Journals of David Berkowitz, published by Morning Star Communications. He receives no money from the publication, and a portion of the proceeds go to the New York State crime victims board for distribution to the victims of his crimes.
David Berkowitz believes that he belongs in prison and has no interest in parole, although he is periodically eligible for review; most recently, earlier this year. However, David will never be released from prison and he knows it. He claims that his only desire is to serve God from prison and to ease the suffering of others in any way he can. He knows that he can never undue the harm he has done in this lifetime.
David gets no compensation or incentives for his work with troubled inmates. He claims that his work with others is the joy of his life. I believe that David is sincere in his convictions and I can see that he is helping people. I believe that no one, not even the former Son of Sam, is beyond redemption. Who is to say that even the worst among us do not have the capacity to do some good? The Son of Hope is an inspirational story of change and spiritual rebirth.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please send me your comments below or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me @DocBonn on Twitter.
Dr. Scott Bonn is Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Drew University and a media expert. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book “Mass Deception: Moral Panic and the U.S. War on Iraq” and is currently writing a book about the public’s fascination with serial killers.
Posted on June 22, 2012, in Serial Killers and tagged Born Again Christian, Criminology, David Berkowitz, Doc Bonn, Dr. Scott Bonn, Prison Ministry, serial killers, Son of Sam, Son of Sam Laws. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.