August 10 marked the 40th anniversary of the arrest of David Berkowitz, the serial killer who became known as the Son of Sam. Berkowitz had racked up six kills in the summer of '76, taunting police along the way.
Berkowitz had sent letters not only to cops but also to journalist Jimmy Breslin, egging them on and also asking to be caught. The killings incited widespread panic and paranoia throughout New York City.
"If terrorists might well pose a greater potential danger to more people, there was much more apprehension of the threat of random shots in the dark from the lone gunman," said a writer for TIME that year. "He has haunted lovers' lanes, attacked couples coming from strobe-lighted discotheques, even opened fire at a pair of girls on a house porch and shot another as he passed her on a street."
Hysteria over the murderer, who primarily targeted women, led police offices to be inundated with calls about possible leads and information — some stations were receiving over 100 calls an hour. "Women are naming their husbands, their ex-boyfriends. People are calling in about their co-workers," said an officer.
The only common thread between the killings was that Son of Sam seemed to be targeting ladies with long dark hair, prompting women to flood salons for a bleach or a cut at the recommendations of police.
On August 10, 1977, police tracked down Berkowitz by following parking tickets tracing back to his getaway car. He had apparently been planning to shoot up a Hamptons nightclub and "go down in a blaze of glory."
Berkowitz would later explain that the nickname "Son of Sam" was derived from demonic delusions he had about his neighbor Sam Carr's dog, who had psychotically compelled him to kill.
Berkowitz's letters to police tell a complicated story: Was he ridiculing police or begging for help? Was he joking or was he deadly serious?
Check it out below:
NY Daily News Archive — Getty Images
You can read more of his letters in the video below.
[Photo: Screenshot from YouTube]