A large part of the mythology surrounding the “Son of Sam” murders in New York City had do to with killer David Berkowitz's toying messages to the public — letters to the police and press that both taunted and terrified. He even coined his infamous moniker in one of these missives. And through it all, one legendary New York City journalist acted as the public's conduit to the twisted, chaotic evil the "Son of Sam" had stirred.
Jimmy Breslin was a New York Daily News writer known for his brashness, boldness and talent for penning “columns which consistently champion ordinary citizens,” according to a description from the Pulitzer Prize Board when they awarded him that prestigious honor in 1986. He also had a knack for befriending even the most hardened criminals. One such criminal was Berkowitz, who killed six people and wounded several more between the summer of 1976 and 1977.
Despite the fact that the city was struggling with a meteoric rise in crime, the "Son of Sam" dominated the public imagination and left even the most diehard New Yorkers terrified. His modus operandi of targeting strangers, typically women with long brown hair and women parked in cars with their boyfriends, led people to wonder who could be next.
After a number of attacks, Berkowitz began delivering cryptic notes, including a letter at one crime scene addressed to Joe Borrelli, who worked homicide for the New York Police Department in Queens.
“I am the monster Beelzebub, the chubby behemoth,” the letter read. It ended with a taunt — “I’ll be back. I’ll be back” — and was signed “Yours in murder, Mr. Monster.”
But he also singled out Breslin as a letter recipient. It’s no wonder why. As “The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness” — a new four-part Netflix docuseries which dives into controversial theories about the case — explains, Breslin was the most visible journalist at the Daily News. He worked as a columnist at the paper, regularly offering up his particular insights into the people of New York.
And Berkowitz became one such person.
On May 30, 1977, Breslin received a new letter signed “Son of Sam.”
The note began, “Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C. which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine and blood. Hello from the sewers of N.Y.C. which swallow up these delicacies when they are washed away by the sweeper trucks. Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of N.Y.C. and from the ants that dwell in these cracks and feed in the dried blood of the dead that has settled into the cracks.”
The letter remains one of Berkowitz’s most notorious, and bizarre.
It went on to state, “I don’t care for publicity. However you must not forget Donna Lauria and you cannot let the people forget her either. She was a very, very sweet girl but Sam’s a thirsty lad and he won’t let me stop killing until he gets his fill of blood.”
Lauria was Berkowitz's first victim, slain on July 29, 1976 while sitting with a friend in a parked car, not far from her home, after a night out on the town.
It then alluded to Lauria’s shooting anniversary, setting off fear and panic across the five boroughs that someone would be killed on that date.
The letter also famously offered other up other potential monikers in addition to “Son of Sam,” including “The Duke of Death”, “The Wicked King Wicker,” “The Twenty Two Disciples of Hell”, and “John Wheaties.” Some of these names inspired Maury Terry, another journalist, to theorize that Berkowitz had accomplices, as explored in “Sons of Sam.”
Berkowitz even complimented Breslin, stating, "J.B., I'm just dropping you a line to let you know that I appreciate your interested [sic] in those recent and horrendous .44 killings. I also want to tell you that I read your column daily and find it quite informative,” the Daily News reported in 2017.
Breslin showed the letter to police and then published it in his column, a move that was criticized by some as irresponsible, as the docuseries shows.
But, Breslin stood by his decision, citing that his readers had a right to know. In turn, the public ate it up; the issue became one of the newspaper’s biggest sellers.
Breslin later (sort of) complimented Berkowitz in return, remarking, “He's the only killer I ever knew who knew how to use a semicolon, according to the Daily News.
When Breslin died of pneumonia in 2017 in his Manhattan home at the age of 88, Berkowitz was asked by another journalist, David Andreatta from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, in a letter why he had sought Breslin out.
“I've no idea or remembrance as to why I tried to contact him in the first place. It may have been something he wrote in one of his columns at the time the crime spree was occurring,” he replied. “But as time went on, and even for several decades since, I had forgotten about him.”
However, he did extend his condolences to Breslin’s family.
Berkowitz is still alive, now very religious, and is serving multiple life sentences at Shawangunk Correctional Facility.
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