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From 1976 to 1977, New York serial killer David Berkowitz carried out eight shootings across multiple boroughs that left seven people wounded and six others dead.
Often targeting young women and couples in parked cars, local media reported the killer could be a “woman hater” who confused “sex and violence,” according to “Mark of a Killer,” airing Saturdays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
While he was originally dubbed the “.44 Caliber Killer” due to the type of weapon used in each of the attacks, Berkowitz soon made a new a name for himself — Son of Sam.
Found at the crime scene of his sixth shooting was a letter to law enforcement refuting the media’s claim that he was a misogynist.
“I am deeply hurt by your calling me a wemon [sic] hater. I am not. But I am a monster. I am the ‘Son of Sam’ … ‘Go out and kill’ commands Father Sam,” he wrote, adding, “I feel like an outsider. I am on a different wave length then [sic] everybody else—programmed too [sic] kill.”
Criminologist Dr. Scott Bonn told “Mark of a Killer” that the letter gave investigators a “new sense of possible motivations” behind the slayings.
“In the mind of this killer, ‘Papa Sam’ is in fact Satan, and killing out of bloodlust, if you will, to satisfy Satan,” Bonn said.
Berkowitz went on to write personal letters to the media, including the New York Daily News, telling one journalist, “I'm just dropping you a line to let you know that I appreciate your interest in those recent and horrendous .44 killings.”
Bonn theorized that Berkowitz was hoping to accomplish two things with his letters: terrorize the city and gain notoriety.
“The use of the letters gave this killer a sense of satisfaction, a way for him to taunt the city, a way for him to say, ‘Catch me if you can.’ It’s about the impact that killing itself had on society,” Bonn told “Mark of a Killer.”
Police were ultimately able to tie Berkowitz to the slayings through a parking ticket that he received near the scene of his final murder. On Aug. 10, 1977, investigators waiting outside of Berkowitz’s Yonkers apartment arrested him as he entered his car.
When police told him to remain still, Berkowitz simply turned to face the investigators and smiled.
“The first thing Berkowitz says to us, he says, ‘Well, you got me,’ and he said, ‘What took you so long?” recalled New York Police Department Brooklyn Homicide Sergeant William Gardella.
Inside the vehicle, they found his .44 caliber weapon in a paper lunch bag as well as another letter addressed to law enforcement that warned he was unstoppable.
On the drive to NYPD headquarters, Berkowitz asked investigators if they would comb his hair because he wanted to look presentable to the press photographers who were awaiting his arrival.
“He’s gonna spend the rest of his life in jail, and he’s worried about his hair,” Gardella said.
Following a search of Berkowitz’s apartment, they discovered several photographs of his victims and disturbing notes written next to holes in the walls. Next to one hole, Berkowitz had scrawled, “Hi my name is Mr. Williams and I live in this hole. I have several children who I’m turning into killers. Wait til they grow up.”
While in custody, Berkowitz confessed to the murders and claimed that his neighbor, Sam Carr, owned a black Labrador Retriever that Berkowitz believed was talking to him and instructing him to kill.
“Then he came up with this Son of Sam thing. I still can’t make heads or tails out of it,” NYPD Bronx Homicide Detective Richard Paul told “Mark of a Killer.”
One possible explanation for how Berkowitz turned into Son of Sam can be traced back to his early adulthood, when he found out that his biological mother had not died in childbirth and in fact had given him up for adoption.
“He felt betrayed,” Dr. Bonn said. “And this turned that internal angst into rage. He was empty, and he was constantly looking for something that would give him meaning … He’s looking for recognition and notoriety.”
Berkowitz later pleaded guilty to the slayings and was sentenced to 25 years to life for each of the six murders. He is currently serving his time at a New York correctional facility.
The serial killer now claims to have found salvation through religion, rebranding himself as the Son of Hope.
To hear more from survivors and investigations, watch “Mark of a Killer” on Oxygen.
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