Forty years after Son of Sam aka David Berkowitz gave New York City a nervous breakdown, many continue to be transfixed by this serial killer.
Investigation Discovery’s two hour special Son of Sam: The Hunt for a Killer, airing on Aug. 5, explores this obsession and talks with those who’ve weathered the case, and there’s some intriguing takeaways.
Since being arrested on Aug. 10, 1977, Berkowitz became a born-again Christian in 1997, and now goes by the name Son of Hope. Criminologist, Dr. Scott Bonn, who interviewed the former serial killer in 2013 described how Berkowitz went through a rebirth and now feels “He’s been fully redeemed and God has forgiven him for his crimes.” In fact, the Evangelical Church has adopted Berkowitz “and he’s become a minister behind bars” says Bonn.
The criminologist distinguished that the psychology behind mass-shooters is a different one from serial killers.
“For Berkowitz, as a serial killer, he loved to kill and needed to kill. It was like a drug addiction, and it’s different from the need to go out with a blaze of glory,” said Bonn.
And what’s hard for some to swallow, and an assessment which former NYPD detective Marlin Hopkins, who worked on the Son of Sam case, disagrees about is that Berkowitz wasn’t a psychopath.
“I don’t believe David Berkowitz is a psychopath. Out of his troubled childhood evolved this evil persona. In regards to whether he was born or made, he was made. Compare this with Ted Bundy who was a born psychopath.”
“Why he did it can be traced back to a childhood fear when he was abandoned by his birth mother and adopted as a child. He grew up to be a frightened and angry, rageing individual. He was striking back at society and did it in a way that held the entire city of New York hostage for a year,” said Bonn.
“He felt shunned and victimized by society and he retaliated in a way that was ‘You will respect me.'” added the Criminologist who is also the author of the book Why We Love Serial Killers.
Hopkins believes that Berkowitz was definitely off-kilter given how lucid and descriptive he was about all the murders he laid claim to during a three-hour inquisition following his arrest. Carl Denaro, a survivor of Berkowitz ‘s who was shot, and was on today’s panel, is of the notion through his research that Berkowitz didn’t act alone; that he was part of a cult who committed these atrocities in the summer of 1977. While Berkowitz doted on women, it’s theorized that Denaro was mistaken by the killer as a women given his long hair. Evidence such as the bullets used in Berkowitz’s .44 caliber Bulldog as well as the notes he left for the police indicate per Hopkins that the killer didn’t act alone.
Bonn says that in this day two-to-three dozen serial killers still roam the country, however, social media assists in tracking their moves.
Speaking to how Berkowitz would resonate in today’s web-obsessed era, Bonn says “He was packaged for the media. When this took place, it was the ’70s which was the stone age of media.”
“God forbid this took place today, it would be the biggest crime story in the history of the world.”