*Investigation Discovery’s two hour special “Son of Sam: The Hunt for a Killer” aired earlier this month, taking viewers inside the mind of one of the country’s most notorious serial killers, David Berkowitz aka Son of Sam.
Also known as the .44 Caliber Killer, “Berkowitz pled guilty to eight separate shooting attacks that began in New York City during the summer of 1976. He killed six people and wounded seven others by the following summer. As his victim count increased, Berkowitz eluded the biggest police manhunt in the history of New York City while leaving letters that mocked the police and promised further crimes.”
Criminologist Dr. Scott Bonn, author of “Why We Love Serial Killers,” interviewed Berkowitz in 2013 and during the 2017 Summer TCA Press Tour in Beverly Hills, Calif. on July 26, he explained that over the years, the former serial killer has experienced a “rebirth.”
When EUR/Electronic Urban Report correspondent Ny MaGee asked Bonn to recall his last conversation with the Son of Sam, he revealed that since his arrest on Aug. 10, 1977, Berkowitz has become a born-again Christian and now goes by the name Son of Hope. In fact, the Evangelical Church has adopted Berkowitz “and he’s become a minister behind bars” says Bonn.
“The prison interview that I had with him, which lasted about four and a half hours, at Sullivan Correctional Facility — this was in 2013 — this transpired after two years of lengthy correspondence with him, and I felt I got to know him pretty well through the mail. And then meeting him was — it was shocking. The images that I had were this sullen young man, brooding young man who was terrorizing New York, and the David Berkowitz today looks almost like an elf, like a gnome-like character with bulging red cheeks, and he came bounding in,” he explained.
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“He gave me a huge hug. He insisted that we pray together because he now calls himself Son of Hope. That’s his new moniker. For those of you who may not know, he went through a self-alleged Christian rebirth, born again Christian, in 1987, and he now says his primary purpose is to serve God in the best way that he can. And he believes that he’s been fully redeemed and God has forgiven him for his crimes.”
Continuing, “So, his whole demeanor was very different than any of the images that you would see looking back to ’76 and ’77. And the one thing he said to me, he said, “Scott, I truly was an evil man. I know that. But God has forgiven me, and if God can forgive someone like me, then anything is possible.”
Bonn added, “And he’s become somewhat of a darling of the evangelical Christian community. They’ve adopted him, and there’s actually a website that they dedicated to him He’s become something of a minister behind bars.”
He also noted that “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.”
When one reporter asked: “Why did he do it?” — Dr. Bonn explained:
“I think we can trace it back to his childhood and fear. He was — he had been abandoned and adopted as a child. We found out that he had been abandoned by his birth mother, and he grew up to be a frightened and ultimately angry and rageful individual. So, he was striking back at society is the way I would express it, and he did it in a way that held the entire city of New York captive, hostage for a year. So, in his own mind, he was an insignificant individual who had been shunned and victimized by society. This was his way of saying, “You will respect me. You will see me as someone of purpose.” So, it was a very twisted way of acting it out. I believe that was his motivation.”
It was certainly fascinating to hear Berkowitz survivor Carl Denaro recall his experience with the infamous killer.
“Back then I felt it was just bad circumstances, wrong place, wrong time. I had no idea who shot me,” he said. “The working theory was it was a drug deal gone wrong, and I wasn’t a drug dealer, but I couldn’t tell the cops who shot me. So, for about six months, I was kind of victimized twice.”
It wasn’t until NYPD matched his bullet with those of two prior victims that they were finally able to connect the dots.
“I guess in March of ’77, the bullet — NYPD ballistics were able to compare I believe it was the first shooting and the fourth shooting. They knew — I believe they knew it was .44 that shot me, but it was too mangled to do any real testing, but the first and fourth bullets, they were able to make a match. And so, then it was kind of like, “All right. Now game’s on.” Now it’s the Son of Sam, the .44 Caliber Killer. No longer was it a drug deal gone awry.”
Many investigators that worked the case would debate the issue but Denaro doesn’t believe the Son of Sam acted alone.
“I truly believe that he was involved in a cult and there was more than one shooter. I’ve spent basically the last 28 years researching, talking to cops, doing whatever I can to get to the bottom of the case, and I think there’s probably about 150, 200 pieces of circumstantial evidence that proves that he didn’t act alone.”
He added, “Most of this information came to me much later. I started with Maury Terry’s “Ultimate Evil” book and led me to interviewing and talking to about 50 or 60 retired NYPD detectives and other researchers, and I’m convinced that he didn’t act alone.”
If you missed the docuseries, get caught up at the Investigation Discovery website.
“Son of Sam” killer David Berkowitz recently sat down with CBS News for a special on the 40th anniversary of his arrest, check out a preview here.