Real Names: David Berkowitz, others unknown
Case: Serial Killings
Location: New York
Details: At 1:10am on July 29, 1976, two young women were shot in an area of the Bronx known as Pelham Bay by an assailant using .44 caliber bullets. One of them, Donna Lauria, was killed instantly. A composite of the gunman was created based on eyewitness accounts. On October 23, 1976, another shooting occurred in Queens; both victims survived and were shot by .44 caliber bullets. On November 27, 1976, two young women were also shot in Queens; both survived, but one would become paralyzed for life. Eyewitnesses helped to create another composite of the gunman. On January 30, 1977, Christine Freund and her fiancee were shot in their car; she was killed. On March 8, 1977, Columbia University student Virginia Voskerichian was shot and killed while walking home from school at around 7:30pm. Eyewitnesses created two more composites of the killer; these seemed different from the earlier ones.
On April 17, 1977, Alexander Esau and Valentina Suriani were shot and killed in their car in Pelham Bay. This time, a handwritten letter was left at the scene; the killer identified himself as the "Son of Sam". On Memorial Day 1977, the killer sent another letter to newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin. It contained taunts and references to satanism. It also mentioned the "Twenty Two Disciples of Hell", "Wicked King Wicker", and "John Wheaties - the Rapist and Suffocater of Young Girls". It was also signed the "Son of Sam" and had a satanic symbol at the bottom. Finally, on July 31, 1977, the assailant struck for the last time, killing a young woman named Stacy Moskowitz; her boyfriend, Robert Violante, was injured. Nineteen-year-old mechanic Tommy Zaino was a witness to the shooting. Tommy gave a description of the shooter, which was much different than the other composite drawings.
Authorities learned that a parking ticket had been issued near the scene; it was issued to a Ford Galaxy belonging to postal employee David Berkowitz. When authorities went to his residence, they noticed his car parked out front. Inside, the saw a duffel bag with a rifle in it. They searched the car and found another letter written by the "Son of Sam" which threatened more attacks. At 10pm, Berkowitz returned to his car, carrying a .44 caliber revolver in a paper bag. He was arrested and confessed to all of the shootings. He told police that he had received his orders to kill from the barking dog of a neighbor, Sam Carr. Berkowitz pleaded guilty to all of the murders and was sentenced to twenty-five years to life in prison.
Author Maury Terry, however, felt that there was more to the story; he believed that Berkowitz did not act alone. He believes that Berkowitz was part of a gang of killings. He first became suspicious when he read the reports about the last shooting on July 31, 1977. He talked to eyewitness Tommy Zaino; Tommy said that he had seen a slim man with medium length hair shoot Stacy and Robert. When he saw Berkowitz a few days later, he was certain that he had seen a different man at the scene. He believed this because Berkowitz was much stockier than the shooter that he had seen.
Maury also learned about a yellow Volkswagen which was parked in front of a park next to where Stacy and Robert were shot. It was left there at around 1am on the night of the shooting; three men emerged from it. Thirty minutes later, Tommy noticed it pass by him twice. At 2:05am, a policeman issued the parking ticket to Berkowitz's car. At the same time, a neighborhood resident named Cecilia Davis was dropped off by a friend next to it. They were blocking the street, so Berkowitz began honking at them as he tried to drive down the street. Cecilia got out of her friend's car and got a good look at him. She saw him driving away from the area, following the police car. Fifteen minutes later, Stacy and Robert went on a walk around the park. They noticed a man standing next to the park restroom, which was two blocks from Cecilia's apartment. At 2:33am, she returned to it after walking her dog. She once again saw Berkowitz as he walked right past her on the sidewalk. Just one minute later, she entered her apartment and heard the shooting. It seems unlikely that Berkowitz would be able to walk two blocks to the scene of the shooting in less than a minute; it would normally take someone two minutes to briskly walk that distance.
Just fifteen seconds after the shooting, witnesses saw a man wearing a cheap wig run away from the scene of the shooting, get into a yellow Volkswagen, and drive away. Maury believes that there were at least three people involved in the shooting, including Berkowitz. He believes that they are part of an organized conspiracy that was responsible for all of the "Son of Sam" shootings. He believes that although Berkowitz was involved in several shootings, he also became the "fall guy" in the case.
It's alleged that the cult was active and recruiting new members as late as ten years after his arrest. Maury believes that this cult sent the letter to Jimmy. In the letter a "King Wicker" is mentioned; interestingly, Berkowitz lived in an apartment next to Wicker Street. A man named John Carr lived close to him; Maury learned that his nickname was "John Wheaties" which was also mentioned in the Jimmy letter. He happened to be the son of Sam Carr; Sam's dog is the one that Berkowitz claimed had told him to commit the killings. Maury believe that John resembles two of the composites of the killer. Maury tracked him to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. Maury learned that while he worked in North Dakota, he frequently traveled to New York around the time of the murders. Authorities confirmed that he was a close friend and confidant of Berkowitz.
On February 17, 1978, six months after Berkowitz's arrest, John was found dead in his girlfriend's apartment in Minot, North Dakota. It was believed, at first, that he had sat at the edge of his bed and shot himself with a gun that was found next to him; his girlfriend believed this. The next day, however, she changed her story and said that she believed that he had been murdered. She said that he was wanted for the Son of Sam murders in New York and that he was afraid for his life. One of the North Dakota investigators is convinced that he was murdered; however, his death was remains a mystery.
Maury believes that John had satanic cult ties to both New York and North Dakota. The cult allegedly practiced in blood drinking, urine drinking, and even animal sacrifices. Their choice of animal was allegedly the German Shepherd. Maury discovered that the satanic symbol at the end of the Jimmy letter was also found in John's phone book.
Phil Falcon was an acquaintance of John's in Minot. He told Maury that he had accidentally walked in on John and another man during a satanic ritual. They were apparently sacrificing an animal in the middle of Phil's own house. He told Maury that John belonged to a violent satanic cult. Prison sources who knew Berkowitz claimed that he had been introduced to this cult by John's brother, Michael, in 1975. They allegedly attended a "floating covenant" party wherein he became involved in the cult. At 4am, on October 4, 1979, Michael was killed after he crashed into a light post on New York's West Side highway. He died just eighteen months after his brother.
Conclusive proof that Berkowitz knew John and Michael both came during one of his depositions. On October 25, 1978, he said that he did know John. In 1983, during another deposition, Berkowitz confirmed that they were involved in a satanic cult, and that they were murdered to ensure their silence. Maury believes that their deaths were engineered by the "Twenty-two Disciples of Hell". He also believes that the group held their rituals in Untermyer Park, located just one mile from Berkowitz's apartment. On August 11, 1977, the day after Berkowitz's arrest, two young boys led police to a shallow grave where the bodies of three German Shepherds were found. Two had been strangled with chains, and another was shot in the head. At least ten other dogs were later found dead in the park.
Authorities also received information that groups of people in black robes with hoods were chanting and carrying on rituals in the rear of Untermyer Park. More remains of dogs were found in that area; it was believed that they were sacrificed in a ritual. Maury received a call from a teenager in Yonkers who claimed that he had seen a satanic cult meeting in Untermyer Park. He took Maury to the park and showed him where the cult was apparently meeting; satanic graffiti was found. He also showed him the remains of several dogs. Finally, he took him along the aqua duct where a satanic altar was set up.
Cult activity has continued around Untermyer Park since the Son of Sam killings. While Unsolved Mysteries was filming the story, two residents came forward to say that they had witnessed a satanic cult meeting in the park in 1987. They stated that they had gone outside after seeing car headlights and went to an area near the aqua duct in the park. They saw at least fifteen people standing in the area, chanting and holding candles. Out of fear, they fled the area.
Authorities continue to investigate this case and do not consider it closed. They would like to question any individuals that match the composite sketches in it. They would also like to locate the yellow 1971 Volkswagon seen near the scene of the last shooting. Its license plate ends with the letters "GUR".
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the November 2, 1988 episode and Part 2 first aired a week later on the November 9, 1988 episode. It was also mentioned in connecting to the research of Carolyn Reynolds. It was also briefly mentioned in the Stockton Arsonist segment.
Results: Unresolved. Sadly, Maury has since passed away. Authorities still consider this case open but inactive; Berkowitz has refused to speak about the cult or anyone else who may have been involved in it. He has been eligible for parole several times since 2002; however, each time he has been denied.
- "Son of Sam" on Unsolved.com
- David Berkowitz on Wikipedia
- David Berkowitz on Biography.com
- "Son of Sam" arrested - This day in history
- "I'm Son of Sam" - Parking ticket leads to arrest
- Police warned about "Sam" suspect
- Cult may have been linked to "Son of Sam"
- "Son of Sam" killer Berkowitz linked to murder in California
- Ten years later, questions remain in "Son of Sam" murders
- Probe of "Son of Sam" terror cult documents satanic underground
- Satanic crime on the rise, experts tell officers at conference
- "Son of Sam" claims he killed 3, Satanic cult members killed others
- "Son of Sam" killer claims he did not act alone
- "Son of Sam" Killer: "I Wasn't Alone" -- Berkowitz Ends 16-Year Silence
- Baffled By Berkowitz
- Did "Son of Sam" really act alone?
- Revisiting the "Son of Sam" Case, 40 Years Later
- Serial Killer David Berkowitz Hospitalized For Possible Heart Surgery
- David Berkowitz Confessed to Being the "Son of Sam". But Did He Really Act Alone?
- "Son of Sam" Victims on Find a Grave