There are few serial killers who have a name as memorable as David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam. Something about the case — the vicious nature of the crimes, the targeting of young women in New York City, and the story of a possessed dog — that has resonated with true crime buffs and much of the population for nearly 45 years. And it doesn’t look like the intrigue is going to stop anytime soon with the upcoming docuseries Sons of Sam on Netflix reignited interest.
On May 5, Netflix will release The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness, a four-episode chronicle of journalist Maury Terry’s decades-long crusade to get to the bottom one of the most captivating cases of the 20th Century, one that has long-believed to have been solved with the capture, arrest, and conviction of David Berkowitz. But before watching what sounds to be one of the great true crime documentary series on the streaming giant, there are a few things to remember about the case of Son of Sam.
Between July 1976 And July 1977, The .44 Caliber Killer (Son Of Sam) Shot And Killed Six Victims In New York City
Starting in the early morning hours of July 29, 1976, and off and on through July 31, 1977, the .44 Caliber Killer (later identified as Son of Sam, aka David Berkowitz) carried out eight different shootings, killing six and injuring an additional eight in the process. Over the course of the 12-month reign of terror, Son of Sam preyed mostly on young female victims and the men accompanying them, often their dates, in The Bronx and Queens, though his final act of violence occurred in Brooklyn, far removed from the area the Son of Sam task force had been sweeping for clues as they attempted to nab the vicious killer, according to a CBS News report.
Son Of Sam Wrote A Series Of Letters Teasing New York Police And Press
Just like the Zodiac Killer before him, Son of Sam wrote a series of letters to the NYPD and local New York media throughout his 12-month reign of terror, teasing investigators about the crimes and their failed attempts at identifying him despite survivors and witnesses providing key details about his appearance. According to RollingStone, David Berkowitz gave himself the “Son of Sam” moniker in one of these letters, addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borelli, in which he suggested he was taking orders from his “father.” Once the Daily News ran a front-page story about the letter, Berkowitz’s typo-ridden letters to the paper’s lead columnist Jimmy Breslin, which only intensified the media frenzy.
Many New Yorkers Lived In A State Of Fear Before Son Of Sam’s Eventual Capture
The nature of Son of Sam’s crimes shook many in the New York City area, so much so that sales of wigs reportedly shot through the roof when it came out he was targeting young women with dark hair, as noted in the aforementioned RollingStone article. This sense of fear that was rampant throughout the city’s five boroughs was touched upon in the 2017 Smithsonian Channel documentary The Lost Tapes: Son of Sam (via Gothamist), especially in a segment where a reporter is seen approaching women on the street, asking them if they felt threatened by the ongoing killings. While some gave off the impression they weren’t afraid, others revealed they were afraid to go out out at night.
David Berkowitz Was Captured And Confessed To The Killings In August 1977
The NYPD finally got a break in the Son of Sam case in August 1977 when a parking ticket issued to a car seen near the scene of one of the killings led authorities to the Yonkers home of David Berkowitz. In a 2019 Associated Press report on the death of John Keenan, the detective who led the yearlong investigation into the crime spree, it was reported that when Keenan confronted the suspected killer, Berkowitz said he knew the detective before admitting that he was Son of Sam.
What at first seemed like an open-and-shut case with a confession and evidence connecting David Berkowitz to the locations of the crimes would soon turn into anything but when Son of Sam made a startling, and baffling comment.
David Berkowitz Claimed His Neighbor’s Dog Told Him To Commit The Murders
Shortly after David Berkowitz’s arrest and confession to the killings, the Daily News ran an extensive story on the conclusion of the investigation that included interviews with some of the detectives who had worked the case. In this wild and colorful report, one of the detectives is quoted as saying he thinks Berkowitz won’t see a jail cell but instead a padded room because he allegedly took orders from his neighbor’s dog, stating:
The minute you talk to him you know that he'll never do a day in jail. He's a complete whack. What are you going to do? The guys kills people because a dog tells him to. The only thing that makes sense is the name. Sam. The dog belongs to a man named Sam Carr.
This talk of demonic possession and a talking dog wouldn’t last too long, however, has David Berkowitz would later claim it was all a ruse and that he decided to carry out the killings as a way to get revenge on the world, per Biography.com. Though he recanted his statement, the "dog made me do it" defense lives on to this day and even came up in Mindhunter, one of the best shows on Netflix.
Some In The NYPD Still Aren’t Convinced David Berkowitz Acted Alone
David Berkowitz was later convicted and sentenced to six 25-to-life sentences (one for each murder) and sent off to prison for the rest of his days (he’s still alive, by the way). And even though the killings stopped upon his arrest, some within the NYPD aren’t convinced Berkowitz acted alone in the Son of Sam killings. In the Son of Sam episode of A&E Real Crime (via AETV.com), a retired NYPD detective claimed that Berkowitz was just the guy who took the rap and that there was a larger satanic conspiracy at play, one that may or may not have been involved with a series of dog slayings in the area of Yonkers near the convicted killer’s residence. The Yonkers Police Department even went as far as to reopen the investigation in 1996.
And that’s what brings us to The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness, Joshua Zeman’s (Cropsey) new four-part Netflix documentary series chronicling the crimes of David Berkowitz and Maury Terry’s crusade to find out if the Son of Sam acted alone or if more parties were involved. The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness premieres May 5 on Netflix. If you want to check out what else is coming to the streaming giant this year, check out CinemaBlend’s list of Netflix TV premiere dates.