Exclusive: From jail cell 35 years to the day his reign of terror ended, Berkowitz says society needs to take the 'glory out of guns.' He is serving six 25-years-to life sentences for shooting 13 people in cold blood, killing six
© Mike Groll/Associated Press
David Berkowitz has changed from heartless mass murderer to born-again Christian behind bars.
He is one of New York's most notorious serial killers.
He shot 13 people in cold blood, killing six.
Yet 35 years to the day his reign of terror ended, David Berkowitz
, the Son of Sam, speaks gently from his jail cell with the words: society needs to take the "glory out of guns."
"It's all senseless," he said from the maximum security Sullivan County Correctional Facility in upstate New York, where he is serving six consecutive 25 years-to-life sentences.
The ".44 Caliber Killer" lamented the recent spate of shootings that have claimed such innocents as a young boy in the Bronx, moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., and worshipers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
"Society has to take the glory out of guns. Young people have no business carrying a gun. I would love to speak bluntly to those gangbanging teens and wanna-bes and tell them prison is nothing like what you think. If you're packing a gun, you're making a big mistake, and you'll regret it."
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Police arrested Berkowitz outside his Yonkers home on Aug. 10, 1977, ending a 13-month shooting spree. Since then, Berkowitz appears to have gone through a personal and spiritual transformation, and developed an all-consuming passion to discourage youth from lives of crime.
"I'm looking beyond gun control. That's for the legislators to wrangle with," he said. "My hope is just that young people would understand just how terrible this violence is. When they use a gun against someone else, they ruin their lives too," he said. "It's not worth it."
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He said, "One day, I hope that guns will lose their glamour, that it would be seen a social disapproval for those in gangs. I know that's a bit simplistic, but to me the whole tragedy is that young people are losing direction and don't value life or have no clue why they're on this Earth."
He mentioned the killing of Lloyd Morgan, a 4-year-old cut down by a stray bullet in the Bronx last month.
"As months and years go by, you realize that that one moment of uncontrolled impulse leads to loss of life....Look at that 4-year-old who was killed.
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You know, you get into this gang fight, all the weapons come out and everyone starts firing away without thinking, the bullets start flying. Next thing you know, for this one moment of unleashing your anger, you go to prison for many, many years."
He is now 59, and indeed seems very different from that dark-haired monster with the devilish smirk. Berkowitz is easygoing and affable. His all-white hair is close-cropped, his neat mustache streaked with gray. He winces at the mention of "Son of Sam" and doesn't like to talk much about those dark days.
"It's too painful," Berkowitz said in a thick Bronx accent. "I continue to pray for the victims of my crimes. I do wish them the best in life. But I'm sure the pain will never end for them. I regret that."
He no longer seeks parole, saying it's the "proper road to take" to spare the victims' families further anguish.
Beginning in July 1976, the then-24-year-old postal worker stalked his victims in lovers' lanes or on quiet neighborhood streets. His crime spree started in the Bronx, then moved to Queens and Brooklyn, sparking unprecedented fear.
Discos emptied and streets were virtually deserted at night. His preference for brunettes sent panicked young women scrambling for blond wigs and cutting their hair.
He would sneak up on his victims, unleashing a barrage of shots through car windows, or shooting point-blank in street encounters.
© Thomas Monaster/New York Daily News
Police investigate Cadillac where man and woman were shot by David Berkowitz at 211th St. in Bayside, Queens.
On July 29, 1976, he pulled his Charter Arms .44-caliber Bulldog out of a paper bag and fired five times into a car in the Bronx, killing Donna Lauria and wounding Jody Valente. On Oct. 23, 1976, Berkowitz fired five shots into a car in Queens, wounding Carl Denaro.
On Nov. 27, 1976, Donna DeMasi and Joanne Lomino were wounded while walking in Queens. On Jan. 29, 1977, he killed Christine Freund in Queens. On March 8, 1977, Virginia Voskerichian was shot dead as she walked on a Queens street.
On April 17, he killed Valentina Suriani and Alexander Esau in the Bronx, a block from the first shooting, leaving a taunting note.
On June 26, Judy Placido and Salvatore Lupo were wounded outside Elephas, a disco in Queens.
On July 31, he killed Stacy Moskowitz - the only blond victim - and left Robert Violante blinded in Brooklyn.
Cops had christened the unknown assailant "the .44 Caliber Killer," after his weapon of choice.
The eerie moniker, the one that would endure, came from a menacing letter left near one of the crime scenes and another missive sent to Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin.
His correspondence with Breslin kept the public riveted.
© Mark Lennihan/AP; New York Daily News
David Berkowitz's correspondence with the Daily News' Jimmy Breslin kept the public riveted.
© New York Daily News
Detectives lead Berkowitz to Police Headquarters on Aug. 11, 1977.
Looking back, Berkowitz said, it was a time in his life when he was "lost," "tormented" and "confused." He was heavily into the occult. After his arrest, Berkowitz claimed his neighbor's Labrador retriever ordered him to kill.
Sitting in the prison's visitors room dressed in a bright yellow polo and green elastic waist pants, Berkowitz grimaced when he recalled the past.
"I tell you, I felt like I was under demonic control," he said. "I don't even recognize that person. 'Son of Sam' represents evil and satanic things. That person is like a total stranger to me now."
Ten years into his prison sentence, Berkowitz became a born-again Christian. Over the years, he has taken on various prison ministries.
"Some guys call me Pops," he said. "I'm like a grandfather figure to some of them."
But, he added, "Even here, guys can't get over my past. They hold grudges. I try to keep a low profile but not everyone likes me. They keep their distance though, they don't bother me."
Each day, there's a 5:30 a.m. wakeup for food service, and he spends two to four hours in the morning on his electric typewriter (he's not allowed on a computer and he's computer illiterate) writing letters to his friends, preparing the youth messages. He studies the Bible.
His afternoons are spent working at the prison's Intermediate Care Program, a 64-man housing unit for prisoners with mental health issues.
"I enjoy working with them. It's one of the gifts God has given me," he said. "I've walked in their shoes. I know what it is like to struggle with depression and suicide attempts and despair. I feel needed there."
He washes dishes in the prison kitchen. It's lights out at 11:15 p.m.
In his time behind bars, Berkowitz has seen an endless parade of young men enter those prison gates. It has sparked a passion in him to mentor youth.
"I think it's a big tragedy when I see young men with their macho faces like they're cool when I know they are really scared to death," he said. "I know because I've been there. Prison is a house of pain. It's not what you see in the media and on those crime shows."
Berkowitz spreads his message with the help of a faithful group of a dozen Christian friends who have reached out to him over the years. They maintain his website, ariseandshine.org and print religious tracts telling of his life story, his conversion to Christianity, his warnings to youth (some 750,000 of those pamphlets have been distributed all over the world).
For Berkowitz, these friendships are a vital lifeline.
"God has put some really great, caring people in my life," he said. "To me, they are more than friends, they are family."
Berkowitz's own family is no longer a part of his life. His birth mother, Betty Falco, whom he called "a lovely lady," died many years ago. He is estranged from his half-sister and stepsister. His adoptive mother died when he was a teen. He lost his adoptive father in March.
He clings to memories of growing up in the Soundview section of the Bronx; of exploring Bronx neighborhoods like Throggs Neck and City Island on his bicycle.
Those memories compete with fantasies about what life would be like "if I didn't take those wrong turns."
He imagines himself as "a working-class guy," married with kids, perhaps even grandkids, living somewhere in the Bronx.
"I have regrets more than words can say," he said solemnly.
"I have regrets about all the people I hurt, about what my life would have been like. I've missed out on a lot. But God has given me peace about my situation."
He doesn't mark these so-called "anniversaries." The only real reminders are media requests for interviews, and even those have dramatically waned over the years.
Recently, he did reflect on how close he came to dying that hot August night 35 years ago, when police officers closed in on him, guns trained at his head. Years later, while in Attica, he survived a razor blade attack to the neck.
"I'll be the first to say that I don't deserve to have my life spared," Berkowitz said, "but I believe God spared my life for me to do the things I'm doing now."
He remains "haunted" by his past and doesn't believe he'll ever shake the "Son of Sam" persona. But he is working on creating a new legacy.
"I want people to see my God is a God of miracles," he said.
"If He can save someone like me, he can save anybody."