Berkowitz didn’t take to using his trademark 44-calibre handgun at first. In 1975, as he had become for the most part a recluse, only venturing out to buy food, his behaviour became more psychotic as his paranoia grew about the outside world. He claimed later to psychiatrists that this was when he first began to hear ‘demons’ urging him to kill. By Christmas 1975 he mentally imploded. During one evening he took a large hunting knife and cruised around the city looking for young girls. Two women, one just fifteen years old, were attacked. Miraculously both girls survived.
On 29 July 1976 Berkowitz went back out on the prowl. By this time he had moved into a family home in the Bronx. That night two young girls, eighteen-year-old Donna Laurie and nineteen-year-old Jody Valenti were talking in Jody’s parked car outside Laurie’s family apartment. Her parents arrived and cautioned her to go in due to the late hour. Shortly after they had gone inside a man appeared at the side of the passenger door of the car. The girls were startled and in seconds the man pulled out a 44 Bulldog handgun from a paper bag and fired five times. Jody was shot in the thigh and leaned on the horn as the man continued firing, empting the chamber. Donna was killed immediately. Her distressed father, still wearing his pyjamas rushed his young daughter to hospital, but she was pronounced dead.
The police at the time had no indication that this was the work of a would-be serial killer. Little did they know that David Berkowitz had chosen his weapon of preference and intended to kill and maim many more citizens.
Three months later on the night of 23 October, twenty-year old Carl Denaro was chatting to college girl Rosemary Keenan in a bar. They both left the venue after 2.30am and drove in his car to her house. As they were talking Berkowitz suddenly appeared at the passenger window and once again fired five times. Carl was wounded in the head, but Rosemary was able to drive away and rush him to hospital. He survived the ordeal but had to have a metal plate inserted in his skull.
On 26 November 1976, two young girls were returning home after having been to the movies. Sixteen-year-old Donna DeMasi and her friend, eighteen-year-old Joanne Lomino, stopped at her house. When she noticed a man hovering nearby Joanne urged Donna to quicken their step. This time Berkowitz spoke, asking them where he was. He didn’t even give them time to reply as he pulled out a gun and fired, hitting them both. Berkowitz then fired at a house as he ran away. Joanne’s parents rushed out to the tragic scene. Although Donna was lucky as the bullet had exited her body, Joanne’s spine was shattered. She was left a paraplegic.
The police still didn’t realise that these separate attacks taking place in Brooklyn and Queens were linked. Only one bullet was recovered from the scene of the crime. The following year Berkowitz carried out his cowardly attacks again. On 30 January 1977, twenty-six-year-old Christine Freund and her fiancée John Diel were walking back to their car after a night in a Queens wine bar. It was 12.10am as they sat chatting in the vehicle. Two shots shattered the windshield hitting Christine in the head. John lay her down on the driver’s seat while he ran for help. Christine died in hospital.
The police were now waking up to the disturbing realisation that they may have a serial killer on their hands.
Two forceful police figures, Captain Joe Borrelli and Detective Sergeant Joe Coffey were now working on this latest homicide and looking at the previous attacks. The first thing that stood out about the shootings was the unusual kind of gun used, a large calibre firearm. Soon they realised that Christine’s murder matched those of the previous shootings. Ballistics revealed that it was a 44 Charter Arms Bulldog. Borrelli put together a homicide task force, but with no specific leads it appeared that the killings were the random work of a maniac.
Virginia Voskerichian, a college student returning home from classes was to be the next victim on the night of 8 March 1977. She was walking in the affluent Forest Hills Gardens when Berkowitz approached her from the opposite direction. He pulled out his gun and Virginia instinctively held up her books to protect her. The single bullet hit her directly in the face killing her immediately. As Berkowitz ran away the psychopath even said ‘Hi’ to a passing man. He may have been caught there and then by a passing patrol car if it wasn’t for the fact that they abandoned chasing what they thought was just a suspicious man. Instead they went straight to the scene of the crime.
The magnitude of what the police force was facing was now beginning to sink in. The latest brutal murder of a beautiful young girl with her life ahead of her was a wake up call as to the kind of disturbed mind they were dealing with. A press conference announced details of the killer as being ‘a white male, twenty-five to thirty, six feet tall and with dark hair’.
Operation Omega was set up by Dept Inspector Timothy Dowd. Dowd was a highly intelligent and well educated maverick. It wasn’t long before his persistence was to be put to the test with the next murder.
On 17 April 1977 close to the area where previous victim Donna Laurie had been murdered, a young couple sat kissing in a parked car. Valentina Suriani was an eighteen-year-old actress and model who was in love with Alexander Esau, her twenty-year-old boyfriend. At 3am a car pulled up alongside them. Berkowitz took out his .44 and shot each one of them twice. Both were killed, Valentina instantly while Alexander later died in hospital.
In a manner that reflected the style of Jack The Ripper, Berkowitz left a letter addressed to Captain Borrelli. This was the first time he referred to himself as the 'Son of Sam'.
The police developed a more detailed profile of the killer. They knew he was a paranoid schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur who believed he was possessed by demons. There was little doubt that he was a loner and most likely had never experienced a successful relationship.
The Omega task force was dealing with hundreds of calls and testimonies from the public. Every call and suspect had to be checked. It was time consuming and the psychological strain on the police force to catch this indiscriminate killer was eating away at their morale.
The media attention most likely gave Berkowitz a thrill, making him believe he was now important and an infamous celebrity. He wrote another letter, this time to a reporter at the Daily News. Again it was a rambling pseudo-intellectual rant desperate to appear poetic: ‘Hello from the gutters of NYC, which is filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine and blood. Hello from the sewers of NYC which swallow up these delicacies when they are washed away by the sweeper trucks’.
The incoherent babble included a callous and disturbing reference to one of his previous victims Donna Laurie, describing her as ‘a sweet girl’. The letter ended with a chilling reminder that the writer was going to kill again, “You will see my handiwork at the next job".
The police requested that the newspaper withhold some aspects of the letter most likely to make sure they had the means to identify copycat killers or cranks who claimed to be the ‘Son of Sam’.
But the next vital lead to the killer’s identity would not come from the Omega task force, but from a member of the public who at the time didn’t realise he once had the killer living under his roof.