Between July 1976 and July 1977, a mad man with a .44-caliber revolver prowled the five boroughs of New York, fatally shooting amorous couples parked out on lovers’ lanes throughout the metropolis.
Like many serial killers, the armed man taunted the police and the media through handwritten letters signed “Son of Sam,” poetic odes to gore delivered to New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin, who then published them for the terrified public to consume.
“Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C. which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine, and blood. Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of N.Y.C. and from the ants that dwell in these cracks and feed on the dried blood of the dead that has settled into the cracks.”
By the time he was arrested in August of 1977, David Berkowitz had killed six people and wounded seven others. In the process, he had brought New York City to its knees. But the killings stopped, and Berkowitz was given six 25 years-to-life sentences, to be served consecutively. Justice had been served.
But what if it hadn’t?
Several people who worked the Son of Sam case are convinced Berkowitz didn’t act alone. Then-Queens District Attorney John Santucci opined that the murder weapon was passed amongst multiple assassins. Son of Sam survivor Carl Denaro believes he was shot by a woman in a multiple-assailant crime.
“Berkowitz didn’t do all the killings,” says Jim Rothstein, a retired New York Police Department detective who worked on the vice squad during the Son of Sam killings and investigated the notion that a satanic death cult was behind extensive violent criminality in the 1970s.
“Once they locked up Berkowitz and blamed him for everything, they said it was done,” Rothstein tells A&E True Crime. “But Berkowitz was just the guy who took the rap. It was a much bigger thing.”
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According to Rothstein, sources told him of satanic animal sacrifices in Yonkers’ Untermyer Park, a neglected garden sprawl less than a mile from Berkowitz’s (and Carr’s) Yonkers homes, where German Shepherd bodies were later found.
Rothstein isn’t the only skeptical cop. In 1996, the Yonkers Police Department reopened the Son of Sam investigation. According to a spokesman with Yonkers PD, that case has since been closed.
Who Is the ‘Sam’ in ‘Son of Sam’?
After he was arrested, Berkowitz explained to investigators that the Sam in his Son of Sam letters was Sam Carr—Berkowitz’s neighbor in Yonkers, New York. Berkowitz said he had been ordered to kill by Sam Carr’s demonic dog, Harvey.
In the month following his arrest, Berkowitz wrote a letter to Carr from jail, in which he addressed his neighbor as “Sam, my Lord” and “Papa God.” In the letter, Berkowitz threatened to expose Carr as the true force behind the Son of Sam killings and a spate of other killings. Years later, Berkowitz would say from prison that he was acting in concert with a group of devil worshippers led by Carr and his immediate family. While Berkowitz’s credibility is worth scrutiny, Carr family members started dying under suspicious circumstances shortly after the arrest.
First was John Carr—Sam Carr’s eldest son—who died by gunshot wound in Minot, North Dakota in February 1978—approximately six months after Berkowitz was detained. That death was originally ruled a suicide, but the investigation was reopened as a possible murder shortly thereafter. Lieut. Terry Gardner—a deputy sheriff in Ward County, North Dakota who was tasked with investigating 31-year-old John Carr’s violent demise—told The New York Times at the time that he had “no doubt” that Berkowitz and John knew each other well.
The following year, Sam Carr’s other son—Michael Carr, 27 years old—died in a one-car accident on the West Side Highway of Manhattan.
Conflicting Eyewitness Reports
Then there were the conflicting reports provided by the crime-scene witnesses.
Several claimed the killer drove a yellow Volkswagen. Berkowitz was eventually caught because of a parking ticket on his Ford Galaxie. Tommy Zaino, an eyewitness to the shooting of Robert Violante and Stacy Moscowitz, claimed the killer had long, light blonde hair, like straw. Berkowitz’s hair was short, curly, dark.
“There seemed to be, very early on, some confusion about what exactly he looked like, or the type of vehicle,” Tom Jennings, whose documentary The Lost Tapes: Son of Sam explores the killings, hysteria and aftermath at length, tells A&E True Crime. Still, Jennings says that’s hardly evidence of a larger conspiracy.
“These things happen literally in a flash in the middle of the night on darkened streets. And people’s imaginations can play tricks on them… In the research we’ve done for it, and in talking to detectives that were involved in hunting him down, we haven’t found anything that suggests that there are multiple killers involved. Everyone I talked to along the way…the various police officers—nobody mentioned that somebody else [might be involved.]”