True story behind Netflix’s The Sons of Sam: Inside new documentary on David Berkowitz

An investigation into the 'Son of Sam' killings. Is David Berkowitz the only one responsible for the infamous 1970s murders?

The Sons of Sam

Arguably one of the most infamous serial killers in history has to be David Berkowitz – a.k.a The Son of Sam. Berkowitz’s crimes are looked at in detail in Netflix‘s brand new docuseries The Sons of Sam: A Descent Into Darkness – a four-parter which examines whether the convicted killer worked alone or as part of a satanic cult as he claims.

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Through archive footage and interviews, the new series dives into the investigation of Maury Terry – a journalist who became obsessed with the Son of Sam case and believed Berkowitz acted alongside other murderers between 1976 and 1977.

Here’s everything you need to know about the true story behind ‘The Son of Sam’ case and Netflix’s docuseries.

Who is “The Son Of Sam” David Berkowitz?

David Berkowitz
David Berkowitz
Getty Images

Born in New York in 1953, David Berkowitz was a former soldier in the US Army who became famous for a series of crimes he committed in the New York area in the mid-1970s.

Adopted as a baby by Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz, he was raised in the Bronx, NY and attended school there before enlisting in the army when he was 17. He received an honourable discharge in 1974, and returned to the Bronx to attend community college and take on temporary work as a taxi driver, and as a letter sorter for the US Postal Service.

From around the age of 22, Berkowitz began committing violent crimes, beginning with two stabbings in December 1975 that he was not suspected of, but has since claimed responsibility for.

What did David Berkowitz do?

Between July 19th, 1976 and July 31st, 1977, David Berkowitz killed six people and wounded seven others in the New York area.

The first shooting took place in the Bronx. Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti were sitting in a car talking when Berkowitz fired five shots, killing Lauria and wounding her friend. This was followed by an attack in October 1976, when a couple was shot as they sat in a car in Queens, NY, and in November of the same year, two girls were shot while sitting on a doorstep after Berkowitz approached, asking for directions. Both girls survived, but one – Joanne Lomino – was paralysed by a bullet that hit her spine.

More attacks followed, and Berkowitz – who had been nicknamed the ‘.44 Caliber Killer’ due to his choice of weapon – taunted the police by sending letters to them and the press. In one, sent to journalist Jimmy Breslin, he wrote: “…I am a monster. I am the Son of Sam. I love to hunt, prowling the streets looking for fair game…”

After he was captured in August, 1977 – police tracked him down after a parking ticket placed him at one of the crime scenes – Berkowitz explained that “Sam” was his neighbour, Sam Carr, an agent of the devil. Berkowitz stated that Sam had transmitted his orders through his pet dog – a black Labrador that Berkowitz had once shot when it barked too much. He added that once the dog had recovered, it began speaking to him about killing people.

In numerous interviews since, including a 2002 CNN conversation with Larry King, Berkowitz has refused to talk about the dog but maintains there was a satanic element to the killings.

Where is David Berkowitz now?

On June 12th, 1978, David Berkowitz was sentenced to the maximum prison term – 25 years to life – for each of the six ‘Son of Sam’ killings, with the sentences to run consecutively. However, because Berkowitz pleaded guilty to the shootings, he became eligible for parole after 25 years, news which shocked the families of his victims.

Berkowitz was 25 years old when he was sent to Attica Correctional Facility, an upstate New York supermax prison. After 10 years, he was relocated to Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York, and then later he was moved to Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County, New York.

The maximum-security prison, 75 miles north of New York City, is currently Berkowitz’s home. He has been eligible to be considered for parole every two years since 2002, but has so far refused to ask for his release. Before his first parole hearing, he wrote to New York governor George Pataki, saying he had no wish to be freed from prison.

“In all honesty, I believe that I deserve to be in prison for the rest of my life. I have, with God’s help, long ago come to terms with my situation and I have accepted my punishment,” he said.

At his 2016 hearing, Berkowitz said that while he had worked as a caregiver in prison and found religion, he was aware he was unlikely to be released. “I feel that the crimes were so serious and the damage so severe, and so many people I’m sure are still hurting and grieving, that, realistically, something like parole, in my situation, would be very unusual.”

He was denied parole in 2016 and 2018. His next hearing was scheduled for May 2020, but was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Berkowitz is 67 years old.

Who were “The Sons of Sam” and did Berkowitz really act alone?

When David Berkowitz was arrested in 1977, police had no doubt that he had acted alone in the shootings. However, in the years since, investigators and reporters have questioned whether Berkowitz committed all the crimes alone.

When he was interviewed by Larry King in 2002, King asked Berkowitz whether he acted alone, to which he replied: “Well, not really. Not totally like that.” Berkowitz confirmed that there were other people involved in the killings who hadn’t been caught, but that most had “passed on”.

In 2004, NBC News reporter John Hockenberry revisited the Son of Sam crimes, and noted that some police and prosecutors who had worked on the case believed that there was more than one gunman working with Berkowitz. While he refused to be interviewed by Hockenberry, Berkowitz did talk to writer Maury Terry in 1997, and during their conversation he claimed that the murder of one of his victims – Stacey Moscowitz, who was killed in Berkowitz’s final shooting on July 31, 1977 in Brooklyn  – was actually a team effort, that there were a group of Son of Sam killers and on that occasion he was just the lookout.

Berkowitz claimed the ‘Sons of Sam’ were Satanists, and that he had gone with the group to Untermeyer Park in Yonkers, NY. “They were into the occult. I met some people there who said they were witches. There were animal sacrifices and other dark and ugly things happening,” he told Terry. In the interview, Berkowitz also mentioned the group were into child pornography, and some members were plotting human sacrifices to the devil. He said to Terry: “They were working with Satan to try to bring in a lot of chaos,” and that this included the Son of Sam shootings.

Suspected accomplices include John Carr and Michael Carr, the sons of Sam Carr. Both men are dead and, according to Hockenberry, Berkowitz has refused to name any other members of the satanic group.

Who is Maury Terry? And what did his book The Ultimate Evil reveal about David Berkowitz?

Maury Terry in The Sons of Sam
Maury Terry in The Sons of Sam
Netflix

Journalist Maury Terry began investigating the Son of Sam killings before Berkowitz was arrested, and he published an article in local New York state newspapers in 1979 in which he questioned the idea that Berkowitz was the only gunman.

In the article, written by Terry and fellow journalist James Mitteager, concerns were raised that Berkowitz did not shoot his last two victims, Stacy Moskowitz, who was killed, and Robert Violante, who was wounded. Instead, Terry believed an accomplice carried out the shootings in Brooklyn on July 31st, 1977, and Berkowitz was merely a lookout. Eugene Gold, the Brooklyn District Attorney at the time, called the report “wild hypothesis unsupported by any evidence”.

Maury Terry’s articles about his suspicions were assembled in book form and published as The Ultimate Evil in 1987. In the book, Terry revealed he believes Berkowitz was part of a coven called the 22 Disciples of Hell, who carried out the killings as part of an occult ritual.

Journalist John Hockenberry, wrote about the case, and Terry’s involvement, in 2004. “Maury Terry began devoting his life to the Son of Sam case,” he said in an article for NBC News’s Dateline. “He wrote a 500-page book outlining a theory of a vast conspiracy that reaches from coast to coast, connecting social outcasts with the politically powerful. Some of Terry’s claims may seem outlandish, but what of the core of his theory, that David Berkowitz did not act alone and did not shoot all of the Son of Sam victims?”

Maurice Terry died on December 10th, 2015. While the Son of Sam case was reopened in 1996, no new charges have been filed.

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The Sons of Sam is available to stream on Netflix from May 5th. Check out our lists of the best series on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix, or see what else is on with our TV Guide. Also visit our dedicated Documentaries hub for more news.