Richard David Falco was born in New York
, the product of the extramarital affair of a young woman recently separated from her husband. He was adopted within a week of his birth by the Berkowitz family, who rearranged the young boy's first and second names. He was of an above-average intelligence, and his parents were generally good to him; he was especially close to his mother. However, at an early age he withdrew from most activities, and became fascinated with fire, to the point of pyromania. In his youth he claimed to have set over 1,400 small fires. His adoptive mother died in 1966, which caused problems at home that lead to him withdrawing further. At eighteen he joined the army, where he served more or less without incident for three years. Leaving in 1974 he returned to New York, where he made contact with his birth mother, who he had been told died giving birth to him, and who informed him of the nature of his parentage, a truth that he did not like. He settled in the New York area and took up a series of blue-collar jobs, including with the US Postal Service.
In 1975 he claimed to have joined a cult, which he claimed was responsible for introducing him to drugs and pornography, as well as violent crime. His first assault occurred in late Decembers of that year, when he attacked two women with a knife. Neither woman died, though the one who has been identified was quite seriously injured. Berkowitz then moved to an apartment in Yonkers where his neighbour, Sam Carr, had a dog about which Berkowitz lodged a number of complaints. His first murder occurred in late July of 1976 when he shot at two young women who were sitting in a car, instantly killing one and wounding the other. He got away cleanly, with no suspicion falling onto him. This first murder was followed by a series of non-fatal shootings: in October of that year by a shooting attack on a man and a woman in a car, the man sustained injuries to his skull that required surgery, and in November two teenage girls were shot while walking on the street, one sustained minor injuries while the other was rendered paraplegic. In late January of 1977 he claimed his second life, shooting at a couple sitting in a park car and fatally wounding the woman. The man escaped with minor injuries. By this point the pattern was established and known to police, as was Berkowitz's use of the .44 Bulldog, which he used at every shooting. In early March he shot a young university student as she walked home. This marked a noted departure from his modus operandi, and was followed two days later by a press conference on the killings, dubbed at this point the works of the ".44 Calibre Killer". The case became instantly sensationalized in the mass media, and drew immense interest from politicians and the general public. In early April two more victims were killed in a return to the original modus operandi. Near the scene of this crime police discovered a letter that gave Berkowitz his most well-known name: the Son of Sam. A second letter appeared in late May, this time sent to a newspaper columnist. Notable for its presentation and relative coherence, the letter is also responsible for a massive public panic that erupted due to its publication in the newspaper. This was followed by another non-fatal attack in late June. A further attack in late July killed a woman and partially blinded the man who was sitting in the car with her. This final attack was the crime with the largest number of witnesses, and marked Berkowitz's first major mistake: his car received a parking ticket in the area.
Police attention was first drawn to Berkowitz two days after the shooting, when a witness reported how he had been lurking near the crime scene on the day of the shooting, and that she had seen him removing a ticket from his car. Seven days after this, and nine days after the shooting, police officially considered Berkowitz a suspect and began attempting to speak with him about the crimes. He was arrested the next day while attempting to leave his apartment with a .44 Bulldog. Berkowitz was questioned the following day, and confessed to the crimes almost immediately after obtaining a deal that he would receive life imprisonment rather than the death penalty. He blamed the killings on his neighbour's dog, which he claimed was possessed by a demon who ordered him to commit the killings. During his trial, which was held in the middle of 1978, he was held in a hospital. His behaviour there and during the trial was inappropriate and erratic. He was convicted and sentenced in late June, accumulating a maximum total of 365 years in jail. He was imprisoned in New York's Attica Correctional Facility. In 1979 he was attacked by a prisoner or prisoners who he has refused to identify, as attack which nearly claimed his life. In 1987 he became a born again Christian. A model prisoner, he refused the right to a parole hearing twice, once in 2002 and once in 2004. He refused to attend his 2006 parole hearing, and was denied, with similar denials in 2008 and 2010. He works with the prison ministry and assists troubled inmates. In 2005 he sued his lawyer over the lawyer's alleged attempts to profit off of Berkowitz's crimes, insisting that the lawyer turn over all profits to the families of his victims. He is currently writing a book the proceeds of which he intends to donate to the victims of his crimes. He is an active campaigner against the sale of so-called "murderabilia," art and other objects created by or belonging to notorious criminals.
In Other Media
As one of America's more notorious killers, Berkowitz has appeared in a number of books, television shows and films, many of them documentary or biographical in nature. Films include the 1985 television movie Out of the Darkness
in which he is played by Robert Trebor, 1999's Summer of Sam
in which he is played by Michael Baddalucco, and 2008's Son of Sam
. Television series include A&E's Biography.