What Serial Killer Son Of Sam’s Childhood Was Really Like

The notorious serial killer David Berkowitz, known as Son of Sam, wreaked havoc in New York City in the mid-’70s. In a span of a year, he murdered six people and injured several others. From 1976 to 1977, New Yorkers lived in fear as a killer attacked victims at random. Most of the victims were young women, or young couples out together.

At the height of his spree he gruesomely toyed with authorities by sending a letter to a city newspaper columnist. In the letter to Jimmy Breslin of the New York Daily News, he taunted investigators and warned that a brief hiatus he took from killing was only temporary and that he would resume eventually.

And he did. He struck again a month after attacking two separate pairs of victims, and claiming the life of one target. The rest would survive. He was finally identified in August of 1977 and arrested.

For many serial killers, their childhood gives answers to questions about what might have led to the creation of a ruthless murder. For the Son of Sam, his less than stellar upbringing explains his life leading up to his killing spree.

Son of Sam's childhood

Son of Sam was born Richard David Falco in Brooklyn, New York on June 1, 1953. When he was still a baby he was given up for adoption, and his new adoptive name was changed to David Richard Berkowitz. As Britannica notes, he showed early signs of violence and unpredictable behavior as a child. But he was apparently a very smart kid whose grades and schoolwork were never affected by his odd behavior, says Biography. During his troubled child years, he also liked getting involved with petty larceny and playing with fire. In a personal diary that he kept to document his behavior, he wrote that he was responsible for starting some 1,411 fires in the city, per Cosmopolitan.

In a 2017 jailhouse interview he described his childhood as normal, but also the slow beginning of where he started to lose himself. “I had good times and bad times. I had some struggles over certain issues that happened … but I also had times of adventure when I played ball with my friends … it was many [sic] ways a normal childhood … but I also wrestled with self-destructive behavior,” he told CBS News.

Son of Sam experiences a major loss

When he was a teenager, his adoptive mother, Pearl, with whom he was apparently very close, died. Her death led David down a spiral. To make matters worse, his adoptive father Nathan left the city to retire in Florida, and David stayed behind.

Alone, at 18 years old he enlisted in the Army. While serving he eventually learned the skill of a marksman. Upon his return to New York from South Korea, he reconnected with his biological mother. When he was toddler he was always told that he was adopted and that his biological parents were dead. “My dad and mom, well meaning, told me that my mother died while giving birth to me … Later on I found out that of course, she was alive and well. We had a wonderful reunion,” said Berkowitz to CBS News.

That fact that weighed heavily on him. According to his diary, it led to his mood disorder. Even further, he evidently became preoccupied with death as a result. And not long after his reunion, he committed his first murder.

Berkowitz is currently serving six life sentences in an upstate New York prison. Netflix will stream a four-part documentary series, The Sons of Sam, beginning May 5.

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