How Son Of Sam Really Got His Name

During the spring and summer months of 1977, most of the world paid close attention as New York City was terrorized by a mysterious serial killer. What made this killer unique from most others was the fact that he taunted the police — as well as neighbors and the media — with a series of letters that also hinted at the possibility of further crimes taking place. It was in these letters that he first identified himself as the "Son of Sam," a nickname that would stick to him well after he was finally arrested on August 10, 1977 and, later on, handed six 25-years-to-life sentences behind bars.

In the year or so before he was arrested, David Berkowitz, the man behind the "Son of Sam" name, killed six people and injured seven others, primarily targeting young women with long brown hair, and sowing fear in the hearts of New Yorkers as his crime spree continued, as noted by History. But where did Berkowitz get his now-infamous alias? We're going to answer that question as we look at the reason why he chose to call himself the "Son of Sam."

As explained by History, Berkowitz had a less than ideal youth. He was traumatized by the death of his adoptive mother from cancer when he was around 14 years old. As a young adult, he served three years in the Army and earned praise for his marksmanship.

The 'Sam' in 'Son of Sam' was Berkowitz's elderly neighbor

It wasn't long after he was discharged when he allegedly started showing signs of mental illness. By 1975, he was a prolific arsonist who supposedly heard the voices of demons that urged him to start killing people.

These purported encounters with demons played a role in Berkowitz's decision to call himself the "Son of Sam." In April 1976, he moved into a Yonkers, New York, apartment house, where he was neighbors with a retiree named Sam Carr. Per Westchester Magazine, Berkowitz believed that he was killing at the behest of a 6,000-year-old demon who possessed Carr and spoke to him through his Labrador retriever, Harvey. On April 29, 1977, Berkowitz shot Harvey after complaining about him in an anonymous letter to Carr, though the dog fortunately recovered and the incident led Yonkers police to launch an investigation into the elusive letter-sending gunman.

Berkowitz (pictured above in 2016) wasn't always known as the "Son of Sam" while he was at large. According to Biography, police originally referred to him by the rather unremarkable name ".44-caliber killer" because that was the type of weapon he used in all of his shootings. It was only in April 1977, shortly after he had murdered a couple in their car, that he first identified himself as the "Son of Sam," calling himself that in a letter he addressed to then-NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli.

Oxygen reports that Netflix will stream a four-part documentary series on Berkowitz, titled The Sons of Sam, beginning May 5.