What Happened To The Surviving Victims Of The Son Of Sam?

By the time 24-year-old postal worker David Berkowitz was finally arrested on August 10, 1977, he had terrorized New York City for more than a year. He usually attacked women with long, dark hair, and was dubbed the ".44 Caliber Killer" for his weapon of choice. But he eventually got the nickname that stuck with him – Son of Sam – from letters he sent to the police and New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin. "I am a monster," Berkowitz wrote in one letter, according to Cheryl Wills, in her book, Die Free. "I am the Son of Sam. I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game — tasty meat. The weman of Queens are prettyist of all [sic]."

Berkowitz appeared to delight being a wanted man in America's largest city. Instead of laying low between his murders, he would send taunting letters and openly mock the police for not being able to catch him. By the time his crime spree was over, Son of Sam had killed six people, and seven survived their injuries.

The first surviving victims caused Berkowitz to change weapons

David Berkowitz's first attempts at murder were on Christmas Eve 1975, according to Crime Museum. The first young woman was unidentified and never reported the incident to police, nor were there any dead bodies found that resembled the description of the victim. The second was 15-year-old Michelle Forman, whose injuries from being stabbed several times in her head and torso were serious enough for her to be hospitalized for seven days, according to Lawrence Klausner, in his book, Son of Sam. "I never heard anyone scream like that," Berkowitz later said during an interview. "The way she screamed constantly. I kept stabbing and nothing would happen."

It's not known what happened to Forman after the traumatic events of that night, but Berkowitz was dismayed that his first attempts at murder didn't return the results he wanted and resolved to never use a knife again. From here on out, he would use a .44 caliber Charter Arms Bulldog revolver (pictured above).

The Son of Sam has a gun, but still struggles

Now armed with a handgun, Berkowitz cruised a neighborhood in the Bronx for hours on the evening of July 28, 1976, according to resident accounts. In the early morning hours after a night out at a disco, Donna Lauria, an emergency medical technician, 18, and her friend Jody Valenti (pictured above), a nurse, 19, were sitting in Valenti's double-parked Oldsmobile talking, according to The New York Times. When Lauria opened the car door to enter her home, Berkowitz raced toward the car, pulled his pistol from a paper bag and shot Lauria, immediately killing her. Valenti was shot in her thigh, but survived.

In a 2016 interview with the New York Post, Valenti said it took her several years to do things that many would take for granted. "It took probably about six years of my life to be able to get in a car at night," she said. "It took a long time to be able to deal with the sounds of popping fireworks and stuff like that ... But I faced my fears."

Still, Valenti is baffled as to why the Son of Sam story continues to get any attention, including the recent 40th anniversary of his murders. "What are we celebrating?" Valenti said. "The lunatic that's in prison for life who's getting benefits. He's getting three square meals. He's getting an education. He's getting everything he needs, and I find it very disturbing."

One of the victims may have been mistaken for a woman

In the early morning hours of October 24, 1976, in a secluded residential area of Flushing, Queens, Berkowitz struck again. Carl Denaro, a 20-year-old Citibank security guard, was shot in the head by Berkowitz as Denaro sat in a car with Rosemary Keenan, a Queens College student. Keenan quickly started the car and took off for help. Keenan had only superficial injuries from the broken glass, but Denaro eventually needed a metal plate to replace a portion of his skull, per Newsday. Neither victim saw the attacker, and police speculated that the shooter had mistaken Denaro for a woman because of his shoulder-length hair, according to the New York Post.

In 2017, Denaro (above) told People magazine that despite the metal plate in his head and some limited vision, he considers himself to be "one of the luckiest guys in the world." But Denaro also gave a shocking account of what happened that night that upended his life. He believes that Berkowitz wasn't the one who pulled the trigger. "I believe other people were involved," said Denaro. "He [Berkowitz] had help, and I am not alone in thinking this. Berkowitz in an interview comes right out and says he did not shoot Carl Denaro and claims that it was a woman." For their part, the police have never questioned whether or not Berkowitz was the gunman.

The Son of Sam frequently targeted teenagers

Just a month after Berkowitz shot Denaro, high school students Donna DeMasi and Joanne Lomino walked home from a movie shortly after midnight on November 27, 1976. The two were talking in front of Lomino's building in Queens, per the New York Daily News, when Berkowitz approached the two under the guise of asking directions before pulling out his gun from his waistband and shooting each of the teens once. DeMasi was shot in the neck, but the injury was not life-threatening. Lomino was struck in the lower back. The bullet shattered parts of her spine. She was made paraplegic as a result, The New York Times reported, confined to a wheelchair.

On June 26, 1977, Sal Lupo, a 20-year-old mechanic's helper, and Judy Placido, a recent high school graduate, had just left the Elephas disco in Queens, and were sitting in Lupo's parked car discussing the Son of Sam murders. Moments later, Berkowitz struck, blasting three gunshots through the window, striking Lupo once and Placido three times, including in the head. They both recovered in the hospital. Placido kept silent for 22 years until 1999. In an interview with the New York Post, she said she had been suffering from feelings of distress whenever she's alone outside her home and had full-blown panic attacks. Still, she said had no ill feelings toward Berkowitz, saying, "How can I hate him? He was deranged."

The Son of Sam's final attack had one murder and one survivor

In the early morning hours of July 31, 1977, Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante (above), both 20 years old, were parked in Violante's car in Brooklyn on their first date. The two were kissing when Berkowitz fired four bullets into the car, striking each one of them in the head before running into the nearby park, per CBS News. Moskowitz, Berkowitz's only blonde victim, died a day and a half later. Violante lost his left eye and is legally blind.

”I still have bad dreams,” Violante told The New York Times in 1983. ”Emotionally, I'm very scarred. I'm still paranoid about walking alone at night. Here I am a grown man and I'm still afraid to walk at night. The emotional hurt was worse than the physical. The physical was bad, but ..." Violante went on to have a 35-year career with the U.S. Postal Service, according to PIX11, and is now retired.

For his part, Berkowitz has been incarcerated since his arrest for the Son of Sam murders, and is serving six consecutive life sentences at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility in New York State.

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