David Richard Berkowitz (born Richard David Falco, June 1, 1953), also known as the Son of Sam and the .44 Caliber Killer, is an American serial killer convicted of a series of shooting attacks that began in New York City in the summer of 1976, perpetrated with a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver. He killed six victims and wounded seven others by July 1977. As the toll mounted, Berkowitz eluded a massive police manhunt while leaving brazen letters which mocked the police and promised further crimes, highly publicized in the press. He terrorized New York and achieved worldwide notoriety.
Berkowitz was arrested by New York City police in August 1977, and was indicted for eight shooting incidents. He confessed to all of them, and claimed to have been obeying the orders of a demon, manifested in the form of a dog (“Harvey”) who belonged to his neighbor (“Sam”). Despite his explanation, Berkowitz was found mentally competent and incarcerated in state prison for murder. In the course of further police investigation, Berkowitz was also implicated in many unsolved arsons in the city.
Intense coverage of the case by the media lent a kind of celebrity status to Berkowitz, and observers noted indignantly that he appeared to enjoy it. In response, the New York State legislature enacted new legal statutes, known popularly as “Son of Sam laws”, designed to keep criminals from profiting financially from the publicity surrounding their crimes. Despite various amendments and legal challenges, the statutes have remained law in New York, and similar laws have been enacted in several other states.
Berkowitz has been imprisoned since his arrest and is serving six life sentences consecutively. In the mid-1990s, he amended his confession to claim that he had been a member of a violent Satanic cult which orchestrated the incidents as ritual murder. He remains the only person ever charged with the shootings, yet some law enforcement authorities have questioned whether Berkowitz’s claims are credible. A new investigation into the murders was launched in 1996, but was suspended indefinitely after inconclusive findings.