By Mark Ellis, Special to ASSIST News Service
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA (ANS – September 10, 2015) — In the mid-1970s, he murdered six and wounded seven in satanically-inspired attacks with a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver that terrorized New York City. But after his arrest and conviction for his heinous crimes, a fellow inmate witnessed to him and God’s incomprehensible grace smiled on his tortured soul.
Brooklyn-born David Berkowitz was the progeny of an illegitimate affair his mother had with a married real estate agent. A childless, middle-aged couple of modest means, Pearl and David Berkowitz, adopted him and he grew up in the Bronx, New York’s northern-most borough.
Despite the fact that his parents provided a “loving home,” his early life was filled with torment. “I would often have seizures in which I would roll on the floor. When these attacks came, it felt as if something was entering me,” he wrote on his forgivenforlife.org website. Berkowitz believes he was demonically possessed since childhood.
His mother could not control him. “I was like a wild and destructive animal. My father had to pin me to the floor until these attacks stopped. When I was in public school, I was so violent and disruptive that a teacher, who had become so angry at me, grabbed me in a headlock and threw me out of his classroom,” he recounted.
At the behest of school officials, Berkowitz visited a child psychologist on a weekly basis for two years. Yet the therapy had no discernable impact on his behavior and he began to be plagued with bouts of severe depression.
“When this feeling (of depression) came over me, I would hide under my bed for hours. I would also lock myself in a closet, and sit in total darkness from morning until afternoon. I had a craving for the darkness, and I felt an urge to flee away from people.”
Suicidal impulses caused him to sit on the sixth floor window ledge of their dilapidated apartment building, his feet dangling over the street below. He fought off powerful urges to throw himself in front of moving cars or in front of subway trains.
“I remember that it was a tremendous struggle for me to hold on to my sanity. I had no idea what to do and neither did my parents. They had me talk to a rabbi, teachers and school counselors, but nothing worked,” he noted.
At age 14, his mother died of cancer. He had no siblings and his father worked 10-hour days, six days a week. His mother had been a stabilizing force, but with her gone, his life spiraled even further downward.
When Berkowitz turned 18 he entered the army and managed to complete a three-year enlistment.
Journey into the occult
After he got out of the service in 1974 he began to work as a postal worker, sorting mail. The following year, he met some other young men at a party, who were, he later discovered, heavily involved in the occult.
“I had always been fascinated with witchcraft, Satanism, and occult things since I was a child. When I was growing up I watched countless horror and Satan-type movies. One of which was Rosemary’s Baby. The movie in particular totally captivated my mind.”
Berkowitz initially thought his new friends were only involved in occult activities such as séances and fortune telling. But step-by-step they introduced him to drug use, sadism, and other crimes. Berkowitz says the occult group he became part of was nicknamed the “twenty-two disciples of hell”– allegedly the group had ties across the U.S. in drug smuggling and other illegal activities.
“Everywhere I went there seemed to be a sign or a symbol pointing me to Satan,” he recalled. “I felt as if something were trying to take control of my life. I began to read the Satanic bible by the late Anton LaVey who founded the Church of Satan in San Francisco. I began, innocently, to practice various occult rituals and incantations.”
“I was headed down the road to destruction and I did not know it. Maybe I was at a point where I just didn’t care.”
A spirit of murder unleashed
Then he crossed over a line and the horror began. “After years of mental torment, behavioral problems, deep inner struggles, and my own rebellious ways, I became the criminal that, at the time, it seemed is if it was my destiny to become,” he noted on his website.
His first violent attack was committed on Christmas Eve, 1975, when he used a hunting knife to stab two teenage women. One victim was never publicly identified by police. The other, Michelle Forman, had injuries that sent her to the hospital.
Seven months later, the first shooting attributed to Berkowitz took place in the Bronx. Shortly after midnight, on July 29, 1976, Donna Lauria, 18, and her friend Jody Valenti, 19, sat in Valenti’s car, discussing their visit to a local disco that night.
As Lauria opened the car door to leave she noticed a man rapidly approach her. She said, “Now what is this?” Berkowitz drew a pistol from the paper bag that he carried and crouched down, aimed his weapon with both hands and fired. Lauria was struck by one bullet that killed her instantly. Valenti was shot in the thigh and a third bullet missed both women. Berkowitz turned and raced away, without saying a word.
Berkowitz usually attacked young female victims with long, dark, wavy hair. Several of his crimes involved two victims; some attacks occurred while women sat with boyfriends in parked cars.
He later claimed to have been obeying the orders of a demon, manifested in the form of a dog that belonged to a neighbor named Sam. In a rambling letter to columnist Jimmy Breslin before his capture he signed off as ‘Son of Sam.’ The name caught on in the public imagination, creating hysteria.
The letter to Breslin triggered a panic in New York, with thousands of women cutting or dying their long, dark, wavy hair, and beauty supply stores had trouble meeting the demand for wigs, according to Wikipedia.
Captured by police
Ironically, a parking ticket led to the capture of Berkowitz on August 10, 1977. It seems he had parked illegally in front of a fire hydrant. A young woman noticed a policeman ticket the car, then watched Berkowitz return a few minutes later. When she noticed him study her with interest and pull out an object that might be a gun, she turned and ran. Several shots were fired, but she was not hit. Four days later she reported the incident to police, who tracked down Berkowitz’s yellow Ford Galaxie and arrested him in his car, with his .44 revolver on the seat next to him.
The next day he confessed to the shootings and said he would plead guilty to his crimes.
During his questioning, Berkowitz said his neighbor’s dog was one of the reasons that he killed, stating that the dog demanded the blood of pretty young girls. He said that the “Sam” mentioned in his letter was his former neighbor Sam Carr.
Berkowitz claimed that Carr’s black Labrador retriever Harvey was possessed by an ancient demon that issued commands that he kill people. Berkowitz said that he once tried to kill the dog, but was unsuccessful due to demonic interference.
In 1978 Berkowitz was sentenced to 300 years in prison, with no possibility of parole. Initially he served his time at the notorious Attica Prison, a supermax facility.
Berkowitz described his first 10 years at Attica as a nightmare. A fellow inmate attacked him with a knife in 1979. He narrowly survived the wound to his neck, which required 56 stitches. Later, he suggested the attack was ordered by other members of his satanic cult to silence him.
A divine appointment
One day a young Christian man named Rick approached Berkowitz in the prison yard, according to an interview
conducted with Scott Ross of CBN’s 700 Club.
“I know you’re David Berkowitz, and I want to tell you something,” Rick began. “I want you to know that Jesus Christ loves you, and he’s got a plan and a purpose for your life.
Berkowitz recoiled instinctively. “Listen, I don’t want to hear that, because, you know, I’ve done too many evil things and there’s no forgiveness for me,” he replied. “Maybe there’s a God out there someplace, but I don’t think he has any interest in me at all.
Photo captions: Media report of his arrest. 2) Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz. 3) Donna Lauria (left) and Jody Valenti. 4) A recent picture of Berkowitz with his Bible.
About the writer: Mark Ellis is senior correspondent for the ASSIST News Service and also the founder of www.Godreports.com, a website that shares stories, testimonies and videos from the church around the world to build interest and involvement in world missions.
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