Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

My Correspondence with David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz

Beginning in the summer of 1976 and continuing until the arrest of David Berkowitz in August 1977, the people of New York City were terrorized by a serial murderer known as the “Son of Sam.” The murderer targeted young women in parked cars in “lovers’ lanes.”

When arrested, Berkowitz initially claimed he had been ordered to commit the murders by messages he received from the dogs of neighbor Sam Carr; thus, the “Son of Sam.”

Berkowitz had been placed for adoption shortly after his birth. He grew up self-conscious about being adopted. As a young adult, he found his birthmother. From her, he learned his biological father was deceased. Psychiatrists believed the murders were motivated by a desire to prevent pregnancies that would end with the woman placing a baby for adoption as he had been placed for adoption.

Indeed, there is a statistical correlation between adoption and serial murder. Adoptees are 2-3% of the population – and 16% of serial murderers. They are also fifteen times more likely than other people to kill one or both parents.

It is important to emphasize that most adoptees deal with their identity issues without becoming disturbed, much less violent, and that many adoptees are happy, successful people.

1st letter page 1

I wrote to David Berkowitz, who is now a devout Born Again Christian and calls himself the “Son of Hope,” about how adoption is often suggested as an “alternative to abortion.” I pointed out that many Christian anti-abortion groups “often argue that the pregnant girl or woman should have the baby and place for adoption.” Then I pointed out that, as an adoptee and serial murderer, he has something in common with other serial murderers who are disproportionately likely to be adoptees. I asked Berkowitz if he believes that Christians opposing abortion may “oversell” adoption.

Berkowitz replied to me in a letter that was polite and cogent. He pointed out that “many evangelical Christians feel that abortion is not the right thing to do” but that there “are varying views” as to allowing it for those impregnated through rape and in other “special circumstances.”

Berkowitz said he does not take much interest in the abortion issue as being imprisoned leaves him “out of the loop.”

Perhaps most interesting is his relatively positive view of adoption. Although his own crimes may have been motivated by negative feelings about being adopted, he considers adoption “a beautiful thing” in most cases. In the letter, he points to children who languished in orphanages before they were adopted and are now “fine, well-

adjusted” adults after coming of age in loving adoptive homes. He states, “More adoptions turn out well than those that do not” and “everything in life involves a degree of risk.”

1st letter page 2

Berkowitz observes that abortion means “no chance at life at all” so the “better option is adoption. Where there is life there is always hope.”

Toward the end of the letter, he states that he agrees with me when I said in my initial letter that society should work to ensure that women who get pregnant are those who want to carry to term and raise children. He states that he believes some Christian organizations “over emphasize adoption, but only to a degree.”

A couple of months later, I wrote a letter to Berkowitz that focused more on his theological interests. I sent him a poem I wrote that is entitled Israel, God-Clutcher and is about the Biblical story in which God wrestled with Jacob, dislocated his hip, and re-named him Israel. I also sent Berkowitz an essay entitled “Are Parts of the Bible Boring?” In that essay, I argued that it is possible to make parts of the Bible generally considered dull, such as the lists of “begats” and detailed descriptions of how to build altars, come alive by imagining what these things meant to the people of the period in which the Bible was written.

In Berkowitz’s reply, he said he liked my poem. He elaborated with the following compliment: “You have a creative flair for writing and you express yourself well.”

Commenting on the substance of my poem, Berkowitz said he believes Jacob/Israel was a “microcosm for the nation of Israel as a whole” that is “still wrestling with God today.”

Berkowitz made the point, “God did not knock [Jacob’s] hip out of its socket to purposely hurt him out of meanness.” Rather, the purpose was to “humble Jacob.” Berkowitz finds this similar to his own having to “lean on God for my help and support.”

2nd letter page 1

2nd letter page 2

In the final paragraph of this letter, Berkowitz addresses the points made in my essay, “Are Parts of the Bible Boring?” Berkowitz points out that many people would find a chemistry book “boring” but that such a book exists to “convey needed information.” Berkowitz believes the Bible was not written to be “entertaining” but to convey vital information.

Berkowitz shows objective and incisive thinking in both letters he wrote to me. That a man of such capabilities could have once senselessly terrorized and destroyed is one of the most tormenting mysteries of the human condition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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