2.3. The case of David Berkowitz

Meet David Richard Berkowitz, also known as the “Son of Sam”. He is an American serial killer who shot six victims dead and left seven others wounded. He claimed to be insane and driven by daemons, but the Norwegian forensic psychologist and psychoanalyst, David Abrahamsen, reviled Berkowitz as a liar.

2.3.1. The deadly crimes

On July 29, 1976, what was to become a series of six murders in New York City, started, leaving the city and the rest of the country into states of chock and fear. This day, an 18-year old girl was shot to death when she was sitting in a car together with a female friend, that was lucky to survive, but got a bullet in one thigh. This incident was not in itself seen as unusual in New York, as deadly criminality is not rare in big cities. On October 23, a young couple was shot at as they too sat in a parked car. The bullet did not hit the woman and the man survived despite severe injuries. At this point, a pattern began to emerge. The killer seemed to strike at young women with long, dark hair, sitting in parked cars after dark. This pattern continued, as on November 26, two young girls in a car were shot in the same way. They did survive, but one of them became paralyzed in her legs. On January 30, 1977, a couple sitting in a car was shot in the same way. The woman did not survive but the man did and was able to give a description of the killer to the police. On March 8, a girl was killed differently from the other victims as she was shot in her face when walking down the street. When a couple was killed, again in a parked car, on April 17, the killer, who previously had been referred to as the .44 caliber killer named after his gun, left a note (Newton, 2000, pp. 15-17). The note was addressed to the captain in charge of the hunt of him and contained this message: “I am deeply hurt by your calling me a wemenhater [sic]. I am not. But I am a monster. I am the Son of Sam…. I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game- tasty meat. The weman [sic] of Queens are the prettyest [sic] of all”. (p. 16).

Son of sam in the papersOn June 26, a couple was shot similarly as the others, but they survived. However, the next and last killing, on July 31, the victims were not that lucky. A girl was shot to death and her male partner became partially blind. In relation to this incident, a woman had seen a man climb into a car and drive away in a rush. This was a car that she had just seen some police officers placing a parking ticket at. With the tip from this witness, the police tracked down all the parking tickets they had given that day and this was to become the damning evidence to find Son of Sam. When the police went to the owner of one of the cars, D.B., they found the car with a rifle in it, together with a note written in the same style as the notes from Son of Sam. When D.B. was confronted, he immediately confessed that he was the man behind the multiple killings in Bronx and Queens during the 13 months (Newton, 2000, pp. 15-17). But the next step in the prosecution did not seem like an easy one. What was now to be decided was whether D.B. had been judicially insane or not when committing the killings. This would determine whether he was accountable for what he had done and hence competent to be punished for his actions.

2.3.2. The prosecution

berkowitz_dogThe first question raised was about the name Son of Sam. Why had he used this name? D.B.’s explanation was that Sam was the first name of his neighbor Sam Cart This Sam had a dog in which D.B. referred to as Son of Sam. He stated that this dog was possessed by ancient demons that commended D.B. to kill: “I wanted to live a normal life, you know. Then Sam came. The demons came, the two things came in. I went along only because they forced me and my heart was never really in it, although sometimes they- I said yes it was. But it really wasn’t you know. Serving Sam was all it was- in the end, but I hated it” (Abrahamsen, 1985, pp. 128-129). Based on D.B.’s statements, two psychiatrists that were used to examine D.B. shortly after the arrest stated in a report the following: “…the defendant is an incapacitated person in that he, as a result of mental disease or defect, lacks capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense. The details of our report are as follows: I. Diagnosis: Paranoia; 2. Prognosis: Guarded” (Schwartz and Weidenbachker Jr. in Abrahamsen, 1985, p. 111). This was also the common opinion about D.B.’s state of mind. Abrahamsen, however, was an exception. He was contacted later in the procedure, and asked if he could make a statement about D.B.’ mental status. What Abrahamsen concluded was that D.B. had been sane and that he had constructed the demons as an excuse for his violent and murdering behavior. He claimed D.B.’s diagnose to be a psychopathic personality with some paranoid and hysterical traits (p. 155). Despite the general opinion that D.B. had been insane when making the murders and his defense attorneys’ claim of a non-guilty plea, the court did agree with Abrahamsen, and D.B. was ordered to stand trial. When the trial begun on May 8, 1978, D.B. plead guilty for the crimes he had committed. He was sentenced to 547 years in prison (p. 161). In March 1979, Abrahamsen received a letter from the prison Attica. In this D.B. confessed: “Sam Carr and the demons… was all a hoax, well planned and thought out. I just never thought this demon story would carry out so much… I did know why I pulled the trigger…. It would be a good idea if we talked” (p. viii). In this extract of the letters D.B. wrote, it is obvious that he had been successfully manipulative against many people, and that Abrahamsen was indeed right about D.B.’s sanity. What is now to be discussed is, when it wasn’t the demons, what made D.B. a man responsible for a year with terror in New York? Why did D.B kill six, apparently, innocent people? As self psychology will be used in the analysis of D.B., an introduction to this theory will first be given.