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David Berkowitz

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David Berkowitz Paper
Jennifer Colvin
Hilbert College

In class we were shown a documentary about a serial killer named David Berkowitz. David is also known as the “Son of Sam.” Berkowitz managed to frighten all of New York City when he killed six people and injured another seven in the 1970’s. “Son of Sam” had a natural urge to kill his real family, but instead attacked a 14-year old girl with a knife on Christmas Eve in 1975 (A&E Television Networks, 2014). Fortunately for her she survived the attack. Shortly after, Berkowitz committed his first crime, he had an objective to kill women for vengeance on his mother. After the first attack, David decided to use a .44 caliber gun to kill his victims instead of a knife because the knife was too personal. This continued for over a year, then he started dropping hints. He wrote letters to the police saying why he committed the crimes he did. The police discovered it was David after he got a parking ticket. The police arrested David Berkowitz on August 10, 1977. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 25 years to life times six. David was adopted, by middle class parents, Nathan and Pearl Berkowitz. His biological mother died giving birth to him. He spent his childhood blaming himself for killing his real mom. In the Berkowitz household, David grew up having a distinct bond with his mother, Pearl, however, barely had much in common with his father, Nathan. At just 10-years old, David began to see a psychiatrist, but he was very quiet. In 1967, David’s adoptive mother died from breast cancer, leaving him with his father who he didn’t talk to much. The death of his mother left him with guilt. Before she left for a dinner that night he screamed to her, “I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” Only David didn’t know those would be his last words to her. Even those David already showed difficulties with his personality and attitude, the death of his mother made him even more disturbed. He became depressed and was distraught. After this horrific event in his life, David joined the army. While in the army, he had his first sexual encounter, but it was with a prostitute, who gave him a disease. This was the last straw for David Berkowitz. His frustration and hatred grew even more for women. After the army, he decided he wanted to look into his biological family. Turns out, his birth mother is actually alive and well. He finds out the real story behind his birth and adoption. His mother had slept with a married man, so the two parents decided they wanted nothing to do with him. He also finds out he has a half-sister too. David made visits every so often to his two family members, but it didn’t last long. After he stopped visiting, he became more isolated from the world, in his mind, and he began to lose control of his mind. Berkowitz was searching for his true identity when he reached out to his biological family, but in the end, it all just confused him even more. As stated by Criminology: Theories, Patterns, & Typologies written by Larry Siegel, a variety of mental disorders have been linked to criminal activities. According to the psychodynamic tradition, traumatic life events can bring about severe mental disorders that have been linked to the onset of crime and deviance (Siegel, p. 159). In this instance, David Berkowitz believed he killed his biological mother at birth, which results in him getting adopted. This event was a traumatic one for David. There are two forms of mental disorders, which included mood disorders and psychosis. I believe David Berkowitz suffered from a little bit of both. Mood disorders are less severe and defined as prolonged and intense emotional upheavals that shape and color a person’s psychic life. Psychosis is most severe and is characterized by derangement of personality and loss of contact with reality, thereby causing deterioration of normal social functioning. (Siegel, p. 159). There are many traits that David showed throughout his childhood and some include sadism, lack of concern for others, destructiveness, resentment, and hostility. Also, Berkowitz lacked a true identity even as an adult. I believe that he should have been deemed mentally ill because in the end, he could not give us a straight answer as to why he committed the crimes he did. I also believe that a mental health facility would be better than incarceration in this case. Incarceration would be keeping him off the streets, meanwhile a mental health facility would be keeping him off the streets and being productive to make his mental health better. He wouldn’t be “getting away” with the crime because either way, he’s locked up. Criminologists concentrated on the activities of criminals for many years, and the role of the victim(s) were simply pushed aside. Nowadays, victimologists are eager to find the role of the victim. There are two theories that come to mind when I think about the David Berkowitz case. One is the Victim Precipitation Theory, which is some people may actually initiate the confrontation that eventually leads to their injury or death. In the victim precipitation theory, there are 2 kinds, active and passive. Passive precipitation occur when victim exhibits some personal characteristics that unknowingly either threatens or encourages the attacker (Siegel, p. 80). David Berkowitz didn’t know any of his victims, but they all had to have something in common, right? After the first couple deaths, the people of New York City believed the ”Son of Sam” was after young girls with long, brown hair. Naturally, a lot of women cut their hair short and dyed it a different color. But still after all that, David Berkowitz attacked again, but this time against some with short, light hair. Later in his interviews when he was arrested, he mentioned that he hated women and he killed because he didn’t want girls to have illegitimate children like himself (A&E Television Networks, 2014). That is what they all had in common.
The other theory is the lifestyle theory. The lifestyle theory is that crime is not a random occurrence but rather a function of the victim’s lifestyle (Siegel, p 81). People may become crime victims because their lifestyle increases their exposure to criminal offenders. The victims of David Berkowitz could fall under this theory. David usually attacked at night, where no one could see him. Also, he either attacked in a car or right on the street. The people of New York City knew this information, but were careless in their actions. Being careless, but their lives in danger. The victims most likely thought, what were the chances that David Berkowitz is going to choose me as a victim? Matter of fact, one victim joked about it hours before she became a victim.
While in prison, David Berkowitz works with mentally and emotionally challenged convicts and he is the only one who is allowed to do it. Should he be allowed to counsel other inmates? I believe he should be able to remain counseling these other inmates. While in prison, Berkowitz had a spiritual rebirth where he said God had forgave him for his sins. He believes God saved him so he could counsel/help other inmates. In this spiritual rebirth, David realized his actions and he know he has to pay for them. He wants to help other inmates reach the point where he is at. Everyone should be allowed a second chance, no matter what they have done, in my opinion, and I am sure that David Berkowitz would agree.
In the 1970’s David Berkowitz was an active serial killer in New York City. He is also known as the “Son of Sam”. Over his lifetime, David killed six people while wounding seven others. One man managed to frighten one of the biggest cities in the world. One of the main reasons why he committed the crimes he did was because he was adopted. He grew up feeling rejected from society and struggled to find a true identity for himself. His first attack was in 1967 and continued for over a year. Currently, David Berkowitz is serving his life sentence in Sullivan Correction Facility in Fallsburg, NY, where he helps other inmates with their mental and emotional disorders they may have. Today, David Berkowitz refers to himself as the “Son of Hope.”

Reference Page
David Berkowitz: Son of Sam. (2012) [Bio.Truestory]. A & E Television Network Siegel, L.J. (2011). Criminology: Theories, patterns, and typologies (11th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth “David Berkowitz (Son of Sam).” Crime + Investigation.

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