Sunday, October 01, 2006

SON OF SAM (Klausner)

More than 300 New York police officers joined an increasingly hysterical search for the killer. Many of the cops were as solid as any you see in a television drama. Some were not. There was the promise of glory, promotion, and money for the policeman who broke the case. The intra-force rivalries became ferocious; that is not something the glorifying television shows display.

Two New York tabloids, the morning Daily News and the afternoon New York Post, were struggling for circulation among those people who did not choose to read The New York Times. The News had been losing readers for a decade. The Post was under the new stewardship of the Australian press adventurer Rupert Murdoch.

Berkowitz sold newspapers. On the day of his capture, the Daily News sold 2.2 million copies, 350,000 more than usual. The Post, which headlined the word Captured in red ink, saw its circulation jump from 609,000 to one million.

Our touchstones are violence and ineptitude, greed and ambition and David Berkowitz’s erupting psychosis. The consequences do not advertise the glories of American society.

A fire of fright was burning: they fanned it.

The public responded by buying newspapers and yielding to panic. According to police calculations, your chance of becoming a homicide victim in New York on any given night was about 600,000 to 1. Your chances of being murdered by a stranger was about 2 million to 1. Your chances of being done in by any given killer, however maniacal, are so small as to be incalculable. But as the terror peaked in New York City, nearly 5000 people a day made frenzied telephone calls to their local precincts. The wall between civilization and anarchy is neither so high nor so sturdy as we comfortably assume.

David Berkowitz, born Richard Falco, became “The .44-Caliber Killer” on the front page of the News and the Post (and later of The New York Times). That is, to be sure, as much a label as a name, but it is a catchy label. In a bizarre way, it speaks of Madison Avenue. How do we package the product? We need a label.

Berkowitz possessed a doggerel skill at wordplay. During his thirteen months of murder he coined such phrases for himself as “The Wicked King Wicker,” “The Chubby Monster,” and “The Duke of Death.” David Berkowitz’s most famous name was created after his sixth attack, which took place on the northbound service road of the Hutchinson River Parkway in the Bronx. On that night, April 17, 1977, he killed both Valentina Suriani and Alexander Esau. He wrote a letter, on dime-store stationery, which he left in the street about ten feet from the victim’s car. “I am deeply hurt your are calling me a wemon (sic) hater,” Berkowitz’s note to Captain Borelli began. “I am not. I am a monster.” Then Berkowitz composed the single sentence that would make him the centerpiece of thousands of headlines. “I am the Son of Sam.”

The buildup had begun for two things: first, the publishing of the killer’s letter and second, in a tortured twist of journalism, Breslin’s reply. Reporter Donald Singleton had worked for two days on preparing a teaser. The article opened with a piece of the original letter:

“Don’t think because you haven’t heard from (me) for a while that I went to sleep. No, rather, I am still here. Like a spirit roaming the night. Thirsty, hungry, seldom stopping to rest; anxious to please Sam. I love my work. Now the void has been filled.”

Singleton wrote that the police had confirmed that both the Breslin letter and the note left at the April 17 killings were the work of the same individual. Taking great care to continue the buildup of the coming Breslin reply, Singleton dropped this tidbit: The killer looks forward to meeting Breslin “face to face someday of perhaps I will be blown away by cops with smoking .38’s.” The article ended with the statement that Breslin planned to answer the Son of Same in the next day’s edition.

On Saturday June 4th the entire first printing was sold out within an hour of hitting the streets and, by the end of the day, more papers had sold than ever before.

“Hello from the gutters of NYC, which is filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine and blood, Hello from the sewers of NYC which swallow up these delicacies when they are washed away by the sweeper trucks. Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of NYC and from the ants that dwell in these cracks and feed in the dried blood of the dead that has settled in the cracks.” This was the extent of the letter published that day but more was sure to come. They intended to milk the letter for as long as possible.

Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of New York City and from the ants that dwell in these cracks and feed on the dried blood of the dead that has settled into these cracks. Hello from the gutters of New York City, which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine and blood. Don’t think that because you haven’t heard from me for a while that I went to sleep. No, rather, I am still here, like a spirit roaming the night. Thirsty, hungry, seldom stopping to rest; anxious to please Sam.

Sam’s a thirsty lad. He won’t let me stop killing until he gets his fill of blood. Tell me, Jim, what will you have for July 29? You can forget about me if you like because I don’t care for publicity. However, you must not forget Donna Lauria and you cannot let the people forget her either. She was a very sweet girl. Not knowing what the future holds, I shall say farewell and I will see you at the next job? Or should I say you will see my handiwork at the next job? Remember Ms. Lauria. Thank you.

Here are some names to help you along. Forward them to the Inspector (Dowd) for use by the NCIC Center. They have everything on computer, everything. They just might turn up, from some other crimes. Maybe they could make associations.

Duke of Death.
Wicked King Wicker.
The twenty-two Disciples of Hell.
And lastly, John Wheaties, rapist and suffocator of young girls.
PS, drive on, think positive, get off your butts, knock on coffins, etc.

Broken Flower Page 118 -

It was warm outside, but David was not responding to reality. Before leaving he zipped on a heavy new ski jacket and pulled a brown knit stocking cap toward his ears. In ten-degree temperature he had dressed lightly when he hunted and found Christine Freund. Now, in pleasant weather, preparing to hunt once more, Berkowitz dressed as if he were setting forth across the tundra.

He would drive to Queens again, to Forest Hills. “I picked Queens because there are a lot of pretty women there. It seemed to me that Forest Hills was where the prettiest ones were.”

He parked the Galaxie on Tennis Place, a narrow winding street just to the west of the tennis club. Familiar ground. Stepping from the car, he considered where he was. The West Side Tennis Club and the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium lay to his right. Chris Evert, a pretty girl, had won the US Women’s Open there that preceding fall.

For an hour he roamed a small expensive community called Forest Hills Garden. Looking into the houses, David thought they were privileged and secure. Then he saw a slight, attractive young woman walking toward him. She had a rather long face framed by dark-brown wavy hair. She wore a tan maxicoat and dark boots, so he could not see her legs. Although the came from behind her, David saw that she was carrying notebooks and what he took to be school texts.

The young woman’s name was Virginia Voskerichian. She was indeed a student, as Berkowitz surmised.

Berkowitz thought the young woman approaching was “really beautiful.” When they were a step apart, David pulled the .44 out of his pocket. Virginia Voskerichian stopped and made a soft cry of terror. She raised her schoolbooks in front of her face as if to protect herself.

David fired once and hit Virginia “somewhere in the face.” He was becoming more professional – which is to say more deadly – with his gun. “I only fired once, because once was all I needed.”

Virginia tumbled into the bushes that bordered the sidewalk. She died instantly.

David began to run back to his Galaxie. He saw a man in dark clothing – a fifty-nine year old civil engineer who was the first witness to see David leaving the scene of a murder.

“Hi Mister,” David said. The startled man did not respond.

Three plainclothesmen were riding in a tan Plymouth on 69th Avenue, which intersects Dartmouth Street three blocks from where Virginia Voskerichian lay. According to one of them, they noticed a young man running, then slackening his pace when they came into view. They thought he was trying to look inconspicuous, which made him an immediate target of their interest. But they were assigned to street anticrime, not to Borelli’s task force, which meant that they were not on the lookout for anyone who might be linked to a series of killings. Besides, the killer did his violence after midnight and it was only 7:32. If such a man would prowl that evening, it would be closer to midnight. The plainclothesmen weren’t attuned to the possibility that this figure and the murderer might be one and the same. They were on the lookout for purse-snatchers, muggers, car thieves.

The Plymouth edged toward the curb and stopped. “Might as well check him,” said a plainclothesman, indicating David Berkowitz. Coincidence – the kind that is hard to believe when we encounter it in nineteenth-century novels – now worked in behalf of David.

The officer seated in the rear swung open the door of the Plymouth. He was about to step out to question Berkowitz. The policeman and the killer were within ten feet of one another. Suddenly the plainclothesman froze. A call was coming in over the police radio: “Report woman shot on Dartmouth, near 71st.

David was so close that he could hear the voice of the woman dispatcher.

The plainclothesman scrambled back into the car. A siren sounded. The tan Plymouth accelerated away.

The plainclothesmen had not associated the man in the ski jacket on this mild March might with a woman who had been shot three blocks away.

David does not remember feeling fright. Rather, he says, “Satan was creating illusions.” The police sensed something when they stopped the car, he says, but failed to react because they must have decided what they saw – himself – “was an illusion.”

By the time Berkowitz reached his Galaxie he felt secure. Tomorrow he would go back to work at the Post Office in the Bronx and no one would suspect what he had done.

Excerpt from Son of Sam LAWRENCE D. KLAUSNER McGraw-Hill 1981

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