View from Lodi, CA: Thinking About a Serial Killer

In the 1970s, I worked in lower
Manhattan in New York`s financial district. 

The 70s were heady days in New
York. The economy was strong and the social attitudes
were a continuation of the 1960s “anything goes”
philosophy.

During the 1970s, dozens of social
movements and new trends swept the country. Looking to
escape the reality of the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon and
Lyndon Johnson`s lies about Southeast Asia, Americans
eagerly looked for comfort wherever they could find it.

New movements were everywhere:
sexual liberation, gay rights,

radical feminism
, open marriages, group marriages
and prostitutes rights. Cocaine made its debut as the
drug of choice among the upwardly mobile.

The most popular place in New York
was

Studio 54
, where only the beautiful people were
allowed past the corded entrance. 

The birth control pill

paved the way
for Plato`s Retreat, an open to the
public sex club.

But for a 13-month interval, David
Berkowitz, aka “Son of Sam” brought New York`s wild life
style to a screeching halt. Between July 1976 to August
1977, the city was caught up in

“Son of Sam.”

Although there was no 24-hour cable
news in the 1970s, two of the major dailies, the New
York Daily News
and Rupert Murdock`s New York
Post
used the grisly details to pump up circulation.
The News and the Post redefined tabloid
journalism during the Son of Sam era.

In January 1977, when Berkowitz
officially announced himself to Bronx detective Captain
Joseph Borelli as the “Son of Sam,” New York immediately
went into maximum-security mode.

New York`s unique closed-in
geography played a big role in contributing to
everyone`s terror. Young women who otherwise would have
been at the disco hurried home to be with their mothers
behind locked doors.

The subway, New York`s preferred
transportation, was considered too dark and too creepy.
All of a sudden taxis—once considered luxuries for the
expense account crowd—were tough to find.

When we worked past dusk, the firm
would call a private car company to take young women
home. The last thing the women did before they left the
building was call home to say they were on the way.

And after we walked them to the car
door, we insisted that they call as soon as they arrived
to tell us they were safe.

Since the “Son of Sam” had shown a
strong preference for killing brunettes, all of the dark
haired women put blonde wigs on before they left the
building. You couldn`t find a brunette anywhere in New
York after dark.

My secretary, Rosa de Marco, was
one of thousands of unlikely looking blondes scurrying
along the New York streets.

What remains as vivid as the
paralysis that overtook New York is the odd end to the
Son of Sam saga.

Police finally

caught up
with Berkowitz by combing through parking
tickets near the scene of Sam`s final murder.

When the police located Berkowitz`s
car, they found a duffel bag with .45 caliber carbine
and 7 35-round clips, which Berkowitz planned to use for
a

Columbine-style massacre in the Hamptons
.

And while everyone in the city
expected Sam to be the most hideous monster, Berkowitz
was, in fact, a dorky looking guy babbling about his
neighbor`s dog giving him orders to kill.

Berkowitz became more interesting
after his trial and conviction. In 1977, a New York
state law was passed prohibiting Berkowitz—or

any other criminal
—from profiting off his crime
though books, television or movies.

Instead, escrow accounts were to be
established so that victim`s families could file claims.
The Supreme Court

declared
the law—commonly referred to as the Son of
Sam law—unconstitutional in 1991.

For the morbidly curious, you can
get updated on Berkowitz by going to his
website hosted by the House
Upon the
Rock Christian Church.

In what must be the all-time low in
human decency, visitors to the site can read
inspirational messages from Berkowitz and excerpts from
his daily journal.

Testimonials about Berkowitz`s
conversation are also posted. According to a prison
guard at Attica State Penitentiary, Berkowitz has seen
the light.

And in an
amazing coincidence
, John Lennon`s infamous killer,
Mark Chapman has also found religion.

Berkowitz has rejected parole and
expects to live his life out in jail. His choice is easy
to understand. For anyone who lived in New York during
those fateful 13 months, putting Berkowitz back on the
street is unthinkable.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the


Lodi News-Sentinel
.