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The Devil in David Berkowitz


Once before, shortly after his arrest, David had also declared himself a born-again Christian but soon recanted, deciding he’d been brainwashed. “Was my involvement with these Christians just out of psychological need—a love substitute?” he asked at the time. Such questions no longer trouble him. A God who delights in mercy delights him. “I knew that I knew that I had been forgiven,” says David. “I know that God loves me, really loves me.” For David, conversion was a supernatural event, and it changed his character, he says.

Some audiences rejoiced at the news. For a Christian, consorting with the Devil is not necessarily a liability. Instead, as David learned, it can be a mark of election. David’s admirers seemed to think that the bigger the sin, the better the Christian. What, after all, demonstrates God’s power better than redeeming someone like Son of Sam?

Victims’ families, law enforcement, and civil society in general tend to take a different view. Some evil is unforgivable. Once, in the room where we now sit, a visitor approached David and punched him in the face, a personal attempt at payback. This summer, when David came up for parole (which happens automatically every two years), newspapers checked in with victims’ families. Should Son of Sam be on the streets again? “I’ll kill him,” responded one father. David understands—he declined to even apply for parole this year—and didn’t press charges against his assailant. He wants nothing more, he says, than to apologize to his victims’ families. Several years ago, he wrote to Neysa Moskowitz, mother of his last victim, Stacy, the blonde. Neysa had rarely passed up a chance to tell the press that she loathed David.

“The Lord put it in my heart to reach out to her because Neysa’s suffering a lot,” David says. He wrote to her in September 2000: “I am sorry that I ruined your life and your dreams.” Neysa wrote back. A relationship developed. David even sent her Mother’s Day cards. Eventually David called her from the prison yard. “I started crying and began apologizing,” he says. They talked about Stacy, he says, even shared a few laughs. Later, when a Christian admirer mailed David $20,000, he sent $1,000 to Neysa, which she appreciated. (He says he didn’t keep any of the money.) At one time, Neysa and David even planned to meet at the prison; it was going to be filmed for TV. Neysa says she wanted information about the murder of her daughter. David backed out. “I couldn’t in my heart. It would be a circus. I had personal things to share I didn’t want to be used,” he says. Soon thereafter, the relationship fell apart. “Neysa’s forgiveness was withdrawn,” David tells me glumly. “She’s back to hating me.”

David returned to the more reliable forgiveness of a magnanimous God. “So much has happened in my life, so much healing, so much deliverance, so much forgiveness, not from people but from God,” David has explained. He doesn’t really like to think about his crimes anymore. “Too painful.” A grimace sweeps across his face. Plus the past is mostly “a blur.” It seems to David that God has tossed the distressing details of his crimes into the sea of forgetfulness, along with his sins. For David, it’s time to move on. “I can’t undo what was done. It’s 30 years ago. Enough already,” he tells me.

There was a time when David could think of little besides his crimes. Shortly after his arrest in 1977, he confessed to all six murders. For an accused killer, he was unusually talkative. Effortlessly, almost proudly, he provided chilling details about each attack. (“[Stacy] and her date started to kiss passionately,” he wrote. “At this time, I too, was sexually aroused … They went back to the car … I had my gun out, aimed at the middle of Stacy’s head and fired … I didn’t even know she was shot because she didn’t say anything nor did she move.”) What troubled David, and what he couldn’t explain, was why he committed the crimes. “I can’t figure out what made me kill those poor people,” said David, a surprisingly reflective monster. At times, David seemed to crave not only an explanation of his motives but a theory of himself. Soon enough, competing schools emerged to do the job, and David, like an impressionable seeker from the seventies, tried one after the other.

At first he sided with those who believed him insane. Lawrence Klausner, a novelist who wrote Son of Sam in 1987, partly based on David’s prison diaries, proposed that he lived in a psychotic fantasy world. It was easy to believe. Months before his killing spree, David, recently back from the Army and on his own for the first time, wrote to his father in Florida: “Dad the world is getting dark now. I can feel it more and more. You wouldn’t believe how much some people hate me.” Another letter to his father was ebullient but also disturbing. “I feel like a saint sometimes. I guess I’m kind of one.” In his prison diaries, David seems completely mad at moments. He reported that a dog spoke to him, channeling a 6,000-year-old man named Sam whom he sometimes identified with Sam Carr, a neighbor and dog owner. “He told me [to kill] through his dog, as he usually does,” David wrote. He worried that his condition would worsen. “I may, one day, evolve into a humanoid or demon in a more complete state,” he said. Three of four court-appointed psychiatrists didn’t hesitate; they found him unfit to stand trial.


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