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The Devil in David Berkowitz


A fourth, however, took a different view. “His delusions were manufactured,” wrote Dr. David Abrahamsen. (“Sometimes a dog is just a dog,” quipped the doctor.) It was a view that David, too, soon found compelling. From prison, he wrote to Abraham­sen, a professor, psychiatrist, and researcher affiliated with Columbia, “I guess you see me as I really am—an animal and unhuman.” Suddenly, David had only disdain for the doctors who fell for what he now called his ruse.

“All I had to do was slide ‘Sam Carr’ and the ‘demons’ into the conversation,” wrote David about his relationship with another court-appointed psychiatrist. “Why he would practically be wiping the tears from my eyes and comforting me. Goodness what a nice man he was.”

In Abrahamsen’s view, David was sane. He was also grandiose, hysterical, and profoundly troubled. And the root of the trouble was adoption. David Richard Berkowitz was born Richard David Falco. At a few days old, he was adopted by Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz, a modest, childless Jewish couple who lived in a one-bedroom Bronx apartment. David’s hardworking father, who owned a hardware store, was often absent. But Pearl was doting. “I loved her very much,” David told Abrahamsen during an interview, sobbing. She died of cancer when David was 14. “After Mother’s death,” he said, “I lost the capacity to love.”

In his 1985 book Confessions of Son of Sam, Abrahamsen argues that adoption was the initial wound. “He’d lost the love that should have been given him,” he concluded. The death of his mother was a second, again by a woman. In 1975, the year before the shootings began, David’s feelings of abandonment intensified. He launched a “personal hunt” for his real mother. He found Betty Falco in Queens and slipped a Mother’s Day card in her mailbox. Betty, once an aspiring Broadway dancer, was ecstatic at the reunion and welcomed “Richie,” as she insisted on calling David, into her life. David, too, had high hopes. Soon, though, they collapsed. He met his half-sister, the child Betty hadn’t given away. “I first realized I was an accident, a mistake, never meant to be born—unwanted,” he wrote to Abrahamsen. David learned he was the by-product of Betty’s longtime affair with a married man.

He continued to visit Betty every couple months, acting the part, as he put it, of “Richie nice guy.” Inside, though, something else stirred. “I was filled with anger and rage ­toward Betty,” he told Abrahamsen. “I was getting a very powerful urge to kill most of my ‘natural’ family.” A few months later, Son of Sam began hunting young women. “I want to be a lover to women, but I want to destroy them too,” David wrote. “Especially women who dance. Them I hate. I hate their sensuality, their moral laxity. I’m no saint myself but I blame them for everything.” In Abrahamsen’s view, David’s spree was revenge against women, especially Betty. The dogs, the demons, were metaphors for the violence within. It was no coincidence that he hunted in lover’s lanes, targeting young women making out in parked cars. David wrote, “My mother Betty was sitting in those parked cars with [my father].”

David liked communicating with Abrahamsen, which he sometimes thought of as talking to God. Eventually, though, he soured on Abrahamsen and on the good doctor’s interpretation. “He had a mold that he wanted to fit me in and would do what he could to make me fit that mold,” David decided. David shifted his interpretive allegiance to Maury Terry, who minced few words when it came to Abrahamsen. “Yeah, everything’s the fault of the mother,” Terry says. “You know, it’s just bullshit. Abrahamsen was so full of himself he got right to the brink of getting the truth and then stopped.”

In his 1987 book The Ultimate Evil, Terry, a former business journalist for IBM, proposed a bold new theory of David’s crimes, and also of his character. In Terry’s view, David’s fundamental flaw wasn’t insanity or emotional instability but an abiding gullibility. “Berkowitz was susceptible to any line of shit,” says Terry. His failing, the one that underpinned all others, was an intense loneliness, a vulnerability. David had once inventoried his problems: “A series of rotten jobs, to a rotten social life and a horrifying feeling of becoming an old bachelor or a dirty old man. I had no woman in my life … I felt like worthless shit.” He “thirsted,” as he put it, for normal relationships with people. One night, outside his Bronx building, he ran into Michael Carr, son of Sam Carr, the neighbor whose dog did or didn’t speak to David. Michael Carr invited David to a nearby park, which Terry says was a meeting place for a Westchester affiliate of a satanic network called the Process Church of the Final Judgment.


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