As a psychology student, I have a distinct interest in what makes someone tick. While there are beautiful sides of humanity, many psychologists find themselves attracted to some of the darker sides. After all, many people try to understand why murderers and rapists commit the heinous acts they do. I am no different, as I often delve into the darkest sides of humanity in a bid to understand how a monster is created.
Delving into the darker sides of humanity is not easy though, as even psychologist and student psychologist like myself have their opinion. But to understand what lies beneath, those emotions must be turned off as much as possible.
Today, I take a closer look at the infamous case of the Son of Sam. As one of America’s most prolific serial killers, he is an interesting case to start in our series.
Who Was The Son Of Sam?
The Son of Sam case took place in the late seventies, so it is possible that you are not aware of it. For those of you who are not, here is the quick synopsis of the case.
On August 10th of 1977, a 24-year-old man called David Berkowitz was arrested and charged with multiple counts of murder. According to local newspapers, he was the infamous “Son of Sam”, the serial killer who terrorized New York City for over a year.
David Berkowitz (Son Of Sam) was responsible for six deaths. He also wounded seven others with his .44 caliber revolver. The Son of Sam mainly targeted young women with brown hair, which caused many women to change their look in New York, in an attempt to avoid becoming a target.
Disproven Demon Claims
David Berkowitz claimed numerous times that demons were responsible for his reprehensible actions. However, this was certainly not the case in my opinion. In fact, Berkowitz himself pleaded guilty much later in his court case and admitted that the demon stories were made up to escape the death penalty. Berkowitz changed his opinion however after speaking to a Christian woman.
But what caused David Berkowitz to commit these horrible crimes? There are numerous theories out there, but mental illness was one of the contributing factors.
Childhood is usually a reference point to figure out why some people commit horrible acts of violence. While childhood is not the only contributor to violent crime, it often sets the path towards them.
There are very few cases of killers who were born evil. In fact, some psychologists would argue that nobody is born evil. Of course, this is a point of contention to many. So, did the “nurture” factor contribute to the crimes of the Son of Sam? Or was “nature” the predominant factor?
I believe The Son Of Sam was a combination of the two. Considering Berkowitz’s fixation on brunettes, there is a serious indicator of previous trauma or an event that caused anger towards these women. It is also further proved that the demon theory does not hold water, mainly because Berkowitz chose his victims in such a specific manner.
One indicator of previous trauma was the fact the Son of Sam was rejected by his biological mother. His biological mother, Betty Broder became pregnant through her relationship with Joseph Kleinman. Kleinman did not want another child, as Betty already had a young daughter. The family was also quite poor, so Betty put David up for adoption.
David’s adoptive parents were middle-class and quite devoted to their son if records are to be believed. While some would argue there were absolutely no signs he would turn into a violent serial killer, some witnesses reported some indicators of future problems.
Neighbors of the Berkowitz family reported that Berkowitz was often aggressive and violent, bullying other children in the neighborhood. His parents allegedly encountered hyperactive behavior in their son, which proved difficult to handle. There are also reports of the typical loner and isolating behavior we have come to associate with serial killers.
While I personally believe Berkowitz’s mental problems started in childhood, most people in his environment reported that his mental health deteriorated severely in 1975. However, I believe the death of his adoptive mother in 1967 set the stage for this deterioration. First, he lost a mother through rejection. Second, he lost another mother to cancer. It is possible that this fueled the anger that was already present in Berkowitz from childhood. Berkowitz revealed in interviews that his mother’s death impacted him greatly, so this could have been the fuse that lit the fire.
Declining Mental Health
Berkowitz’s mental health declined over the years, but this became more apparent in 1975. He started to isolate himself even more and started to set fires across New York City. However, it is possible that the fire did not do anything for the anger he experienced. I also believe this brings another possible motivator for his crimes, excitement. In fact, the latter may have lead to the killings and ties in with Berkowitz’s behavior in childhood.
Berkowitz was also diagnosed with schizophrenia later on, although I am not sure that I could support that diagnosis completely considering his tendencies to use mental illness as an excuse. While Berkowitz did not antisocial behavior, there is no mention of other mental health problems or potential traumas.
While there is no doubt in my mind that Berkowitz did suffer from mental illness, I do not think him being a paranoid schizophrenic was the only thing that fueled his crimes. According to my opinion, Berkowitz is a very angry man. He showed anger problems in childhood, and the death of his mother undoubtedly made that anger uncontrollable overtime.
Of course, the victims could have been chosen for sexual preference as well, and this is the theory I support the most. I think Berkowitz was attracted to brunettes and killing them gave him some form of sexual release. This is not uncommon in people with anger-related issues. That almost puts his schizophrenia on the backburner where explanations are concerned. Nevertheless, this theory is most likely in my opinion.
Berkowitz is an interesting case, mainly because his childhood was not that out of the ordinary. While there were signs of mental health problems, he could function in society and almost blended in among the crowd. Insanity would not have been a suitable plea, mainly because he knew the difference between right and wrong. I also believe David Berkowitz was sexually motivated in the killings, much like he sought excitement by lighting fires. Unfortunately, this cost the lives of many good people.
Jock’s Hypothesis - Obsession
Could it be possible that there is some underlying truth to the suggestion that Berkowitz was in fact influenced by malevolent beings? Whilst the former information from my colleague does indeed have merit, and I concur with her findings; I would venture that part of the abuse and part of the environment and state of being could have been a catalyst to Demon Obsession from a spirit intelligence. That obsession could have been so intelligent that it began all be it slowly and with a goal over a period of time.
Even though we have the confession that he made the claims up, could it be the claims have merit based on the modus operandi of the intelligence that could have been behind the mind control and the atrocities and heinous acts carried out? This if course, is merely a hypothesis, but it should plant a seed of thought.
The very fact that Berkowitz tried to use the claims of pseudo possession to validate what he was doing, does make one consider that he was in control. However, there are certain modus operandi that leans towards the aspect of obsessive behavior and the choices that he made could have been influenced by malevolent intelligence. The choice of language from the letters and the belief he had in the occult suggest subtle influence. Even though there was no proof that he was part of a satanic cult, conversely there was no conclusion that he was not either.
For ease of understanding, let's suggest that a demonic entity did actually have him in a more controlled stage of possession or obsession. Controlling the influence of the mind in subtle but powerful ways of suggestion - could have been the impulse needed to make the free-will decision to carry out the atrocity, thus the impulse is mimicking the free will and therefore subtly controlling the will of the chosen host. In mediumship or those that are sensitive to spirit-energies are open to a form of what I term “Mediumship Psychosis” as discussed in deadly departed. A sensitive disposition through emotion or environment could also be the catalyst needed to spirit intrusion to those of a sensitive disposition.
Now whilst this seed that I have planted is enough to make you consider the possibilities, it does not vilify or quantify the reasoning behind the choices. Berkowitz still remains guilty for the crimes, but one must consider if there was indeed a power beyond him that was also steering the ship. If we examine the language in some of the victim's cases and the written correspondence, one has to propound that language and emotion contained therein does indeed have some separate intellect outwith the remit of Berkowitz. To discern that some other power may have had a hand in the atrocities makes one question deeper each role. Could he have been a chosen host well before - even at the point of childhood.