After 40 years, the Son of Sam case still makes an impact

Yes, things have been a bit dark during my stay in sunny California. The first story I sent back -- scroll back a few -- was on the Unabomber; this one is on Son of Sam. Along the way, I've also been talking to people about war shows and crime shows and the occasional monster,

Still, I promise that brighter things are coming up. Anyway, here's the Son of Sam story I sent to papers, with some key documentaries this weekend, Aug. 4-6,

By Mike Hughes

was on an October evening, more than 40 years ago, that Carl Denaro's
life transformed.

He was 20, his
girlfriend was 18; they were in her car in Queens, when bullets
shattered the window.

It was “wrong
place, wrong time,” he said. “I had no idea who shot me.”

She sped the car
away and had only minor injuries. He had a bullet in is head and
eventually needed a metal plate. Still, it would be almost a
half-year before he knew he was a “Son of Sam” victim.

Next Thursday (Aug.
10) marks the 40th anniversary of the capture of David
Berkowitz, who confessed, ending a year-long ordeal. “New York City
was truly in a state of panic,” said Henry Schleiff, president of
the Investigation Discovery channel. “It was terrorized.”

Now his channel
takes a fresh look at what became an obsession. “We wound up with a
lot of leads, probably in excess of 2,000 leads,” said Marlin
Hopkins, then a Queens homicide detective.

The first shooting
was in the Bronx on July 29, 1976; one woman, 19, was killed and
another, 18, was wounded. Three months later, Danaro was wounded in
Queens. “The working theory was that it was a drug deal gone
wrong,” he said. “I wasn't a drug dealer, but I couldn't tell the
cops who shot me. So for about six months, I was kind of victimized

There were more
shootings – a 16-year-old girl became a paraplegic ... Christine
Freund, 26, was killed. Then things changed on March 8, 1977, with
the death of a Columbia University student.

She “was shot 100
yard from where Christine Freund was shot,” Hopkins said. “When
that bullet was recovered, we matched it .... That started the ball

It matched fragments
in the Danaro case and more. Officials talked of a serial killer who
was shooting young women with long hair; Danaro, who had
shoulder-length hair, may have been shot by mistake.

The panic expanded
on April 17, when a man and woman, 20 and 18, were killed in the
Bronx. This time, the killer left a letter. “He was packaged for
the media,” said Scott Bonn, a Drew University criminology
professor. “He gave himself his own brand name, 'Son of Sam.' He
wanted attention.”

There were more
letters and two more shootings – the first wounded a man and a
woman, the second killed a woman and left a man nearly blind. But
that second one also brought the key clue.

A passerby had
noticed a car getting a ticket for parking near a fire hydrant; she
also saw a man acting suspiciously nearby. Police traced the ticket
and found the car of Berkowitz, who confessed.

“He was stoic,”
Hopkins said. “He was very lucid. He spoke in detail about each

Hopkins considered
him “psychotic.” Bonn draws a distinction between “psychotic”
-- a Ted Bundy type who is naturally evil – and a “psychopath,”
turned evil by circumstance. “He had been abandoned by his birth
mother and he grew up to be a frightened and ultimately angry and
rageful individual.”

Bonn and Berkowitz
(now 64) corresponded for two years, then met in prison for four
hours in 2013.

“The images that I
had,” Bonn said, “were this sullen young man ... And the David
Berklowitz today looks like an elf, like a gnome-like character with
bulgng red cheeks. And he came bounding in. He gave me a huge hug. He
insisted that we pray together, because he now calls himself Son of

-- “Son of Sam:
The Hunt For a Killer,” 9-11 p.m. ET Saturday (Aug. 5),
Investigation Discovery, rerunning at midnight; also, noon ET Aug.
10, the day of the capture

-- Also: “The Lost
Tapes: Son of Sam,” 10 p.m. Friday (Aug. 4), Smithsonian,”
rerunning at 1 a.m,; then 2 p.m. Saturday, rerunning that night at 2
a.m., and 2 p.m. Aug. 6.