August 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the murder of Stacy Moskowitz — the final victim of David Berkowitz, also known as The Son Of Sam, who held all of NYC in the grips of fear.
Over the period of 12 months July 1976 to July 1977, the city and it’s tabloid newspapers speculated almost daily over where and when the “.44 caliber killer” would strike next.
This was long before the TV show Law & Order made city crime seem so, well, nostalgic in a very strange sense. As those who lived in the city as well as those who just read about NYC in those days may remember, NYC in the 1970s was a very, very violent place to live.
Most of you are used to reading about how we are the safest big city in America, with our ever-shrinking murder rates — In 2016, there were only 335 murders in total! Contrast that with the staggering statistic of almost 4,000 murders in 1975 and 1976 alone, and a staggering 57 murders in just one 24-hour period on July 21st 1972.
This is probably why, when the “Son of Sam” killings began on July 29th 1976, so many of the early victims were just thought to be an extension of the normalization of random violence that those who lived and worked here had become numb to.
Coincidentally, My band, Twisted Sister, started to become very popular in the summer of 1976. We were playing five nights a week in very crowded bars — mostly in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. The paths of our band and the ruthless killer were soon to collide in ways that no one could have predicted.
Son of Sam’s next victims were shot in October (2 victims) and November (2 victims), all four in Queens. More shootings occurred in January and March of 1977. By April, The self professed killer, now self-named “The Son Of Sam,” wrote a chilling letter to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli that was found by a patrolling policeman. The Son Of Sam” concludes his graphic letter, “Police: Let me haunt you with these words: I’ll be back. I’ll be back. To be interpreted as - bang, bang, bang, bang - ugh. Yours in murder, Mr. Monster.”
By the Spring of 1977, the fear of possibly getting killed while sitting is a car in a parking lot for just going out to a club was becoming palpable. I began noticing that either women were not coming to the clubs, especially those on the Nassau/Queens border, in fear of being shot, or the women were wearing blond wigs because the newspapers were screaming that the Son Of Sam was killing girls with dark or brunette hair.
At this point, my bandmembers and I began to talk about the Son of Sam murders on the stage.
This was really the beginning of our “stage raps” and our nascent developing trends of using hot button issues to incite and rile up an audience. In a way, it was an antidote to the endless repetition of the daily grind of “Groundhog Day” like performances.
We taunted the Son Of Sam, daring him to show his face at one of our shows, saying that if he did, either we or our fans would “kick his ass.”
After all, the Son Of Sam murders were beginning to take their toll on the numbers of people who were coming to see us perform. Our attendance numbers were starting to fall, especially in Nassau county. Fewer women coming to our shows meant fewer men coming to our shows to find women.
We were getting angrier, and our taunts from the stage were getting louder (and funnier in a sick sort of way).
The Son Of Sam murders even led to the newspaper The Long Island Newsday coming to one of our shows in Stony Brook, Long Island to interview fans about their fear of being shot while attending one of our performances.
They even published a photo of hundreds of fans wrapped around the entrance of the Mad Hatter of Stonybrook with the caption “Long Island Twisted Sister Fans don’t seem to fear the Son Of Sam in Stony Brook.”
Really? Why don’t you just publish the directions to make it easier for him?
It drove the club owner, a former corrections officer at the Queens House of Detention, crazy — and I was stunned at the irresponsibility of the newspaper.
Finally, on July 30, The Son of Sam struck for the last time (this time in Brooklyn). Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violante, both 20-years-old, were both shot in the head as they sat in a parked car. Moskowitz died, and though Violante survived, he was blinded.
David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, was captured on the evening of August 10th as he was getting into his car outside of his house in Yonkers. In the backseat was a loaded rifle and his Bulldog .44 caliber handgun, the one used in all the shootings, was in a brown paper bag at his side.
How was he traced and finally caught? Through diligent police work involving a witness to the final shooting in a Brooklyn parking lot, who reported that he saw a man near the shooting getting into a car after ripping up a parking ticket for illegally parking at a fire hydrant.
The nightmare was over, but there was one piece of information given to me afterward that made my blood run cold.
Berkowitz lived in Yonkers, just steps away from a club called the Rising Sun on Central Avenue. Several fans told me he used to come down regularly to see us and a band called Rat Race Choir.
Where was he going to shoot his next victim(s) that final evening? Over the years we have heard many stories through our contacts with local police departments. We had heard he was going out to Long Island to go out in a blaze of glory in the Hamptons. A possible location was an underground club in East Quogue called the Niteclub; it was closed that fateful night.
If Son Of Sam had seen the Newsday story about our fans’ seeming indifference, he could have easily also known that on the night of his capture, we were again playing to about 1,000 fans in Stony Brook — a place easily found on his route back to Yonkers. The Son of Sam and Twisted Sister’s paths could have finally crossed with possibly very tragic results.
Thankfully, we will never know. He was caught by old-fashioned police work before he could inflict more terror on New Yorkers.
For those of us who lived in NYC at the time, The Son of Sam murders have been indelibly etched into our psyches.
We who lived through it will never forget.