Were there multiple shooters in 'Son of Sam' serial killing spree?
12/04/2017 12:27 pm PST
New Yorkers are pretty tough people. They're brave, they don't back down. But there is one name that still strikes fear in the city: David Berkowitz, the "Son of Sam." His reign of terror was more than 40 years ago, but today there are all new questions about his grisly murders and some of those questions come from a man who is one of the few to get away.
The "Son of Sam" is one of the most notorious serial killers in U.S. history. Many believe the man behind the murderous rampage is David Berkowitz. But one survivor says it's not that simple.
"There might be more to the Son of Sam shootings than just David Berkowitz," said Carl Denaro.
In rare footage, we hear from the killer himself.
It's late October 1976, a brisk evening in Flushing, Queens, one of New York City's five boroughs. Carl Denaro, 20, who will leave for Air Force basic training soon, is ready to kick off the weekend.
"The night started out like any other Friday night. I went to a party with a bunch of friends after the party came back to the bar that we hung out in," said Denaro.
There Denaro ran into Rosemary Keenan, a pretty 18-year-old brunette he knew from college.
"We talked for about 45 minutes, and we decide to leave," said Denaro. "We got into her car and drove around the neighborhood looking for basically a place to make out."
They find their spot at 159th and 33rd.
"She pulled into the front of this house, no streetlight, sitting there three or four, maybe five minutes. Next thing you know all the windows blew out of the car," said Denaro. "I didn't really know what happened, but I knew we were in trouble and I told her to get out of here, start the car. I passed out for probably 10 seconds, and when I came to she was in a panic because she didn't know where she was, and I directed her back to the bar that we started at."
Back at the bar, the reality of Denaro's condition starts to seep in.
"The doorman said 'Carl, you don't look too good,' and I said 'I don't feel good,' and my shirt just turned blood red, and that's when my friends said 'We gotta get him to the hospital,'" said Carl Denaro.
At the hospital Denaro, learns what actually happened: He's been shot in the head.
"I think I'm going to be making out and the next thing you know I get the back of my head blown off," said Denaro.
NYPD launches an investigation. But before long their victim becomes their suspect.
"Because of my long hair at the time, and because the low-crime neighborhood, they kind of jumped to the conclusion that it was a drug deal gone bad," said Denaro. "So for six months I basically had to defend myself to my mother. My mother believed the cops."
Denaro's shooting isn't an isolated incident. Over the next several months, there are more, mostly targeting couples in cars and women with long brown hair. Two of the victims died.
"Clearly he had something in for women, although he shot men, too, but women seemed to be his victims of choice," said veteran WPIX Reporter Arnold Diaz.
Cops are at a loss -- until they catch a ballistics break.
"They were able to put together four seemingly random shootings all tied to the same type of bullet, and then later on it was the same type of gun, so they came to the conclusion that it's a serial killer," said Carl Denaro. "Turned out I was the second victim, so I was off the hook as a drug dealer but found myself in the middle of a shooting spree."
The madman was dubbed the ".44 Caliber Killer."
A month later that changed when a letter was found near the bodies of his next two victims. In death, a new moniker was born.
"The maniac who calls himself the 'Son of Sam.'"
Who is the assassin hiding behind the alias? Varying witness accounts of the shooter make cops work even harder.
"The sketches were so different, so it was confusing. Who was this guy?"
As spring turns to summer, the Son of Sam's reign of terror continues -- shooting, killing; and taunting police.
"He was kind of saying to cops, 'Come get me,' and they didn't know how," said Diaz.
"I got a call from my sister saying that they just arrested the 'Son of Sam.' His name is David Berkowitz," said Carl Denaro.
David Berkowitz, 24, a postal worker from Yonkers confesses to acting alone in killing six and wounding seven others, saying that the "Sam" in "Son of Sam" referred to his neighbor Sam Carr, and it was Carr's demonic dog who told Berkowitz to kill.
Cops got their man. But not everyone believed it was an open-and-shut case.
"I believe that David Berkowitz did not act alone, and in fact it has crossed my mind that this .44-caliber pistol that was the weapon used in the shootings that we witness was passed around to a number of people," Queens District Attorney John Santucci said on TV at the time.
Berkowitz pleaded guilty and was eventually sentenced to six consecutive life terms of 25 years to life.
Several years later, on two different occasions, investigative reporter Maury Terry interviewed David Berkowitz in prison for a documentary series. In these rarely seen meetings, Berkowitz tells Terry that he was not the only shooter.
Terry: "Now, there were a series of eight attacks, known as the 'Son of Sam' killings."
Terry: "Did you do all of them?"
Berkowitz: "I was at all of them. I was at more or less at all of them, scouting the areas and reporting back on likely targets and things. And I did not pull the trigger at every single one of them, and I believe the police do know that."
Berkowitz claimed his accomplices were fellow members of the 22 Disciples of Hell Satanic cult, a group he joined when he was 22, and the killings were sacrifices to their Satanic gods.
Berkowitz agreed to go through each shooting, saying which ones he did and which ones he didn't -- including Carl Denaro's.
Terry: "Carl Denaro and Rosemary Keenan in Queens?"
Terry: "That wasn't you?"
Terry: "Were any of the .44 shootings done by females?"
Berkowitz: "Uh, yes."
Terry: "Would that have been one shooting or two?"
Berkowitz: "One I know of, possibly two. Well, I know that Carl's was definitely a woman."
Berkowitz refused to name any living co-conspirators for fear of reprisals against his family. But Denaro may have an idea of who she is.
"All indications point to a female who was in the cult," said Carl Denaro. "We can actually place her within two blocks of the shooting, and she is still alive. She would be 71 years old now."
Who does Denaro think shot him?
"I'd rather not say," said Denaro.
Denaro hopes one day there will be enough evidence to have the case re-opened. Until then, he counts his blessings he's alive, that he survived when tragically so many didn't.
"I always consider myself very lucky, extremely lucky," said Carl Denaro.
Even though David Berkowitz says he didn't shoot Carl Denaro, he says he deserves to be where he is, in prison. In fact he's refused parole for the last 15 years. His next parole hearing is scheduled for May 2018.