Killer David Berkowitz's Upbringing May Explain His 'Son Of Sam' Murders

David Berkowitz murdered six people and injured seven more during a series of eight shootings in New York City between 1976 and 1977. Berkowitz gave numerous motives for the killings that are now known as the Son of Sam murders. The most sensational of these reasons is, of course, that he was following the orders of a neighbor's demon-possessed dog. Of all the compelling things that led to his murderous rampage, the relationships Berkowitz had with his birth and adoptive mothers may provide the most answers.

The link between male serial killers and their mothers is often brought up in the media, especially when the killer targets women, and the David Berkowitz mother connection is especially disturbing. Berkowitz's relationship with his birth mother was quite distressing and it wasn't until after he met her that he started killing people. It may have been his messed up and burgeoning connection to his birth mother, combined with his resentment toward his adoptive parents and his neglectful birth father, that caused him to snap

There's plenty of dysfunction to explore when it comes to the Son of Sam and his mothers.

Photo: Wikipedia

  • He Believed His Birth Mother Was Dead

    According to interviews Berkowitz gave to David Abrahamsen recounted in his book Confessions of Son of Sam, the Son of Sam killer grew up believing his birth mother was dead. He was told by his adoptive parents, Pearl and Nathan Berkowitz, that his birth mother died during childbirth. It's hard to say exactly how this impacted his childhood but some psychologists believe adopted children suffer from separation anxiety. It's possible Berkowitz felt this separation from an early age and had a sense of loss thinking his mother was gone. 

  • Learning That He Hadn't Killed His Mother In Labor Only Made Him Feel Unwanted

    After serving in the military and getting an honorable discharge, Berkowitz discovered that his adoptive parents had been lying to him his entire life. Up until this point, Berkowitz had blamed himself for his birth mother's death. He would later tell David Abrahamsen that the truth flipped his internal script to something even more destructive.

    Worse than the internalization of believing he had killed his own mother in childbirth, Berkowitz switched to internalizing that he "was an accident, a mistake, never meant to be born - unwanted." This didn't keep him from wanting to track down his birth parents. Perhaps for confirmation or denial of what he was starting to believe.

  • Berkowitz May Have Taken Out His Disdain For His Mother's Immorality On His Victims

    Berkowitz May Have Taken Out His Disdain For His Mother's Immorality On His Victims
    Photo: NYPD

    Berkowitz made it clear during interviews after he was caught that he was upset to learn he was conceived when his mother had an affair with a married man. Within a year of learning the truth of his origins, Berkowitz went on his killing spree.

    During his trial, the Son of Sam killer shouted, "Stacy was a whore." He showed no remorse for his victims by also admitting, "I'd kill her again. I'd kill them all again." His extreme views on his victims purity would indicate he'd come to believe that such impureness deserved death. A view that likely stemmed from his extreme disdain for his birth mother and her actions leading to his birth. 

  • He Targeted Women Who Looked Like His Adoptive Mother

    Berkowitz learned the truth about his birth mother and sought her out in 1974. The next year, he began to plot violent crimes against women. The targets of most of his criminal activity were women with long, wavy, and dark hair. This is suspiciously similar to what his adoptive mother, Pearl, looked like. It's hard to know for certain, but it seems likely that Berkowitz's victims received the brunt of his rage related to the loss of his adoptive mother and the lie that she told him. 

  • He Was Unnaturally Close With His Adoptive Mother

    He Was Unnaturally Close With His Adoptive Mother
    Photo: Wikipedia

    Berkowitz got into some trouble as a youth, dabbling in larceny and pyromania, so his adoptive parents consulted with a psychotherapist. Most accounts indicate that the Son of Sam had a close relationship with his adoptive mother. Some might say he felt a bit too attached to her. Jealous of his mother's favorite pet parakeet for getting so much of her attention, he reportedly poisoned the poor animal. 

    Tragically, the woman who had raised him since he was three days old lost her battle with breast cancer when he was 14. This loss would have likely compounded his feelings of abandonment from his birth mother. Things became even more complicated when his adoptive father got married again, especially because, according to his interviews in Confessions of Son of Sam, Berkowitz didn't like his new mother figure.  

  • He Sought Out Victims Who Were Coupled, Perhaps Symbolic Of His Parents

    He Sought Out Victims Who Were Coupled, Perhaps Symbolic Of His Parents
    Photo: NYPD

    The Son of Sam killer was disillusioned by the actions of his adoptive dad and birth father. He was also very upset about the loss of his adoptive mother and felt tortured by the idea that his birth mother didn't want him. The messed up dynamic between Berkowitz and all of the parental figures in his life could explain why he specifically targeted victims in groups of two.

    There were two incidents when he took only one life, but otherwise, he mostly killed young couples or friends in pairs. Two people potentially symbolic of the parental unit he felt such anger and confusion around.