Around this time last month, New York police were closing in on the suspected Gilgo Beach serial killer and respected businessman who had a Fifth Avenue office in Manhattan and commuted from a nearby suburb. On this day in 1977, another task force had tracked another Big Apple bad guy down – arresting the “Son of Sam” gunman David Berkowitz at his home in Yonkers.
While the “Son of Sam” and Gilgo Beach slayings happened under dramatically different circumstances, in different eras and targeted completely different types of victims, the suspects in both cases may have a handful of things in common.
“They were both pretty active in the summer,” said John Kelly, a criminal profiler and the president of STALK Inc., who noted that some slayings also took place in other parts of the year, especially in Berkowitz’s case.
Decades after Berkowitz’s arrest, his story would inspire the title of Spike Lee’s movie “Summer of Sam,” starring John Leguizamo and Adrien Brody.
On July 29, 1976, Berkowitz shot and killed Donna Lauria in the Bronx and wounded her friend Jody Valenti. A year later, he shot 13 people, killing six.
“I could only imagine if social media was around when ‘Son of Sam’ was active, wow,” said Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The city was gripped with fear, and I remember it so well.”
From 1976 to 1977, “Son of Sam” targeted victims at random with a .44-caliber revolver, sometimes opening fire on multiple people at once, including couples in cars and friends chatting on the sidewalk. Reports that he preferred to attack long-haired women instilled so much fear in the Big Apple that young women cut and dyed their hair. Couples stopped going out at night.
Giacalone said the year of fear was “far more terrifying” than the search for a suspect in the Gilgo slayings.
“[Berkowitz was] hunting lovers’ lanes and all in the boroughs,” he told Fox News Digital.
The Gilgo Beach murders shocked the community but did not incite a widespread panic. The Gilgo victims were a very specific set of targets, Kelly said. They were all prostitutes, all around 5 feet tall and all around 100 pounds, according to investigators. They were targeted over several years. Berkowitz’s slayings happened in quick succession and seemingly at random.
“The ‘Son of Sam’ attacked the girls and boys next door, people who don’t live risky lifestyles,” he told Fox News Digital.
Suspected Long Island serial killer Rex Heuermann faces six charges total in the deaths of Melissa Barthelemy, 24, Megan Waterman, 22, and Amber Costello, 27. He remains the prime suspect in the death of a fourth victim, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25.
Brainard-Barnes was last seen on July 9, 2007; Barthelemy on July 10, 2009; Waterman on Jun 6, 2010; and Costello on Sept. 2, 2010.
Heuermann allegedly met them online, using anonymous “burner” phones in a high-tech effort to conceal his communications.
According to one expert, both suspects may suffer from “mommy issues.”
Criminologist Scott Bonn, who provided a remarkably accurate profile of the Gilgo suspect in 2011 and has interviewed Berkowitz, told the New York Post earlier that he heard Heuermann’s mother, who raised him alone after his father died at age 11, was “controlling and domineering.”
“Who knows what was ticking beneath the surface,” he told the outlet. “He may [have been] projecting the loving doting son, when in fact there may have been some deep-seated resentment toward mom.”
Without a potential motive explaining the allegations against Heuermann, “it’s difficult to discuss their objectives as killers,” said Dr. Katherine Ramsland, an expert on serial killers and professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania.
“Maybe the phone calls are like [David Berkowitz’s] attempt to communicate,” she said.
Berkowitz sent out taunting letters – to police and to famed newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin, who died in 2017. When police arrested him, they found an unsent letter in his car. Heuermann, on the other hand, allegedly used his victims’ own phones to call and harass their families.
“Victimizing others seems to be a source of power for both, but it’s a stretch to say they have a similar motive,” Ramsland said.
Heuermann stands 6-feet, 4-inches tall and has now been described by Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison as both a “demon” and an “ogre.”
Berkowitz, who is about 5-feet, 8-inches tall, claimed a demon spoke to him through his neighbor’s dog.
“[Berkowitz] also had instability issues that aren’t evident in Heuermann,” Ramsland said. “You might find a parallel in the hunting behavior – even though [Heuermann] didn’t hunt his victims, he did love to hunt.”
Heuermann, according to other local duck hunters and his now-estranged wife’s lawyer, was an avid duck hunter. Additionally, police recovered around 300 firearms from his home in Massapequa Park after his arrest.
Berkowitz ultimately pleaded guilty. He is serving multiple life sentences in a New York prison, where he now professes to be a born-again Christian and has attempted to apologize for the murder spree.
Heuermann pleaded not guilty at his arraignment last month and is due back in court on Aug. 15.
Fox News’ Stephanie Pagones contributed to this report.