New York Daily News (MCT)
Cover of Confessions of Son of Sam
by David Abrahamsen
With ominous words in block printing that Breslin likened to "cinders from the flame," the note marked a fascinating turn in a drama that would terrorize the city all summer.
The thirst for details was so enormous that when the New York Daily News ran the letter with Breslin's column that Sunday, it sold more than 2 million copies.
Recently, Breslin sat down with the New York Daily News to talk about his role in one of the most infamous criminal cases of our time.
"This is a fine example of how sometimes ... something happens in the air, sticks to you, and 50 years later, you can't brush it off," he said.
The shootings began in the summer of 1976, but there wasn't anything to connect the first few, and Breslin didn't pay much attention.
Then on March 8, 1977, a Barnard College student named Virginia Voskerichian was shot in Forest Hills, Queens, just a few blocks from where Breslin lived.
The next morning, Breslin went to the scene and spoke with Detective Andy Camera, the younger brother of a photo retoucher he'd worked with years before.
"Now Andy was going through pine needles from a bush to see what they could find. The young woman had one shell in her, that's all they could find.
"Andy Camera told me, `If this is another large caliber like the other three we've got in the city — .44, .45 caliber — then we're in a lot of trouble. We've got a guy that's a serial killer.' And he told me you better stay with this and I did."
"And all day over in Police Headquarters there was a guy hunched over a machine. And he had one slug here on a spoke and one slug here and he turned it slowly. ... He did it all day.
"Late in the day finally he said he had a match. You could look and see that the lines on the shells from the barrel of the gun when they were shot matched. They came from the same gun.
"And now you know you had trouble — you had a serial killer."
Breslin began to write about the .44 Caliber Killer. And somewhere, Son of Sam was reading.
"(I got) a phone call at my house from Ann Marie Caggiano, the famous Ann Marie, who was purportedly the assistant to the columnist — not a secretary, if you used that word she'd break your fingers _ and she said, `I've got a letter here. I don't like it, it's creepy.'
"So I said, `Well, what does it say?' She said, `I don't like it. On the back of it, it says Son of Sam.' She says, `It's creepy.' So I said, `Well, send it down to the police.' Frank McLaughlin was then the deputy police commissioner. She said, `Yeah, I'm gonna do that right now `cause I don't like this.'
"So she sent it down and McLaughlin was cynical: `No, it's just another letter, a prank letter probably.' An hour later, he called me and he said, `Yeah, that thing is a little different. There's something to that letter.' ...
"I went to the 109th Precinct, and they showed me this letter from Son of Sam. Wild printing, big, clear, backslashed printing.
"The letter was printed, `Hello from the gutters of New York and the ants that live in the cracks in the gutters and feed on the dried blood of the dead of the city of New York who died on the cement and are stuck in the cracks.'"
"And I'm reading this and I'm saying, `Wow!' The cadence of what he was writing was sensational. I said this guy could have a column that could do me out of a job. He really can capture you and compel you to read. It was terrific. ...
"It was quite personal, he obviously wanted to know me or he did know me. He knew something. So we're talking and (Inspector Timothy) Dowd put his hand on my shoulder, and he said, `I'm counting on you. He'll come in through you. Yeah, you're our guy, you'll attract him and he'll come in.' And I said, `What, with his gun?'"
Breslin sent his wife and daughter to stay with family on Long Island while he remained in Forest Hills, taking precautions in case Son of Sam was stalking him.
"I drove around the block three times before I went in the house, number one. Number two, they put in a burglar alarm, an alarm system. That thing _— I'd come home at 3 in the morning with 5,000 beers in me and set the alarm off. Then I'd go upstairs and pass out and the cops would come running around, and I'd look up and say, `What do you want, fellas?' And there were police around the house, too. ...
"I was supposed to draw him in. I wrote a couple of columns. Nothing happened. Then I went out to the Island one night. I had a drink with my wife in a pub in Westhampton Beach and the traffic was going by slowly outside the window. We had just one drink, and that was it, then we left."
Meanwhile, the manhunt was intensifying — and the city was increasingly on edge.
"They had these squads out looking for him and hoping they could get him on the streets some place. They checked neighborhoods. They checked and checked. They went the wrong way down a one-way street with the lights off so maybe they could catch somebody walking.
"The white neighborhoods were empty, people were in their houses. The neighborhoods of color were packed because Son of Sam was shooting white people. And the whites began to embrace and they loved the sight of any black walking through their neighborhood at night because Son of Sam was white."
On July 31, 1977, Son of Sam struck again, killing Stacy Moskowitz near a Brooklyn playground. While he was committing the murder, two cops ticketed a car that was parked nearby, and the summons eventually led investigators to the Yonkers home of Berkowitz.
Breslin went to Police Headquarters while they questioned the suspect, and at one point Detective Bill Clark came out and asked him about the night he had driven out to Long Island to have a drink with his wife.
He said Berkowitz claimed he had been there and would have shot him — except that the dog he believed gave him commands to kill had nixed the plan.
"He told them he drove past, he had an automatic weapon and he was gonna shoot up the dance hall and he was also going to shoot me. And he knew where I was staying at and he knew where I was that night. But it had rained that night when I was in the bar. The dog told him, `Go home, I don't like the rain,' so he drove home. ...
"He said to them, `That's Jimmy Breslin, he's a good friend of mine.' Well, I don't know the guy, but I knew the face the minute I saw it. I had seen him someplace in the night. ... He knew where I lived, he knew my home address, he knew where I was for that summer night."
The arrest of Berkowitz opened a new chapter in the Son of Sam saga.
"The first thing somebody said was, `Can you get another letter from him _ for the newspaper?' The letter we did have, they used it, promoted it shamelessly.
"Sam Roberts was the city editor and he took the postmark off the letter and he ran that. Anything just to get them to read. I think there was a couple million people that read it on a Sunday."
Breslin asked a city Correction Department captain to get a message to Berkowitz in the mental ward lockup at Kings County Hospital.
"He went in and he told him, `You know, Berkey, they're killing you in the newspapers. ... You better write Jimmy Breslin and tell him to say something good about you now. He's a friend. Get going.' ...
"Now, with all this lithium and Thorazine in him, he sat down and wrote me a high school letter. `Dear Jimmy, how are you? I am here and they tell me that they are giving me a bad name ...' I threw the letter away. We can't make any living with that! I need the real thing. Well, the real thing had to have no drugs in him to perform."
Berkowitz confessed to six slayings and on June 12, 1978, he was sentenced to six life sentences in prison. Breslin was there.
"They didn't give him drugs the day he was sentenced. He was being sentenced in Kings County Court by each borough for the crimes he had committed in the borough.
"It started with him walking into the courtroom. Neysa Moskowitz, the mother of the young woman who was killed in the playground, the last shot of his killing life, she was in the audience and she stood up and started screaming at him.
"And he loved it. It was perfect for him. He was nuts. He says, `Stacy is a whore.' I remember him saying that, driving her crazy. He was going crazy. ...
"He was a muffin, just this lump of dough but with that electric in him, that sizzle sizzle sizzle. Set him off and he exploded.
"He took nine or 10 guards — that's not an overstatement — knocked them down like bowling pins, and tried to get to the window and go out. He couldn't — it was covered — but he tried. He had inhuman strength. You could see he was a dangerous man and they took him away. And that was the last.
"What did I hear from him? He wrote a letter. I got a Christmas card: `Merry Christmas from the devil.' He sent me that from the can. And that's it. I've never heard or seen him or anything else. He's gone. But he sticks to me.
"I mean, I don't talk about him. I never tell stories about him and yet any place I go, that's all they want to know about _ Son of Sam.
Visit http://www.nydailynews.com/features/sonofsam/summer.html to see original Breslin columns, archive New York Daily News stories and an interactive map.
(c) 2007, New York Daily News.
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