Sunday, September 30, 2012

Visionary Serial Killers

Visionary (or Vision) serial killers are unstable, possibly psychotic, individuals who claim they hear voices that tell them to kill. Usually, they say it is the voice of God but some attribute it to the Devil. 
 David Berkowitz (better known as the Son of Sam) was born in 1953. His mother, estranged from her husband, Tony Falco, had an affair with a married man. When she became pregnant, her lover threatened to abandon her if she kept the baby – so she gave up her son, David Falco, for adoption. David was adopted by a middle class family who lived in the Bronx. They loved him and treated him well. He seemed to have had a relatively normal childhood.
But David Berkowitz carried a lot of guilt and anger. He felt responsible for the death of his natural mother who, he was told, died giving birth to him. When he was eighteen, his adopted mother died and his father remarried and moved to Florida, leaving Berkowitz behind in the Bronx. He later learned the truth about his biological mother, sought her out and they established a “friend” relationship.
Berkowitz is a classic example of a visionary killer. Between 1976 and 1977, he shot and killed six people and wounded seven others in New York City. After killing a young couple who were parked in a car in the wee hours of a spring morning, Berkowitz left a letter at the scene, personally addressed to the police detective who was investigating his crimes. In it, he wrote “I am a monster. I am the Son of Sam.”
His crimes were famous because of his letters to the media and the police. The reason he killed, he claimed in his letters, was to quiet the demons by doing what they insisted he do. Each night, these demons told Berkowitz to kill and quench their thirst for blood. When he heard dogs howling, he started to believe that the dogs were demons, asking him to shoot and kill women. At one point, his neighbor had a black Labrador, which Berkowitz believed was possessed. He shot the dog.
Berkowitz was apprehended after receiving a parking ticket at the time and near the scene of a murder. When he was apprehended, he received a 365 year prison sentence. He then told the FBI that the real reason he killed was because he hated his mother for leaving him and blamed her for his failure with women. (He felt sexually aroused when he killed them.) He admitted that the letters he’d sent to the media and the police were written to convince them that he was insane.
What do you think? Was David Berkowitz insane?


  1. I don't know if he was insane, but he was definitely disturbed more than the average person. It's strange to think someone near us could possibly be a serial killer who just hasn't acted on the impulse.

    1. Marja,
      Can you imagine being told as a child that your mother died giving birth to you and then finding out as an adult that your mother is alive and well and living in another state? What a psychological toll that must have taken on him! I can hardly believe the horrible things people do to each other and I'm not just talking about serial killers.

  2. Yes, insane. Most dogs aren't possessed, and most demons don't haunt New Yorkers. Even so, serial killers are a strange bunch. I just finished reading Jo Nesbo's Snowman, and it was creepy. Chilly too!

    1. William,
      I agree. How could a sane person do the things he did?

  3. I've heard criminologists say that serial killers, even people like Son of Sam, are NOT insane by legal definition.

    I think they're insane. I also think there should be no "insanity plea", at least not how it stands today. I think there should be a legal category, "guilty by reason of insanity".

  4. Yes, he is insane. He thought he was faking insanity to some degree not realizing that he was.