On July 31, 1977 — 40 years ago Monday — David Berkowitz struck his last victims at the corner of Shore Parkway and Bay 14th Street in Bath Beach, Brooklyn. There, Robert Violante and Stacy Moskowitz, both 20, were out on their first date after meeting a few days earlier at “Gong Show Night” at Beefsteak Charlie’s in Sheepshead Bay. The couple had taken in a movie and driven to Shore Parkway. They walked around the park, played on the swings and spotted a lone man standing with his arms folded. Moskowitz grew nervous and they returned to the car. Neither saw Berkowitz coming. He stood at the passenger window shortly before 3 a.m. and blasted them. Two bullets hit Moskowitz in the head and neck, and a third pierced Violante’s left eye.
The madman’s year-long reign of terror had begun on July 29, 1976, when he opened fire with his .44-caliber revolver on two young women in car in Pelham Bay Park, the Bronx, killing 18-year-old Donna Lauria, and injuring 19-year-old Jody Valenti. By the time he was captured on Aug. 10, 1977 at his Yonkers home, “the Son of Sam,” as the killer eventually became known, had murdered six innocents and wounded seven. The spree paralyzed Gotham. Legendary columnist Steve Dunleavy was The Post’s chief reporter on the story, and even engaged in a front-page correspondence with the killer. Here he recalls the night he spent in the hospital with the Moskowitz and Violante families during the gut-wrenching hours as they waited to see if their children would live or die. The retired journo — who participated in the Investigation Discovery documentary, “Son of Sam: The Hunt for a Killer,” premiering Aug. 5 at 9-11 pm — also recounts his discovery of key clues to Berkowitz’s coming rampage, which cops had ignored.
Blood was seeping through the bandages that covered the gaping head wounds of the beautiful young couple.
The putrid mongrel who called himself the “Son of Sam” had claimed his last two victims in his one man war against New York, reducing the city into a messy, nervous breakdown.
Stacy Moskowitz and Bobby Violante lay as still as stone on the stretchers that moved swiftly but silently through the lobby of Kings County Hospital.
‘I need you now Dunleavy … I should really kill you but I need you…’
– David Berkowitz in a letter to Steve DunleavyJerry Moskowitz, an ice cream salesman and Stacy’s father, whispered silently, “Oh, Jesus. Oh boy.” Neysa Moskowitz moaned, “What they have done to my little girl?”
‘I need you now Dunleavy … I should really kill you but I need you…’
Bobby’s father, Pat Violante, says, “He is such a good boy. A real American boy.”
The animal killer — who in real life we would soon find out was named David Berkowitz — had outdid his infamy in the wee hours of July 31st, exactly 40 years ago.
I was standing with the two families, the only reporter in that hospital lobby to witness the agony of the families of the last two victims. For the next 24 hours, I witnessed both Brooklyn families suffer heart-wrenching pain, display superhuman strength and embrace faith in humanity.
The two young kids are now being wheeled into surgery.
Neysa is talking animatedly to Teresa Violante, Bobby’s mother. They never would have known each other if they hadn’t been thrust together by tragedy. “He is such a beautiful boy,” Neysa says. “When he came to pick her up in the apartment, he was so handsome. He looked like Mark Spitz, the swimmer.”
Dr. Shahib, a Palestinian, walks out of the OR and addresses the two couples.
“We’re worried about the extent of her head wound.”
“They are both conscious and responding to life signs.”
The doctor is very conscious of not raising hopes. Both couples are scared to step on the rollercoaster of optimism.
It is painful to watch their agony.
Suddenly there is activity at the entrance to the recovery room.
A stretcher is being wheeled out.
It’s difficult to be sure who is on this stretcher, the form is shrouded in sheets.
There is a shaved head visible.
“That’s my boy. Oh, look at him,” says Pat Violante in despair.
“No, it’s Stacy, Pat. They have her bra on the stretcher,” Neysa counters.
Nobody was sure what they were seeing and everyone sinks back into nervous depression.
The rollercoaster is unremitting.
The Moskowitzes have now been joined by their younger daughter, Ricki, 16. She looks just like Farrah Fawcett.
“Mom, it’s not Stacy. She’s going to be okay. She’s going to be okay,” Ricki assures.
Neysa looks like she’s about to crack.
She then tells me of another tragedy — about her 10-year-old daughter. The child died after accidentally consuming adult medication.
How much can one mother take?
The couples, one Jewish, the other Italian-Catholic, quietly pray together.
Neysa repeats over and over to herself, “He hurt my baby.”
The Son of Sam became my pen pal. It was not something that was supposed to happen.
As disgusting as they were, his vicious and insane ramblings in the many letters he sent me gave varying and important clues to his twisted personality.
“I need you now Dunleavy … I should really kill you but I need you…” he wrote in one missive.
In another: “When I killed, I really saved many lives. You will understand later. People want my blood but they don’t want to listen to what I have to say … I am doomed now, my fate has already been decided. There are other ‘Sons” out there — God help the world.”
Basically, David Berkowitz was a faceless nerd who could not walk among real men. He had to use threats about the streets running with the blood of his victims to feel important and strong. They were the threats of a bully who in fact has no guts.
He was finally arrested, 11 days after his last attack, after police traced a parking ticket that had been slapped on his car on that last bloody night in Brooklyn.
Like many serial killers, he has now found God.
The tragedy of all this was that local authorities, the Yonkers Police Department, could have gotten close to Berkowitz if they had listened to a slightly nutty old man called Sam Carr — the real-life Sam whose name Berkowitz co-opted for his own insane moniker.
He lived atop a small hill behind the Berkowitz apartment on Pine Street. It was a shaky old Addams Family-type home.
After Berkowitz’ arrest, I knocked on his door and he greeted me with an automatic pistol pointed at my midriff.
When I convinced him I was a reporter, and, with my photographer Arty Pomeranz, meant him no harm, he invited us in and showered us with a load of letters from Berkowitz to his wife.
One was an insanely abusive missive complaining about Sam’s dog Harvey, a big, floppy black labrador.
Harvey had actually been shot in the rear end by Berkowitz. The bullet was still inside the dog.
The Yonkers cops did not consider it of any importance.
The cops there said they never heard a complaint from Sam Carr. He said otherwise.
When Stacy’s and Bobby’s parents were told later of the Sam Carr story, they bristled with rage.
“To think so much of this could have been avoided,” Neysa said.
Already, Bobby was showing signs he would make it — although he would forever be blind in his left eye.
Not so, Stacy.
The day after the shooting, on Aug. 1, I had been with the Moskowitzes at their Brooklyn apartment all afternoon awaiting news of Stacy’s condition.
Shortly before midnight, the family got a call from the hospital, summoning them to Stacy’s side.
A nurse spoke quietly to Jerry.
“She’s not responding. I think your daughter is not going to make it,” he said.
He invited me into the recovery room. I declined.
Minutes later, Jerry and Neysa reappeared on the second floor.
“She’s gone,” Neysa said quietly.
Jerry says “I’m not a religious person, but there’s got to be a God.”
Perhaps that night, God looked away for only a split second.
Berkowitz, now 64, is serving six consecutive 25-years-to-life sentences at the Shawangunk Correctional Facility. He became eligible for parole in 2002, and at his last hearing in 2016, he referred to his killing spree as a “terrible tragedy.”