Forty years ago this month, so-called “Son of Sam” serial killer David Berkowitz was arrested and jailed, ending his reign of terror that saw six people murdered and seven others injured between July 1976 and July 1977. While Berkowitz claimed his bloody rampage was inspired by Satan, he says his four decades in prison have led him to God, and he now considers himself to be a Christian.
It was in a jailhouse interview with Inside Edition in 1993 that Berkowitz first discussed his conversion.
“If I had not become a Christian, I may have died a long time ago,” he said.
In fact, the killer nearly died in prison in 1979. After pleading guilty to murders of Donna Lauria, 18, Christine Freund, 26, Virginia Voskerichian, 19, Alexander Esau, 20, Valentina Suriani, 18, and Stacy Moskowitz, 20, on May 8, 1978, Berkowitz was given six 25-years-to-life sentences. He was initially sent to Attica State Prison in upstate New York, where he was nearly killed by another inmate.
“Another inmate tried to take my life by cutting my throat with a prison-made razor blade,” he told Inside Edition. “I’m lucky to be alive. The doctor there who stitched me up said, ‘It is a miracle you are alive.'”
He believes the near-death experience put him on a path to God. On his website, AriseAndShine.org, he explains the lifetime of events that led him from being the “Son of Sam” to the self-proclaimed “Son of Hope.”
“It was twenty-nine years ago, when I was living in a cold and lonely prison cell, that God got a hold of my life,” the testimony begins. “Here is my story of hope.”
Berkowitz shares intimate details of the childhood “torment” he claims to have faced. He recalls being plagued with “severe depression” growing up and says an “evil force” would often come upon him in the night. His mother passed away when he was 14 years old, and the loss sent him into a tailspin. But it wasn’t until his three-year enlistment in the Army ended that his life truly spiraled out of control.
He explains that he moved to New York City in 1975 and began hanging out with people who alleges were “heavily involved in the occult.” Having always been “fascinated with witchcraft, satanism, and occult things,” he felt as if an “evil force was still reaching out” to him.
“I am utterly convinced that something satanic had entered into my mind and that, looking back at all that happened, I realize that I had been slowly deceived,” he writes. “I did not know that bad things were going to result from all this. Yet over the months the things that were wicked no longer seemed to be such. I was headed down the road to destruction and I did not know it. Maybe I was at a point where I just didn’t care anymore.”
His killing spree, which terrorized and traumatized the city and nation, soon began. He claims to be remorseful and says he “would do anything” to undo “everything that happened.” The site contains an apology Berkowitz wrote in 2007, in which he repents for the “pain, suffering, and sorrow” he caused.
As I have communicated many times throughout the years, I am deeply sorry for the pain, suffering and sorrow I have brought upon the victims of my crimes. I grieve for those who are wounded, and for the family members of those who lost a loved one because of my selfish actions. I regret what I’ve done and I’m haunted by it.
Not a day goes by that I do not think about the suffering I have brought to so many. Likewise I cannot even comprehend all the grief and pain they live with now. And these individuals have every right to be angry with me, too.
Nevertheless, I apologize for the crimes I committed. My continual prayer is that, as much as is possible, these hurting individuals can go on with their lives.
In addition, I am not writing this apology for pity or sympathy. I simply believe that such an apology is the right thing to do. And, by the grace of God, I hope to do my very best to make amends whenever and wherever possible, both to society, and to my victims.
After nearly losing his own life at Attica, Berkowitz was transferred to another prison in 1987, where he says an encounter with a fellow inmate changed his life. On AriseAndShine.org, he writes:
Ten years into my prison sentence and feeling despondent and without hope, another inmate came up to me one day as I was walking the prison yard on a cold winter’s night. He introduced himself and began to tell me that Jesus Christ loved me and wanted to forgive me. Although I knew he meant well I mocked him because I did not think that God would ever forgive me or that He would want anything to do with me.
Still this man persisted and we became friends. His name was Rick and we would walk the yard together. Little by little he would share with me about his life and what he believed Jesus had done for him. He kept reminding me that no matter what a person did, Christ stood ready to forgive if that individual would be willing to turn from the bad things they were doing and would put their full faith and trust in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross by dying for our sins.
He gave me a Gideon’s Pocket Testament and asked me to read the Psalms. I did. Every night I would read from them. And it was at this time that the Lord was quietly melting my stone cold heart.
As Inside Edition reported, Berkowitz, now 64, shares the word of God behind bars as a minister, and there is a video series available on his website in which he gives sermons. In the late 90s, he sold a series of self-help VHS tapes, and he later released his prison journals as a book called Son of Hope: The Prison Journals of David Berkowitz. He maintains that neither he nor his webmaster profit from any of these things.
“You see, I am not sharing this message to simply tell you an interesting story,” he writes on this website. “Rather I want you to taste the goodness of God in my life, a man who was once a devil worshipper and a murderer, to show you that Jesus Christ is about forgiveness, hope and change.”
Berkowitz was up for parole most recently in May 2016, but he has been denied every time. While he once declared he should never be let out of prison, he did claim last year that he is no longer a threat to the public. But those who bore the brunt of his torment are not so sure.
“I feel people can change — let him change in jail,” Donna DeMasi, one of his surviving victims, told InsideEdition.com in a recent interview. “He is never going to come out. I will never see him and never have to see him and I am thankful.”
On Monday, New York Post columnist Cindy Adams spoke with Marlin Hopkins, one of the lead investigators in Berkowitz’s case, about the murderer’s claims of reform, and the former private investigator has a hard time believing the criminal is a changed man.
“After his arrest, eight of us faced his chair. Throwing questions. Three hours. He was stoic. He gave exact detailed descriptions of his stance, his outreach, the gun in his hand. I never came across such a homicidal, unhinged, unbalanced, psychologically remorseless killer. He’s psychotic,” Hopkins said. “He now claims his years in prison have rehabilitated him. Don’t believe it.”