Son Of Sam –v– The Zodiac Killer
In the yellow corner, we have the curly-haired, demon-possessed, David Berkowitz aka Son of Sam with a record of 6 dead by gunshot, 7 wounded.
In the black corner, the cryptic, mysterious, date-interrupting, yet to be identified Zodiac, with 5 killings and a further 37 unsubstantiated. Zodiac, if you’d like to present me with your real name for the entry announcement, just leave a message…
Round 1 – Fear
Berkowitz operated late at night and before the sun could wake. He hastily approached strangers, nervously fired a few shots then fled. His rushed and often sloppy exit left 7 victims alive to tell the tale, however they did so with horrific injuries. Bobby Violante lost sight in one eye, and partial sight in the other. Joanne Lomino was left paralysed, while Carl Denaro needed a metal plate to replace part of his skull. Berkowitz appeared to target anyone, anywhere and he wasn’t afraid to waltz on up to the front steps of your house to fire a few slugs in your direction.
The Operation Omega task force was set up to find this mysterious man of mayhem and had no less than 300 officers assigned. The mayor of New York at the time, Abe Beame, allocated unprecedented funds into the task force. The span of killings lasted just over a year before the largest manhunt in New York history ended with his capture. A letter Berkowitz sent a journalist was eventually published in the newspaper, which only escalated the fear that had already gripped the city.
Zodiac killed 5 and wounded 2 more between December 1968 and October 1969, however unsubstantiated murders would put the span between June 1963 and March 1970. Zodiac targeted young, happy couples & students throughout the Bay Area of California. He persistently taunted the police, media, and the public by sending letters and cryptic clues to newspapers and the detectives. There was a rumour he’s also killed someone in Nevada and has subsequently remained on their watch list. The San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) to this day report that they still receive regular tips about his whereabouts and unless he’s since died, he’s out there somewhere.
Round Winner: Zodiac – Although Berkowitz was on the streets for a year, it potentially took a decade, if not longer, for the fear within the Bay Area folks to subside due to Zodiac.
Round 2 – Nickname
Berkowitz left a letter for the Police claiming to be the ‘Son of Sam’. One report suggests Berkowitz’s neighbour Sam Carr had a barking dog that Berkowitz often complained about, once by a threatening letter to Carr. The dog was shot and wounded shortly after. Berkowitz claimed he understood the dog’s barking, which he interpreted as telling him to kill. The police initially revealed their utter lack of imagination by dubbing Berkowitz the .44 Calibre Killer, as that was the weapon he used, however after the letter was leaked to the public, The Son of Sam moniker caught like wildfire.
The origin of the Zodiac nickname is just as mysterious as the perpetrator himself. The first letter he sent began with, ‘This is the Zodiac speaking…’, and the name stuck. He also signed his letters off by using the Zodiac symbol. The unsolved nature of the crimes only gave the name greater weight. However, as is typical for unsolved cases, a deluge of theories followed shortly after, and the origin of the nickname wasn’t exempt. One theory was that the symbol was taken from his brand of watch, a Zodiac. Others claim he based his name on characters from different books and movies in the 20’s, 30’s etc that he referred to in his letters.
Round Winner: Son of Sam – Berkowitz based his name on the owner of a possessed demonic dog that apparently ordered him to kill. Need I say more…?
Round 3 – Brazenness & Taunting
Both were extremely brazen and took immense pleasure in taunting the police and the public.
Berkowitz approached his victims in their car, on the front steps of their house, or on the street. However, his brashness didn’t extend to hanging around to make sure he’d done the job. He sent letters to the police and threatened to keep killing. Although his first letter was full of uneducated and nonsensical drivel, he made it crystal clear that he enjoyed the hunt and was going to continue doing what he was doing. He wished the police a Happy Easter, and signed off, “Yours in murder Mr. Monster”.
Zodiac shot to kill and didn’t flee until he was satisfied the victims had died, including cab driver Paul Stine. After fatally shooting Stine in the head, he tore part of Stine’s shirt and mailed it to lawyer Melvin Belli. He sent multiple letters and cards to detectives and journalists. He regularly taunted the SFPD by sending them cards that read, “Zodiac symbol = 10, SFPD = 0”, presumably in relation to his body count. In regular communication with the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, he once sent a letter threatening to kill children on a school bus; “Just shoot out the front tire & then pick off the kiddies as they come bouncing out.”
Round Winner: Zodiac – He taunted the police with letters and cryptograms. He threatened school kids and made a mockery of the whole investigation. The simple fact that he remains unknown to this day gives him this round in a landslide.
Overall winner: Zodiac – In a battle of the nickname-touting, fear-triggering, police-taunting, serial killers, Zodiac takes the title. Not only were his attacks more brazen, but he was more daring in his communication to the police and media, and after 50 years his whereabouts are still unknown. Zodiac – if you want to pick up your championship belt, just give SFPD a call.