In the summer of 1977 New York was gripped by a collective paranoia caused by a serial killer murdering dark-haired women indiscriminately – on the ‘orders’ of a dog.
The so-called Summer of Sam came to an abrupt end 40 years ago this week when police arrested 24-year-old David Berkowitz.
The postal worker from the Bronx, north of Manhattan, had killed six people and wounded another seven.
However, it was the fear of him which made him one of the most infamous killers in history.
Hairdressers were inundated with dark haired women wanting their locks cut and dyed blonde as it became clear the murderer was targeting women with long brown hair.
As the fear grew, fewer people were leaving their homes at night. Hotels boomed because couples were not risking kissing in their cars, and even walking home together arm in arm was seen as brave or stupid.
What also cranked up the fear is that he started to write letters to press and police, threatening more killings.
In an almost incomprehensible letter to NYPD Captain Joseph Borrelli, Berkowitz wrote: ‘I love to hunt. Prowling the streets looking for fair game — tasty meat.
‘The wemon of Queens are z prettyist of all [stet]. I must be the water they drink. I live for the hunt — my life. Blood for papa.’
He called himself the Son of Sam because his next door neighbour, allegedly called Sam, had a dog called Harvey. It was through Harvey that Berkowitz believed the devil was talking, telling him to kill.
On August 1, the New York Post ran a sensationalist front page with the headline ‘No-one is safe from the Son of Sam’.
Berkowitz’s first killing was on July 29, 1976 when shot Donna Lauria, 18, dead and injured her friend, Jody Valenti, 19.
He had previously been called the .44 Calibre Killer before he revealed himself to press and police in letters because all the killings were done with the same calibre gun.
Over the next year, five more people would die – Christine Freund, 26, Virginia Voskerichian, 19, Valentina Suriani, 18, and Alexander Esau, 20, Stacy Moskowitz, 20 – at regular intervals before his capture.
The New York police launched the biggest manhunt in the city’s history with hundreds of officers chasing blind leads after each shooting.
Sam Roberts from the New York Daily News, which received a letter from the killer, said: ‘He was writing about a dog that talked to him and gave him orders to kill.’
Captain Joseph Borelli, from the Son of City Task Force, said: ‘He terrified the city. I mean, I’ve never seen people like that.
‘The hardest cases in the world for a homicide detective are strangers — stranger on stranger. You have very little to go with, because you don’t have a motive, you may not have any witnesses, right? So, you’re at a dead standstill.’
His last shooting was his undoing, however, as he was issued with a parking ticket which led police to his door after a woman walking her dog said she had spotted him before the killing of Stacy Moskowitz.
The Mayor of New York Abe Beame was so relieved the killer had been caught he relaxed the law banning alcohol from police headquarters and paid for officers to celebrate the end of the manhunt.
Berkowitz was pronounced mentally fit to stand trial and pleaded guilty in 1978. He was sentenced to six consecutive life sentences, one for each person he killed.
As the Son of Sam was on his killing spree, the Yorkshire Ripper was doing the same in England. However, police made a fateful mistake when they believed it was a prankster who was was goading them in the style of the American killer.
There were many similarities between the killers, with both evading the police for so long, and both were caught due to driving offences when hundreds of detectives had been trying to catch them.
Like so many killers, Berkowitz has become a born-again Christian behind bars. CBS News screened an exclusive interview with Berkowitz on the 40th anniversary of his arrest on Friday.
He said: ‘Well, I’ve, I’ve apologised many times and I just always sort of let them know that I’m very sorry for what happened and, eh, I wish I could go back and change things.
‘And I hope these people are getting along in life as best as possible. I never forget where I came from, and what my situation was like some four decades ago.
‘People that were hurt, people that are still in pain, suffering the loss because of my criminal actions. And I never forget that. Sometimes that weighs very heavy on me.’
Speaking about his killing spree in 1977 he blithely blamed the devil for his crimes.
He said: ‘It was just a break from reality, thought I was doing something to appease the devil. I’m sorry for it, but I really don’t want to talk about it anymore.
‘Because at this time I was serving him. I was serving him. I feel that he had taken over my mind and body. And I just surrendered to those very dark forces, I regret that with all my heart but that was like 40 years ago.’
But although it was ‘like 40 years ago’, Berkowitz’s victims are still suffering with the consequences of having starring roles they did not want in the summer of Sam.
Robert Violante, who survived but his girlfriend Stacy did not, said: ‘The bullet totally destroyed the left eye and most of my right eye and uh, you know, full of blood, I couldn’t see anything but I could hear Stacy moaning.
‘The saddest part, that I never got to really know Stacy. I didn’t have any children cause I never got married, never had any children, unfortunately.
‘He ruined not just my life, 12 other lives, plus their families. So, how do you forgive something like that, somebody like that? You don’t.’
Fellow survivor Carl Denaro added: ‘It kind of took over my personality and wherever I went everything would just stop and you’d just hear whispering, “That guy that got shot by Son of Sam”.
‘And it got to the point where it became disturbing for me and I really felt like I was losing my identity.’