Sons of Sam: What The Netflix Documentary Leaves Out About David Berkowitz

The Sons of Sam explores the crimes of David Berkowitz but leaves out plenty about his life experiences. Like most serial killer documentaries, the four-part Netflix show focuses heavily on the subject’s pop-culture persona and then examines why certain case details intrigued investigative journalist Maury Terry. To its credit, The Sons of Sam makes a strong case that Berkowitz didn’t act alone, however, director Joshua Zeman glosses over the killer’s true motivations.

As a whole, The Sons of Sam doesn’t glamorize its serial killer subject. Zeman focuses mostly on revelations from Terry’s 1989 book The Ultimate Evil, which theorizes that Berkowitz colluded with neighborhood friends John and Michael Carr, along with other members of local cults. The Netflix documentary also doesn’t exploit the Satanic Panic that overwhelmed America during the ’80s, but rather shows how Terry uncovered small case details that link Berkowitz to a North Dakota crime scene and even the ’60s serial killer Charles Manson.

Related: How Mindhunter & Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Have The Same Charles Manson Actor

The Sons of Sam glosses over details about Berkowitz’s childhood that later affected his life decisions as an adult. This is a recurring issue in Netflix’s serial killer docuseries; the facts aren’t fully represented. The Sons of Sam is fundamentally about whether or not Berkowitz was heavily involved in Satanism, wrongly pegged as devil worship, and conspired with other cult members, but it shows little interest in providing viewers with contextual information about the subject’s traumatic experiences as a child. In the 2017 CBS documentary Son of Sam: The Killer Speaks, Berkowitz recalls learning at four or five years old that he was adopted and that his mother died during childbirth. Berkowitz states that feelings of rejection, guilt, and misinformation “opened the door for demonic control,” and acknowledges that he visited a child psychologist every day for two years. Berkowitz eventually discovered that his birth mother was actually alive and that his adoptive parents lied because he was born out of wedlock. Around this time in 1974, the “Son of Sam” began self-medicating with LSD, a habit that started in the early ’70s while serving in the U.S. Army. All of this information seems rather important when trying to understand what prompted Berkowitz to kill.

In The Killer Speaks, Berkowitz acknowledges the myths surrounding him. For example, he claims that he never told police “What took you so long?” after his arrest and even enlisted Terry for confirmation. Many documentaries highlight Berkowitz’s “Mona Lisa Smile” after being captured, but he claims that it was just the result of his nerves: “I was embarrassed, and I was afraid.” As a born-again Christian, it’s certainly possible that the killer may be trying to change his image, but his statements do indeed align with various commentaries provided by serial killer psychiatrist Dorothy Otnow in the HBO documentary Crazy, Not Insane. Where the general public saw pure evil when Berkowitz appeared on late-’70s news broadcasts, the journalist Terry saw an opportunity to look beyond the facade in order to identify the facts.

Terry became majorly obsessed with Berkowitz’s case, which negatively affected his journalistic integrity, however. In The Killer Speaks, Berkowitz fondly recalls his late “friend” who helped him connect with the mother of a victim named Stacy Moskowitz. If the two men were indeed tight over the years, one must wonder how much the Son of Sam killer influenced Terry’s narrative. His statements about his unique upbringing suggest that he viewed Terry as a father figure, one that he wanted to please. The Sons of Sam offers little insight into the psychological trauma that Berkowitz experienced as a child, but the 2017 CBS documentary includes a telling moment that presumably gets to the core of the killer’s life-long complex. As Berkowitz speaks lovingly about his adoptive parents and birth mother, he refuses to say anything of value about his birth father, Joe – the man who didn’t want him. According to the Son of Sam killer, his “death wish” began while still in his mother’s womb, the result of being rejected before his actual birth.

More: Crazy, Not Insane: What Movies & TV Shows Get Wrong About Serial Killers

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