Home » Victims Spotlight: Remembering the Victims of David Berkowitz a.k.a ‘Son of Sam’

Victims Spotlight: Remembering the Victims of David Berkowitz a.k.a ‘Son of Sam’

New York City, 1976. An unknown offender approaches a parked car in the Pelham Bay neighborhood of the Bronx. The perpetrator produces a .44 Caliber “Bulldog” revolver, aims it at the vehicle where two young women–Donna Lauria and Jody Valenti–are sitting and chatting. With both hands on the gun, he pulls the trigger over and over until the chamber is empty. Glass shatters, the horn of Valenti’s Oldsmobile blares, catching the attention of nearby neighbors as the killer turned to walk away.

It was the first in a series of attacks attributed to the killer later dubbed the .44 Caliber Killer. Although he would quickly grow tired of that name and, in one of his several letters to the task force assigned to search for him, he would rename himself Son of Sam. Over the span of just 13 months, Son of Sam forged a path of destruction that would result in the deaths of six people and the injuries of eleven others. The bloodshed would finally come to an end on August 10th, 1977, when police surrounded a vehicle parked outside 35 Pine Street in Yonkers. After a search, they uncovered a brown paper bag containing a .44 Caliber “Bulldog” revolver, a duffel bag filled with ammunition, maps of all the previous crime scenes, and a threatening letter that was supposed to be mailed to Inspector Timothy Dowd of the Son of Sam task force. The driver of the vehicle was properly arrested and, with a bit of a grin, stated “Well, you got me.”

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The man was identified as 24-year-old postal worker David Berkowitz. An angry, unassuming loner with a bizarre hero complex, Berkowitz alluded that the murders were the result of his neighbor’s dog, who was possessed by an ancient and powerful demon, commanding him to kill and shed as much blood as possible. This, of course, was confirmed by Berkowitz years later to be a pathetic hoax.

Throughout numerous conversations with journalists and psychiatrists Berkowitz would go in depth about his nearly lifelong contemplation of murder. Homicide seemed like the only rational way to get revenge on a world that he felt always rejected him and on the women in his life who never showed any interest in him. This internal, one-sided battle would claim six lives and shatter numerous families forever. Rather than give any more undeserving attention to Berkowitz, let’s flip the script to remember the lives he destroyed and focus on how they lived instead of how they were murdered.

Unknown Female

David Berkowitz’s first alleged victim, who has only ever been described as a Hispanic female, has never been identified by police. According to Berkowitz’s confession, on Christmas Eve, 1975, he stabbed the young woman with a large hunting knife in the Co-op City area of the Bronx. Police could not locate any hospital or coroner reports that matched with the description of the victim or the attack. It is universally accepted she survived and never reported the incident to the police.

Michelle Forman

Little is publicly known about Michelle Forman beyond that she was a sophomore at Truman High School and that she was 15-years-old at the time of her attack. It would appear she opted for a life of anonymity following the events of December 24th, 1975.

Donna Lauria

Born October 25th, 1957, Donna Lauria was only 18-years-old the last time she saw her parents, Rose and Michael, on the evening of July 28th, 1976. The middle child, and only daughter, Donna was a high school graduate that spent most of her time working as medical technician at the Empire State ambulance service. Tragically, the Lauria family was already in a state of grief following the death of Donna’s uncle Ralph just two days prior. In an effort to cheer herself up, Donna decided to go out with her best friend and neighbor, Jody Valenti.

Jody Valenti

Looking for a little excitement, Jody and Donna got all dolled up to go to a disco in nearby New Rochelle. Jody was 19-years-old at the time and was a nursing student studying to be an EMT. Following the events of July 29th, 1976, it appears Jody chose to keep a low profile. But in a 2016 interview with the New York Post Jody spoke out publicly for the first time. She reflected on the night in question and said it took her a long time to do certain things that many wouldn’t think twice about. “It took probably about six-years of my life to be able to get in a car at night,” she said. “It took a long time to be able to deal with the sounds of popping fireworks and stuff like that … But I faced my fears.”

She went on to say, “I feel bad for all those people that lost their lives. I feel bad for my friend. At this point, she would have been my age and having a family of her own, and children and maybe grandchildren.”

Carl Denaro

October 23rd, 1976, was meant to be a night of celebration for 20-year-old Citibank security guard, Carl Denaro. It was a Saturday night, and at a local bar Carl and his friends got together for a sort of farewell party for him, as Carl was planning to enlist in the United States Airforce the following week. It was an exciting opportunity that could potentially guarantee Carl a career instead of drifting from one dead end job to the next. At some point in the night, Carl spotted a familiar face by the bar’s dance floor, Rosemary Keenan, a former classmate.

Carl and Rosemary got to chatting and were still in deep conversation a few hours later when Carl’s friends were getting ready to leave. The pair left the bar by 2:30am and climbed into Rosemary’s car. The attack that took place in the early morning hours of October 24th resulted in Carl Denaro being shot in the back of the head and losing most of his vision in one eye. Miraculously, he survived and a metal plate was used to replace part of his skull. He was sent home after spending three weeks in a hospital in Queens. But at some point during his recovery Carl discovered that his injuries disqualified him from enlisting in the military.

In almost every interview Carl has participated in, he has referred to himself as the luckiest guy in the world. He would later go on to went on to work for Merrill Lynch and then in telecommunications financing before retiring. In 2021, Carl co-wrote the book ‘The Son of Sam’ and Me: The Truth About Why I Wasn’t Shot By David Berkowitz, a detailed account of his attack, his friendship with journalist Maury Terry and why he believes David Berkowitz was not the only person involved with the Son of Sam shootings; but that it was all carefully organized by a Satanic cult.

Rosemary Keenan

Survivor Rosemary Keenan suffered some superficial injuries from some broken glass but was otherwise unharmed. Perhaps due to how highly publicized the Son of Sam case was, Rosemary, understandably so, appears to have kept a very low profile since 1976. At the time she was only 18-years-old, a student of Queens College and was the daughter of an NYPD detective.

Donna DeMasi

Friday, November 27th, 1976. 16-year-old Donna DeMasi, a popular student attending Martin Van Buren high school in Queens, was studying in her bedroom when she got a phone call from her best friend, Joanne Lomino. The girls talked for a while before deciding they should go out to see a movie and get a late dinner. Donna had a 12:30am curfew and was eager to be home on time. Donna suffered an injury to her neck but luckily it was not life threatening. After a three-week stay in the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, she was sent home.

Joanne Lomino

Joanne Lomino was 18-years-old in 1976. After graduating Martin Van Buren high school the year before, Joanne still lived at home with her parents, just a few blocks from Donna Demasi’s house, and was actively looking for a job as a secretary so she could save money for a place of her own. Tragically the attack on November 27th rendered the young woman a paraplegic.

Christine Freund

26-year-old Christine Freund, a native of Salzburg, Austria, was described by all accounts to be kind, ambitious and hardworking. After graduating high school, Christine returned to Austria for nine-months to work as a bilingual secretary. She would eventually return to her family home in New York and took a job at Reynolds Securities in Manhattan. On the evening of January 29th, 1977, Christine had plans to see a movie with her boyfriend of seven-years, John Diel. Christine thought the world of John and had been encouraging him to find a career for himself and their future family.

John Diel

30-year-old John Diel, a bartender at a local restaurant near the Freund home, picked up Christine on the evening of January 29th. The couple was excited to see the recently released Rocky. After the film, which they loved, they grabbed a drink at a nearby wine gallery. Later, as they made the short walk back to John’s car, they debated on driving to a nearby dance hall they frequented to finish their night off. Unbeknownst to Christine, John had finally saved up enough to purchase an engagement ring and had plans to propose that upcoming Valentines Day. John survived the attack.

Virginia Voskerichian

The Voskerichian family immigrated to the United Stated from Bulgaria in 1968 to chase the all-too-familiar American dream. And by 1977, 19-year-old Virginia Voskerichian was paving a path for herself that would no doubt lead to a bright future. Described as pretty and popular, Virginia was a dedicated student who took her studies very seriously and could speak five languages. Virginia was primarily a full-time student but worked part time at JFK Airport in one of the duty-free shops. She loved reading, art, and fashion. On the evening of March 8th, 1977, Virginia was walking home from the Continental Avenue subway station after a day of classes at Barnard College in Manhattan.

Alexander Esau

Born July 26th, 1957, 20-year-old Alexander Esau was described as a responsible, well-mannered young man. He was a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School, where he studied architecture, and was working as a tow truck operator. On April 17th, 1977, at around 9pm, Alexander picked up his girlfriend, Valentina, to go to see a movie. The couple was expected to return by Valentina’s 3 AM curfew.

Valentina Suriani

Neighbors and friends alike all described 18-year-old Valentina Suriani as friendly, vivacious and studious. In April of 1977, Valentina was stilling living in her parents’ home while she was attending classes at Lehman College where she majored in acting and was planning a leave of absence to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan.

Judy Placido

On the night of June 26th, 1977, recent high school graduate 17-year-old Judy Placido was partying with friends at the Elephas discotheque in the Bayside, Queens. The night had been going well until a few men began bothering Judy. So, she sought the help of a kind, handsome stranger; Salvatore Lupo. Despite substantial injuries–one of which included being shot in the head–Judy would eventually go on to make a full recovery.

Salvatore Lupo

Survivor Salvatore Lupo appears to have successfully stayed out of the public eye. There isn’t much readily available about his life before or after his assault on June 26th, 1977; apart that he was 20-years-old and working as a mechanic’s helper. According to police interviews, Salvatore and Judy were discussing the Son of Sam murders moments before they were attacked.

Salvatore on the right

Stacy Moskowitz

The evening of July 30th, 1977 was an exciting one for 19-year-old college student Stacy Moskowitz. As she stood in front of the mirror, trying to get her makeup and hair perfect, she gushed to her mother, Nesyha, about the man she was going out with that evening; Robert Violante. Stacy and Robert had met just days before at the restaurant Beefsteak Charlie’s. The eatery was very busy that particular night and at one point Stacy found herself face-to-face with the tall and sweet Robert. The couple went to see the movie New York, New York then drove to a nearby Parkway near the water, where they strolled and played on a set of swings until the early morning hours of July 31st.

One of three siblings, bubbly and described as beautiful inside and out, Stacy was aware of the Son of Sam attacks and was reportedly very careful as a result. Although she would constantly remind her mother that the killer appeared to favor brunettes instead of blondes.

Robert Violante

In July of 1977 20-year-old Robert Violante felt that his luck was finally turning around. The clothing salesman had recently been signed for a modeling job at the Wilhelmina Modeling Agency. The trip to Beefsteak Charlie’s was to celebrate the beginning of, what he hoped, would be a long and lucrative career. The evening only got better when Robert made the acquaintance of Stacy. The couple hit it off right away, talked for hours and made plans to go out that upcoming Saturday night.

Robert Violante would survive the attack in the early morning hours of July 31st, although he would lose his left eye and some vision in his right eye. After a lengthy recovery and rehab, Robert would earn a position as a mail carrier for the U.S. postal service and retired after 35-years of service. Robert never married and always wondered in the back of his mind what could have happened with his relationship with Stacy if she had also lived.

Research Sources:

First Season of The Killer Tape Podcast

Crime Museum – David Berkowitz

The Son of Sam: A Timeline of the Killings that Terrorized New York City by Colin Bertram

‘Son of Sam’ by Carey Winfrey for the August 22nd, 1977 issue of The New York Times

Find a Grave

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Written by Fallon Gannon
Way too much coffee. Way too much true crime. Not enough sleep.
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