August 10 will mark the 40th anniversary of the capture of David Berkowitz aka "The Son of Sam" whose murdering spree held New York City and its surrounding counties in the grip of constant fear for nearly a year. NYC in the 70s was the murder capitol of America. According to DisasterCenter.com, a website that collects the FBI UCS annual crime data for NYC, there were 3,888 murders in 1976 and 1977 alone, compared with the record low of 315 murders in all of 2016, according to reports by the local government and the NYC Police Department.
On July 29, 1976 the Son of Sam murders began with the killing of Donna Lauria, 18, and the injury to Jody Valenti, 19, in the Pelham area of the Bronx. With a murder rate of nearly 60 homicides per week at the time, it is no wonder that the Son of Sam murders were not recognized as a pattern until six months and six shootings later with the shooting of Christine Freund and her fiancé John Diel on January 30, 1977 while they sat in a parked car at the LIRR station in Forest Hills, Queens. It was then that the NYC police finally acknowledged that a gun similar to the one used in previous shootings meant that a pattern could be established.
This also happened to be the exact time period that Twisted Sister began to attract large crowds in bars in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island. The Son of Sam, as he called himself in letters written to New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin that were famously published, was especially fond of shooting young couples in parking lots.
The slow pouring out of details of each murder eventually led to the belief that he targeted young brunette women. Because of this, many girls started to wear blond wigs. The band and I started noticing that the attendance of women at our shows was dropping precipitously in the winter of 1976-77, and when the girls stopped coming, so did the guys. Our response to this news cycle was actually the precursor to our future stage antics, which are most famously associated with our "Death to Disco" stage shows later in the decade.
We started to taunt the "coward Son of Sam" from the stage as we riled up the crowd and threatened to kick his ass, on the off-chance that he ever attend any of our shows. For us, it was all about (faux) vigilante justice. We didn't know how else to voice our frustration with the fans that came to see us, who also wanted the nightmare to be over with. By January 1977, I let our agent know he should start booking us as far from the Nassau/Queens border as was possible. (Side note: We found out after his capture that he actually lived down the street from a club we had regularly played in Yonkers, New York, called The Rising Sun.)
As 1976 turned to 1977, the Son of Sam's murdering spree continued, and the fear was palpable among our fans who lived in Nassau County, as it appeared that the Son of Sam did most of his shooting in nearby Queens and Bronx. Because there was so much publicity about the unpredictability and capriciousness of the shootings, the Long Island newspaper Newsday came to one of our big club dates to interview our fans for a story incorporating their concerns about the possibility of being killed in the parking lot of one of our shows.
In what was one of the most outrageously insensitive, if not downright dangerous aspects of the story, the newspaper ran a huge photo of the line of fans waiting to get into our show at the Mad Hatter in Stony Brook, Long Island, with the caption: "Twisted Sister fans in Stony Brook don't seem to be concerned about the Son of Sam." Really? Why not just print the directions to the club while they were at it? We were stunned and so was the club owner.
The Son of Sam's last killing was in Brooklyn on July 31,1977. He got a parking ticket for illegally parking his car in front of a fire hydrant while he walked into the parking lot of a city park near Bath Beach. There, he shot Stacy Moskowitz and Robert Violente, both 20 years old. Moskowitz died shortly after the shooting, Violenti lived but was left blinded. After the shooting, a witness near the scene told the cops that someone got into a car parked near a fire hydrant after ripping up a parking ticket.
That is ultimately how he was traced and caught. The police were waiting to arrest him as he was leaving his house in Yonkers on the night of August 10, 1977. In the back seat of his car was a rifle, and in a paper bag was a .44 caliber Bulldog revolver whose matching bullet casings were found at most of the crime scenes. It just so happened that on the night of his capture we were again playing at the Mad Hatter in Stony Brook, Long Island.
The next day David Berkowitz quickly confessed to the shootings and claimed that his neighbor's dog was one of the reasons that he killed, stating that the dog demanded the blood of pretty young girls. He said that "Sam," who was mentioned in the first letter, was his former neighbor Sam Carr. Berkowitz also claimed that Harvey, Carr's black Labrador Retriever, was possessed by an ancient demon and that it issued commands that Berkowitz must kill people.
After his capture, things returned back to normal but not before I realized that current events like that one could impact our business and we needed to always be on guard and plan accordingly for when/if the time came again.
Thankfully, nothing quite as dangerous (or as local) as the Son of Sam murders happened again during our time in the spotlight, but the popularity of Disco nearly wiped out the club circuit and led to our famous Death to Disco stage show. One year later, the gas crisis of 1979 impacted the ability for fans to drive to the clubs to see us, which minimally impacted our bottom line; then came the Iran hostage crisis of 1980, which inspired us to write a song about the Ayatollah (our fans loved that); and lastly the much-feared, possible crash-landing of the Space Lab on earth, specifically in the NYC area.
All of these events were ultimately incorporated into being part of our stage shows--which began a pattern of wild audience participation (not unlike professional wrestling) and had become a hallmark for us ever since.