The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Former detective speaks on capture of killer

Nearly 50 students packed the Donovan Community Room to listen to St. John’s alum and genuine New York City hero Bill Gardella share the story of how he helped catch and arrest the notorious serial killer known as “The Son of Sam.” The event was sponsored by the Learning Community and took place during common hour on March 6.
David Berkowitz, who earned the name “Son of Sam,” was arrested and convicted in the late 70’s for the death of six people as well as wounding seven others in eight shootings in New York City. He was sentenced to 25-years to life in prison for each of the murders, and was also charged with assault and attempted murder.

According to Gardella, Berkowitz fit the profile of a serial killer.

“He was a white male, 20 to 30 years old and had an above average I.Q. of 125, the upper 5 percent of the population…and he mutilated animals and set fires in the Bronx.”

Even with above average intelligence he was an “underachiever,” according to Gardella.
“He worked as a security guard. He worked in a Post Office…with his I.Q. he could have gone to law school… He was insane, but he was intelligent,” Gardella said.

Gardella mentioned pictures found in the [killer’s] apartment, which were clear indications that Berkowitz suffered from low self-esteem.

“He would take a ballpoint pen and obliterate his face, scribbling it out of the photo. He hated to look at himself.”
Gardella then went on to speak about how Berkowitz seemed unsuspecting at first.

“No one would have suspected him…if I were to ask the girls in a class with David Berkowitz to pick the friendliest, meekest, quietest guy, they would have picked Berkowitz,” Gardella said.

Gardella began by giving some background information on David Berkowitz. He said that Berkowitz’s birth mother gave him up for adoption and that his adopted mother died from cancer when he was a teenager.

The former detective said he believes that it was following an encounter with his birth mother after spending time in the armed services that drove Berkowitz down the path of a serial killer.

“He made contact with his biological mother, and he said ‘I was disappointed and I decided not to kill her,'” Gardella said. “Shortly thereafter he started to hear voices and have violent fantasies of killing people.”

He added that Berkowitz “targeted young women with long brown hair.

“In the hysteria, women started dying their hair or wrapping it up,” he said.

In fact, the lecture left sophomore Rob Gambuzza more curious about the Son of Sam.
“My mom was one of those girls who changed her hair color,” he said. “She was a brunette living in Brooklyn during the Son of Sam killings and she got highlights because she was so afraid.”

He added, “I thought it would be interesting to hear about the man who made her do it.”

Gardella explained he was only involved in the last of the eight reported homicide cases involving Berkowitz, which took place within the jurisdiction of his Brooklyn-based precinct.

“I got a call saying there was a shooting and that they thought it was the Son of Sam,” he said. “We scoured the area for clues and witnesses.”

He went on to say, “We decided to do a check for summons between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. hoping that he might have gotten a ticket. No tickets were given.”

Luckily, the ticket theory was correct. A short time later, Gardella’s precinct received a call from a woman named Cacilia Davis who lived near the crime scene.

“She said she thought she was followed by the Son of Sam so we investigated. She said there were parking tickets given out that night,” he said.

“We looked again for summons, but this time from the sanitation department, nothing was found,” he said. ” We went back to her and told her that there weren’t any tickets but she insisted. We looked a third time. There were four tickets.”

The discrepancy, according to Gardella, shows how luck and persistence are a big part of police work.

“The officers who wrote the tickets put the receipts in their locker instead of the basket [where they are later processed]…when they got back three days later, they filed the receipt,” Gardella said. “If [Cacilia Davis] didn’t insist that tickets were given out, he would have never been caught.”

Gardella said they traced the car to Yonkers on 35 Pine Street, parked outside Berkowitz’s apartment. After staking out the house, Gardella and two other cops spotted Berkowitz getting into his car.

“I screamed ‘Police’ and used every profanity I could use…he [Berkowitz] got out of the car and I made the arrest,” Gardella said.

“The impact [of what we accomplished] didn’t hit me until we were leaving the Yonkers police station. It was a good feeling what we did. We stopped young girls from being killed,” said Gardella at the end of his lecture.

Selena Gillespia, a freshman said, “I love T.V. crime shows and it sounded like it would be fun to hear about it from someone who was actually there to see it all go down.”

Student Jessica Lam also enjoyed the lecture.

“It is really cool that he [Gardella] is connected with the St. John’s community because he graduated from here,” she said. “It gives us something to
aspire to.”

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