As a child, David Berkowitz often had convulsive seizures. He felt like something else was inside him, controlling his body. Furniture got knocked over as he rolled on the floor. But things were worse in school than they were at home.
David was a troublemaker, someone who was so angry, so violent and so disruptive that a teacher once had to put him in a headlock and physically remove him from the room. Sometimes he would even scream without knowing why.
His parents—a middle-aged Jewish couple who adopted him as an infant—were afraid of their only child.
David now says he felt possessed and describes that feeling as an evil force. It would wake him up in the middle of the night, and the only way he could get it to go away was to wander the streets at all hours, he wrote on his website. He climbed out of the window, only to return home hours later without his parents ever knowing he was gone.
As David got older, thoughts of suicide took over. When he was 14, his mother died, and the evil force grew. Sometimes he was so overwhelmed with the idea of suicide that his body would shake at the prospect of throwing himself in front of moving cars.
“I remember that it was a tremendous struggle for me to hold on to my sanity,” David said.
“I had no idea what to do and neither did my parents. They had me talk to a rabbi, teachers and school counselors, but nothing worked.”
David spiraled into depression after the death of his mother. He barely finished high school, and joined the Army the next day. It was rough, but he eventually finished his three-year enlistment.
But the evil force was still with him, and eventually, it would be the source of his infamy.
David went on to terrorize New York City as the Son of Sam serial killer.
A Pact With the Devil
After David completed his military service, he met some new friends who were involved in the occult. Peer pressure won and David started reading the satanic bible.
“Everywhere I went there seemed to be a sign or a symbol pointing me to Satan,” David said. “I felt as if something were trying to take control of my life.”
He made a pact with the devil and became one of Satan’s soldiers, he told New York magazine.
In July, 1976, David shot two teenage girls outside their apartment. Three months after that, he shot a couple in a parked car. For the next year, David continued his killing spree—ultimately slaying six people and injuring several others.
After a massive manhunt, police finally arrested David. He claimed his neighbor’s demon-possessed dog told him to kill those people. He wondered: Was that the evil force that had haunted him all his life?
He was sentenced to six life sentences for the killings but immediately tried to commit suicide by jumping out of the seventh-floor window at the courthouse. He thought Satan could offer him deliverance, but later he learned that wasn’t the case.
“One thing that I found out about the devil is that you serve him, and he uses you. And when he’s done with you, he throws you away,” David told CBN. “You mean nothing to Satan.”
Saving Son of Sam
David has been the topic of countless websites, books and documentaries. After the fear of being a victim passed, America seemed fascinated with everything he had done. What those stories fail to mention is the second part of his story—the redemption, the jailhouse conversion, his salvation.
The first few years in prison were tough. He still has a scar on his neck where another inmate tried to kill him.
Then, a decade into his sentence, another inmate approached David and started talking about Jesus and gave him a Bible. It’s unknown who that inmate was, but he is probably one of the bravest Christians alive to walk up to a known serial killer and start telling him Jesus loves him.
“He kept reminding me that no matter what a person did, Christ stood ready to forgive if that individual would be willing to turn from the bad things they were doing and would put their full faith and trust in Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross by dying for our sins,” David said.
The man asked David to start reading Psalms that first night, and he did. David read every night until he was finished with that book of the Bible.
“It was at this time that the Lord was quietly melting my stone cold heart,” David said.
When he got to Psalm 34:6, something happened.
The convicted serial killer read these words and instantly knew he could be saved as well: “This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.”
David Berkowitz—adopted son of a Jewish couple, killer of six people, a man serving six life sentences—got down on his knees in his prison cell and cried out to Jesus. He prayed for a long time that night, telling Jesus he was tired of sinning and wanted forgiveness.
When he got up, David felt like the invisible chain that had enslaved him all his life was gone. For the first time, he was at peace.
Over the next few years David changed even more. He started a prison ministry for men who had problems coping. He now says he doesn’t even want to get out of prison because he still has work to do inside.
Instead of calling himself Son of Sam, he tells everyone he’s the Son of Hope. He hasn’t forgotten what he’s done in the past, but he knows they don’t determine his life now.
“The scars of the past are always going to remain and haunt me,” David told CBN. “But I’ve given my life to Jesus Christ. And he has let me know in his Word that he has forgiven me completely. All my sins are washed away.”
He isn’t the only infamous killer who found Jesus inside a prison cell. Tex Watson, one of the frontmen for Charles Manson, also learned Jesus could forgive his sins—no matter how bad they were.
And if God can forgive men like David Berkowitz and Tex Watson, He can forgive you.