David Berkowitz was convicted for the murders and attacks in late 70s New York known as the Son of Sam murders and received 6 life sentences in jail. So that should be the end of the investigation, right…?
I was just settling down to watch repeats of Modern Family – my easy viewing when I feel like switching off or being cheered up – when Netflix suggested something which caught my eye. The trailer for four part true crime documentary The Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness started playing, and I was drawn in.
I first heard about the crimes of David Berkowitz way before the current trend of serial killer documentaries and podcasts were a thing. Summer of Sam was a 1999 Spike Lee film which captured the atmosphere of a sweaty 1977 in New York City, punk versus disco, against the backdrop of the crimes committed by a murderer who was initially dubbed the 44 calibre killer.
Ashamedly, that aesthetic is dead appealing to me, and if it had been yet another Netflix documentary about Bundy or Ramirez that popped up as a suggestion then I probably would have given it a miss. But The Sons of Sam didn’t disappoint with the 70s New York aesthetic: talking heads from retired NYC detectives, footage of young women from the Bronx and Queens talking about their worries, and snippets of interviews with survivors.
The Sons of Sam is born out of the works of investigation journalist Maury Terry, author of The Ultimate Evil and his commitment to uncovering the truth about the murders. Terry died in 2015, but the narration of his thoughts and viewpoint by Paul Giamatti is nestled comfortably between contemporary news audio to explain events and set the scene.
It’s more tastefully done than The Night Stalker (not hard), but with perhaps less social commentary or critique than The Ripper, the 2020 series also on Netflix about the crimes of Peter Sutcliffe.
Will viewers develop any new opinions on the investigation into the Son of Sam murders? I don’t know. Many of his contemporaries and NYPD officers disagreed with Maury Terry’s theories, while others supported the credible suggestions in The Ultimate Evil.
What I do know is that the accents might be more glamorous than Bradford; the locations might be more interesting than our council estates; the detectives might be more gritty than British hobbies; but the terror that the victims experienced and the abject horror the relatives went through will have been the same regardless of aesthetic, and whoever killed them.