With the success of journalism during and after Watergate, Rupert Murdoch bought the venerable NY Post in 1977. It was founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1802. Things changed and the Son of Sam case was a turning point.
There’s a common image of a red and white sign for Area 51 you can find
Son of the Sam, Rupert Murdoch and the Explosion of Tabloid Journalism
SON OF SAM and
The Explosion of Tabloid
July 29, 1976, serial killer David Berkowitz – who would
become known as the Son of Sam – committed the first
of his murders in New York City. Over the next year, he
would kill again five more times and injure seven,
despite being the target of what became one of the
largest manhunts in New York history.
He would also change the face of journalism which was
still basking in the glow from the Pentagon Papers and
Not for the better.
Just after 1 a.m. on July 29th, 1976, a man carrying a
paper bag approached a car where two young women
were chatting. The friends had just returned from a club
and were parked in the Pelham Bay neighborhood of
the Bronx not far from where I grew up. The stranger
pulled a .44 caliber Charter Arms Bulldog out of the bag
and fired three shots, killing one woman instantly and
wounding the other.
Berkowitz shot four more victims in Queens
neighborhoods that year, but it wasn’t until January
1977, when a young couple was attacked on their way
home from a movie, that police realized the crimes were
connected. One of the victims in the January attack
died, marking the second young woman murdered by
Another murder in March and two more in April began a
wave of fear that started in Queens and, following a
massive push from the local press, saturated the city. At
the scene of the April murders, investigators found a
letter addressed to NYPD Captain Joseph Borelli – the
first of the notes Berkowitz would send. In it, the killer
referred to himself as “the Son of Sam” (the birth of the
nickname) and suggested he was following orders from
Fresh off a round of layoffs, the police department was
ill-equipped to handle an investigation of that
Also, the concept of serial killers was still relatively new.
Below is the cover of a pamphlet distributed by laid off
police officers at airports and train and bus terminals.
At the time, the Daily News was the city’s most popular
newspaper. Rupert Murdoch purchased the New York
Post in late 1976, when he was still just a relatively
unknown Australian media mogul. But he was already
famous in the U.K. and Australia for his tabloid
sensibilities. Murdoch had earned the nickname the “tit-
and-bum king” in the UK for his breast-centric makeover
of The Sun newspaper.
I used to deliver the NY Post door-to-door in the Bronx
in the early ‘70s before Murdoch’s takeover.
Murdoch set out to remake the Post, originally founded
by Alexander Hamilton in 1801, into something more
than just news. Emotion, especially fear, was more
important than reporting the news. Former New York
City Mayer Abe Became would comment that
Murdoch’s Post made Hustler look like the Harvard Law
The Son of Sam case inspired a battle between the
Post and the Daily News to see who could descend the
deepest and fastest to the lowest common
denominator. Berkowitz liked the attention so much that
he sent a letter to Daily News‘ star columnist Jimmy
Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C. which are filled with
dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine and blood.
Hello from the sewers of N.Y.C. which swallow up
these delicacies when they are washed away by the
Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of N.Y.C. and
from the ants that dwell in these cracks and feed in
the dried blood of the dead that has settled into the
Son of Sam letter to Jimmy Breslin, May 1977
also the opening quote in New York Minute.
Police asked the News to publish the letter with a plea
for Son of Same to turn himself in. The News did so, but
only after several days of teaser articles about the
SON OF SAM
Having been scooped, Murdoch ordered the Post to
come up with something.
One angle was that there was a hidden track in a
Jimmy Hendrix song saying “help me, Son of Sam.”
The fact Hendrix had been dead for years before this
didn’t seem important.
Son of Sam targeted young women with long dark hair.
This led to record sales in wigs and women getting their
hair cut and dyed.
Since he haunted lovers lanes and parking lots, discos
in Queens and the Bronx became ghost towns.
Ironically, Saturday Night Fever was filming that year
and released in December 1977.
The films of 1977 are covered in another free
SON OF SAM
It is possible that all the media attention provoked Son
of Sam to kill again.
Serial killers will sometimes use press coverage as
impetus to commit further crimes.
Son of Sam’s final attack occurred on July 31st, 1977.
He shot another young couple.
A Post reporter managed to arrive at the hospital where
they were taken at the same as the victim’s parents.
Donning a white coat, he pretended to work for the
hospital to get a scoop from them.
The reporter wrote a front page story imploring SOS to
give himself up— to the Post, not the police.
An eyewitness account at the last murder scene led
police to a parking ticket issued to David Berkowitz,
which led them to his Yonkers apartment and brought
about his arrest.
In custody, he told police that he received his
instructions to kill from his neighbor who communicated
through his demonic dog.
SON OF SAM
Despite this, and believing it was an insanity dodge, the
state declared Berkowitz mentally fit to stand trial. He
was sentenced to 365 years in prison and currently
resides in a correctional facility in upstate New York.
He converted to Christianity in the late Eighties and now
goes by the name “Son of Hope.”
SON OF SAM
Four journalists, from the Post and the Daily News, and
Time and Washington Post – the paper that had helped
break open Watergate – were arrested trying to break
into Berkowitz’s Yonkers apartment.
SON OF SAM
While Son of Sam’s crimes were horrific and the victims
had their lives cut short, perhaps of more lasting and
wider ranging implications is the change in media
reporting because of this case.
Where sensationalism wins out over getting the facts.
SON OF SAM
New York Minute takes place before Son of Sam is
captured, not long after his next to last shooting, which
involved a girl I went to grammar school with in the
William Kane, the protagonist, is consulted about the
case by his uncle, NYPD Detective Nathan Riley.
New York City. 1970s.
Jack Reacher meets the Equalizer
by NY Times Bestselling Author,
West Point graduate
and former Green Beret
One of the top five new series of the year.
Free downloadable Powerpoint
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About the author: Bob Mayer up in the Bronx, New York
City; graduated West Point, served in the Infantry
including leading a recon platoon in the First Cav
Division, and then Special Forces (Green Berets),
commanding an A-Team and other assignments. After
leaving active duty he studied martial arts in the Orient
and was brought back for numerous ADSW (Active Duty
Special Work) tours in Special Operations.
He’s lived on an island off the east coast, an island off
the west coast, in the Rocky Mountains, the hill country of
Texas, the hills of New England, the Appalachians and
They haven’t caught up to him yet.
He is the New York Times bestselling author of over 80