'Sons of Sam' on Netflix: Did David Berkowitz have a partner? 40 years on why two-shooter theory refuses to die
The shootings that led to the incarceration of David Berkowitz have always attracted wide media attention. Over the decades, his life and shootings have been portrayed multiple times across films, books and TV shows. It's also given rise to the repeated question — did he really act alone? While he initially claimed to do so, he later amended his confession in the 1990s to name two co-conspirators.
The two (or even multiple) shooter theory is a popular urban legend that refuses to die. Now, it is being revisited again in Netflix's documentary series 'The Sons of Sam'. The series focuses on that very question and digs into the many claims, theories and beliefs that Berkowitz didn't act alone. We may never really know the truth, which is why the urban myth continues to persist to this day. While Berkowitz is safely behind bars, the spate of mass shootings all over America lead us to ask — are any of them related to the Sons of Sam?
Origins of the theory
The theory can be traced back to Berkowitz himself, who first alluded to co-conspirators shortly after his arrest. On September 19, 1977, he wrote a letter to the New York Post, ending it with the alarming message, "There are other Sams out there, God help the world." It was unclear if he was referring to his own shootings or other future ones, but many believed that Berkowitz wasn't acting alone.
Queens DA John Santucci and police investigator Mike Novotny believed another shooter was involved, but unfortunately, they had no proof. Journalist John Hockenberry though was another big proponent of the theory. But it really turned from an urban legend into a news story after another journalist Maury Terry began writing about the case. In 1997, Terry interviewed Berkowitz, who named two co-conspirators.
Brothers John and Michael Carr were named by Berkowitz as the other shooters, who were originally named in a series of letters to journalist Jimmy Breslin. The police dismissed those letters as "lunatic ravings of a lone killer", but Berkowitz stuck to his story. As NBC News documented back in 2004, "Berkowitz said the Carr brothers actually took part in the killings, that Michael Carr was the gunman at the disco shooting in Queens."
Berkowitz claimed that he killed only three of the six victims, all in the Bronx. He attributed the others to the Carr brothers, for which there was some proof. Right from the start, eyewitness accounts did not always match up to Berkowitz's description. The getaway car was also widely described as a yellow Volkswagen, while Berkowitz owned a Ford Galaxy. Despite the claims, Berkowitz had no proof. Both the Carr brothers were killed long before the claims came to light, and he refused to name others out of fear for his family.
Why the theory doesn't die
In 1996, the NYPD reopened the case, and to this day it remains one of the department's most famous cold cases. However, the two-shooter theory has considerably less support now than in the '90s. Retired FBI profiler John Douglas called Berkowitz an "introverted loner, not capable of being involved in a group activity". Berkowitz himself has also refrained from commenting much on the matter.
Despite his claims in the '90s and a reopening of the case, no new information has come to light. Berkowitz remains the only person convicted, and no other names have been attached to the 'Sons of Sam' murders. The theory has occasionally popped back into public light, thanks to adaptations like 'Mindhunter', and now Netflix's series. As long as pop-culture references exist, the theory will continue. After all, it is an urban legend that's easy to attract audiences, like aliens, the Loch Ness monster or Bigfoot.
Such legends have a unique place in our societies because they can never truly be proved as true or false. As The Conversation noted, "psychologically, urban legends are a way for us to make sense of the world and manage threat in a safe environment. From the perspective of believers, myths act as proof and reinforce existing beliefs." Just like other urban legends, there's no conclusive proof either way, over the years we have seen so many details and stories that the truth is now muddied, which is what makes it better suited to being an urban legend.
Of course, so far no mass shootings have been attributed to the Sons of Sam since the '70s, but it is possible for it to happen now that the theory has re-entered our minds with the Netflix show. Maybe a trip down Reddit or the dark web will show that people still are attributing shootings to Berkowitz's cult. It is possible and will add more mystery and keep the theory alive.
Until we get conclusive proof, the two shooter theory is not going away. It may fade into the background or be relegated to the dark web, but it will continue to exist just like all the other urban legends we know and love.