The Back Road: A short story shaped by Son of Sam

The Back Road: A short story shaped by Son of Sam

Andrew Malekoff

I have been watching the Netflix series “Sons of Sam: A Descent into Darkness.” It’s a docudrama about an investigative journalist who theorized that the “Son of Sam” murder-spree that terrorized New Yorkers across 13 months of 1976 and 1977, was perpetrated by a satanic cult and not a lone gunman.

The serial murders led to worldwide notoriety, a massive manhunt and local paranoia. Surely anyone living in the New York Metropolitan Area at the time was keenly aware that there was a fiend on the loose. First dubbed the “.44 Caliber Killer,” he murdered six young people and wounded seven others.

After David Berkowitz was captured on Aug. 10, 1977 and confessed to the murders, he said that he was following the orders of his neighbor Sam’s black Labrador retriever. He believed that the dog was controlled by demonic forces that demanded the blood of young women.

At the time of the first killings in July 1976, I was 25 and preparing for my first year of graduate school at Adelphi University. I had just rented a basement apartment in Floral Park. Although the first shootings occurred in the Pelham Bay area of the Bronx on July 29, one of the next two shootings occurred in Floral Park, Queens, adjacent to the Long Island village where I had just moved.

Everyone was on edge. Periodically, the cops released composite sketches of the assailant. On Aug. 10, 1977 one appeared on the cover page of the New York Daily News. The drawing provided me with some comic relief as I thought the only person
it resembled was Herman Badillo, a U.S. congressman seeking nomination to become the next mayor of New York City.

At the time, I was going out with a young woman whom I met in the spring of 1977. I was strapped for cash, so my idea of a cheap date was driving to JFK Airport and watching the planes take off. On a few occasions when we were in my car, I noticed her looking over her left shoulder through the back window. I asked, “What’s going on?” In time, she confided that a former boyfriend had been following her. She said that he had threatened her and he had a gun.

One early evening, while we were heading east on Hempstead Turnpike near Belmont Park, I asked, “Is he following now?” She said, “He’s two cars behind.” A rush of adrenaline-fueled rage overtook me and I foolishly put the car in park while stopped at a red light, exited the car and walked down the middle of Hempstead Turnpike towards his car.

Scientists have concluded that adolescent brain development continues into the third decade of life. Looking back, I imagine that my pre-frontal cortex, which controls judgment, impulse control, management of aggression and emotional regulation, were not fully developed at that time. Fortunately, as I came closer, he pulled out of his lane and drove away when the light turned green.

There were no further incidents that summer. Our relationship ended soon thereafter and Son of Sam was apprehended.

In September 1977 I moved from Floral Park and rented a room in Garden City closer to Adelphi. Two months later in November, I met the woman who I would go on to marry in 1980. This coming July will be our 41st anniversary.

As renowned radio broadcaster Paul Harvey was famous for saying when he signed off: “And, now you know the rest of the story.”

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