INSIDE THE HEADLINE

Award-winning journalist Geraldo Rivera takes us down the gritty streets of New York City in search of a serial killer.

Aired on August 9, 2019.

TRANSCRIPT

> WHAT WILL YOU HAVE FOR JULY 29th, HE WONDERED IN ONE OF HIS SICK AND THREATENING LETTERS TO THE PRESS AND POLICE.

SAM'S A THIRSTY LAD, AND HE WON'T LET ME STOP KILLING UNTIL HE'S HAD HIS FILL OF BLOOD.

GOOD EVENING, AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN.

IN AUGUST, 1977, KILLER DAVID BERKOWITZ, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS SON OF SAM, WAS CAPTURED AFTER A MURDER SPREE THAT CLAIMED THE LIVES OF FIVE YOUNG WOMEN, ONE MAN, AND TERRIFIED THOSE THROUGHOUT THE CITY.

HE FREQUENTED LOVERS LANES, AND HIS CALLING CARD, A .44 CALIBER REVOLVER.

WE'LL HEAR FROM PEOPLE CLOSE TO THE CASE.

FROM A VICTIM WHO SURVIVED A BULLET TO THE HEAD, THE POLICE WHO CAUGHT THE KILLER, AND THE MEDIA WHAT KEPT US ON THE EDGE OF OUR SEEATS.

GERALDO RIVERA WAS THE FIRST TO OBTAIN LETTERS FROM PRISON PENNED BY THE MURDERER HIMSELF AND ASKED HIM ABOUT THE IMPACT THAT THESE KILLINGS HAD ON THE CITY'S PSYCHE.

I THINK YOU FIRST HAVE TO START WITH WHAT NEW YORK CITY WAS IN 1977.

IT WAS A DYSTOPIAN KIND OF GOTHAM CITY.

THERE WAS GRAFFITI EVERYWHERE, FILTH.

THE HEROIN EPIDEMIC WAS IN FULL BLOOM.

THE CITY WAS BEING DEPOPULATED.

IT WAS TOTALLY DYSFUNCTIONAL.

THAT WAS THE SUMMER WHEN THE LIGHT WENT OUT.

A LIGHTNING STRIKE I THINK IT WAS, TOOK ALL THE LIGHT OUT.

IT WAS -- IF YOU WERE IN A MIDTOWN FANCY HOTEL, THEY LIT CANDLES AND IT WAS A PARTY, I THINK THERE WAS A BIG PREGNANCY BOOM, YOU KNOW, LOT OF BABIES BEING BORN NINE MONTHS FROM THAT BLACKOUT.

BUT I HAPPENED TO BE IN THE VICINITIES WITH MY FRIEND FROM CHC CHEECH MARIN, AND SAID ABC ASSIGNED ME TO INVESTIGATE THE LOOTING GOING ON IN MANHATTAN.

WE WENT TO THE SOUTH BRONX.

I DRAGGED CHEECH AND MY CREW UP THERE.

THERE WERE LOOTERS EVERYWHERE.

THE SOUTH BRONX, BROOKLYN, A LOT OF THE POORER NEIGHBORHOODS WERE ABSOLUTELY BEING RAVAGED BY THE LOOTERS.

YOU KNOW, DAY CAME, THE CITY WAS WRECKED.

I THINK THAT OUR CONFIDENCE WAS ALSO DESTROYED.

SO WE WERE VERY MUCH IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SON OF SAM KILLINGS, WE WERE VERY MUCH DEALING WITH A DYSFUNCTIONAL CITY GOVERNMENT AID BEING THE MAYOR.

THE COPS HAD -- THEY WERE ABSOLUTELY OVERWHELMED BY THE CRIME, THE RAMPANT CRIME.

AND IN THE MIDST OF IT, YOU HAVE THIS ASSASSIN OR ASSASSINS GOING AROUND, YOU KNOW, MURDERING THESE YOUNG WOMEN AND THEIR CON SORTS, MURDERING OUR WOUNDING.

AND IT BECAME A STORY OF NEW YORK TERRORIZED.

I THINK YET THAT THAT WAS THE LOW POINT IN NEW YORK'S MODERN HISTORY.

YOU ARE A REPORTER WHO DURING THIS TIME EARLY IN YOUR CAREER, HOW DID YOU VIEW THIS STORY?

WELL, YOU KNOW, FIRST OF ALL, IT WAS THE FIRST IN THE NEW YORK EXPERIENCE, THE FIRST TIME THERE WAS EVER AN INTERACTIVE MURDERER, SERIAL MURDERER.

HE WOULD BOAST, HE WOULD INTERACT WITH JIMMY BRESLIN, THE TERRIFIC REPORTER.

YOU KNOW, OTHERS.

MAINLY BRESLIN, BUT PETE HAMILL, OTHERS GOT A PIECE OF THAT ACTION.

YOU KNOW, HE WOULD TAUNT THE COPS, TAUNT THE VICTIMS.

YOU KNOW, RAMBLE ON ABOUT, YOU KNOW, THE SON OF SAM.

SO I WAS A YOUNG REPORTER.

I JUST GRADUATED.

I HAD -- I WAS AN EYEWITNESS NEWSMAN FIRST.

THEN I HAD MY NATIONAL PROGRAM 'GOOD NIGHT AMERICA.'

THEN THE CREATOR OF ABC NEWS AND SPORTS AS WE KNOW IT RECRUITED ME TO BE A NATIONAL NEWSMAN, AND THIS WAS REALLY MY FIRST BIG -- MY FIRST BIG NATIONAL STORY.

BARBARA WALTERS WAS THE FIRST -- ANOINTED THE FIRST FEMALE ANCHOR.

SHE WAS KIND OF CHEERING ME ON.

A FRIEND AFTER MINE FOR ALL THESE DECADES.

BUT IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO UNDERSTATE HOW TERRORIZED NEW YORK WAS.

LOTS OF PEOPLE WERE CANCELING SOCIAL ENGAGEMENTS, THEY WERE STAYING HOME.

THEY WERE LIVING IN FEAR.

THEIR CHILDREN WERE NOT ALLOWED TO WALK TO SCHOOL OR WALK HOME.

THE LOVERS LANES WERE BEING ABANDONED BY, YOU KNOW, YOUNG PEOPLE EVEN IN THAT HOT, HUMID, STICKY, DYSFUNCTIONAL SUMMER.

IT REALLY WAS A CITY UNDER SIEGE IN EVERY WAY.

AND IT WAS LIKE THE JOKER IN 'BATMAN' TAUNTING EVERYBODY.

AS YOU KNOW, DURING THAT TIME THERE WERE SUGGESTIONS BEING MADE -- AND OFTENTIMES THE MEDIA BECOMES THE TARGET OF CRITICISM -- BUT THERE WERE SUGGESTIONS THAT MEDIA WAS FANNING THE FLAMES OF HYSTERIA HERE.

WAS THAT AN ACCURATE CRITICISM DO YOU THINK?

YOU KNOW, THAT'S ALWAYS -- THAT'S ALWAYS THE BEEF, THAT THE STORY IS, YOU KNOW, REPORTING OF THE STORY IS LEADING THE STORY.

I DON'T -- I DON'T REALLY PUT MUCH EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT IN THAT DEBATE.

THERE WAS NO DOUBT BUT THAT THE MEDIA WAS OBSESSED WITH THE STORY, BUT THE REASON WAS THE AUDIENCE, THE NEWS CONSUMERS WERE OBSESSED WITH THE STORY.

THE TAP LLOYDS, THE 'POST' -- TABLOIDS, THE 'POST,' AND THE 'DAILY NEWS,' CIRCULATION SHOT UP BY THE HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS.

LOCAL POLICE BECAME ANOTHER OBSESSION.

PEOPLE FOLLOWING EVERY WRINKLE, EVERY DEVELOPMENT.

AND WHENEVER THERE WAS ANOTHER, YET ANOTHER MURDER, I MEAN, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO OVERSTATE HOW PEOPLE FELT.

IF YOU WERE THE PARENTS OF TEENAGERS OR IF YOU WERE A KID YOURSELF, YOUR WHOLE LIFE WAS NO CIRCUMSCRIBED.

YOU WALKED, YOU KNOW, YOU TRIED TO WALK FROM STREET LIGHT TO STREET LIGHT, ALWAYS WITH A BUDDY SYSTEM.

IT WAS -- THERE WAS NO TRUST AT ALL OF THE COPS, CERTAINLY NOT OF THE MAYOR AND THE CITY GOVERNMENT.

THEY SEEMED UNABLE TO PROTECT THE CITIZENS.

AND THE MEDIA, YES, THE MEDIA WAS PLAYING THE STORY OF HUGE WITH BANNER HEADLINES, BUT MY GOODNESS, IF EVER THERE WAS A STORY THAT DESERVED THEM, I THINK IT WAS THE SON OF SAM.

WHY DO YOU THINK -- LAST QUESTION HERE -- AS I SAID, YOU COVERED THIS STORY FROM THE BEGINNING, YOU GOT ACCESS TO LETTERS PENNED BY DAVID BERKOWITZ COMING OUT OF THE PRISONS.

HERE WE ARE ALL THESE YEARS LATER, WHY DO YOU THINK THERE'S STILL SUCH A FASCINATION WITH DAVID BERKOWITZ HIMSELF AND WHAT HE DID?

THAT'S A GREAT QUESTION.

I THINK FIRST OF ALL THE DAY BEFORE BERKOWITZ WAS CAUGHT WAS THE LOWEST POINT IN MODERN HISTORY.

THE DAY HE WAS CAUGHT, THERE WAS A TREMENDOUS SIGH, A RELEASE.

WE EMBRACED THE COPS AGAIN.

WE FELT CIVILIZATION HAD PREVAILED.

AND THEN YOU KNOW, A COUPLE MONTHS LATER, THE YANKEES WON THE WORLD SERIES, AS I RECALL.

REGGIE JACKSON, MR. OCTOBER, HITTING FIVE, EIGHT HOME RUNS, I FORGET HOW MANY, AS THE YANKEES WON THE 1977 WORLD SERIES.

THE CITY RECOVERED.

ED KOCH BECAME THE MAYOR.

HOW AM I DOING, HOW AM I DOING?

THE CITY HIT ROCK BOTTOM, AND THEN BOUNCED BACK.

IN TERMS OF THE FASCINATION, WAS HE A LONE ASSASSIN, WAS HE PART OF A SATANIC CULT, YOU KNOW, THERE WERE SO MANY MANY OTHER WRINKLES THAT HISTORY, HISTORIANS TOOK OVER.

BUT IT IS SOMETHING -- IT IS VIVIDLY IMPLANTED IN MY HEART AND MY SOUL AS A NATIVE-BORN NEW YORKER, IT IS SOMETHING THAT IS PART AND PARCEL OF THE VERY FABRIC OF THE CITY AT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE ITSELF.

IT WAS A FASCINATING TIME FOR SO MANY REASONS, AND GERALDO, IT'S ALWAYS GOOD TO TALK TO YOU.

WE APPRECIATE YOU SPENDING TIME WITH US AND SHARING SOME OF YOUR RECOLLECTIONS.

YOU BE WELL.

OKAY, YOU, TOO, BUDDY.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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