In the “life is unfair” category, this one stands out: When it comes to serial killers, the victims are usually relegated to a number — faceless and forgotten. Like, “6 dead, 7 wounded.”
You’ll hear that number in tonight’s episode of Hidden City: New York City, at 9/8c: Host Marcus Sakey revisits the summers of 1976 and 1977, when a lone gunman — the Son of Sam, as he came to be known — accosted young couples in parked cars and shot them, point blank, in the head with a .44-caliber pistol.
6 dead, 7 wounded…
Who were the dead? Years ago, I tried to find out.
In 1998, I was a 22-year-old journalism student in NYC. I’d recently landed what seemed like a juicy story: a series of interviews with David Berkowitz himself at a maximum security prison in upstate New York. By then, Berkowitz had experienced a jailhouse conversion and was amassing a worldwide following as the “Son of Hope.” Berkowitz agreed to talk with me after I’d written him a letter seeking to understand the nature of his conversion — and the very meaning of redemption.
But some 20 hours into our talks, the whole thing was beginning to smack of one big lie, with Berkowitz pointing the finger at a satanic cult whose members, curiously, he refused to identify. I wanted — needed — to hear from a victim’s family member.
One night, I dialed a long-distance number.
A woman with a gravely, chain smoker’s voice answered. “Who is this?” she demanded.
I stammered a few words, then sheepishly told her I was a student. Could I … uh … uh … interview her?
“No, no,” she shot back, “I need my story told by a professional.”
For nearly an hour, I pleaded … and pleaded … until — finally! — Neysa Moskowitz, the mother of Son of Sam’s last victim, 20-year-old Stacy Moskowitz, said the words: “All right.” But under one condition: It would have to be in person. She wouldn’t just talk to a voice on the line.
Within weeks, I flew down to Miami, where Neysa Moskowitz had relocated in 1993.
The day I showed up, the juicy story I was after started to feel like a painful human drama whose depth of loss I had yet to fully consider. Neysa — that’s how she preferred to be called (“Quit calling me Mrs. Moskowitz!” she’d bark) — answered her apartment door gaunt and haggard, wearing a nightgown. It was late morning. A TV was playing in the background.
“I keep it on all day,” she told me. The noise distracted her from the nightmare of memories … like the sight of her daughter Stacy in the hospital with a tag on her toe … or the day Berkowitz showed up in court chanting, “Stacy is a whore, Stacy is a whore.”
Neysa settled into an armchair. Her thoughts drifted off to a woman named Mrs. Sullivan who’d lost 5 sons in World War II.
“I can’t stop thinking about that woman,” Neysa said softly, in between cigarette puffs.
Life hadn’t been kind to Neysa. The mother of 3 daughters, she’d outlived them all: The first to an accidental overdose … then Stacy, who died 39 hours after being shot in the head by Berkowitz … then, in recent years, a final daughter, Ricki, to the brutal disease of scleroderma.
Neysa knew what it was like to be forgotten. “I’m yesterday’s news,” she told me. “You wrap your fish in it.”
And that burned her up. “That piece of garbage,” Neysa shouted, when asked about Berkowitz. “He’s walking around while my daughters are dead.”
“No, no,” she said, shaking her head violently. “It’s not even-steven. He did terrible things and people forget it!”
Her mouth drawn in disgust, Neysa added: “They look at him like a little god. If he wasn’t in jail, he wouldn’t be with the Bibles … What was he before? A nothing! He worked in the mail room. He has a little power. Come on! That would make anyone drunk. He doesn’t deserve to live!”
In between the darkness, occasional light shone through. Especially when Neysa spoke about her girls. The memories were like a “jukebox,” she told me. “All I have to do is put in a quarter.”
At one point, Neysa went into her bedroom and emerged with a box. It contained her daughters’ childhood drawings. Among them was a handmade card. From one daughter to the next.
“Stacy!” it read, “It’s your sister! Happy Birthday! Love, Ricki.” I sat there, looking at the card. And then it hit me. Stacy was someone’s sister — someone’s big sister. I have a big sister. To my horror, my eyes filled with tears.
Neysa was a no-nonsense Brooklyn broad. She didn’t want anyone’s pity.
Don’t let her see you cry, I thought. Pull it together.
Neysa was standing by the doorway, yapping on about something. She suddenly fell silent, and shot me what looked like a cold dead stare: “Are you crying?”
“No, no …” I stammered.
“Oh, honey,” she cut in. “Those tears are beautiful to me.”
Holding her daughter’s card, I looked at Neysa. And I asked. “What will happen to these things when you’re …” I couldn’t bring myself to finish the question.
Neysa finished it for me. “You mean, when I’m dead?”
“In the trash,” she answered.
Today, Neysa Moskowitz is gone. I don’t want to think what happened to those cards and drawings.
(Photo: Stacy Moskowitz, courtesy here)