Death was on Julia Rubino’s mind a lot during 1976.
Automatic nagative thoughts (or ANTS as she called them) started entering her brain months go when she first heard about the mysterious murders in New York City.
The killer openly taunted the police. Seeking misplaced attention and public veneration, he wrote rambling and ambiguous letters to journalist Jimmy Breslin who printed them in his column in The Daily News. In his letters the murderer sometimes referenced a cult, hinting that the killings were a rite of passage. Other times he claimed a demonic dog owned by his neighbor Sam spoke to him demanding the blood of pretty young girls.
All the victims were females with long dark hair; as a college student with shoulder-length brunette curls, Julia felt particularly vulnerable. When she told her parents she wanted to cut her hair and dye it blonde they said she was over-reacting. Julia’s boyfriend Steve told her she was being ridiculous, that there was nothing to worry about. He said they were safe in their little town of New Rochelle. Violent crimes like that only happened in dangerous urban locations, not quiet Westchester County.
At night Julia and Steve often drove to the Glen Island Beach parking lot in New Rochelle; it was a popular make-out place and the police very rarely patrolled the area. When Julia told Steve she didn’t want to go parking any more, he got pissed off. Tearfully she reminded him that the killings always involved two victims – young women and their boyfriends parked in cars. She couldn’t shake the idea that something terrible was going to happen to them. Steve argued that they had no other choice if they wanted to be alone. They had no privacy living at home with their parents and Julia felt going to a motel was sleazy. Frustrated, Steve yelled at her to calm down and get a grip. Afraid of losing him, Julia begrudgingly chose to give in.
On July 29 things took an unexpected and shocking turn; the first murders in Westchester County occurred. This time the killer’s MO was different and left the police wondering if the shootings were done by the same individual or a copy-cat killer. The victims were two girls sitting in a car in a well-lit area – not a girl and her boyfriend in a darkened parking lot. The two women were nurses Jody Valenti and Donna Lauria. They had been sitting in Jody’s double-parked Oldsmobile outside Donna’s house talking about their night at a New Rochelle disco. When Donna opened the car door to leave a man suddenly approached. Pulling out a gun, he crouched down and opened fire. Donna was killed instantly but Jody survived. The attack happened quickly however Jody was able to give a description of the assailant; it matched that of the shooter of the previous killings.
Westchester County residents were panic-stricken, especially Julia. Police urged everyone to stay vigilant and refrain from sitting in parked cars. Julia considered dropping out of college and hiding in her house until the murderous madman was caught; her parents convinced her it was irrational to completely cut oneself off from the world.
For more than a year the killer held the citizens of New York captive but on the night of August 10, 1977 the state of terror finally ended. After a tense shootout the murderer was apprehended at his Yonkers apartment – ironically within earshot of Westchester Community College where Julia was a student.
Today marks the 43rd anniversary of that historic arrest. The notorious killer was David Berkowitz, known around the world as Son of Sam.
Exactly ten years ago to the day. Berkowitz pled guilty to all the shootings and is currently serving six life sentences in Shawangunk Correctional Facility in Ulster County, New York.
Authors note: With the exception of Julia Rubino, her boyfriend Steve and her parents, everyone and everything in this story is factual.
NAR © 2020