We put the letter on the table and read it again. In his opening paragraph he writes:
“Hello from the gutters of N.Y.C. which are filled with dog manure, vomit, stale wine, urine, and blood. Hello from the sewer of N.Y.C. which swallow up these del- icacies when they are washed away by the sweeper trucks. Hello from the cracks in the sidewalks of N.Y.C. and from the ants that dwell in these cracks and feed on the dried blood of the dead that has settled into the cracks.”
“He’s a pretty good writer,” somebody at the table said.
“Yes, he is,” I said.
The letter was from the person who calls himself “Son of Sam.” He prowls the night streets of New York neighborhoods and shoots at young girls and some- times their boyfriends too, and he has killed five and wounded four. He sneaks up on victims with a .44 caliber pistol. Most of the young women had shoulder- length brown hair.
One of the victims was Donna Lauria, who was 18 last year when the killer shot her as she sat in a car with her girlfriend outside the Laurias’ apartment house on Buhre Ave. in the Bronx. Donna Lauria was the only victim mentioned by the killer in this letter, which was sent to me at my newspaper in New York, The Daily News. So yesterday, I took the letter up to the fourth-floor apartment of Donna Lauria’s parents and I sat over coffee and read the letter again and talked to the Laurias about it.
The killer had sent one communication before this one. He left a note to police after murdering a girl and boy as they sat in a parked car at a place only five blocks from where Donna Lauria had been killed. Both notes were handprinted.
Yesterday, in the sadness and tension of the Laurias’ dining room, I read the letter again. Following the first paragraph, it read:
“J.B., I’m just dropping you a line to let you know that I appreciate your interest in those recent and horrendous .44 killings. I also want to tell you that I read your column daily and find it quite informative.
“Tell me Jim, what will you have July Twenty-Ninth? You can forget about me if you like because I don’t care for publicity. However, you must not forget Donna Lauria and you cannot let the people forget her, either. She was a very sweet girl but Sam’s a thirsty lad and he won’t let me stop killing until he gets his fill of blood.
“Mr. Breslin, sir, don’t think that you haven’t heard from (me) for a while that I went to sleep. No, rather, I am still here. Like a spirit roaming the night. Thirsty, hungry, seldom stopping to rest; anxious to please Sam. I love my work. Now, the void has been filled.
“Perhaps we shall meet face to face someday or perhaps I will be blown away by cops with smoking .38s. Whatever, if I shall be fortunate enough to meet you I will tell you all about Sam if you like and I will introduce you to him. His name is ‘Sam the Terrible.’
“Not knowing what the future holds I shall say farewell and I will see you at the next job. Or should I say you will see my handiwork at the next job? Remember Ms. Lauria. Thank you.
“In their blood and From the Gutter. “Sam’s Creation” .44
“P.S.: J.B., please inform all the detectives working on the case that I wish them the best of luck. Keep ’Em digging, drive on, think positive, get off your butts, knock on coffins, etc. Upon my capture, I promise to buy all the guys working on the case a new pair of shoes if I can get up the money.
“Son of Sam”
Directly under the signature was a symbol the killer drew. It appears to be an X-shaped mark with the biological symbols for male and female and also a cross and the letter S.
When I finished reading the letter, Mike Lauria, the father, said to me, “What do you think?”
“Want to see for yourself?” the father was asked.
He pushed the letter away from him. “I don’t want to see it.”
“Let me,” his wife, Rose, said.
“You don’t want to see it,” the husband said.
“Yes, I do. Because I have a lot of cards she used to get. Maybe the printing is the same.”
Then the husband shrugged, “Go ahead, then.”
We took out the page that mentioned her daughter and gave Rose Lauria the rest. Her large expressive brown eyes become cold as she looks at the printing. On the wall behind her was a picture of her daughter, a lovely brown-haired girl with the mother’s features.
The mother put the pages down and looked up. “He’s probably a very brilliant man, boy, whatever he is,” she said. “His brain functions the opposite way.”
She looked up at the picture of her daughter. “She was a dancer and a half. Everyplace you went, people used to praise her. Is it possible he saw her some- place and she didn’t speak to him or something?”
“Who knows?” the husband said. “How can you say anything about a guy you don’t even know?”
Nobody knows. The .44 killer appears to be saying that he is controlled by Sam, who lives inside him and sends him onto the streets to find young people to shoot. He does this at close range: One young woman, walking home from college, held a textbook up to her face and he put the gun up to the book and killed her.
The detectives, whose shoes he would buy, walk the streets at night and hope for a match with the man with the .44. “He’s mine,” one of them, a friend of mine, was saying Friday night. “The man is Jack the Ripper and I’m making a personal appointment with him.”
The hope is that the killer realizes that he is controlled by Sam, who not only forces him into acts of horror but will ultimately walk him to his death. The only way for the killer to leave this special torment is to give himself up to me, if he trusts me, or to the police, and receive both help and safety.
If he wants any further contact, all he has to do is call or write me at The Daily News. It’s simple to get me. The only people I don’t answer are bill collectors.
The time to do it, however, is now. We are too close to the July 29 that the killer mentions in his letter. It is the first anniversary of the death of Donna Lauria.
“She was sitting in the car with her friend Jody Valente,” Rose Lauria was saying. Jody Valente was wounded and has recovered. “Mike and I came walking up. We’d been to a wake. I went up to the car and I said, ‘Tell me, Jody, what happened tonight.’ She always used to tell me about her boyfriends. She said, ‘It’s a long story tonight. Donna’ll tell you when she gets upstairs.’ Now my husband says to Donna, ‘What are you doing here at 1 a.m., you got to go to work tomorrow.’ I said to him, ‘What is she doing that’s wrong?’
So we went upstairs. My husband says, ‘I’m going to walk the dog.’ He goes with the dog to the elevator and I hear Jody’s horn blowing downstairs. I called out in the hall to my husband. He says to me, ‘Well, go look out the window and see.’ I look out and here’s Jody screaming that Donna’s been shot.”
Rose Lauria, nervous now, got up from the table. “You know the last month when he killed the two more around here? My husband and I were at a wedding. We were supposed to meet some people after it. We left the wedding and I said to my husband, ‘I don’t want to go anywhere. Some- thing’s the matter. I want to go home.’ And we just got inside at the same time the two got killed.”
“She was pacing around here like a cat,” Mike Lauria said.
He walked me downstairs to the street. He stood in an undershirt, with the sun glaring on his wide shoulders and he pointed to the spot where his daughter had been shot.
“She was starting to get out of the car when she saw this guy on the curb. Right where we are. Donna said to Jody, ‘Who’s this guy now?’ Then the guy did what he did. Jody, she can’t get herself to come near my wife. Forget about it. I saw her a couple of weeks ago. She spoke to me from the car. Told me she got engaged. She couldn’t even look at me. I told her, ‘All right, Jody, go ahead. I’ll see you.’ I let her go home.”
He turned and walked back into his building. I took my letter from his daughter’s killer and went down the street and out of his wounded life.