San Diego The online publication of "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz's journals has a San Diego man on the hot seat. "Wilson," not his real name, says he turned down interviews by Today's Katie Couric, the Denver Post, and the New York Daily News. He agreed to talk for this story on condition that his real name not be used.
The media's recent interest in Berkowitz came in response to his early June parole hearing. Seven years ago, Wilson wrote to Berkowitz at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, New York. Wilson, a devout Christian, had learned of a 1988 jailhouse conversion by Berkowitz to Christianity. The two men have written to each other ever since. As part of their correspondence, Berkowitz sends Wilson entries from a journal he keeps in his cell.
In 1998, Berkowitz's journal entries began appearing on the website www.forgivenforlife.com. The site calls itself the official homepage of David Berkowitz. "This page is hosted by House upon the Rock Christian Church in San Diego, CA. We host this page because we truly believe that David is sincerely sorry for the pain he has caused in the past, and that he has truly repented and become a new person in Jesus Christ." According to San Diego County records, Wilson founded House upon the Rock Christian Church in 1993.
As Son of Sam, Berkowitz killed six people and wounded seven more in a spate of shootings in New York City in 1976 and 1977. One of the more notorious aspects of the case was his involvement in a satanic group during his murderous rampage. Berkowitz also kept a satanic "bible" in his cell during the earliest years of his incarceration.
But at the beginning of his journal in 1998, in his second entry, Berkowitz writes, "I am doing my best to reach out with the Gospel to America's teenagers, millions of whom are without guidance and are being swept away by Satan's devices. I am to teach others about the dangers of getting involved in the occult, no matter how harmless it may seem to them. I am to warn about satanism and explain to others how God will help them and will give them a way of escape, should they have fallen victim to satanic powers, as I [did] in my tragic past."
In addition to the journals, a link to a 1997 video biography of Berkowitz appears on the website. Wilson has penned a review of the video on Amazon.com. "[The video] shows that it was more than a man doing these killings.... [The] killings were the work of Satan, using David as a willing pawn to do his evil deeds. Though being duped, David has acknowledged his guilt and is sorry for his past.... As David explains, it was the work of an organized satanic cult to cause chaos in the streets of New York, and they were successful in doing that. He goes on to explain that there are many such satanic cults operating today in America and throughout the world to bring about mayhem, destruction, murder, and anarchy. He says they are very real and explains that the only way he himself has escaped this cult was to become a born-again Christian."
In an entry to his journal on May 30, 2004, Berkowitz refers to an unknown woman who came to visit him in prison. A guard told him she appeared to be "unstable" and looked as though she were "possessed by something." He writes, "Thus with Satan's arrows flying at me from every direction, I continue to walk with confidence and not be intimidated."
House upon the Rock Christian Church, sponsor of the journals, does not have a physical location. But Wilson denies that it is an online church only. He calls it a "house church" that assembles in the homes of different members each Sunday. He refuses to indicate the congregation's size and says he is not its pastor. As to the profession by which Wilson makes his living, he would say only that he is in business for himself.
In March of this year, the Christian radio program Focus on the Family, broadcasting nationally from Colorado Springs, aired a series of three prison interviews with David Berkowitz by psychologist Bill Maier. (The Berkowitz website provides a link to these interviews.)
According to Wilson, the public is concerned that the taped interviews purchased by Focus on the Family provide money to the former murderer. People have accused Wilson, too, he says, of profiting from the sale of the tapes, since the tapes appear on the website he created. But all moneys from sale of the tapes go to Focus on the Family -- legitimately, he contends -- to cover the program's costs in producing the interviews.
Wilson's disclaimers of profiteering go further. "I do not get paid by the church," he says. "And the website has never produced even one cent of income, as we turn down all offers of donations and do not sell anything." The website asks visitors not to make contributions.
House upon the Rock's motivation in maintaining a David Berkowitz homepage and publishing his journal is different, says Wilson. A writer to the church's e-mail address, identifying herself only as Nancy, gives a clue to this incentive. She refers to the video biography of Berkowitz that the website calls "Son of Hope."
"This past week," writes the e-mailer, "I was talking to a Sunday school student of mine who had shared that it was hard for her to believe that God would care for someone like her. By the grace of God, I recalled seeing the video somewhere and was able to share bits and pieces of its testimony with her. She was really interested and wanted to know more about what God had done in a serial killer's life. I promised that I would try to find a copy of the testimony and found this website. I watched the video again and realized that the message of hope in Christ is what a lot of our youth are hungry for."
The video and radio broadcasts of Berkowitz's testimony, as well as his journals, are especially helpful, says Wilson, "for people who despair or get despondent. The programs tell you there's hope for every person, no matter what they've done."
In the third of the Focus on the Family interviews, Berkowitz underscores this lesson. He begins by admitting the terrible things he's done. Then he brings up the case of Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the Apostle. Saul persecuted Christians, killing many of them. A Jew like he is, says Berkowitz, Saul also was redeemed by Jesus Christ. Speaking as if he were Jesus, Berkowitz proclaims, "If I can forgive David Berkowitz, I can forgive you, too."
But not everyone is in a forgiving mood. According to a June 11 article by Joe Mahoney in the New York Daily News, Michael Lauria, whose daughter Donna died at Berkowitz's hands in 1976, asks, "Is he saying we should forgive him for life? Forget about it! He's telling the world: 'Ha, ha! I'm in jail, and I got a website.' He should stay in a 4-by-6 cell and rot." The Daily News reports in the same article that Neysa Moskowitz, mother of Berkowitz's victim Stacy Moskowitz, is angry that the murderer is becoming a celebrity in prison. "They treat him like a little prince," she says. "If I were the warden, he wouldn't be allowed to do anything. Let him break rocks or whatever they do."
New York governor George Pataki came out strongly against parole for Berkowitz, which is unlikely. "It's very upsetting to me that Son of Sam has a website," the Daily News' Mahoney reports Pataki saying in a June 15 story. "We're going to look into it." The article goes on to quote New York State Department of Correctional Services spokesman Jim Flateau. "We don't allow inmates to conduct a business from jail." After admitting that a United States Supreme Court decision protects the sending of mail by prisoners, Flateau says, "We're looking to see whether or not everything on that website was in the strictest adherence to the Supreme Court decision, in that every i was dotted and that every t was crossed."
To Wilson, these attitudes repress free speech and religion. "The United States is becoming more and more like China," he says, "where there is a government-sponsored Christianity. They tolerate a watered-down church there that won't be a threat to their government. The Patriot Act here reinforces a similar message.
"As in China," Wilson continues, "the true Christian church here has to go more and more underground. But all the persecution does is fan the flames of desire."
Yet, due to the negative response he's received, Wilson isn't sure he wants House upon the Rock to sponsor the David Berkowitz homepage anymore. "I feel the Lord is encouraging me to find a church in the New York area to host the site and answer all the e-mails," he says. "This will be better, as it will help the people in New York who need assistance. I have a couple of churches in mind, and I'll be contacting them about making the change." In the meantime, Wilson plans to visit Berkowitz during a trip to New York this month.