Timothy J Dowd, the retired Irish-born NYPD cop responsible for taking down the serial killer David Berkowitz or the 'Son of Sam,' has died. He was 99 years old.
A venerated police officer, Dowd led the task force created to solve the mysterious string of shootings, which took place in New York between 1976 and 1977. Berkowitz, eventually tracked down through parking ticket records, had killed six people and wounded seven before Dowd and his team caught him.
Dowd was born in Castlemaine, County Kerry on May 30, 1915. His parents, Timothy Dowd and Margaret O’Sullivan, were farmers before moving to the United States during the Depression. Initially they ran a rooming house in Boston and then settled in New York.
In 1940 Dowd joined the New York Police Department. He earned a bachelor’s degree from City College of New York and later a master’s degree in public administration from Baruch College. Dowd began his NYPD career walking the beat before moving on to the mounted police and being promoted to detective, working in both the homicide and narcotics squads.For his work on the 'Son of Sam' case, Dowd received a rare promotion of two ranks, from deputy inspector to deputy chief. He retired the year after the Berkowitz arrest.
Berkowitz’s year-long killing spree spread fear across the five boroughs. The crimes occurred during a time of economic crisis and became emblematic of New York City’s dire straits.
His first murder was on July 29, 1976. He shot and killed Donna Lauria (18) from the Bronx and wounded her friend Jody Valenti (19). His spree continued with attacks in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn. He was captured on August 10, 1977.
The 'Son of Sam' evaded the police. The killings seemed random, but there were a number of small similarities – they occurred at night, six of the eight attacks involved couples sitting in parked cars and several of the victims had long dark hair.
The killer also taunted the police with letters. He left one at the site of the sixth attack at Baychester, in the Bronx, where Valentina Suriani (18) and Alexander Esau (20) were killed on April 17, 1977. He sent another to the New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin.
Two days after the attacks of Suriani and Esau, Dowd was put in charge of the case. What followed was the largest manhunt in New York City history at the time.
Dowd commanded a task force of 50 detectives called Operation Omega. The group grew to 300 members after the killer struck twice more.
The Irish-born detective had the task force patrol the Bronx and Queens in unmarked cars. He also planted female officers with long, dark hair, in parked cars, outside discos and bars. He described the hunt as the search for "a needle in a haystack."
At one point he had the task force trace all .44-caliber weapons ever made. There were an estimated 28,000 of them.
Days before Berkowitz’s arrest Dowd said, “This case is particularly complicated because there is no apparent motive.
“When you can’t establish why someone is killing, it’s difficult to predict who he is or when he will strike again.”
The serial killer, 'The Son of Sam,' was a disturbed 24-year-old postal worker. He was arrested outside his apartment in Yonkers, tracked there by parking tickets he had received at a location near to the site of the final shooting.
In an interview after Berkowitz's capture Dowd spoke about the moment he came face-to-face with the killer. He said, “I told him we had never abused him or criticized him in the press, and he agreed.”
Berkowitz responded by saying, “Inspector, you finally got me. I guess this is the end of the trail.”
Berkowitz later told the police that he had killed six people on the instructions from his neighbor, Sam, “who really is a man who lived 6,000 years ago.” He also said that Sam was the Devil.
He said, “I got the messages through his dog. He told me to kill.”
The serial killer is currently serving six life sentences at the Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, NY.
Dowd retired shortly after capturing Berkowitz.
He married Helen Cavanaugh in 1941 and their marriage lasted until her death in 2007. He is survived by a daughter and three sons – Melissa, Timothy Jr., Garrett and Charles – 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
His daughter confirmed that he passed away, in Millbrook, NY on Friday, December 26.
Here’s some archive news footage surrounding the case: