It was October 23, 1976 when 20-year-old Carl Denaro was enjoying a night out in Flushing, Queens with 18-year-old Rosemary Keenan before he would go off to join the Air Force — except the Son of Sam was also on the prowl and looking for his next victim.
The pair were sitting in Keenan’s car for just four minutes when the windows suddenly exploded.
“I had glass all over me… I really didn’t know what happened. But I knew we were in trouble,” now-61-year-old Denaro told Fox News. “I yelled at her to start the car… then I passed out for 10 seconds.”
Keenan frantically drove back to the bar where they originally hung out that evening to get help. And Denaro, with his long hair matted with blood and his shirt completely soaked, still had no idea what happened until he finally made it to Flushing Hospital. At 4 a.m., a police officer approached him and asked if he should call his parents.
“I said, ‘As long as I’m home by seven, my mother will never know,’” recalled Denaro. “That’s when he told me, ‘Son, you’ve been shot in the head. You’re not going anywhere.'"
Denaro was shot with a .44 caliber revolver and doctors had to use a metal plate to replace a part of his skull. The injury disqualified him for service in the Air Force. And as he recovered in the hospital, his doctors and mother ultimately decided to ban all visitors so he could focus on healing.
“For a week, [Rosemary] visited me a couple times, but after the shutdown, nobody was allowed to visit,” said Denaro. “That was pretty much the end of Rosemary and myself.”
David Berkowitz, also known as the self-appointed Son of Sam, terrorized New York City in a string of attacks for more than a year, killing six people and wounding seven.
The 24-year-old postal employee said he believed demons were communicating to him through his neighbor’s dog and would taunt the city about where he would strike next. Because most of his victims had long, dark hair, many women flocked to salons to go shorter and blonde. He was arrested on August 10, 1977.
The now-64-year-old murderer is currently serving six consecutive 25-years-to-life sentences.
On the 40th anniversary of his capture, Investigation Discovery (ID) is premiering the documentary “Son of Sam: The Hunt for a Killer,” chronicling how police caught the murderer. However, Denaro has wondered over the years if it was Berkowitz who really shot him, or if he had been part of a satanic cult that may have carried out the shootings, along with him.
“My first indication was at a civil hearing that I attended to figure out the percentages for each of the victims and their injuries,” explained Denaro. “One of the lawyers for two of the other victims kept telling the judge other people are involved. I turned to my lawyer and said, ‘What’s he talking about? He said, ‘Ah, there’s some rumor going around that other people were involved.’ That was my first indication.”
Denaro said six years later, he read journalist Maury Terry’s book “The Ultimate Evil,” which claimed Berkowitz couldn’t have acted alone. Berkowitz later gave prison interviews, insisting he was a member of a satanic cult before the killing spree began. However, many involved with the investigation have dismissed Berkowitz’s claims, stating they were merely rants of a madman.
The theory continues to haunt Denaro.
“From 1993 on, I’ve been investigating and talking to law enforcement, anyone I could really to help me shed light on what happened,” said Denaro. “I was 100 percent, as I still am to this day, 100 percent sure other people were involved and David Berkowitz didn’t shoot me.
"I don’t think a week goes by where I don’t get another piece of information that connects all the dots there that I already have. My hope, and even though it’s far-fetched, I hope someday to bring to justice the other people that were involved. I don’t know if it’s going to happen, but until the day I die, I’m going to keep trying.”
Inside Edition reported Berkowitz converted to Christianity in 1987 and has been open about his newfound faith. He’s also expressed remorse for his crimes. However, Denaro doubts his credibility.
“When he first made the big announcement, my first reaction was why not?” explained Denaro. “He’s in jail for the rest of his life. He’s gotta have a reason to live…[But] How sincere is he? I really think he’s actually convinced himself that he is.
"You can’t go halfway being born again. God forgives everyone, but you can’t just say 'I’m sorry' and then you get absolution. You can’t just say 'I’m sorry' knowing full well you’re sorry for other people. And until he does that, I just think he’s a phony, baloney born-again. I don’t think he’s a true born-again.”
Denaro added he even reached out to Berkowitz about 14 years ago in hopes of getting answers to his lingering questions. Berkowitz reportedly agreed to do an interview, but things didn’t go according to plan.
“About two week before it was going to happen, he backed out,” claimed Denaro. “Since then, he refuses to talk about Son of Sam at all. The only thing he’ll say is ‘I did a very bad thing and I’m really sorry, and I wish I could take it back, but Jesus has forgiven me.'”
Still, Denaro hasn’t given up hope.
“I’m actually in the process of trying to reach out to him,” he said. “You know, he’s 65 now, and apparently he seems to be in pretty good shape. So he probably has another 20 years.”
"Son of Sam: The Hunt for a Killer" airs August 5 at 9 p.m. on ID.