Timothy J. Dowd :Kerry-Born Detective Who Led Son Of Sam Manhunt Dies Age 99
Timothy J. Dowd, the New York City police detective who led the manhunt that finally ensnared David Berkowitz, the serial killer who called himself the Son of Sam and whose yearlong shooting spree and evasion of the police spread fear across the five boroughs, died recently in Millbrook, New York. He was 99.
His daughter, Melissa Dowd Begg, confirmed his death. The Son of Sam killings, which occurred at a time of fiscal crisis and high crime in New York City, became an emblem of a city in desperate straits. Beginning on July 29, 1976, when he shot and killed Donna Lauria, an 18-year-old Bronx woman, and wounded her friend, Jody Valenti, 19, Mr. Berkowitz murdered six people and wounded seven others in attacks in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn before he was captured on Aug. 10, 1977. He was also known as the .44- caliber killer, for the weapon he used.
The shootings seemed random but for a small number of similarities: They occurred at night, and six of the eight separate attacks involved couples sitting in parked cars; several of the victims, including one man, had long, dark hair. The killer taunted the police with letters, one left at the site of the sixth attack, in the Baychester section of the Bronx, where Valentina Suriani, 18, and Alexander Esau, 20, were killed on April 17, 1977. Another was sent to the Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin, in early June. Tension in the city was so high that Mayor Abraham D. Beame instructed the police to chase couples from known lovers’ lanes.
Mr. Violante survived, though he lost his sight. Ms. Moskowitz died the next day. Under Inspector Dowd’s direction, detectives patrolled the Bronx and Queens in unmarked cars, and female police officers with long, dark hair sat in cars outside discos and singles bars. Inspector Dowd and other police officials described the hunt as a needle-in-a-haystack endeavour.
At one point, the Police Department set out to trace all .44-caliber weapons ever made of the type used by the killer, known as the Charter Arms Bulldog. There were an estimated 28,000 of them. “This case is particularly complicated because there is no apparent motive,” Inspector Dowd said, just days before Mr. Berkowitz’s arrest. “When you can’t establish why someone is killing, it’s difficult to predict who he is or when he will strike again.”
He told reporters that his job was “to prepare to be lucky,” and he finally was. Mr. Berkowitz, who turned out to be a disturbed, unprepossessing postal worker, was arrested outside his apartment in Yonkers, traced by a parking ticket his car had been issued near the site of the final shooting. Mr. Berkowitz, (pictured right) who is serving six life sentences at Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, N.Y., later told the police in a deranged confession that he had killed on instructions from his neighbor, Sam, “who really is a man who lived 6,000 years ago.” He also said that Sam was the Devil.
“I got the messages through his dog,” Mr. Berkowitz said. “He told me to kill.” Timothy Joseph Dowd was born in County Kerry, Ireland, on May 30, 1915. His parents, Timothy Dowd and the former Margaret O’Sullivan, were farmers until they moved the family to the United States during the Depression — first to Boston, where they operated a rooming house, and eventually to New York.
Young Timothy joined the police force in 1940. He earned a bachelor’s degree from City College of New York and later a master’s degree in public administration from Baruch College. Early in his law enforcement career, he was a member of the mounted police, and he was later a detective in the homicide and narcotics squads. For his work on the case, he received a rare promotion of two ranks, from deputy inspector to deputy chief. He retired the next year.
Deputy Chief Dowd’s marriage to Helen Cavanaugh, in 1941, lasted until her death in 2007. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by three sons, Timothy Jr., Garrett and Charles, a former assistant chief of the Police Department, who was in charge of the 911 system; as well as 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Ms. Begg said in an interview on Monday that her father had disdained television dramas about the police because they were unrealistic about police work — all except one, she said: “Columbo.” That series, especially popular in the 1970s, starred Peter Falk as an untidy, seemingly distracted detective in Los Angeles who solved cases by poking around in a practiced but random fashion and stumbling in the direction of a solution.
“That’s how it’s done,” she said her father explained to her. In the biggest case of his career, when he finally came face to face with the killer, Inspector Dowd said he knew he would be able to discuss the crimes with him. “I told him we had never abused him or criticized him in the press, and he agreed,” Inspector Dowd said at the time. And Mr. Berkowitz’s first words to him?
“Inspector, you finally got me. I guess this is the end of the trail.” Dowd was also instrumental in putting an end to the activities of the notorious French connection drug ring in the 1960s, an investigation which was famously dramatised in the 1971 Oscar-winning film The French Connection, starring Gene Hackman.