Monday, August 7, 2017

How a Son of Sam Detective Realized ‘This Has Got to Be the Guy’

James Justus remembers hanging up the telephone convinced that he had something.

It was Aug. 9, 1977. He was a police detective checking on parking summonses issued in Brooklyn on July 31, the night the gunman known as Son of Sam shot a couple in a car in Bath Beach. He was assigned to look for witnesses who might have seen the serial killer, who by then had taunted the police and tabloid columnists alike. Maybe whoever owned a Ford Galaxie with a parking ticket had seen something.

It turned out that the owner of the Galaxie had seen everything, for he was the one who had pushed the city’s fright level as high as it would go in those pre-color-coded days. Tensions were so high that Mayor Abraham D. Beame directed the police to shoo couples away from places where couples would go to be alone. Suddenly, the fear was that being in such places could make them targets.

Suddenly, women with long brown hair were dyeing it blond or cutting it short, thinking they would be less vulnerable.

How different the city seemed then — emotionally exhausted and almost broke. Crime had reached a new high, and jobs were disappearing. “Lightning, looting and lunatics have so far given New York a heavy, angry summer,” an editorial writer observed in August 1977. The first two L-words referred to the blackout in July, which had begun with lightning strikes and had set off looting in some neighborhoods. The last referred to the man with the .44-caliber revolver.

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