Meet the Kerry cop who caught NY’s ‘Son of Sam’ serial killer

The Kerry-born cop who solved a notorious murder spree in New York is remembered in a TV documentary to be aired this week.

The ‘Son of Sam’ killings terrorised New York in 1976 and 1977, but a detective inspector, born in Castlemaine, brought the serial killer to justice.

The small west Kerry town is famed as the birthplace of ‘the wild colonial boy’, the 19th-century Australian criminal Jack Duggan. But a TG4 documentary shows it is also the hometown of detective inspector Timothy J Dowd.

Born in Castlemaine in 1915, he was one of five children in a family which sold up and emigrated to New York in 1923.

West Kerry-based RTÉ reporter Seán Mac an tSíthigh travelled between Castlemaine and New York, tracing the work of Dowd and his Omega team which had to work under intense media and political pressure. Eventually, the task force consisted of 300 detectives and countless officers.

Dowd had been deputy detective inspector with the NYPD and in charge of a major Manhattan precinct. His prior record in solving crimes saw him singled out to take over the serial murder investigation.

“Soon Tim Dowd was running the largest manhunt in New York history and, as the hunt intensified, so too did tensions in New York as a July heat wave and paranoid fear gripped the city,” says Mr Mac an tSíthigh.

A .44 calibre Bulldog revolver was used to kill six people and wound nine others. However, in August 1977, Dowd’s team took the killer, David Richard Berkowitz, into custody, and he was subsequently indicted for eight incidents. He confessed to all of them, but claimed to have been obeying the orders of a demon manifested in the form of a dog, ‘Harvey’, which belonged to his neighbour ‘Sam.’ Berkowitz was handed down multiple life sentences and remains in prison to this day.

The first known victim was shot in Pelham Bay, the Bronx, and, over 13 months, the killer targeted courting couples and women there and also in the neighbouring boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn.

 

In the documentary, Tim Dowd’s cousins, Gobnait O’Mahoney and Gerard Sheehan, are filmed at the site of the Dowd family’s old homeplace in Ross where Margaret and Tim Dowd raised a daughter and four sons. Their son Tim Dowd graduated from the New York Police Academy in 1940.

“His was a new generation of Irish cop: university-educated and ambitious, they rose steadily through the ranks, breaking high-profile cases that made careers,” Mr Mac an tSíthigh reports.

“The Omega taskforce established to catch Son of Sam is evidence of this; many of the detectives were first- and second-generation Irish, names like Coffey, Gallagher, Keenan, O’Connell, Cahill, Gleeson, Donovan, Coffey, Shevlin, Keenan, and O’Connell.”

Produced and directed by Neal Boyle, Son of Kerry, Son of Sam will air on TG4, this Wednesday at 9.30pm.



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