All last week I kept thinking of the summer of 1977. I was a 19-year-old college student working as a summer intern in NEWSWEEK's San Francisco bureau. But I was transfixed by a crime story unfolding 3,000 miles away. For a year, a serial killer wielding a .44-caliber revolver had been gunning down attractive young women around New York City, eluding police while taunting them with bizarre notes saying he was "Sam's Creation." While cops searched in vain, the rest of us tried to figure out who the killer might be. Was he a local or an out-of-towner? Was he motivated by lust or jealousy? And who was Sam?
Of course, when he was finally captured, Son of Sam turned out to be a pudgy, porn-addicted lunatic named David Berkowitz who claimed that Sam was a 6,000-year-old man who spoke to him through his neighbor's dog. In the end, it was hard to believe such a pathetic psycho had managed to kill six innocent people and paralyze the world's biggest city with fear.
It's human nature to try to make sense of the senseless. So again last week, Americans tried to figure out why, day after horrifying day, a sniper firing .223-caliber bullets was killing random victims in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs around Washington, D.C. The gunman was felling his prey with one bullet from long range, so he must be a trained military marksman. (Or maybe not, since he shot at more bodies than heads.) A tarot card was found near one crime scene, so he must be a follower of the occult. (Or maybe not, since anyone who understood the "Death" card wouldn't link it to murder.) "Dear Policeman, I am God," a note on the tarot card boasted. So the killer must be a grandiose madman--or maybe a videogame nut acting out a gruesome real-life version of "One Shot, One Kill."
Yet while we played amateur detective, parents in the crime zone worried about sending kids to football practice, and drivers crouched behind cars as they filled gas tanks. And to families of the victims, no explanation will ever sort out why their loved ones died so needlessly. Because this story has gripped the country--and reminded us of our vulnerability to criminal as well as international terror--we decided to put it on the cover despite the chance the killer (or killers) may be captured or dead by the time you read this. In that case, our story will be missing the last chapter. But if it means the families around Washington can rest easy again, that will be fine with us.