NEW YORK — John Keenan, the police official who led New York City’s manhunt for the Son of Sam killer and eventually took a case-solving confession from David Berkowitz, has died.
His death Thursday at age 99 was announced by the police department and Keenan’s family. He had been in declining health in the past two months and died of heart failure, said his grandson, Kevin Brennan.
Keenan was the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives during the killings, which terrified the city in 1976 and 1977 as an unknown gunman stalked his victims with a .44-caliber handgun, killing six and wounding seven others.
When a parking ticket, issued to a car seen parked near the scene of one slaying, finally led detectives on Aug. 10, 1977, to the Yonkers home of Berkowitz, a 24-year-old postal worker, Keenan was there to confront him.
It was a climactic scene Keenan later recounted many times for journalists.
“I know you. You’re Detective — Chief Keenan,” said Berkowitz, who had publicly taunted the police with notes during the hunt.
“Who are you?” Keenan asked.
“I am the Son of Sam,” Berkowitz replied.
Recounting the manhunt to TV news station NY1 for the 40th anniversary of the arrest, Keenan said even he had been afraid of where the gunman might strike next.
“My daughter Joan was a teenager, and I had two other daughters,” Keenan said. “And I was worried about them. I realized most fathers were in the same position: They were worried about their daughters. It became kind of a panic in the city.”
The killer had been taunting investigators in letters to New York Daily News columnist Jimmy Breslin. In one, he offered detectives words of encouragement.
“Please inform all the detectives working the case that I wish them the best of luck,” Berkowitz wrote. “Keep Em digging, drive on, think positive, get off your butts, knock on coffins, etc.
“Upon my capture I promise to buy all the guys working on the case a new pair of shoes if I can get up the money.”