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Tormented killer supports campaign

THE letters are unfailingly polite, the carefully crafted correspondence of a man with too much time on his hands. There is no hint of aggression, nothing to suggest that they were penned by the same writer who once terrorized New York City with his missives filled with blood and darkness and death.

In these letters, sent from a prison cell in upstate New York to an office in Houston's city hall annex, there is an effort to prove contrition for the homicides back then, an eagerness to put distance between the monster he once was and the person he says he has become.

"The past is such a painful memory ... It was all a terrible nightmare. I got into something so evil," one letter reads. "I would give my life if I could go back into the past to have prevented this from happening."

And there is the realization that many will never forget the chilling image of a round-faced, wild-haired man with an eerie grin, photographed after his arrest in six stalker killings.

"Everytime I do something that is decent and good, I usually get accused of doing things with bad motives," another letter says.

"There is nothing I can do about this because people are biased and prejudiced toward me, and I do understand. After all, there is no way they can know my heart."

He signs off: "I will keep you in my prayers. Sincerely yours, David Berkowitz. The Son of Sam."

The letters from the notorious serial killer are addressed to Andy Kahan, crime victim advocate for the city of Houston.

They reveal an unlikely decade- long alliance that began with a simple form letter.

In Kahan's office, manila folders bulge with the stories of families ripped apart by murder. Files detail the sorrow of parents mourning slain children, the outrage of unrepentant killers set free.

Kahan says he is driven by the desire to wring some good from even the worst evil. He's a tireless crusader against serial killer memorabilia who has a drawer filled with items like a lock of Charles Manson's hair and a Jeffrey Dahmer doll.

So when Kahan wanted to ratchet up his campaign against the sellers of "murderabilia," he decided to go straight to the killers themselves.

Kahan sent out four-paragraph form letters to 20 serial killers, including Manson and Berkowitz: did they know that their autographs, drawings, letters and other personal belongings were being sold through online auction sites?

Did they approve of the practice? Were they making money from the sales?

Twelve responded to the October 12, 2000 letter. Manson sent Kahan's letter to a murderabilia dealer who auctioned it off on eBay.

But only Berkowitz seemed to embrace the cause. "Dear Mr Kahan," Berkowitz wrote in his October 26 reply. "I am very bothered and troubled by what these auction sites are doing ... I am willing to help in any way I can."

Berkowitz included a notarized statement disavowing involvement in any sale of murderabilia - and swearing regret for the murder spree in which he killed six women and shot seven others.

"Most of these letters and other writings were written during a very dark and tormented part of my life, and how I wish with all my heart that those horrific and tragic 'Son of Sam' shootings never happened! It was a nightmare for me and for those whose lives were hurt and devastated by my actions."

So began the unlikely collaboration. "We're the ultimate odd couple," said Kahan.

Kahan and Berkowitz would exchange dozens of letters over the next nine years, and the imprisoned murderer would become a key soldier in Kahan's battle against murderabilia.

Berkowitz has tipped Kahan off to overtures from dealers and collectors, who often concoct elaborate ruses to obtain potentially valuable signed letters, artwork and intimate items from infamous criminals. Kahan credits Berkowitz with helping him convince the online auction site eBay to prohibit the sale of murderabilia.

"He has been an invaluable asset for me ... Everybody knows the Son of Sam. You can't get more inside than that," Kahan said.

"It's the ultimate coup when you have the person who all the Son of Sam laws are named after actually working on your behalf."

Laws forbidding criminals from profiting from their crimes have been enacted in many states, the namesake original prompted by rumors - false, according to Berkowitz - that he was writing a book about the case.

The two have yet to meet, but in letter after letter, Berkowitz greets Kahan warmly.

"Dear Andy," he wrote on May 2, 2001. "I trust this letter finds you doing well and that progress is being made in your endeavors for justice.

"I also appreciate the kind things you have said about me, although I feel so unworthy. I have a big debt to pay to society, and it is still a long uphill climb."


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