CRIME: The Man Hunt For Son of Sam Goes On

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Few witnesses and survivors have had more than a fleeting look at the gunman, and their impressions of his appearance have varied confusingly. He is known to be white, about 25 to 33 years old, between 5 ft. 7 in. and 5 ft. 11 in. tall and well built. Police last week updated what they considered to be their most reliable artist's sketch after one witness, identified only as "Tommy Z," said he was parked with a date in front of Stacy's car, saw the gunman's approach in his rear-view mirror and watched helplessly in terror as the man fired. (The earlier sketch was sent out to 160,000 gun and ammunition dealers across the country; the sketch is taped on the dashboards of many police patrol cars.) Tommy Z believes he can identify the assailant if the man is caught.

Other witnesses claim they saw a gunman jump into a mustard-colored small car and speed away after the seventh assault. A yellow Volkswagen was seen near the site of last week's attack No. 8. Yet more than 25,000 yellow Volkswagens are registered in New York State, and police have little confidence that state computers can narrow the number of owners who also roughly fit the killer's age range and physical description. The job of tracing ownership of the 28,000 Bulldog revolvers made by Charter Arms Corp. of Stratford, Conn., over the past five years is similarly hopeless; at least 600 were reported stolen before reaching retail outlets, and police estimate at least half of the rest were sold illegally or without their sale being recorded.

So far, the killer's notes have been teasers to investigators, revealing little. The message to Breslin showed that Son of Sam seemed to enjoy his grisly game with police. "Please inform all the detectives working the case that I wish them the best of luck," he 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." The Son of Sam label lost some of its mystery when police confirmed they had coined it. The killer had claimed in his first note to police that he was directed by a vague father figure he called Sam.

As the investigators grappled futilely last week, police patrols cruised parks and lovers' lanes, noting license-plate numbers of all cars seen in such areas after midnight. Police have placed mannequins in some parked cars to simulate necking couples; the use of live decoys was considered too dangerous. Vigilante action was spreading. When a false rumor spread that a man seized by police in a car in Brooklyn for carrying two pistols was Son of Sam, angry crowds swarmed out of bar and threatened to attack the gunman. Police sped away with him for his own protection. The bitter yearning for revenge was widespread. A candy-store owner asked, "You know what I'd do with him?' Then answered: "I'd cut both his legs off and say to the police, 'When you give me the reward, I'll bring the rest of the body.' "

Meanwhile the lone killer was forcing a huge city's young women to shun their usual dating places, to roll up their long hair, to travel only in groups. All this provided another painful reminder of a mass society's vulnerability to the whims and torments of the oddballs in its midst.

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