New York was a disco inferno that summer of 1977, and not just because of the music. From the posh clubs of Manhattan to the sweaty discos of Queens, polyester gripped the dance floor hustlers and cocaine gripped the glitterati. A scorching heat wave burned through the city, leading to a blackout and rioting that seemed to confirm the descent of a grand metropolis into an urban hell.

But fear of another kind gripped New York, too, at least those parts of the city where young women and their dates were in a gunman's deadly sights. A police task force worked round the clock. Criminal profiles piled up. Citizen tips poured in. And all the while, unbeknown to anyone, a black Labrador up in Yonkers, owned by a man named Sam, was busy transmitting demonic messages. The dog told a neighbor -- a nut case named David Berkowitz -- to go forth and to kill. And so Berkowitz called himself the "Son of Sam" and terrorized New York.

Of course no one knew how twisted the killer actually was until 13 months had passed and he'd been caught. And that is why people who were involved in the manhunt for Berkowitz are watching intensely, quizzically, as the Washington area sniper spree unfolds. Though the cases are quite different in many ways, they are similar enough to resonate for the fraternity of people who have faced this situation before -- the race to find a killer before he kills again.

In the nine years since he left the New York Police Department, where he helped investigate Son of Sam, Bill Clark, executive producer of "NYPD Blue," says: "The case in Washington is the first time that I really miss being in an investigation." Not that he's second-guessing in any way. It's just that the sniper case seems to hold a special lure for cops like Clark who've been there before, been fooled before, been tormented before by a serial shooter.

Berkowitz killed six people and wounded seven others. It sparked such fear in New York -- especially in the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn -- that young women with long brown hair like some of Berkowitz's victims started cutting and dyeing it.

"For young women with long brown hair, there was no closed season," said Jimmy Breslin, who received a letter from the killer while a columnist for the New York Daily News. "Young women were afraid."

What is similar about the two cases, Breslin said in his trademark gruffness, is that "you don't know anything. You know that there are dead people and that the guy obviously can shoot."

After Berkowitz shot a pair of young lovers in a car, young people stopped hitting the lovers' lanes. And they stopped frequenting nightclubs Berkowitz is believed to have stalked. Though he didn't hit in Manhattan, the island did not escape the impact.

"The nightclub business, the bar business, the theater business actually started being affected," Clark recalls.

But beyond the generalized fear that characterizes both cases and the fact that people are adjusting their lives accordingly, the two cases are markedly different in key ways that could affect the outcome of the unfolding Washington area case.

"We had the luxury of a 13-month period, having time in between each incident to gather our thoughts and develop patterns," says Joseph Coffey, a retired NYPD homicide sergeant who supervised Berkowitz's capture. That "luxury," in the end, did not necessarily allow the cops to capture Berkowitz faster; it just allowed them time to figure.

"The big thing was always trying to find some common denominator between all the victims," says Clark. Did they go to the same chiropractor? The same schools? And of course profiles were being constantly developed and offered, sometimes unintentionally leading police astray. And suspects were put under surveillance.

For a time, police thought they were seeking a macho-type person, maybe former military, even a former cop. But that profile proved of little use when descriptions emerged of a man in a yellow Volkswagen Rabbit -- hardly a vehicular reflection of machismo.

A monsoon of tips flooded police hot lines. People were more than ready to drop a dime on someone they knew.

"We had hundreds of people giving us information about law enforcement, that they were probably the people who did this," says Coffey. "Wives were giving up their husbands. Girlfriends were giving up their boyfriends. Partners in radio cars were giving up their partners."

And people's stereotypes and base fears were at play.

"It was very heart-wrenching, because a lot of people were giving up the guy down the block who had been in a mental institution," says Clark.

Profiling suspects and gathering tips from the public is happening in Washington as well -- but at a far faster pace than in the Berkowitz case. In two weeks, the Washington area shooter has killed more people -- nine -- than Son of Sam did in 13 months.

"These poor guys in the Washington area have several problems that we didn't have," says Coffey, now a law enforcement consultant. "One is that this guy is hitting rapidly. Their evidence is coming in very rapidly."

"This last one he did Monday night, they have more evidence from that one than from the others. As he continues to do this, there'll be more evidence and more evidence," Coffey says.

New York City police tried everything to get the Son of Sam. They even ran down people who received parking violations on the same streets and same days as the killings, in hopes of finding witnesses. One such parking scofflaw was a Yonkers man who did not have a telephone. Since the NYPD couldn't call him to ask him in for a witness interview, it asked the Yonkers police to send a patrol car to the man's home to give him the message.

The New York officer told the Yonkers dispatcher the man's name was David Berkowitz. In Clark's retelling of it, the dispatcher said: "I know that guy! He shot my father's dog!"

The dispatcher was the daughter of Sam -- Sam Carr. (And the fact that the dog had not died after it was shot fueled Berkowitz's insane belief: Sam was a 6,000-year-old demon who spoke to him through the dog.)

And so began a chain of events that led to Berkowitz's capture -- more than a year after his terror began. He is serving six consecutive life sentences.

But it should be different in the Washington area, Coffey says: "It's going to be easier to catch him, or them, because they're shooting so frequently.

"If this guy stops, they're not going to catch him. It's a terrible thought. It's chilling. But it's a fact."

David Berkowitz, the killer known as Son of Sam who terrorized New York 25 years ago, was nabbed because of a parking violation.Sam Carr and Harvey, his black Lab, in 1977. David Berkowitz claimed the dog was transmitting demonic instructions to kill.