On This Day in True Crime: Sandra Berfield killed by Stalker’s Pipe Bomb
January 20th, 2000: Sandra Berfield dies when a pipe bomb sent by her stalker explodes.
Medford Massachusetts, 1998. Sandra Berfield was loved by nearly everyone who met her. Working as a waitress at Bickford’s Restaurant in Medford, MA, she had many regular customers.
One day, a 48-year-old handyman named Steven Caruso came into the popular local establishment and noticed Berfield. He became infatuated with the outgoing waitress, and would frequently come in just to stare at her. His behavior was startling, menacing and creepy to waitstaff and regulars alike. On busy days, Caruso would wait hours just to get a seat in her section. On other days, even if the restaurant was empty, he would still wait for a seat in Berfield’s section of the restaurant.
One day, Steven Caruso took it upon himself to wash Berfield’s car in the restaurant parking lot. It was then when he decided to ask her on a date. Frightened by his attention, she refused. Not respecting her refusal, he continued to persist, continuing his stalking behaviors and repeatedly asking her on dates. With the support of her family and the Bickford’s Restaurant waitstaff, Berfield obtained a restraining order against Caruso. Her true nightmare was only beginning.
She immediately began to receive hang-up phone calls. She would hear a man breathing on the other end of the line, and then the caller would disconnect. Someone poured battery acid into her gas tank. Her tires were slashed on multiple occasions.
After speaking with one of her regulars from the restaurant, a Massachusetts State Trooper, she learned that she needed evidence that Caruso was behind the violent acts of harassment. She installed a camera on her front porch that was angled to record her car in the driveway. Sure enough, Caruso returned to damage her car. Caruso was convicted of tampering with Berfield’s car in October of 1998, and served six months of a two-year sentence in prison. He was released in July of 1999.
Sandra Berfield was terrified over Caruso’s early release, and told her family and co-workers that she knew that she was “not done with him.” She told the parole board that she was afraid of what he would do to her, but they couldn’t do anything. Friends said she slept with a knife and also installed a surveillance camera at her home.
The hang-up calls returned. One day, Berfield had a male friend over at her apartment when the phone rang. The friend answered it, but the caller disconnected. This became the catalyst for her murder.
Two days later, Berfield was dead. On January 20th, 2000, Berfield saw that she had a package on her front porch. A family member was listed as the return address. She took it to the kitchen to open it, and when she did, it exploded. The pipe bomb severed her arm and essentially disemboweled her.
“Most of her body from her neck to her knees was blown off,” Assistant District Attorney Bob Delahunt stated, in Caruso’s eventual trial.
Caruso was brought in for questioning. He told them Berfield “caused me a lot of trouble. I don’t like her. There was a time that we had feelings for each other but now I don’t like her.” Police also found a book on how to build a bomb in the trash at his house, and detailed notes on Berfield and her family members.
Caruso was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
At the time of Berfield’s original restraining order, criminally enforceable restraining orders were only granted for people who were related to or dating their stalkers. Because Berfield never had a personal relationship with Caruso, that option was not available.
After Berfield was killed, her family headed a campaign to change the law. In 2010, the law was amended to extend criminal protection orders to victims of stalking and sexual abuse who do not have a dating or familial relationship with their perpetrators.