While most true crime fanatics associate the "Zodiac Killer" moniker with the unidentified serial killer who operated in Northern California during the late 1960s and early '70s, New York saw its own copycat criminal in the early '90s.
The New York Zodiac Killer, like his muse several decades before him, targeted and attacked specific victims and taunted authorities with a series of cryptic notes left at crime scenes and mailed to the media. His case is explored in "Mark of a Killer," airing Saturdays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
In a stark contrast to the original Zodiac Killer, however, authorities were able to positively identify the murderer as Heriberto "Eddie" Seda, a 28-year-old who turned to terror after a childhood filled with trauma.
The First Victims
On May 31, 1990, 78-year-old Joseph Proce was shot in the back as he was entering his brownstone. He died three weeks later at the hospital, but while still in critical condition, Proce was able to provide officers with a vague profile description of his attacker: an unkempt man with a mustache and beard, reported The New York Times.
While not much to go on at first, a search of the crime scene produced a cryptic, handwritten note that read, "This is the Zodiac the twelve sign will die when the belts in the heaven are seen." The writer had drawn a circle with a cross through it and a diagram with three birth signs: Scorpio, Gemini, and Taurus.
Days later, the offices at the New York Post received a letter with the same copy as the note left at Proce's crime scene, and the writer claimed to have shot and killed three victims in the past three months.
"The first sign is dead on march 8 1990 ... the second sign is dead on march 29 1990 ... the third sign is dead on may 31 1990," it read, detailing the times and locations where the shootings took place.
Investigators confirmed the handwriting on the notes were from the same individual. Based on the details in the letter, they were able to track down the two previous victims — Mario Orozco, 49, and Jermaine Montenegro, 33 — who both survived the hits made on them.
Orozco was shot in the back as he returned home from his restaurant job, and three weeks later, Montenegro was gunned down.
Police realized that each identified victim correlated with the killer's note: Orozco was a Scorpio, Montenegro was a Gemini, and Proce was a Taurus. They also discovered that the killer followed a distinct pattern and struck every 21 days on a Thursday.
On June 21, 1990, a homeless man who had been sleeping on a bench in Central Park was shot by a man after telling him his astrological sign, reported The New York Times. At the park, detectives found a note with their killer's mark and a fourth sign in the zodiac wheel — Cancer.
The victim was later identified as Larry Parham, a 30-year-old Cancer, who survived the attack.
Authorities sent the letter to a forensics lab, which was able to identify a fingerprint. The prints, however, did not match any in the system, and investigators released a suspect sketch from Parham's description to the public.
Hiatus and Return
The task force dedicated to finding the New York Zodiac Killer determined the next strike would be on July 12, 1990, and officers warned the public about revealing birth and star sign information to strangers.
But the killer was silent. Despite heavy police presence around the city that day in July, no attacks similar to the Zodiac's mode of operation occurred, reported the Los Angeles Times.
It wasn't until three years later in August 1994 when the copycat killer returned. Another letter was sent to the New York Post, claiming responsibility for five additional attacks.
The New York Zodiac was connected to four of the five cases: Patricia Fonti, 39, who was stabbed 100 times in August 1992; James Weber, 40, who was shot in June 1993; John Diacone, 47, who was shot point-blank in July 1993; and Diane Ballard, 40, who was shot in October 1993, reported The New York Times.
The victims were a Leo, Libra, Virgo, and Taurus, respectively. Of the four attacked, only Weber and Ballard survived.
One victim was able to provide investigators with a description for an updated sketch, but without any other solid leads, the NYPD was at a dead end.
Finding the Killer
In 1996, officers responded to a shoot-out in East New York, after reports that a man was exchanging gunfire inside his third-floor apartment. The suspect had shot his 17-year-old sister, who was wounded but able to escape. Her friend, however, was stuck in the apartment and being held hostage.
Three hours later, the man surrendered and was identified as 28-year-old Heriberto "Eddie" Seda. From the roof of the building, officers lowered a bucket into which he was asked to put all of his weapons. Seda produced more than a dozen homemade zip guns, reported The New York Times.
In a sweep of his apartment, investigators found two pipe bombs and supplies to make more weapons, as well as gun paraphernalia.
Seda provided a handwritten statement about the incident at the police precinct, and at the bottom, he signed his name along with a crosshair symbol with three 7s around it. Detectives quickly realized that Seda's symbol, handwriting, and style matched that of the elusive Zodiac killer, according to CNN.
Not only did a run on his prints match those from the note found when Parham was shot, but the zip guns found in Seda's apartment matched the ballistics in the shooting cases. Saliva on the postage stamp sent to the New York Post also matched his DNA.
Seda ultimately confessed to the Zodiac crimes, and he was charged with three murders and multiple assaults.
By digging into his background, investigators learned that Seda grew up in Brooklyn with a single mom in an environment that was filled with gang members, sex workers, and drug dealers. Seda identified as very religious, eschewing drugs and alcohol, and claimed to have called in several tips on drug dealers in his area.
While he dreamed of becoming a Green Beret, he failed the entrance exam, and his goals shifted after watching a PBS special about the original Zodiac Killer, according to a report by New York magazine. As a result, he decided to turn to a life of terrorizing others to become "famous."
By the time he was arrested on June 21, 1996, he was living at home with his sister and mother. He was unemployed and slept most of the day.
In 1998, Seda went through two separate trials — first in Queens, and then one in Brooklyn. Seda was convicted of three murders and one attempted murder and was sentenced to 83 years in prison. At his second trial, he was given 152 years for eight attempted murders, including that of his sister and several police officers from the 1996 shootout.
Although Seda never revealed how he determined his victims' astrological signs, investigators theorized he went through their personal items, such as mail and identification cards, before executing the attacks.
Seda is currently serving his time at the Wende Correctional Facility.
While imprisoned, he married fellow inmate Synthia-China Blast, a transgender woman. It was Seda's first romantic relationship, according to New York magazine.
To hear more about the case, watch "Mark of a Killer" on Oxygen.
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