The second episode ofCatching KillersSeason 3, titled Night Terror: New York Zodiac Killer, makes us privy to a murderer who used to kill people according to their zodiac signs whenever a specific constellation appeared in the sky. The police had a hard time finding the man, as he was pretty good at what he did and never left any evidence that could lead to him. So, let s find out who this Zodiac killer was and how the authorities finally caught hold of him.
What Was The Operation s Watchdog?
On May 31, 1990, detective Mike Ciravolo was given the case of a man named Joseph Proco, who had been shot in New York City. There was a cryptic note that was found on the crime scene, and the kind of markings that were made on it and the language that was used by the perpetrator reminded Mike of the infamous Zodiac killer that had wreaked havoc in the 1960s in San Francisco. There were no fingerprints found on the note, and there were no groves on the bullet that was used to shoot Joe Proco because it was a country made pistol. Mike realized that they were stranded in the dark and they had no evidence that could lead them to the murderer, and looking at the MO of the crime, the detectives came to the conclusion that it was premeditated.
Soon after the Proco murder, another similar note was found in the mailbox of a New York Post reporter, which made the detectives realize that before Proco, there were two more people who were killed. Both the victims i.e., Orozco and German Montenegro had been gravely injured by the gun shot but had somehow managed to survive. Ciravolo knew that, though he was a copycat who was maybe inspired by the real Zodiac killer, he was equally lethal and needed to be caught at all costs before he took the life of another innocent person. In his note, the killer had written phrases like the Orion and seven sisters , and that s what made Ciravolo realize that there was a pattern hidden in those notes, and the killer surely had a lot of knowledge or probably an interest in fields like astronomy, witchcraft, and dark magic.
The detectives realized that they needed experts who knew about such stuff, and that is why Det. Larry Milanesi was called to take charge of things and provide them with evidence that could lead them to solve this mystery. Milanesi, after consulting with his colleagues and eminent personalities in the field, came to the conclusion that there was always a 21-day interval between the killings. The perpetrator intentionally killed after 21 days, as there was some ritual he was trying to do, and it required him to only kill when certain constellations were visible in the night sky. All three of them, i.e., Orozco, Proco, and Montenegro, had managed to survive, but none of them had seen the face of the murderer, which made it difficult for the law enforcement authorities to find any potential leads.
The killer only broke the pattern when the stars were not visible in the sky, and that is why Milanesi had ascertained that the next shooting would be on June 21. Never had it happened in the history of the United States of America that investigative officers had ascertained when a crime was going to take place. At first, Milanesi s superiors were not convinced by his hypothesis, and they found it too far-fetched. But Milanesi stuck to what he was saying, and that was when the chief, detective Borrelli, deployed a task force that was dedicated to finding the zodiac killer. It was called Operation Watchdog, and the best agents were called in to be a part of it. No killing happened in the Queens and Brooklyn area on June 21, and the police officers thought that maybe they had gone way too far with their theories. Every police officer returned to their base and was about to go back home as their shift was now complete. But just then, Ciravolo was told that the killer had struck again and had killed a man of African American descent in the Central Park area. Once again, the police officers were duped by this cunning killer, but the good thing was that they realized that their theory about the 21-day interval wasn t baseless.
How Was The Zodiac Killer Caught?
Nobody understood inCatching KillersEpisode 2, how the copycat killer was able to know the astronomical signs of the people he killed. There was a lot of fear in the masses, and people had stopped moving out in the dark. The Zodiac killer could be anybody, and that made the threat look even more imminent. Larry Milanesi wanted to dig deeper, and he started reading books on witchcraft and black magic to find some answers. He noticed that the killer had signed a note, Faust, and he came to know that it was the name of a 16th-century magician who had sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge.
Milanesi met Herman Slater, who was well-known in the occult community and was himself a warlock. Harman told Milanesi that he should read the book by Aleister Crowley, as this killer seemed to be his follower. Herman told him that he didn t have such dark and evil stuff in his occult store, so Milanesi started looking for the book in every other store and library. Finally, he found it in the Central Research library on Fifth Avenue. The book had some strange theories of how to kill the wretched and the weak and make them slaves who would serve you in the afterlife. The detectives found the fingerprints of the killer from the note he had left after the Central Park killing, but because it was 1990, there were no computers, and there was no online database where the detectives could run the fingerprints and get to know if they matched with some history sheet. They had to manually match the fingerprints of the suspects with the one they had found on Central Park. But one day, the zodiac killer vanished, and Operation Watchdog had to be called off.
The zodiac killer resurfaced approximately four years later, in 1994. The New York Post got a letter where an anonymous person claimed to be the Zodiac killer and took responsibility for all the killings. Another string of attacks happened, and the detectives realized that it was the same person who had killed Joe Proco and others in the 1900s. This time, the modus operandi of the killer had changed, and Joe Herbert, the detective, noticed that instead of pie charts, he was using flags in his notes.
A few people from the army recognized that those were maritime flags that he was drawing on his notes, and they soon cracked the code and came to know what he was trying to say. The zodiac killer issued warnings through those cryptic symbols, and he declared that he was back once again. The fingerprints that were found years ago on the note left after the Zodiac killer shot the African American person sleeping on the park bench, were put to use once again. There were thousands of suspects in the area where the second wave of murders had been committed, and their fingerprints were compared to the ones the detectives had found in the Central Park notes. But unfortunately, none of them matched, and once again, the investigation ran cold. Joe Herbert, who had been heading the investigation of the second wave of attacks, became a hostage negotiator, and on his very first mission, he came across a man named Eddie, who had shot his sister and was holding her boyfriend hostage.
The police caught Eddie, and Herbert thought that the case was over. But the end of episode 2 ofCatching KillersSeason 3, brought a twist that the police officers also didn t expect. They found a note from Eddie s house, and Herbert immediately recognized the writing. It was a fluke, but the man they had caught was the copycat Zodiac killer. They went to the police station where he was being held hostage and asked him to confess to his crimes. Eddie, aka Heriberto Seda, eventually admitted that he was the Zodiac killer, and in 1998 he was convicted of murder and attempted murder. The case was solved, and Eddie was sentenced to 242 years in prison, but it could never be ascertained how he found out about the zodiac signs of his victims. Maybe he killed because he actually believed in the entire afterlife concept enshrined in Aleister Crowley s book or maybe he just liked torturing people and felt a sense of authority and control by being able to decide their fates.