When Lt. Vinnie Mazziotti came face-to-face with Heriberto Seda in a police squad room on
the afternoon of June 19, 1996, the Zodiac Killer held little back. He spoke of his
crimes, his reasons, his methods and he again taunted the NYPD, chiding Mazziotti
for an apparent lack of interest police seemed to have in the "chase" to bring
the now convicted Zodiac to justice.
"The first thing I said to Seda was how glad I was to
meet him," Mazziotti told the Tribune.
Queens cop Vinnie Maziotti spent six years
on the trail of the Zodiac Killer, despite the disinterest of his supervisors.
"I said Id been looking for him for six years
and that I felt he was professional, very good to have avoided capture
for so long."
Seda calmly stared at the detective. Then in a slow,
measured, precise response he said that he had not done anything outstanding. Not in his
"Ive been here," Seda chided. "If you
had been doing your jobs you would have caught me a while ago."
Heriberto Seda charted a murderous course through the streets
of Queens in the early 1990s.
Seda stalked and killed three people and wounded a fourth in
Queens during a four-year seige of terror.
From the beginning, he taunted city cops in a series of
hand-written letters he left at crime scenes and sent through the mail. Seda promised to
kill 12 people one for each of the astrological signs. Each letter contained a
sketch of an astrological wheel and a circle with a cross in the center a symbol
that became the Zodiacs signature.
Vinnie Mazziotti was there at the beginning, in November
1989, when the Zodiac sent a letter to the 75th Precinct in Brooklyn.
"The first sign is dead," he wrote. "The
Zodiac will strike fear."
The letter contained a drawing of an astrological chart
a symbol that would haunt Mazziotti and Det. Eddie Sloan until June 1996.
So dedicated to the case were the two detectives that they
headed to homicide squad rooms and crime scenes on their own time over the years.
"We went after work to see what the squad had and to
look for specific things the Zodiac would leave," Mazziotti said.
Most of the cases led Mazziotti and Sloan to a dead-end. But they kept going.
Someone had to continue the search for the Zodiac when "official" interest in
the case lagged, as the initial Zodiac went on "hiatus" following three murders
and one shooting in Queens.
He had his own theories on what made this Zodiac
A final letter was received at the New York Post on June 20,
1996 from the Zodiac. The letter marked the end of Zodiacs first tryst with terror.
"No more games, pigs," the letter said.
The chase had drawn more than 50 detectives, Mazziotti said.
Holed-up in an office they shared with the Brooklyn North Narcotics Squad at the Brooklyn
Navy Yard, members of the Zodiac Task Force had chased down every lead, followed up on
each tip called in to the Zodiac Hotline, dissected the killers notes and mapped-out
his trail of bloody terror.
The Task Force was phased-out when the Zodiac went on hiatus
and the tips stopped coming in.
Mazziotti was reassigned to the Queens Robbery Squad
following the phase-out of the Task Force. While there, he was faced with a daily barrage
of perps and their crimes. But he never stopped looking over his shoulder for the Zodiac.
Not even when the case files were tossed out of the Queens office. Mazziotti kept a close
check on the files, adding information and updates to the case as the files lay dormant
for more than three-and-a-half years. He even kept a photo of a young male Hispanic under
glass on his desk his "prime suspect."
Mazziotti credited former NYPD Chief of Detectives Joseph
Borelli as the only NYPD official who showed any real interest in the case during the
years the Zodiac laid-low.
"Chief Borelli was the only one who regularly
followed-up on the case, asked questions and showed interest in the
Zodiac-on-hiatus," Mazziotti said.
On Aug. 4, 1994 the New York Post received a letter from a
writer who claimed to be the Zodiac. The writer also claimed responsibility for five
shootings that occurred between Aug. 10, 1992 and June 11, 1994.
In the newletter, the writer now credited the Zodiac with a
total of nine victims four in 1990 and five since 1992.
Mazziotti was sitting at his desk in the Queens Robbery Squad
on Aug. 4, 1994, his tour about to end, when the momentum shifted.
"I was getting ready to go home when I got a call from
the boss (Chief of Queens Detectives) telling me to report immediately to the Chief of
Detectives office," Mazziotti said.
"They said they believed a Zodiac letter had been received at the NY
Post. They wanted me to take a look at it to determine if it had come from the
Mazziotti said that similarities in handwriting, composition
and "artwork" made the determination easy "it was definitely from
the same guy."
The Queens detective was called back along with Eddie
Sloan and a team of investigators to sniff-out the Zodiac, circa 1994.
The team worked out of a back room in a building that had
previously housed the 107th Precinct on 73rd Avenue in Fresh Meadows. There, the team once
again mapped out the killers movements, answered hotline tips and retraced the
Zodiacs steps from four years before.
Mazziotti kept the photo of the young male Hispanic on his
desk at the Task Force. He never gave up, connecting pieces to the puzzle 24-hours a day.
A number of suspects emerged during the teams search
for the Zodiac, Mazziotti said.
Officials were giving a thumbs-down to just about all of the
suspects, since there was no match to a fingerprint police had lifted from one of the
first (1990) crime scenes.
One suspect stands out in Mazziottis mind. Colin
Ferguson, the LIRR gunman was interviewed and scrutinized by Mazziotti for a possible link
to the Zodiac crimes.
"I was on my way home to Nassau," Mazziotti said,
"when I got a message to call Chief Borelli forthwith," he said.
"Get the Chief on his cell phone, at home, wherever," the message read.
"Just get him now."
When reached at home, Borelli told Mazziotti to check-out
Colin Ferguson as the Zodiac a fact that was not revealed to the public.
Mazziotti headed for the Nassau holding facility where
Ferguson was being housed.
"Yes, there was a definite similarity between Ferguson
and one of the composite sketches prepared during the Task Force search for the
Zodiac," Mazziotti said.
"We checked into his background, went through bags at
the Nassau police station that held Fergusons personal writings," Mazziotti
said. Most of the material failed to link Ferguson to the Zodiac that is, until the
detective found a self-addressed envelope in the pile of papers.
It was the same kind of envelope used by the Zodiac to mail
"We lifted a print from the envelope," Mazziotti
said. "It wasnt the same guy but Chief Borelli came through," he
said. "The rest of the department didnt follow through."
The Aug. 4, 1994 letter was the last time the NYPD heard from
the Zodiac until the department got lucky on June 18, 1996.
Police in East New York, Brooklyn had arrested a young man on
that day, after he held cops at bay for hours.
The suspect, Heriberto Seda, surrendered to police wearing a
Swiss Army helmet. Seda handed buckets of weapons to the cops, including some homemade,
"personalized" weapons. Among them was a gun that was used to fatally shoot
78-year-old Joseph Proce on May 31, 1990 the Zodiacs third victim.
Seda confessed to police in writing, seeking forgiveness for
his weapons cache and his "other sins." He ended the confession with a
"plea for Gods help," and signed-off with a drawing of a crude cross and
One of the Brooklyn cops spotted a similarity to the
Zodiacs "symbol" and showed the confession to a detective in East New
York, who identified it as the Zodiac.
A subsequent fingerprint match revealed Sedas true
identify, police said. With "resigned pride" Seda spoke to the Brooklyn
detectives about the Zodiac murders.
|Queens? Where's That?
Mazziotti never received official notice that the Zodiac was
in police custody. He learned by word-of-mouth, through other detectives in Queens.
"It wasnt just me," he said. "The heart
and soul of the investigation the Queens detectives who worked the case were left
out of the notifications.
"I told the bosses and the other detectives numerous
times that the guy came from Brooklyn. It was more than a hunch, it was logistics,"
Mazziotti said. "It was how the guy got from here to there.
"When he did come in, it was a matter of being in the
right place at the right time."
Mazziotti is retired from the NYPD now. Did the frustration
of being left-out of the last phase of the Zodiac case play a part in his decision to call
"Lets just say it was time," Mazziotti said.
"Sure it was frustrating. Myself, a handful of Queens cops and Chief Borelli kept
this case alive when everyone else tossed it away.
"There could have been more effort given to notifying