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tv   Forensic Files  CNN  February 28, 2015 9:00pm-9:31pm PST

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maybe the things i've done and am still doing will still shine a light and give them hope at some point. ♪ for six years a serial killer prowled the streets of new york city hunting his victims. he promised to kill 12 people, one for each astrological sign. and he only struck while certain constellations were visible. it took forensic astronomy, handwriting analysis, and a world war ii code breaker to find him. late one cold night in march 1990, 49-year-old mario orozco was walking home from his restaurant job in brooklyn.
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without warning, he was shot in the back. mario survived. but he couldn't describe his attacker. three weeks later there was a similar incident a few blocks away. 34-year-old factory worker herman montenedro was walking home after a serious night of drinking when somebody shot him in the back. he, too, survived, but he didn't see the gunman either. police recovered the .9 mm bullet. >> there were no grooves on the bullets. and we're probably dealing with a zip gun type of homemade rep. >> two months later, a short distance away in queens, 78-year-old joe proce was about to open the door to his apartment when he was shot with a 0.9 millimeter zip gun. he died later at the hospital.
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this time the killer left a note beside the victim. it was a threat to kill 12 people, one for each astrological sign of the zodiac. >> this is the zodiac. the 12 signs will die when the belts in heaven are seen. >> the next day a similar note arrived at the offices of "the new york post" newspaper. the killer called himself "the zodiac." the zodiac claimed responsibility for the three shootings. but he mistakenly believed that he had killed all three. it was apparent the zodiac knew his victim's birthdays and astrological signs. mario orozco was a scorpio. herman montenedro was a gemini, and joe proce was a taurus. but how did the zodiac know the victim's astrological signs?
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>> are you kidding? it freaked them out completely. the new york city police department went into the biggest manhunt. it was mammoth. and it was driving them crazy. >> at this point, investigators realized the zodiac had contacted them before. they just didn't know it. three months earlier, he had written a letter to police headquarters, but it was ignored. >> and basically it was viewed humorously. here's a nut letter. i believe it was posted on a bulletin board. it was not taken very seriously. >> this letter held yet another clue. >> the zodiac will kill the 12 signs in the belt when the zodiacal height is seen. orion is the one who can stop zodiac and the seven sisters. >> an astrologer told police that the constellations orion and the seven sisters of the pleiades were not visible on the night of the shootings.
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the zodiac's letter implied that he wouldn't strike when orion and the seven sisters were in the sky. >> this thing is all over the newspaper now. like, the biggest case in years in new york city. >> 25 years earlier a man in san francisco killed six people and wrote taunting letters to police. he, too, called himself the zodiac and was never apprehended. was it possible the san francisco zodiac was now in new york city? >> if the zodiac from california in the '60s had resurfaced in new york, they knew this was a complete law enforcement nightmare. ♪ they lived. ♪ they lived. ♪
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new york city police were searching for a killer who called himself the zodiac. he promised to kill one victim for each of the 12 astrological signs. >> before the zodiac killer, in new york, when a guy said to a girl, hat's your sign, he was hitting on her.
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afterwards there was literally a case where a guy asked a girl for her sign, and she screamed for the police. >> handwriting experts compared those letters to those written by the san francisco's zodiac killer 25 years earlier. >> one characteristic of this writer is he makes his horizontal lines in a descending way. the t bars tend to descend. the cross-bar on the lower case f tends to descend. >> handwriting experts concluded that the san francisco zodiac and the new york zodiac were two different men. investigators now realized they were dealing with a very sophisticated copycat. the shootings had taken place at 21 and 63-day intervals. suggesting variations of the three-week cycle. and they happened on nights when the constellations orion and the
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seven sisters of the pleiades were not visible in the sky. >> the planets aren't just named after gods and goddesses. they were the gods and goddesses. the stars also were either homes of gods or the lights into heaven. so these are powerful ideas. these are powerful symbols. >> to predict when the zodiac would strike next, police asked astronomer gregory matloff to identify the next time within the 21-day cycle that orion and the seven sisters would not be in the sky. he predicted zodiac would strike next on june 21st, the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. >> so we have hundreds of plainclothes detectives out on nights when we think this guy is going to shoot again. >> and the zodiac was even more clever than anticipated. he did strike, but not in the
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same area as before. this time, it was in manhattan. he shot a homeless man, larry parham, who was sleeping on a bench in central park. in the victim's shoe was a note. the zodiac somehow knew that larry parham was a cancer, a sign different from the other three victims. and zodiac registered his indignation that the newspapers were calling him a copycat. >> one zodiac. >> he's angry, he's trying to convince us, no, no, i'm zodiac. one zodiac. and, you know, we -- we knew it wasn't him. we knew it was a copycat. >> to look for forensic evidence criminalists saturated the letter with ninhydrin, a chemical that reacts with amino
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acids from skin oils. then the letter was placed in a humidity chamber for several hours. the moisture in the chamber accelerated the chemical process eventually revealing an almost perfect thumbprint. this was photographed and then compared to prints in every fingerprint database available. >> they did databases for city employees, department of motor vehicles, postal workers, including police officers. and nothing. no hits. >> there had been no witnesses. none of the surviving victims could give a description. and the only forensic evidence was a single fingerprint. zodiac claimed that only the constellations orion and the seven sisters could stop him. new york police hoped to add themselves to the list.
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the zodiac killed one man and wounded three others in new york city. and for some unexplained reason, he struck only on nights when the constellations orion and the seven sisters were not in the
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sky. just as unusual was the fact that he apparently knew the birthdays of all four of his victims. and it was clear from the zodiac's letters that he was following the investigation in the newspaper. >> i printed a story that the police had his fingerprints. he messed up. and i'm convinced that as soon as he saw that, you know, he folded his tent. because he knew that once they had fingerprints, if they had comparison, he was cooked. >> and for almost two years there were no more zodiac shootings. it wasn't until 1994 that the zodiac sent his next letter, announcing his return. the zodiac claimed responsibility for the stabbing death of 39-year-old patricia fonti in highland park. patricia was a leo. and 49-year-old joseph diacone
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was shot and killed while he was walking near this highway underpass. joseph was a virgo. zodiac's next victim, 40-year-old james weber, was shot in the same location. he was a libra. and fortunately, he survived the attack. >> snuck up behind him, shot him and ran away laughing, according to weber. weber said after he was shot in the buttocks he heard him laughing as he jumped into the cemetery. >> amazically, each of the zodiac's victims had a different astrological sign. but the pattern stopped with his eighth victim. 40-year-old diane ballard, who also survived the shooting, but was a taurus, the same sign as an earlier victim. zodiac also took credit for shooting a ninth man in highland park although police couldn't confirm the shooting took place. although the zodiac bragged the police would never catch him, with this letter he made a
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mistake. he licked the envelope flap and left enough saliva for dna testing. police now had the dna profile of the zodiac killer. the letter also included another clue. >> i knew it was a code. it was a nine towers because there were nine victims. and i wrote down all the different symbols. and i think i had 23. very close to an alphabet. and then i did something called a frequency count. which is, you write down how many times each letter is used. because, for example, e is the most commonly used letter in the alphabet. >> kieran crowley's father-in-law had been a code-breaker in world war ii. together they discovered the alphabet was based on a maritime system of international flags
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and pendants. and with this discovery, they were able to decipher the zodiac's secret message. >> it said, this is the zodiac speaking, i am in control. who mastery be ready for more, yours truly. sir, we're going to need you on the runway later don't let a severe cold hold you back. get theraflu. it has the power of three medicines to take on your worst pain and fever, cough and nasal congestion. theraflu breaks you free from your toughest cold and flu symptoms. so you never miss a day. theraflu. serious power. i bring the gift of the name your price tool to help you find a price that fits your budget. uh-oh. the name your price tool. she's not to be trusted.
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the zodiac killer had been walking the dark, deserted streets of new york city undetected for six years. captain joseph herbert worked on the zodiac task force and he knew that eventually the forensic evidence would catch him. >> this case is actually studied in forensic investigations. because i knew at the time from working on the task force that we had partial fingerprints from two of the letters from the earlier shootings. the bullets that were removed from the bodies were not traditional lange and groove bullets, but they did have battle markings on them that could be compared to other battles. we knew we had a dna sample from one of the letters. >> police continued to search for the zodiac. on a dark, dreary march afternoon in 1996, their luck began to change.
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[ knock at door ] >> open the door. >> a young man in a brooklyn apartment apparently got angry because his younger sister and her boyfriend were together alone in her bedroom. he demanded the boyfriend leave, when he refused he fired a shot through the bedroom door. >> what the heck is wrong with you? >> when the woman ran out to confront her brother, he shot her in the buttocks with a shotgun. the police arrived to discover the man was holding his sister's boyfriend hostage. captain herbert was assigned as the hostage negotiator. >> i'm behind one side of the door. and he's on the other side of the door. and i'm talking to him. and trying to articulate to him that enough damage has been done. after about three hours he articulated to me that he wanted to surrender. >> herbert convinced him to put all of his weapons in buckets police lowered from the roof to his apartment window and he surrendered. his name was eddie seda.
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a 26-year-old high school dropout, unemployed, who was still living at home with his mother and younger sister. >> on days he seemed religious and quiet and shy and strange. and other days, he seemed aggressive and scary. >> at headquarters police asked seda to provide a written statement describing what happened inside his apartment. seda complied and when finished he signed it with an odd symbol next to his name. >> and the detective who did it looks at it and says, what's this? and he said that that was a symbol for god and god's love or something. >> an alert police officer asked hostage negotiator joseph herbert to have a look. herbert knew immediately what he was looking at. >> the statement out of my mouth was, as sure as i'm standing here, this is the zodiac killer.
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>> to prove their suspicions, police turned to forensic science. first seda was fingerprinted. his prints were then compared with the print left on the letter in central park. it was a match. next, handwriting experts compared the handwriting from the zodiac's letters to seda's known handwriting sample. the experts concluded they were written by the same hand. ballistics experts examined seda's collection of 15 zip guns. in his letters, zodiac claimed no one would catch him because his gun barrel didn't have the traditional lands and grooves inside for testing. but the zodiac apparently didn't know about forensic tool mark analysis. >> a tool mark is a characteristic left behind during the process of using a
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tool to either cut, grind, file, or polish a piece of metal. >> there can be hundreds of microscopic tool marks in a pipe used in a homemade gun. when ballistics experts compared the bullets from the victims to those fired from seda's zip gun, the tool marks were microscopically similar. finally police asked seda for a blood sample for dna testing. his dna matched the saliva on the flap of the letter from the zodiac killer. detectives had the pleasure of telling seda they knew his true identity. >> i put out my hands and said, i've been looking for you for six years. and i said, you're the zodiac. and he says, no, i'm not.
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and i said, you're the zodiac. >> that was the beginning of a six, seven-hour interrogation on the zodiac shootings until he gave it up. he confessed. >> he didn't want to go to jail for shooting his sister in the butt with a shotgun. he wanted to take credit for his years of handiwork. >> in one of his first letters he claimed that only the orion and the seven sisters could stop him. ironically, on the day of his sister's shooting, orion and the seven sisters were overhead. they just weren't visible in the overcast sky. eddie seda was charged with killing six people and shooting three others. prosecutors had so much evidence they were looking at. >> we weren't certain that the public at large would be interested in all this forensic evidence. we were curious about how the jury would receive it.
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and we ultimately just set aside a week we referred to as forensic week. we were shocked to see the jury sat on the edge of their seats. >> and i just remember one morning sitting there sifting through the guns and knives whatever it was that day and looking at it and at that moment being struck by like, wow, what aim going to do with this stuff? you beat the ballistics, you've got the fingerprint. you got the handwriting you've got the fingerprints. you beat the handwriting you've got a statement. you beat one statement you have another statement. >> all those forensic entities came back to haunt eddie big time. >> eddie seda was sentenced and convicted to 232 years in prison. >> eddie seda was a coward. he attacked victims from the rear and shot them for no reason other than he could. >> but one question remains, how did seda know his victim's birthdays? some speculate that he looked inside his victim's wallet after
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each shooting and that all had different astrological signs due to nothing more than luck. a popular high school gym teacher mysteriously left town without saying goodbye to anyone. he later sent letters to explain why. but a closer forensic look at those letters and the microscopic piece of tissue gave investigators an entirely different explanation for where he went and why. west yellowstone, montana is primarily a resort town. only 1,000 residents live here year round.


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