Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Heriberto 'Eddie' Seda

No Ordinary Robbery


Joseph Proce liked to walk the streets of East New York and Woodhaven, Queens late at night. Proce was seventy-eight years old and used a cane. As a young man he had survived combat in World War II, but now each step was laborious. He was a lonely, elderly man who lived off public assistance and his short-term memory often failed him. To his shame, he sometimes rummaged through the trash for discarded food.

Woodhaven, where Proce lived, borders East New York and suffers from a similar level of violent crime, drugs and poverty. Despite warnings by concerned friends, Proce continued his late night walks because he didnt want to give up one of his few daily pleasures, and he disliked rummaging through trash when neighbors could see him.

On May 31, 1990, as Proce made his way home at around 1:30 a.m., a young man approached him and asked for a glass of water. Wary of the stranger, Proce refused and continued on his way, but he moved slowly. The angered young man followed. After a short exchange about the water, the young man pulled out a zip gun and fired a shot into Proce. He placed an eerie handwritten note beside Proces body and disappeared.

Proce was a Taurus, and he died of his wounds on June 24th.

Before his death, Queens detectives interviewed him about the attack. Because Proce was expected to survive, the case was treated as a robbery rather than a homicide. Nevertheless, two detectives, Mike Ciravolo and Bill Clark, were concerned and frightened by the shooters strange, occultist note. Clark had served on the task force that had caught the Son of Sam, and both men suspected this was no ordinary robbery. It was Ciravolos case, and he quickly compiled a file that was unusually thick for an attempted robbery. The file included faint fingerprints gleaned from the Zodiacs letter.

Because the first two incidents happened across the Queens/Brooklyn border, Ciravolo did not know about the similar shootings or the earlier letter that had been sent to the anti-crime unit.

Proce himself, who proved to be an awful witness, further hampered the investigation. He changed his story several times including his description of the assailant. First, Proce claimed the man was African-American. Then, he claimed it was possible that he was white or maybe even Hispanic. The night of the attack was dark; Proce verged on senility and sometimes didnt recognize detectives who had questioned him.

The detectives had another witness, a young woman who watched the shooter flee the scene as she trysted with her boyfriend. Unfortunately, she and the married boyfriend refused to cooperate with police for fear of exposing their illicit affair. Then, Proce died.

Meanwhile, Ciravolo and Clarks fear that the shooting might be the work of a serial killer started to materialize. Letters similar to the one found at the scene of the Proce shooting arrived at The New York Post and 60 Minutes. The Zodiac wrote in the same bizarre style as his earlier notes, listing the time, place and date of each shooting along with the victims astrological sign. The letters said all shot in Brooklyn.

A reporter at the Post brought the note to the Brooklyn police with the hope that it was genuine. Correspondence from a serial killer can make a career. She was disappointed to discover there had been no murders that fit the notes descriptions. The detectives agreed to continue to investigate but believed the note to be a fraud.

On an unrelated visit to the 17th Precinct, Clark accidentally discovered the investigation into the note. He immediately recognized the connection to the note left nearby his victim and crosschecked the dates and astrological signs to recent murder victims. No results. However, when he crosschecked the dates and astrological signs for shooting victims that hadnt died, he found Orozco and Montenesdro. Obviously, the Zodiac didnt realize he had crossed into Queens when he shot Proce.

The notes were genuine. Ciravolo called the reporter with the good news. She agreed to let them investigate other possible victims for a few days, but on June 19th she broke the story. The front-page headline read: Riddle of the Zodiac Shooter.


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