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Ed Zigo Obituary

Ed Zigo (AP Photo)
Ed Zigo (AP Photo)
NEW YORK (AP) - Edward Zigo, the New York City detective who cracked the notorious Son of Sam case in the 1970s by acting on a hunch about a parking ticket and arrested killer David Berkowitz, has died. He was 84.

Zigo died Jan. 19 of cancer at his Lynbrook, N.Y. home surrounded by his family, his wife, Eileen Brunelli-Zigo, said Tuesday.

"I have to tell you," his wife said, "he was a man in every sense of the word. Strong. Brave. Kind."

Zigo retired from the NYPD in 1982, and his career became the stuff of legend. His family recalls tales of his detective work with awe and pride. He parlayed his knowledge into a second career working on TV and film projects about the story and other crime tales. He even had bit parts in some movies.

"My father was a sort of reluctant hero," said his son, Edward Zigo III, of Washington, D.C. "He never wanted to grab the headlines. And more than a police hero, he was really just a person who inspired young people to want to do good things. And inspire them for all the right reasons."

It all started back in the sweltering summer of 1977.

Over 13 months in 1976 and 1977, the self-proclaimed Son of Sam had taken responsibility for a string of handgun assaults that left seven young people dead and seven others critically wounded. Detective Zigo had a hunch that a small potatoes lead would lead him to the killer.

Clues were meager and a city was on edge, so Zigo decided to question a young man named David Berkowitz, whose car, with an out-of-city registration, had been ticketed for parking illegally in Brooklyn the night of the last shooting.

"According to Ed, he walked in and said, 'Hi, David, I'm Detective Zigo,'" his family recounted. "And Berkowitz said 'Hi, Ed. I'm the Son of Sam.'"

In an interview with The Associated Press in the 1980s, Zigo said when he finally confronted Berkowitz, he wasn't at all what he expected. "He was this little schlub of a kid, as nice and soft-spoken as could be," he recalled.

Berkowitz's one-room apartment was bare, except for a shotgun and a New York tabloid showing a composite police sketch of the Son of Sam and the screaming headline: "THIS IS THE NEW SON OF SAM."

"He must have howled when he saw the picture," said Zigo. "It didn't look like him at all."

Zigo said there were several omens the summer day he and his partner went looking for the car's owner. First, they were given keys to police car No. 316. No big deal, except that Berkowitz lived at 316 Warburton Avenue, in Yonkers.

On their way there, the detectives stopped at the scene of a bad traffic accident and pulled some people from their car. They were pleased they may have saved some lives. "Good things are gonna happen today," Zigo recalled saying.

During the rescue, the detectives had gotten blood on their hands. They asked a pushcart vendor for some water, and he offered his cooking pan. Zigo remembered turning the water a pale shade of red.

When they got near the address in Yonkers, they made a wrong turn and wound up on Wicker Street. Zigo had been privy to a Son of Sam letter that had mentioned "Wicker," a reference that had completely baffled police. Zigo remembered turning to his partner and saying, "John, we got him."

Berkowitz was convicted in 1978, when he was 24. He said he was ordered to kill by a demon that had possessed his neighbor's dog. He remains in prison.

Meanwhile, Zigo became a hero, albeit a reluctant one. He was asked to be on the task force early in the case but declined because his first wife was ill. It was only after she died that he joined the manhunt.

Martin Sheen played Zigo in a made-for-TV movie, "Out of the Darkness," on CBS in 1985, a lauded endeavor that Zigo worked on. He also worked on "January Man," with Kevin Kline.

Son of Sam may have been his most well-known case, but Zigo's family has a trove of others. Like the time he dressed up as an old lady to help find a robber preying on elderly women. Or the time he solved a triple homicide by questioning an unlikely witness: a 5-year-old girl.

Brunelli-Zigo said they have a photo of Zigo dressed as an old lady. The sting went awry when Zigo realized his gun had slipped out of the dress in the police car. "He told his partners he could feel the guys coming up after him to rob him. He turned around, and you know he had a moustache. I can't imagine what those robbers must've thought," she said. "He swung his handbag at them and whacked them good. They took off running."

His family remembered him as an inspiring, kind-hearted man who sought to help others - on the job and off.

Zigo, who also had a daughter, Susan, and eight grandchildren, met Eileen at a wedding nine years after his first wife died. The two hit it off, and married. They were together nearly 20 years.

"We had a beautiful time together. I was blessed," she said. They went boating, spent time with family, and cared for his garden. He got to see one of his grandchildren get married in June.

"Ed's a fisherman, so we had a boat," said Brunelli-Zigo, trailing off a minute. "We had it all, really."


Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press
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