Heriberto “Eddie” Seda waited 35 years to have his first romantic kiss. It happened last spring, when Eddie pressed his mouth through the three-inch-wide space between the prison bars and found fellow Attica inmate Synthia-China Blast, a preop male-to-female transsexual, No. 97A0308.
“It was weird, I thought he was going to eat my lips,” Synthia recalls. “I’d read a lot of books about serial killers, and I didn’t trust him, like he might bite my face off or something.” But instead, Eddie Seda, known as New York’s copycat Zodiac Killer, started shaking. “I felt like I was 11 and having my first kiss with a bowl of Jell-O, because he didn’t know how to kiss for nothing. He was a virgin,” adds Synthia, 29. Then she laughs. “Let’s just say he’s a pro now.”
Seda has been locked up since 1996 for killing three people and trying to kill five others. The only person who has ever visited him in the maximum-security prison is his mother, Gladys; and before his incarceration, he says, “I had no friends. I had nobody.” After seven years behind bars, he was lonely, he says, and couldn’t help but be attracted to Synthia, with her tweezed eyebrows and her handmade dresses. He was so taken with her that he was willing to overlook the fact that she was a former drug dealer and Latin King gang member—the exact type of person he’d wanted to extirpate from his Brooklyn neighborhood.
Since that first illicit kiss, Eddie and Synthia, who was convicted in 1996 for a gangland murder she says she didn’t commit, have been caught up in a twisted soap opera that is still unfolding behind the walls of the protective-custody unit of Attica Correctional Facility. They’ve faced a jumble of obstacles: from their time-consuming lawsuits (Synthia is trying to get the Department of Corrections to pay for a sex-change operation; Eddie wants permission to have overnight trailer visits with his mother) to the contract that Synthia alleges the Latin Kings put on her life, to the curious inmates—including former “king of the club kids” Michael Alig—who seem to thrive on the drama of breaking up prison relationships.
I first came across Synthia and Eddie when I was visiting Michael Alig in Attica last fall. I’d met him about nine months earlier, while working on a magazine piece about Party Monster, the independent film about Alig’s life and 1997 conviction for the manslaughter death of his drug-dealing roommate, Angel Melendez. After I’d finished the story, Michael asked me if I would help him with his autobiography, and I agreed. We were catching up one overcast day when he leaned forward and said, “So, there is this drag queen in my unit who is trying to get a sex change, and she is dating the Zodiac Killer. Oh, my God, he is obsessed with her.” Their story caught my interest, and our conversation about them turned into a series of letters, interviews, and more treks to the ominous building 30 miles outside Buffalo than I ever care to make again.
The Attica visiting room has the feel of a high-school cafeteria, except the lunch monitors carry pepper spray and handcuffs. Vending machines line one wall, Disney characters and ocean murals decorate the others, and couples sit at the numbered square tables, trying to steal kisses or a touch. The prisoners in protective custody must sit in the front row, closest to the officers. When Eddie Seda walks over to my assigned spot, I’m surprised at how handsome he is, with short black hair, innocent-looking eyes, and a shy smile that never leaves his face. He was voted “most fuckable perp” by a group of female journalists who covered his arrest in 1996. Sentenced to life in prison and not eligible for parole until he turns 264, he tells me he’s slowly getting used to the fact that he’s never going to see freedom again. Before he met Synthia, he says, he occupied his prison time by reading the Bible, watching hunting shows on TV, and folding colored paper squares into origami animals. His mother still takes a seven-hour bus ride up from Brooklyn to visit him once a month. She doesn’t know he’s got a “wife” named Synthia.
Eddie works as a porter, which means he may leave his cell from 3 to 8:30 p.m. every day to hand out meal trays and buckets of warm water to the other inmates. In spring 2003, Eddie started to take an interest in the feminine prisoner who had recently been transferred to a cell that was around the corner from 24 Company, the protective-custody unit where he lived. He’d met Synthia in prison once before, but this time she seemed different, friendlier. “I thought she had a good smile and good character,” he says. “So I started to give her extra trays of food and candy from the commissary.”