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Notorious ‘Torso Killer’ serving a life sentence for murders of six women indicted in 1968 slaying

Notorious convicted serial murderer Richard Cottingham, who earned the moniker ‘Torso Killer’ because he dismembered some of his victims, has been indicted in the 1968 slaying of a Long Island dance teacher after DNA evidence allegedly linked him to the cold case.

Richard Cottingham, 75, is already serving a life sentence in New Jersey state prison for the brutal murders of six women between 1967 and 1980. 

Cottingham now faces a second-degree murder charge in the February 1968 killing of 23-year-old Long Island dance teacher Diane Cusick.

Cusick’s body was found in her car outside the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream with adhesive tape around her mouth and neck. She had been raped, beaten and suffocated. 

A break in the cold case came after authorities recently retested DNA evidence preserved from the crime scene that sources told PIX11 had been recovered during the investigation.

Cottingham appeared in Nassau County Court virtually on Wednesday where he was arraigned on second-degree murder charges in Cusick’s murder. He pleaded not guilty. 

Nassau prosecutor Jared Rosenblatt said during the arraignment that the DNA evidence and other evidence ‘proves he’s the killer.’

Richard Cottingham, 75, appeared in Nassau County Court virtually today and was arraigned on second-degree murder charges in Diane Cusick's 1968 murder. He pleaded not guilty

Richard Cottingham, 75, appeared in Nassau County Court virtually today and was arraigned on second-degree murder charges in Diane Cusick’s 1968 murder. He pleaded not guilty

Diane Cusick, 23, was found in February 1968 in her car outside the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream with tape around her mouth and neck. She had been raped, beaten and suffocated

Diane Cusick, 23, was found in February 1968 in her car outside the Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream with tape around her mouth and neck. She had been raped, beaten and suffocated

Cottingham, a computer programmer who had a family in New Jersey, became known as the ‘Torso Killer’ after brutally dismembering some of his victims – including two women who were found dead at a motel near Times Square in 1979. They were both missing their heads and hands. 

While Cottingham has claimed responsibility for up to 100 homicides, authorities in New York and New Jersey have only officially linked him to 12 so far, which now includes Cusick.

Cusick was found dead on February 17, 1968, in the back seat of her car in the parking lot of the mall. She was dressed in a black leotard, a skirt, a red blouse, and white boots. 

The divorced mother and dance teacher had told her family she was stopping at the mall after work to buy shoes, PIX11 reported. 

For decades, the case ran cold. 

In 2004, Cusick’s then-grown daughter called Nassau police and requested they use modern technology to solve the case, Newsday reported. 

A detective was assigned to the case and evidence was reexamined. The semen, though nearly four decades old, was still in good condition to be analyzed.

But it didn’t match anything in DNA databanks at the time, police told Newsday, but the sample was kept stored in the county’s forensic evidence bureau.

Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly holds a photo of Diane Cusick on Wednesday

Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly holds a photo of Diane Cusick on Wednesday

Darlene Altman, daughter of Diane Cusick, has tears in her eyes as she speaks out on Wednesday after Richard Cottingham was linked to her mother's murder

Darlene Altman, daughter of Diane Cusick, has tears in her eyes as she speaks out on Wednesday after Richard Cottingham was linked to her mother’s murder

Cusick was found dead on February 17, 1968, in the back seat of her car in the parking lot of the mall. She was dressed in a black leotard, a skirt, a red blouse, and white boots

Cusick was found dead on February 17, 1968, in the back seat of her car in the parking lot of the mall. She was dressed in a black leotard, a skirt, a red blouse, and white boots

Richard Cottingham, right, appears via video link at his arraignment accompanied by his attorney Jeff Groder, left, where he pleaded not guilty

Richard Cottingham, right, appears via video link at his arraignment accompanied by his attorney Jeff Groder, left, where he pleaded not guilty 

Cottingham, also known as the 'Torso Killer' says he has killed over 100 women. He is currently serving a life sentence in NJ

Cottingham, also known as the ‘Torso Killer’ says he has killed over 100 women. He is currently serving a life sentence in NJ

For years, six different jurisdictions in New York and New Jersey have been working on cold case murders they believe are linked to the serial killer. 

Retired Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office chief Robert Anzellotti coaxed Cottingham’s most recent confession out of him last year.  

In April 2021, Cottingham pleaded guilty to killing 17-year-old Mary Ann Pryor and 16-year-old Lorraine Marie Kelly in a motel room in August 1974, just days after abducting them.

The two friends left their North Bergen homes on August 9, 1974, for a shopping trip 13 miles north to a Paramus mall. They had planned to take a bus there to buy bathing suits for a trip to the Jersey Shore.

Witnesses at the time told police the girls were hitchhiking and had gotten into a man’s car. They were found five days after they went missing, identified by their jewelry when their nude, battered bodies were discovered facedown in the woods of North Jersey’s Bergen County.

In 2021, Cottingham admitted to killing 17-year-old Mary Ann Pryor (above) and 16-year-old Lorraine Marie Kelly in a New Jersey motel room in August 1974

Lorraine Marie Kelly, 16

In 2021, Cottingham admitted to killing 17-year-old Mary Ann Pryor (left) and 16-year-old Lorraine Marie Kelly (right) in a New Jersey motel room in August 1974

In this image taken from a New Jersey Courts virtual hearing, Richard Cottingham, center, known as the "Torso Killer," pleads guilty Tuesday, April 27, 2021, to two 1974 murders, finally closing the cold case deaths of teenage friends who had left home for a trip to the mall and never returned. Cottingham, 74, is currently in state prison on a life sentence for other murders. (New Jersey Courts via AP)

In this image taken from a New Jersey Courts virtual hearing, Richard Cottingham, center, known as the ‘Torso Killer,’ pleads guilty Tuesday, April 27, 2021, to two 1974 murders, finally closing the cold case deaths of teenage friends who had left home for a trip to the mall and never returned. Cottingham, 74, is currently in state prison on a life sentence for other murders. (New Jersey Courts via AP)

Cottingham admitted that he had kidnapped Pryor and Kelly, brought them to a motel room, tied them up and raped them. He said he drowned them in the motel room’s bathtub before dumping their bodies.

The Pryor-Kelly case is among North Jersey’s most infamous unsolved crimes and Cottingham is one of the region’s most heinous criminals. 

Known as the ‘Torso Killer’ for brutally dismembering some of his victims by cutting off their limbs and heads, he’s currently in a New Jersey State Prison on a life sentence for several other murders.

Cottingham has been in prison since 1981 and has confessed to three of the murders, including the killings of 13-year-old Jackie Harp, 18-year-old Irene Blase and 15-year-old Denise Falasca, whose murders took place between 1968 and 1969.

He was first arrested in 1980 for the attempted murder and rape of an 18-year-old prostitute at a Quality Inn motel in Hasbrouck Heights. 

A motel maid heard a woman screaming inside his room. Authorities found her alive, but bound with handcuffs and suffering from bite marks and knife wounds.

The surviving victim later testified at trial that Cottingham told her during the attack, ‘You have to take it. The other girls did, you have to take it too. You’re a whore and you have to be punished.’

Two weeks before his arrest, police found the body of 19-year-old Valerie Ann Street at the same Quality Inn motel.

Valerie Street’s body was covered in bite marks and brutally beaten in a chillingly similar manner to the murder of 26-year-old Maryann Carr, that had occurred in the same motel three years earlier in December 1977.

Police did not link Carr’s murder to Cottingham until after his arrest.

The subsequent investigation linked Cottingham to the savage murders of Deedeh Goodarzi, 22, and an unidentified woman, whose bodies – missing their heads and hands – were found inside a burning hotel room near Times Square in December 1979. 

Jackie Harp was just 13 years old in July 1968 when she was strangled to death in Midland Park, New Jersey.

A year later, a boy riding his bike found the partially naked body of Denise Falasca, 15, who had been strangled near a cemetery

Solved: Jackie Harp (left) was just 13 years old in July 1968 when she was strangled to death in Midland Park, New Jersey. A year later, a boy riding his bike found the partially naked body of Denise Falasca (right), 15, who had been strangled near a cemetery 

Irene Blase was 18 when she was found strangled in Saddle River in 1969

Irene Blase was 18 when she was found strangled in Saddle River in 1969

Maryann Carr, 26, had been brutally beaten in a chillingly similar manner to the murder of Valerie Street that occurred in the same motel three years earlier

Maryann Carr, 26, had been brutally beaten in a chillingly similar manner to the murder of Valerie Street that occurred in the same motel three years earlier

Cottingham ran free until cops caught a lucky break almost six months later on May 22, 1980, when Cottingham picked up Leslie Ann O’Dell in Midtown Manhattan and dragged her back to the same New Jersey motel where he mutilated his last victim just 18 days earlier.

At knife point, he proceeded to torture, beat and sexually assault the 19-year-old runaway for hours, (nearly biting off one of her nipples) until a maid heard her muffled screams. When hotel staff investigated further, Leslie Ann O’Dell cracked open the door and quietly signaled for help.

The police apprehended Richard Cottingham while trying to flee. In his possession were handcuffs, a leather gag, two slave collars, a switchblade, replica pistols and a stockpile of sedatives.

After his arrest, NYPD drew comparisons to the numerous unsolved sexual assault cases with similar hallmarks to the New Jersey crimes. They executed a search warrant on Cottingham’s family home where they found a secret, locked ‘trophy room’ that stashed souvenirs of his evil deeds. 

Among S&M books and pornographic artwork were Maryann Carr’s apartment key and jewelry that belonged to his other victims.

Richard Cottingham was convicted of six murders and numerous counts of kidnapping and sexual assault using evidence found in his ‘trophy room’ combined with a matching fingerprint left on handcuffs used in the murder of Valerie Street. 

He is his currently serving life in Trenton’s New Jersey State Prison.

Cottingham's first known victim was Nancy Schiava Vogel, a 29-year-old married mother-of-two who was strangled in her car in 1967

In 1979, Cottingham killed and beheaded Deedeh Goodarzi, 22, inside a Times Square motel in New York

Cottingham’s first known victim was Nancy Schiava Vogel (left), a 29-year-old married mother-of-two who was strangled in her car in 1967. In 1979, Cottingham killed and beheaded Deedeh Goodarzi, 22 (right), inside a Times Square motel in New York 

Deedeh Goodarzi was a 22-year-old high-end prostitute from Iran whose family immigrated to Long Island when she was a teenager. She was positively identified through a cesarean-section scar after a friend recognized her clothing. Recently, her daughter that she gave up for adoption while turning tricks has made headlines for forging an unlikely friendship with Richard Cottingham in prison

Deedeh Goodarzi was a 22-year-old high-end prostitute from Iran whose family immigrated to Long Island when she was a teenager. She was positively identified through a cesarean-section scar after a friend recognized her clothing. Recently, her daughter that she gave up for adoption while turning tricks has made headlines for forging an unlikely friendship with Richard Cottingham in prison

In a strange turn of events, Deedah Goodarzi's biological daughter, Jennifer Weiss has forged an unlikely friendship with the man who strangled and beheaded her mother in 1979. Goodarzi gave up her daughter for adoption when she was less than two weeks old, it wasn't until Weiss tried to reconnect with her biological mother in 2002 that she discovered the disturbing truth of her violent demise

In a strange turn of events, Deedah Goodarzi’s biological daughter, Jennifer Weiss has forged an unlikely friendship with the man who strangled and beheaded her mother in 1979. Goodarzi gave up her daughter for adoption when she was less than two weeks old, it wasn’t until Weiss tried to reconnect with her biological mother in 2002 that she discovered the disturbing truth of her violent demise

In 2010, Cottingham pleaded guilty to the 1967 slaying of Nancy Schiava Vogel, a 29-year-old married mother-of-two who was strangled to death inside her car.

She had been last seen three days earlier, when she left home to play bingo with friends at a local church.

In the 1970s, Cottingham had a wife and children and held a job as a computer programmer for a health insurance company in New York, recalled Alan Grieco, a retired chief of detectives in Bergen County who helped convict Cottingham for the 1977 murder of a woman found outside a motel in northern New Jersey.

Investigators in both states were able to tie Cottingham to other murders and sexual assaults, but Grieco remembered Cottingham ‘played games’ with investigators for years regarding the Pryor-Kelly murders as he sought to trade information for better treatment in prison.

‘Seeing how the families are destroyed, you can’t help but feel their pain,’ he said. ‘I think he figured, “I’m going to just toy with them, and as long as I can drag it out, I will.”‘

Retired chief Robert Anzilotti first met Cottingham 17 years ago as the detective sought to close some of the county’s cold cases. 

He believes there are still ‘dozens’ of outstanding cases in the tri-state area that might eventually be traced back to him.

NYPD realized they had a serial killer on the loose when the charred remains of two women were discovered in a Times Square motel room on December 2, 1979. Without heads and hands, they were unable to identify the victims. Instead, police borrowed mannequins from nearby department stores and dressed them in the victims¿ clothing, hoping it wou

NYPD realized they had a serial  killer on their hands in December 1979, after they uncovered the charred, mutilated remains of two women at the Travel Inn Motor Hotel in Times Square. Without heads and hands, authorities were unable to identify the victims. Instead, they borrowed mannequins from nearby department stores and dressed them in the victims’ clothing (above), hoping someone might come forward with information. One victim was recognized as Deedeh Goodarzi while the other slain woman remains unknown to this day

Richard Cottingham earned his moniker as 'the Torso Killer' after he raped and murdered two women in a Times Square motel  before setting their decapitated torsos ablaze. Their skulls and hands were never found. He has officially been charged with 11 murders but says he's killed over 100 women

Richard Cottingham earned his moniker as ‘the Torso Killer’ after he raped and murdered two women in a Times Square motel  before setting their decapitated torsos ablaze. Their skulls and hands were never found. He has officially been charged with 11 murders but says he’s killed over 100 women

The killer would ultimately tell Anzilotti about the slayings of four women and teenage girls between the ages of 13 and 29 in Bergen County. 

Yet he was always reluctant to discuss Mary Ann and Lorraine, Anzilotti said, because their murders ‘bothered him more than any other, probably because of the brutality of it’ coupled with their ages and the days he spent torturing them.

Anzilotti tried to elicit a confession for years as Mary Ann’s sister, Nancy, repeatedly checked in with detectives for updates. In March 2021, Anzilotti announced that he was ending his 29-year career in law enforcement. But he had one last case to solve.

‘I didn’t want to retire until this was complete,’ he said. Anzilotti got the confession on April 14, 2021. 

At the end of 2021, Netflix’s documentary Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer – was released which examines his case. 

The series begins with a grisly discovery at the Travel Inn Motor Hotel in Times Square on December 2, 1979. 

Police responded to a fire in Room 417, where two women had been discovered on a pair of twin beds. But when first responders attempted CPR, they realized the bodies had no heads and no hands.

Richard Cottingham was convicted of two New Jersey murders and three in New York. He¿s been housed in Trenton¿s New Jersey State Prison since 1981, serving a 200-plus year sentence

Richard Cottingham was convicted of two New Jersey murders and three in New York. He’s been housed in Trenton’s New Jersey State Prison since 1981, serving a 200-plus year sentence

With only torsos, police were unable to identify the victims. One detective said it was ‘the cleanest crime scene he’s ever seen.’ Spatter, gore, fingerprints, puddles of blood, there was no evidence except for their clothing, a pair of Bonjour jeans, a white leotard, patent leather boots and a black fur coat, which the killer had curiously folded neatly in the bathtub.

 Confounded, investigators used mannequins from nearby department stores and dressed them in the victims’ clothing, hoping someone might come forward with information.

One slain woman was positively identified through a cesarean-section scar as 22-year-old, Iranian prostitute, Deedeh Goodarzi. The other female victim has never been identified and to this day remains a Jane Doe. Their skulls were never found.

Later, Cottingham claimed that Times Square cops stopped him as he carried the severed heads in a large potato sack to his car before letting him go. He returned back to the hotel to soak the crime scene in lighter fluid and set the room ablaze.

Directed by serial killer-aficionado Joe Berlinger, the Netflix series features interviews with former detectives, police officers, sex workers. Dominick Volpe, a former colleague at BlueCross BlueShield, testifies to Cottingham’s perverse sexual tendencies.

The doc also spotlights a conversation with Jennifer Weiss, Deedah Goodarzi’s biological daughter, who made headlines last year when she struck up an unlikely friendship with her mother’s killer while he served his prison sentence.

'All of the women that Richard killed left this world in a horrific way,' said Jennifer Weiss in the doc. 'So I maintain a relationship with Richard now because I want the names of the unidentified victims he took. Lives that never came to fruition. I think we need to remember them because they deserve justice'

‘All of the women that Richard killed left this world in a horrific way,’ said Jennifer Weiss in the doc. ‘So I maintain a relationship with Richard now because I want the names of the unidentified victims he took. Lives that never came to fruition. I think we need to remember them because they deserve justice’

Weiss was given up for adoption when she was less than two weeks old. It wasn’t until she endeavored to reconnect with her biological mother in 2002, that she discovered the disturbing truth of her violent demise through old newspaper clippings. Looking for more answers, she reached out to Richard Cottingham in prison and has visited him over 30 times.

‘All of the women that Richard killed left this world in a horrific way,’ she said in the doc. ‘It always weighs heavily over me.

‘So I maintain a relationship with Richard now because I want the names of the unidentified victims he took. Lives that never came to fruition. I think we need to remember them because they deserve justice.’

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