A serial killer convicted of the deaths of 11 women in New York and New Jersey has been charged with another murder in a 54-year cold case.
On Wednesday, Richard Cottingham was charged with second-degree murder in the murder of 23-year-old dance school instructor Diane Cusick in February 1968, after investigators found DNA evidence linking him to the crime. .
The 75-year-old suspect, who has claimed responsibility for up to 100 homicides, was prosecuted from a hospital bed in New Jersey, where he is already serving a life sentence for other murders.
Nicknamed the “Torso Killer” for brutally dismembering his victims by cutting off their limbs and heads, he has been incarcerated since 1980, when he was arrested after a motel maid heard a woman scream inside her room.
While police found her alive, she was bound in handcuffs and had bite marks and stab wounds.
Cusick went to a Long Island mall to buy a pair of shoes on February 15, 1968, when authorities believe Cottingham followed her. She pretended to be a security guard or police officer, accused her of stealing and then overpowered her, Nassau County Police Detective Capt. Stephen Fitzpatrick said.
She was “brutally beaten, murdered and raped in that car,” Fitzpatrick said.
The case went cold for most of the next five decades, until Wednesday, when police were able to link DNA evidence they collected from the crime scene to Cottingham’s profile in the federal database.
Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly attributed the breakthrough to technological advances that allowed forensic investigators to conduct more extensive tests.
“The police did a great job looking for any clues they could find. They talked to hundreds of people at the Green Acres Mall to see if anyone had seen Diane,” Donnelly said. “Unfortunately, the trail went cold and the case went cold.”
In 2021, Nassau County police received a tip that the person responsible for the murder was locked up in New Jersey, prompting authorities to run DNA tests on cold cases, leading to a match with Cottingham.
Although he was first convicted in 1982, Cottingham’s DNA was entered into the federal database only in 2005, as there was no law at the time requiring him to submit a DNA sample to law enforcement, he said. Mrs. Donnelly’s office. The New York Times.
Cottingham, who asked to be processed by video from the New Jersey hospital because he was in poor health, led police to believe he was responsible for the death by providing information about the case, Ms Donnelly said.
He allegedly told detectives he was near a drive-in movie next to the mall at the time, but stopped short of confessing to Cusick’s murder, the district attorney said.
“He did not submit a full admission. What he presented were little steps along the way that we were able to put together with the help of the police department to complete that story,” he said.
“He is a violent predator and no matter what he looks like in a hospital bed today, he was not always a weak old man,” added Ms Donnelly. “He was a 22-year-old when he committed the murder of Mrs. Cusick. He was strong, stronger than these women, and he was violent.”
Prosecutors are now reviewing all the murders of young women between 1967 and 1980 and running DNA tests to see if Cottingham may be responsible for other murders, Ms Donnelly said.
Cusick’s daughter, Darlene Altman, who appeared alongside Ms Donnelly, said she was overwhelmed to see Cottingham in the video. She was four years old when his mother was killed.
“He just had this dead look. I felt like he was looking right at me… It was creepy,” Altman said, referring to Cottingham.
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