Notorious convicted serial murderer Richard Cottingham — known as the “Torso Killer” for the way he dismembered some of his victims — was charged Wednesday with the 1968 slaying of a Long Island dance teacher after being linked to the cold case via DNA evidence.
Cottingham, 75, is already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in New Jersey state prison for the brutal killings of six young women between 1967 and 1980.
The Nassau County district attorney and the Nassau County police on Wednesday announced the new murder indictment against Cottingham in the killing of 23-year-old Diane Cusick.
Authorities are also looking at Cottingham’s possible involvement in at least five other unsolved murders in Long Island. DNA testing in those cases was pending.
Cusick’s daughter, Darlene, thanked law enforcement for never giving up on her mother’s case.
“I never thought I’d see this day,” she said during a press conference following Cottingham’s arraignment in Nassau County court. “I had given up, but all these people got justice for me and for my mother.”
Cottingham appeared via videoconference before Nassau County Court Judge Caryn Fink from his hospital bed at St. Francis Medical Center in New Jersey, where he has been undergoing treatment for unspecified ailments.
Dressed in a polka-dot hospital gown and a yellow surgical mask, Cottingham confirmed for the judge that he was in poor health and bedridden.
Defense attorney Jeff Groder entered a plea of not guilty to a charge of second-degree murder on Cottingham’s behalf. He is due back in court Aug. 18. If convicted at trial, the octogenarian could be looking at a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly detailed the case against Cottingham at the press briefing that followed the hearing.
“We believe this may be the oldest DNA hit to lead to a prosecution in the United States,” she told reporters.
Diane Cusick, a dance teacher and mom of one, had gone to Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream after work on Feb. 16, 1968, to buy some shoes. When she failed to come home that night, her father went to the shopping center and discovered his daughter dead, with duct tape wrapped tightly around her mouth and neck inside her car.
Officials said she had been raped and beaten before being strangled to death.
Donnelly said that despite vigorous police work in the hours and days after Cusick’s murder, the case had gone cold.
Then in 2021, she said her office received information from law enforcement in Suffolk County about a suspect from New Jersey who has been tied to unsolved Long Island murders.
That tip prompted the Nassau authorities to request that “certain evidence” be reexamined in the Cusick case.
In Jan. 2022, a DNA profile was generated and uploaded to a national database, which produced a match.
“That led us to Richard Cottingham, whose profile was already in the DNA database,” Donnelly said.
Turning to face Cusick’s daughter, Darlene, standing next to her, Nassau County’s top prosecutor said: “We will get justice for your mother. Justice never runs out of breath, no matter how many years go by.”
Later in the press briefing, Nassau Detective Captain Steven Fitzpatrick revealed that Cottingham would disguise himself as a store security guard – or possibly even a police officer – to approach women, claiming they had stolen something.
Cottingham, however, reportedly plans to plead not guilty in this case.
Last year, Cottingham confessed to murdering 17-year-old Mary Ann Pryor and 16-year-old Lorraine Marie Kelly in New Jersey in 1974.
The convicted serial killer admitted to kidnapping the teenagers after offering to give them a ride, and then raping and torturing them for three days before drowning them in a motel room bathtub.
While he has claimed responsibility for 80 to 100 homicides, authorities in New York and New Jersey have only officially linked him to 12 so far, including the grisly murders of two women whose mutilated bodies, missing their heads and hands, were discovered at a motel near Times Square in December 1979.
One of the beheaded victims was identified as 22-year-old sex worker Deedeh Goodarzi. The other young woman has never been named.
Cottingham was married with three children and working as a computer programmer for a health insurance company in New York at the time of his arrest in 1980.
The serial killer was apprehended after a maid at a New Jersey motel heard a woman screaming inside his room. Police who were called to the scene found the 18-year-old victim alive, but handcuffed and suffering from knife wounds and bite marks on her breasts.
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