The Torso Killer: Richard Cottingham

May 22, 1980. Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. In the early morning hours, a couple decided to check in to a Quality Inn Hotel. The couple had met a few hours earlier in Manhattan. The young lady explained how she had arrived in New York earlier that week and was quickly taken advantage of, becoming victim to the number of pimps in the area and trafficked into sex work. The man listened and suggested he could drive her to a different bus terminal in New Jersey to get her back home, away from her abusive pimp. Before doing so the pair agreed on a price and after awhile found themselves checking in to a room. All was quiet and one can be certain that it was probably looking like an average, quiet night. Unfortunately that would not be the case.

Soon after checking in, the 18-year-old girl’s screams began to echo throughout the halls of the hotel. They increasingly became louder and louder as time went on. Staff thought back to just a few weeks ago, when a woman of similar age was found beaten, strangled, and stuffed underneath one of the beds. With that horrific incident still lingering in their minds, they decided to phone the police. Soon after their arrival then man tried to escape but was apprehended shortly thereafter.  

Leslie Ann O’Dell recalled what had happened and how things escalated so quickly. He seemed nice enough. Things started well, a nice massage to relax things. The man climbed on her back and instead of rubbing her, he brandished a knife which he quickly pressed firmly against her throat. He subdued the helpless girl with handcuffs and began the torture session. Biting, raping and beating the girl. During the session the man would insist, "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."

Once in custody the man would be identified as Richard Francis Cottingham a father of 3 from Lodi, New Jersey. In his possession police found a murder kit which consisted of handcuffs, leather gags, slave collars, knives, pistols, and pills. With that in mind, many investigators as well as the hotel staff had a lingering question. Was this man, the same man who committed the similar brutal crime? Did he intend on killing this poor girl? Had he killed more?

Richard Cottingham was born on November 25th, 1946 in the Bronx, New York. He would grow up in a typical catholic household. In 1958, at 12 years of age, he and his family would move to River Vale, New Jersey. This would prove difficult for Richard, as it was reported that he was a loner with very few, if any, friends. He mainly stayed at home where he started to develop an obsession with bondage pornography. Richard would start to come out of his shell socially when he entered high school, attending Pascack Valley High School. He would graduate in 1964 and shortly afterwards, take a job with his father at the Met Life Insurance Company, working on the company’s computers. He’d eventually leave the company and start working for Blue Cross, where he performed the same tasks. He would continue this line of work until his arrest. Richard would soon meet his future wife, and the two were married on May 3rd, 1970. Over the years, the two would go on to have 3 children.

Cottingham in later years.

Cottingham in later years.

From afar, Richard appeared to be doing everything that was expected of him and lived a happy life. Graduating, landing a solid job, marriage and having multiple children. Beneath the happy exterior lurked an incredibly dangerous and vicious animal. An animal who lacked empathy for all and cared only for satisfying his sexual desires at any cost.

One of Richard’s earliest crimes was committed in 1968. A married mother of 2, Nancy Vogel was found dumped in her car. She had been brutally strangled and left nude in plain sight. The last time anyone saw her, she had been on her way to play bingo at a nearby church. Police had no suspects and the case quickly grew cold, collecting dust in a file for years.

Richard’s criminal activity continued in 1969 when he was convicted of driving while intoxicated in New York. 3 years later, in 1972, Richard would be caught shoplifting from a local store. It’s unclear what he was stealing, if he was short on money or so there was no trail of him purchasing a specific item. It’s also unclear whether or not he continued to do so. The following year, in 1973, Richard would escalate his crimes when an early victim reported an attack. He would be charged with robbery, sodomy, and sexual assault but all charges would ultimately be dismissed.

Richard would become increasingly more deranged as time went on. He would commute daily to New York for his job, but once in a while, when the mood struck, Richard would not go home after work. He would stalk the various bars in Manhattan preying on unsuspecting women, trying to unwind from a busy day. Once he spotted his prey he would attempt to slip drugs into their drinks, take them to a motel, then sexually torture the women for hours. A year after the previous charges he would then be charged with unlawful imprisonment and robbery. A few months later he would be charged with robbery and sodomy. Both 1974 cases would be dismissed.

Richard’s lust seemed to never fully be satisfied and in December of 1977, Maryann Carr would be claimed as his next victim. Richard had abducted the woman and brought her to a hotel. Once inside, Richard would torture the girl repeatedly through various means; beatings, bites, cuts and rapes. She had been restrained and ultimately strangled, ending the 26-year-olds short life. Richard would dump her along a chain link fence near the apartment complex he once called home, the ligature still tied around her neck.

Cottingham older in a prison mugshot.

Cottingham older in a prison mugshot.

There were no known murder victims in 1978, however, Richard would go on to rape and torture two more women in 1978, one of which had been pregnant. There easily could have been more crimes but it’s unknown. In 1979, Richard would abduct a teenage sex worker named Helen Sikes from Times Square. She would later be found in Queens horribly mutilated. Her legs had been severed and dumped a few blocks away. Her throat had been cut so severely that he nearly severed her head. Richard’s wife filed for divorce in 1979, after years of affairs, but it was never finalized.

December of 1979, would be Richard’s most vicious attack to date. Deedeh Goodarzi and another unknown female had joined Richard in a hotel room near his stomping grounds of Times Square. Once inside, Richard would bind both females and torture the two for hours. It is unclear how exactly he killed the two women, but he would go on to severe their heads and their hands. Once he had his fill, Richard decided to light the bodies on fire and flee the scene. Firefighters responded quickly to the room and put out the fire, and were stunned at the horrific site of these mutilated corpses. This case was soon linked to his previous murder victim, Helen Sikes, letting police know they were dealing with a serial killer. One more detail about this case was that the severed body parts of the two women were never located and are still a mystery as to what Richard did with them.

Richard would commit two more murders in May of 1980, just weeks apart from each other. The first killing was that of Valerie Ann Street. Like the other victims, she to had been bound with handcuffs and tortured, her body would be found covered in bite marks. She would die of asphyxiation and once finished, Richard stuffed the girl under the bed. She’d be discovered by hotel staff accidentally when they were attempting to vacuum underneath the bed. Her arms were still handcuffed behind her back. Police would eventually link Richard to the case because of a fingerprint found on the set of handcuffs. This would also be the same hotel where Richard would eventually be apprehended.

The following week on May 15th, 1980, another sex worker was lured into a Manhattan motel room under the guise of more work but was most likely ambushed when Cottingham locked the door. Jean Reyner was raped, stabbed, mutilated and tortured. Richard cut the woman’s breasts off and ended her life via strangulation. Her body would be left in the room and subsequently set ablaze by Cottingham before fleeing the scene. Investigators were again able to quickly link this murder with many others due to the killer’s M.O.

Thankfully, Cottingham’s reign of terror would not last forever. After the abduction of Leslie Ann O’Dell, authorities were able to quickly build a case against the deranged suspect. Within his home, detectives were able to find his trophy room which contained multiple personal items and keepsakes which belonged to his victims. One of Cottingham’s only admissions of guilt was, “I have a problem with women.” Weeks after his arrest, his wife was able to finalize the divorce from the monster.

Cottingham listening in at his trial.

Cottingham listening in at his trial.

Multiple trials were held and he’d eventually be found guilty in all of them. The cases had overwhelming evidence against Cottingham in the way of receipts with his writing, linking him to the hotel rooms, fingerprints, and testimony from three different survivors. He would be charged with the murders of most of his victims in New Jersey and in New York City. After one of the trials, Richard smashed his glasses and attempted to take his own life but was unsuccessful. He will spend the rest of his years behind bars with the hope that he will never have the chance to act on his horrific urges again. Richard Cottingham by his own admission claims to have killed upwards of 100 women and remains a suspect in dozens of unsolved cases. One of the unsolved cases was solved when he admitted guilt in the 1967 murder of Nancy Vogel, in 2010. Hopefully new developments are made and one day we will know the full scope of Cottingham’s crimes, as well as hold him accountable for his actions.