Profile of Serial Killer Richard Cottingham

Nicknamed "The Torso Killer"

Richard_Cottingham.jpg
Richard Cottingham, "The Torso Killer". Mug Shot

Richard Cottingham is a serial rapist and killer that used the streets of New York and New Jersey as his hunting ground in the 1970s. Known for being particularly cruel, Cottingham earned the nickname "The Torso Killer" because he would sometimes mutilate the body of his victims, leaving just their torso intact.

The Beginnings

Born in Bronx, New York on November 25, 1946, Cottingham grew up in a normal middle-class home.
When he was 12, his parents moved the family to River Vale, New Jersey. There his father worked in insurance and his mother stayed home.

Relocating to a new school in the seventh grade proved to be socially challenging for Cottingham. He attended St. Andrews, a co-ed parochial school, and spent a lot of his after-school time friendless and at home with his mother and two siblings. It was not until he entered Pascack Valley High School, that he had friends.

After graduating from high school, Cottingham went to work as a computer operator at his father's insurance company, Metropolitan Life. He stayed there for two years and then moved to Blue Cross Blue Shield, also as a computer operator.

First Kill

In 1967, Cottingham, 21, strangled Nancy Vogel, 29, to death, something he confessed to doing 43 years later.

The Family Man

Cottingham's thirst for killing was temporarily interrupted after meeting and marrying a woman named Janet.
The couple moved into an apartment at Ledgewood Terrace in Little Ferry, a borough in Bergen County, New Jersey. It was the same apartment complex where the body of one of his victims, Maryann Carr, 26, was later found.

Cottingham abducted Carr from her apartment parking lot, took her to a hotel where he raped, tortured and murdered her, and left her body at Ledgewood Terrace.

In 1974, Cottingham, who was now the father of a baby boy, was arrested and charged with robbery, sodomy, and sexual assault in New York City, but the charges were dropped.

Over the next three years, Janet gave birth to two more children - a boy and a girl. Soon after their last child was born, Cottingham began an extra marital affair with a woman named Barbara Lucas. The relationship lasted for two years, ending in 1980. Throughout their affair, Cottingham was raping, killing and mutilating women.

Killing Spree

  • March 22, 1978 - New York City - Kidnapped, drugged and raped Karen Schilt, age 31.
  • October 13, 1978 - Hackensack, New Jersey - Drugged, tortured and raped prostitute Susan Geiger who was pregnant.
     
  • December 2, 1979 - New York City - Tortured and murdered Deedeh Goodarzi, 23, and “Jane Doe,” an unidentified woman in her 20s. The two women were found in a room at the Travel Inn Motel Hotel, bound together, raped, tortured and murdered. Cottingham mutilated their bodies, removed their hands and heads, then set fire to the hotel room.
     
  • May 4, 1980 - Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey - Valerie Ann Street, 19, was found at the Quality Inn Motel, naked, beaten, and with mutiple cuts on one of her breasts.
     
  • May 12, 1980 - Teaneck, New Jersey - Drugged, beaten, and with several bite marks on her body, Pamela Weisenfeld was found in a parking lot.
     
  • May 15, 1980 - New York City - Jean Reyner, 25, was raped, stabbed, mutilated and strangled to death in a room at the Hotel Seville in New York City.
     
  • May 22, 1980 - Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey - Feeling invincible, Cottingham returned to the Quality Inn Motel with Leslie O’Dell, 18, where he raped, beat, tortured and tried to kill her, however he was interrupted by hotel security.

Busted!

Cottingham's killing spree ended in his arrest for the attempted murder of Leslie O'Dell. When the hotel staff heard O'Dell's screams they knocked on the door to see if she needed help. Cottingham held a knife to the side of O'Dell and instructed her to say that everything was fine, which she did, but then messaged the staff that she needed help by moving her eyes back and forth. The police were called and Cottingham was arrested.

A search of a private room in Cottingham's home turned up various personal items linking him to his victims. The handwriting on hotel receipts were also matched to his hand writing. He was charged in New York City with a triple homicide (Mary Ann Jean Reyner, Deedeh Goodarzi and “Jane Doe”) and on 21 counts in New Jersey, plus additional charges for the murder of Maryann Carr.

Courtroom Drama

During the New Jersey trial, Cottingham testified that since he was a child he was fascinated with bondage. But this monster who often demanded that his victims call him "master" showed little backbone when faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison. Three days after he was found guilty of the New Jersey murders he attempted suicide in his cell by drinking liquid antidepressants. Then a few days before the New York verdict he attempted suicide by cutting his left forearm with a razor in front of the jury. Ironically, this "master" of mutilation could not master his own suicide.

Sentencing

Cottingham was found guilty of a total of five murders and was sentenced in New Jersey to 60-95 years in prison an additional 75 years to life in New York. He later confessed to killing Nancy Vogel in 2010.

Admitted to More Murders

Nadia Fezzani, a journalist from Quebec who specialized in the research of serial killers, had the unique opportunity to interview Cottingham. During the interview Cottingham admitted to Fezzani that there were as many as 90 to 100 more victims.

When Fezzani asked him about the mutilation of the bodies of his victims, Cottingham chalked it up to "sensationalism" and said with a chuckle, "I wanted to be the best at whatever I did and I wanted to be the best serial killer." He later told her, "Obviously I must be sick somehow. Normal people don't do what I did."

Cottingham is currently housed at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey.

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Montaldo, Charles. "Profile of Serial Killer Richard Cottingham." ThoughtCo, Mar. 4, 2017, thoughtco.com/profile-of-serial-killer-richard-cottingham-973146. Montaldo, Charles. (2017, March 4). Profile of Serial Killer Richard Cottingham. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/profile-of-serial-killer-richard-cottingham-973146 Montaldo, Charles. "Profile of Serial Killer Richard Cottingham." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/profile-of-serial-killer-richard-cottingham-973146 (accessed December 11, 2017).