Richard Francis Cottingham (born November 25, 1946) is an American serial killer from New Jersey operating in New York between 1967 and 1980. He was nicknamed The Torso Killer due to his habit of dismembering his victims, usually leaving nothing but a torso behind. He was eventually convicted of murder in 1981, after being caught fleeing an attempted murder. Officially, Cottingham killed six people, but he claims between 85 and 100 murders. Cottingham is incarcerated in New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey.
Early life and education
Cottingham was born Richard Francis Cottingham on November 25, 1946, in The Bronx, New York City, the first of three children. In 1958, when Richard was 12, his family moved to River Vale, New Jersey. In 1964, Cottingham graduated from Pascack Valley High School, in Hillsdale, New Jersey.
After graduating, he worked for his father at Metropolitan Life Insurance Company until 1966 as a computer operator, while taking computer courses.
Cottingham was a computer operator, and a well-liked employee at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association in New York from 1966 until his arrest.
Marriage and children
On May 3, 1970, Richard married his wife Janet at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Queens Village, New York.
First arrest and subsequent minor offenses
Cottingham was arrested for several minor charges throughout his killing spree; the police were not aware of his murders at the time.
On October 3, 1969, he was charged and convicted of intoxicated driving in New York City, and sentenced to 10 days in jail & a $50 fine.
On August 21, 1972, Cottingham was charged and convicted of shoplifting at Stern’s Department Store in Paramus, New Jersey and was sentenced to pay a $50 fine.
Cottingham's first known murder was the 1967 slaying of Nancy Schiava Vogel. The 29-year-old married mother of two was strangled, and her nude, bound body was found in her car in nearby Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. She had last been seen three days earlier, when she left home to play bingo with friends at a local church.
On December 2, 1979, firemen in New York responded to an alarm at a hotel near Times Square. When they forced their way inside and put the fire out they found two corpses. Both bodies had their hands and heads removed. They had been doused with lighter fluid and set alight. The missing body parts were never found.
One victim was identified as Deedeh Goodarzi, 22, an immigrant from Kuwait who was working as a sex worker. The other corpse was never identified. Homicide detectives linked the murder with that of the murder of teenage prostitute Helen Sikes who had gone missing from Times Square in January 1979.
On May 5, 1980, police found the body of nineteen-year-old Valerie Ann Street in a Quality Inn in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. The victim’s hands were tightly handcuffed behind her back. She was covered in bite marks and was beaten across the shins. Street had died of asphyxiation and traces of adhesive tape were found on her mouth. This murder was linked to an earlier murder in the same motel.
Twenty-six-year-old radiologist Maryann Carr was also found brutally beaten near the same hotel, but police could not positively link the crimes. On May 15, Jean Reyner was stabbed to death in the historic Seville Hotel.
In 2020, Cottingham admitted to killing an additional three women (Jacalyn Harp, of Midland Park; Irene Blase, of Bogota; and Denise Falasco, of Closter, all of whom were strangled in the late 1960s).
On May 22, 1980, Cottingham picked up eighteen-year-old Leslie Ann O’Dell, who was soliciting on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 25th Street. At some point she agreed to have sex with him for $100. Around dawn, they checked into the same Hasbrouck Heights Quality Inn where he had left his last mutilated victim. Cottingham offered to give the girl a massage and she rolled over onto her stomach. Straddling her back, he drew a knife and put it to her throat as he snapped a pair of handcuffs on her wrists.
He began torturing her, nearly biting off one of her nipples. She later testified that he said, “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.” The charges listed in Cottingham’s New Jersey indictment included kidnapping, attempted murder, aggravated assault, aggravated assault with deadly weapon, aggravated sexual assault while armed (rape), aggravated sexual assault while armed (sodomy), aggravated sexual assault while armed (fellatio), possession of a weapon, possession of controlled dangerous substances, Secobarbital and Amobarbital, or Tuinal, and possession of controlled dangerous substance, Diazepam or Valium.
O’Dell’s muffled cries of pain became so loud that the motel staff, already spooked by the murder eighteen days earlier, called police and then rushed to the room demanding that Cottingham open the door. Cottingham was apprehended by arriving police officers in the hallway. When arrested he had handcuffs, a leather gag, two slave collars, a switchblade, replica pistols and a stockpile of prescription pills. At his house he had a trophy room where he kept personal effects from some of his victims.
A strong case was built against Cottingham due to the testimony of three surviving victims. He was eventually found guilty of murdering Valerie Streets, drawing a sentence of 173 to 197 years in prison. In two following trials he was found guilty of four second degree murders.