Richard Cottingham killed Jennifer Weiss’ mom Deedeh Goodarzi, but the New Jersey prison inmate who was charged with killing a 23-year-old woman in February 1968, pleaded guilty to murdering her and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Serial killer Richard Cottingham also admitted in open court to four additional murders of young women in Nassau County in 1972 and 1973, in revelations made as a consequence of an unlikely friendship he formed with the daughter of one of his victims.
Cottingham has been imprisoned since 1981 in New Jersey on multiple life sentences for murder, plus additional terms for crimes like sexual abuse and kidnapping.
Cottingham, 76, who is detained in the South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, N.J., pleaded guilty today before New York Judge Caryn Fink to a charge of murder in the second degree (an A-I felony) for the death of Diane Cusick. Judge Fink sentenced the defendant to 25 years to life in prison.
In court, Cottingham allocuted to the deaths of Mary Beth Heinz, Laverne Moye, Sheila Heiman and Maria Emerita Rosado Nieves.
Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly agreed not to prosecute Cottingham for the deaths as Cottingham will be incarcerated for the rest of his life due to prior murder convictions in New Jersey and New York.
Cottingham, was a married computer operator with three children, living a seemingly normal life but underneath the veneer of normalcy was a heinous double-existence as a serial killer. He was nicknamed The Torso Killer and The Times Square Killer.
“Serial killer Richard Cottingham has caused irreparable harm to so many people and so many families,” said Donnelly. “Today, he took responsibility for the murder of five young women here in Nassau County between 1968 and 1973. He overpowered, assaulted and brutally murdered them to satisfy his craven desires. Thankfully he will spend the rest of his life in prison where he belongs.”
Donnelly said that, according to the investigation, Diane Cusick, a 23-year-old resident of New Hyde Park, was an instructor at a dancing school in Oceanside, N.Y.
On the evening of Thursday, February 15, 1968, Cusick told her family that she was going to the Green Acres Mall to buy a pair of dancing shoes.
At approximately 10:30 p.m., her parents became concerned that their daughter had not returned home. The parents drove to the shopping center and discovered their daughter’s Plymouth Valiant car in a parking lot of Green Acres Mall.
The parents found Cusick’s body in the backseat of the car. An adhesive band was found over her mouth and her hands were bound. She was pronounced deceased at 1:40 a.m. on February 16, 1968. The medical examiner determined that Cusick was asphyxiated due to strangulation.
In 2021, certain evidence related to the case was retested by the Nassau County Office of the Medical Examiner, Division of Forensic Sciences – Biology. In early 2022, a DNA profile was generated from that evidence, and it matched Cottingham’s profile.
The NCDA thanks both retired and current members of the Nassau County Police Department who worked on this case and the Nassau County Office of the Medical Examiner.
After extensive interviews with Nassau County police and prosecutors, Cottingham admitted to four additional homicides in Nassau County in 1972 and 1973.
At approximately 10:45 a.m. on May 10, 1972, the body of Mary Beth Heinz was discovered in Rockville Centre. The 21-year-old woman was found floating face down in a muddy stream in a wooded area on Maine Avenue, just west of Peninsula Boulevard.
Heinz was found without shoes and the medical examiner determined her death to be as a result of asphyxia due to strangulation. She also suffered multiple contusions and abrasions of the face and neck. The young woman, who grew up in Mineola, was working as a mother’s helper at a home in Bellmore at the time of her murder.
Approximately three months later, on July 20, 1972, at approximately 12:15 p.m., the body of Laverne Moye was found in the same area as the body of Mary Beth Heinz. An 11-year-old boy discovered the woman in the creek along Maine Avenue. Moye, a 23-year-old woman from St. Albans, Queens, was strangled to the death. The young woman was a mother to two children and was separated from her husband.
In the early afternoon of July 20, 1973, Sheila Heiman was found bludgeoned to death in her home on Mulberry Place in North Woodmere. Heiman’s husband left the house that morning to go to a nearby department store and when he returned, he discovered his wife dead in the bathroom. The 33-year-old mother of three suffered multiple lacerations to her skull, a fractured jaw, and a lacerated jugular vein. Sheila Heiman was employed by a Brooklyn book company and at the time of her murder. At the time of her murder, the couple’s children were away at summer camp.
At approximately 3 p.m. on December 27, 1973, the body of Maria Emerita Rosado Nieves was discovered in a weeded area of Jones Beach. The 18-year-old was strangled to death and park maintenance workers found her body covered in plastic bags and wrapped in a gray blanket. The remains were left in thick grass on the north side of Ocean Parkway, in a bus loading area adjacent to the East Bathhouse. Nieves was originally from Puerto Rico and lived in Manhattan prior to her murder.
Cottingham was tried and convicted for three murders in New York State. He was sentenced to 25 years to life for each murder to run consecutively.
In 2009, nearly 30 years after being convicted of five murders in New Jersey and New York in 1981-84, Cottingham admitted to a journalist that he had committed at least 80 to 100 “perfect murders” of women in various regions of the United States, of which, since 2009, six have been subsequently confirmed and their cases closed.
Cottingham was convicted of five murders, two in New Jersey and three in New York, plus multiple charges of kidnapping and sexual assault and other charges. Four surviving victims testified against Cottingham; he was convicted in three of the abduction-rape survivor cases and acquitted in one.
Known as the “Torso Killer” due to his habit of dismembering his later victims – he also chopped off the hands of his victims in order to mask their identities and skirt criminal charges, according to The Bergen Record – Cottingham arrested for a string of deaths in the early 80s.
His 1984 conviction for Deedeh Goodarzi’s slaying was one of up to 100 murders in New York and New Jersey for which he claimed to have been responsible.
Goodarzi was found dead alongside another unidentified woman in a Times Square motel room in 1979. The 22-year-old’s death appeared brutal: she had been beheaded and set on fire and her skull has yet to be found.
Despite the horrific crimes he committed, Goodarzi’s daughter Jennifer Weiss has been visiting Cottingham in prison a few times a month since their first meeting, at New Jersey State Prison in 2017.
Weiss, whose mother was tortured, beheaded, and burned by the killer, formed an unlikely alliance with Cottingham in an attempt to reveal the truth about his other victims.
In fact, she’s visited him dozens of times now and thinks of him “like a father.” As many daughters do with their boomer relatives, she helps him figure out how to use his iPad.
Goodarzi was working as a sex worker when she was killed. Her family had fled Iran when she was a young child and Weiss believes those traumatic experiences influenced her to make poor decisions in life.
Weiss says her friendship with Cottingham has already helped bring some resolution to some of his many crimes.
“The magnitude of what he did is unfathomable,” said Weiss. “But I became friends with Richard for my mother’s sake and for my quest.
“I’m doing this for the mothers who lost their daughters and my own mother. And for these girls that their lives were ended one night or day by Richard playing God,” said Weiss. “I’m not going to rest easy until we figure out who they were. So that’s why I do what I do.”
Another victim’s granddaughter, Sonia Ruiz McGraw, 38, of Queens, said Cottingham promised to detail her grandmother’s death and how he knew her.
Cottingham murdered Lorraine McGraw, a 26-year-old mother, on March 1, 1970, and then dumped her beaten body in South Nyack.
Lorraine McGraw’s granddaughter, Sonia, said she has developed a trusting relationship with Cottingham through emails and phone calls exchanged with the killer for nearly two years.
“I want him to be responsible for his actions,” Sonia Ruiz McGraw said of Cottingham. “My grandmother didn’t deserve to die… What he did to my grandmother has not only affected her daughter, but also her granddaughter.”
Cottingham told Rolling Stone magazine that he started killing people as a teenager in New Jersey.
“For a long time now I have been trying to understand the darkness that enveloped my soul during my youth,” Cottingham told Rolling Stone. “Remorse back then wasn’t part of my thought process. When the sun went down, and the moon came up, the animal form that is in all of us came out and controlled my actions.”
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