He was dubbed the "Torso Killer" for the string of dead prostitutes—some with their heads and hands cut off—left in hotels in Manhattan and New Jersey over a 6-month period over 1979 and 1980. New Jersey family man Richard Cottingham was convicted in the early '80s and handed more than one life sentence, which he's spent almost entirely in prison, but occasionally in Robert Anzilotti's office, eating pizza and playing poker. Anzilotti had worked his way up to chief of detectives in the Bergen County prosecutor’s office, and he had long had a hunch that at least five unsolved New Jersey killings from the 1960s and 1970s had been the work of Cottingham, writes Michael Wilson in a lengthy piece for the New York Times.
The theory was a bit of a stretch. "In the 1970s, he had preyed on prostitutes in Times Square—30 miles but a world away—not just killing them, but torturing and dismembering them." These victims were largely teens, most notably two friends found naked and face-down on Aug. 14, 1974, after having gone missing days earlier while headed for the mall. And for years the meetings with Cottingham went on without a break—but with a "vulnerability" eventually emerging. "After divulging nothing during hours of questioning, he’d sometimes loosen up on the drive back to prison, sitting in the back seat and believing the day was done," writes Wilson. And it took a full six years of visits for the first confession to come. It would take years more, until Anzilotti was just days away from retirement, for Cottingham to confess to all of them. (Read the full story for how the admissions unfolded.)