Serial Killer Charged in 1968 Cold Case

DNA evidence in Diane Cusick murder led investigators to Richard Cottingham
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 24, 2022 8:30 AM CDT
Serial Killer Charged in 1968 Cold Case
Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly holds a photo of Diane Cusick during an interview with the AP, Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in Mineola, NY.   (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

(Newser) – Police in Long Island say advances in DNA technology helped them crack a case that horrified residents in 1968. Nassau County Police Detective Capt. Stephen Fitzpatrick says the killer of 23-year-old Diane Cusick has been identified as Richard Cottingham, a serial killer already linked to 11 other murders, CBS reports. Cusick, a children's dance teacher, was found dead in her car in the parking lot of the Green Acres Mall in Nassau County. Fitzpatrick says she was "brutally beaten, murdered, and raped in that car." He says investigators believe that after Cusick bought shoes at the mall, Cottingham posed as a security guard and overpowered her after accusing her of shoplifting.

Cottingham, 75, was arraigned on a second-degree murder charge Wednesday and pleaded not guilty via videolink from a hospital bed in New Jersey. "He is a violent predator and no matter how he looks today in a hospital bed he was not always a feeble older man," Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly tells the AP. "He was a young 22-year-old when he committed the murder of Ms. Cusick. He was strong, stronger than these women were, and he was violent." Cottingham, known as the "Torso Killer" because he dismembered some of his victims, has been behind bars since 1980. He claims to have killed up to 100 people across the US.

Cottingham's other known victims were either killed in Bergen County, New Jersey, where he lived with his wife and children, or in Manhattan, where he worked as a computer operator. Donnelly says that now there is evidence the killer was active in Nassau County, authorities are "diligently reviewing" unsolved murders of women between 1967 and 1980 and have submitted DNA from at least five cases for testing, the New York Times reports. Cusick's daughter, 58-year-old Darlene Altman, was three years old when her mother was murdered, reports the Times. "I never thought I’d see this day," she said Wednesday. (A New Jersey detective with a hunch spent years getting confessions from Cottingham.)

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