Decades later, ‘Torso killer’ charged with murder at NY mall

MINEOLA, NY (AP) — More than five decades after the dead body of Diane Cusick was discovered in the parking lot of a mall on Long Island, New York, authorities have linked her death to the so-called “torso killer” already is a serial killer. Convicted in 11 other murders.

The suspect, Richard Cottingham – considered one of America’s most prolific serial killers – was indicted on Wednesday on charges of second-degree murder in connection with Cusick’s 1968 murder. From a hospital bed in New Jersey, where he is already serving a life sentence for other murders, Cottingham pleaded not guilty.

While he has claimed he was responsible for more than 100 murders, officials in New York and New Jersey have officially linked him to only a dozen so far, including Cusick’s death. He has been jailed since 1980, when he was arrested by a motel maid after a woman screamed inside his room. Officers found him alive but handcuffed and suffering from bite marks and knife wounds.

Judge Karen Fink said Cottingham asked a New Jersey hospital to appear via video feed on Wednesday because he was in poor health, bedridden and not in hospital. Groder said he needed his attorney, Jeff Groder, to repeat the judge’s questions several times because he has difficulty hearing.

“He’s a violent predator and from what he looks like today in a hospital bed, he wasn’t always a frail old man,” Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said in an interview with the Associated Press. “He was a young man of 22 when he killed Ms. Cusick. He was stronger, stronger, and he was violent than any of these women.”

Authorities believe Cusick, 23, quit her job at a children’s dance school and then stopped at the Green Acres mall in Nassau County to buy a pair of shoes when Cottingham followed her. Detectives believe he pretended to be a security guard or police officer, accused him of stealing and then overpowered the 98-pound (44-kilogram) Cusick, Nassau County Police Detective Captain Stephen. Fitzpatrick said.

“She was brutally beaten, murdered and raped in that car,” Fitzpatrick said. The medical examiner concluded that Cusick had been beaten in the face and head and had suffocated to his death. He had defensive wounds on his hands and the police were able to collect DNA evidence at the scene. But there was no DNA test at that time.

Police interviewed dozens of people, followed her footsteps and never stopped hunting her killer. But the road turned cold.

“The police did a great job looking for any clues they could find. They talked to hundreds of people at the Green Acres mall to see if anyone had seen Diane,” Donnelly said. Unfortunately, the road turned cold and the matter got cold.”

At the time of Cusick’s death, Cottingham was working as a computer programmer for a health insurance company in New York. He was convicted of murder in the 1980s in both New York and New Jersey, although law at the time did not require people to submit DNA samples, as it is now. His DNA was taken and entered into a national database in 2016, when he pleaded guilty to another murder in New Jersey.

In 2021, police in Nassau County received a tip that a suspect responsible for murders in the county east of New York City had been locked up in New Jersey. He began running DNA tests again on cold cases and brought a match to Cottingham.

Cottingham also convinced police that he was responsible for the death by providing some information about the case, including telling detectives that he was near a drive-in theatre, which was next to the mall at the time. was. But he stopped short of directly confessing to Cusick’s death, Donnelly said.

“They didn’t give a complete admission. What they told were small steps in the path that we were able to put together with the help of the police department to fill in that story,” she said.

Prosecutors are now reviewing all open cases around the same time and running DNA to see if Cottingham may be responsible for other murders.

“Based on the evidence we have in this case, we are reviewing all murders of young women from 1967 to 1980 to see if we can put together any more cases against Mr. Cottingham,” Donnelly he said.

Cusick’s daughter, Darlene Altman, said she was overwhelmed when she saw Cottingham on the video screen in the courtroom. Altman was just 4 years old when his mother was murdered.

“He just had this dead stare. I felt like he was looking at me,” Altman said. “It was scary.”

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