Convicted serial killer Richard Cottingham is expected to plead guilty Monday to a dance teacher’s 1968 slaying outside Green Acres Mall and admit to murdering four other women whose Nassau County homicide cases have gone unsolved for decades, sources told Newsday.
Cottingham's hearing in Nassau County Court will follow what prosecutors called a historic DNA hit that led to the New Jersey prison inmate’s March indictment in the slaying of Diane Cusick, a 23-year-old mother who never returned home from a trip to buy dance shoes at the Valley Stream mall.
Cottingham, who is known as the “Torso Killer” after dismembering some of his victims, will admit to the New Hyde Park woman’s strangling and get immunity from prosecution in the other four killings as part of his plea deal, sources close to the case told Newsday.
They said a Nassau judge then will sentence Cottingham to 25 years to life in prison for Cusick’s killing during his virtual appearance in a Mineola courtroom from a New Jersey prison.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Convicted serial killer Richard Cottingham is expected to plead guilty Monday to a dance teacher’s 1968 slaying outside Green Acres Mall, sources told Newsday.
- Known as "The Torso Killer, Cottingham also will get immunity from prosecution after admitting guilt in four other Nassau killings as part of a plea deal, sources say.
- He was sentenced to life in prison in June for the 1974 murders of two New Jersey teenage girls he drowned in a motel bathtub and dumped in the woods.
The remains of the four other victims whom Cottingham will admit to killing were found in Nassau County in 1972 and 1973, the sources said. They said the 76-year-old prisoner’s sentence in Cusick’s case will run consecutive to his other punishments, including life sentences, after convictions in the slayings of numerous women.
Cottingham’s other crimes have included the murders of two women whom he decapitated, also cutting off their hands, in December 1979 in a Times Square hotel room that he set ablaze.
In 1984, a New York City jury convicted him of those murders and the 1980 slaying of a woman at an East 29th Street hotel in Manhattan, whom he strangled and mutilated before setting her on fire. Authorities believe all three victims were sex workers.
At the time of that verdict, Cottingham — a former Manhattan computer programmer and father of three from Lodi, New Jersey — already was serving a prison sentence of 179 years in New Jersey for other murders.
Cottingham began serving prison time in New Jersey in 1981, but he has confessed to multiple murders since.
A New Jersey judge in June sentenced him to life in prison for the 1974 murders of two teenage girls he drowned in a motel bathtub and dumped in the woods.
Cottingham previously confessed crimes to both a Bergen County law enforcement official and Jennifer Weiss, the daughter of one of his Times Square hotel victims.
Weiss has teamed with historian and serial killer expert Peter Vronsky, who is writing a book about Cottingham, to help extract admissions from him, Newsday reported earlier this year.
Weiss and Vronsky provided “very, very useful information” in Cusick’s case, Nassau police said after Cottingham’s June arraignment.
The break in Cusick’s cold case came after Nassau authorities said they retested a semen sample from the crime scene, uploaded the profile into a national index and got a perfect match to Cottingham.
Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly said after Cottingham’s arraignment that it was believed to be the oldest DNA hit to lead to a prosecution in the United States.
Law enforcement officials previously had tried for a DNA match, but technology hadn’t progressed to where a match was possible.
In addition, the DNA profile of Cottingham, whose incarceration began in an era when offender DNA wasn’t collected, wasn’t in a national index until 2005.
Nassau authorities said they believe Cottingham posed as mall security or a police officer to approach Cusick before raping and killing her.
In the early morning of Feb. 16, 1968, Cusick’s father found her battered body in the back seat of the family’s 1961 Plymouth Valiant in the mall parking lot and called police.
Authorities said at the time that tape had been wound around Cusick’s mouth and neck, her face was bloodied, some of her clothing was torn and she had been sexually assaulted.
Cusick’s parents went looking for her when she didn’t return home after saying she planned to stop at the shopping center after leaving the Oceanside dance studio where she taught children’s lessons.
Cusick’s daughter, Darlene Altman, told Newsday in an exclusive interview days after Cottingham’s arraignment that she had waited a lifetime to hear that her mother’s killer would have to answer for the crime.
“It’s like relief, relief that something now is finally actually happening,” Altman, who was 4 when her mother died, told Newsday.