Watch CBS News

Richard Cottingham, serial killer known as the "Torso Killer," admits murdering 5 women decades ago, including 23-year-old mom

Serial killer admits to more LI murders
Serial killer admits to more LI murders 00:28

A serial killer known as the "Torso Killer" admitted Monday to killing a 23-year-old woman outside a Long Island shopping mall in 1968 and four other women decades ago.

Richard Cottingham was arraigned earlier this year on a second-degree murder charge in connection with Diane Cusick's death during a trip she made to buy shoes at the suburban Green Acres Mall. Cottingham is believed to be one of America's most prolific serial killers and has already been convicted in 11 other killings.

Appearing virtually from a New Jersey prison for the Nassau County Court hearing, Cottingham was sentenced to 25 years to life behind bars for Cusick's slaying. He received immunity from prosecution for the four other killings he admitted to as part of his plea deal in Cusick's death.

Mall Killing Serial Killer
Richard Cottingham makes a remote appearance at a courtroom in Mineola, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 5, 2022.  Seth Wenig / AP

Cottingham has claimed he was responsible for up to 100 homicides, though authorities in New York and New Jersey have officially linked him to only a dozen so far. He has been imprisoned since 1980, when he was arrested after a motel maid heard a woman screaming inside his room. Authorities found the woman alive but handcuffed and suffering from bite marks and knife wounds.

Authorities believe Cusick left her job at a children's dance school and then stopped at the Nassau County mall to buy a pair of shoes when Cottingham followed her out to her car. They believe he pretended to be a security guard or police officer, accused her of stealing and then overpowered the 98-pound woman.

The medical examiner concluded that Cusick had been beaten in the face and head and was suffocated. She had defensive wounds on her hands and police were able to collect DNA evidence at the scene. At the time, however, DNA testing did not exist.

Mall Killing Serial Killer
Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly holds a photo of Diane Cusick during an interview with The Associated Press, Wednesday, June 22, 2022, in Mineola, N.Y.  Mary Altaffer / AP

The DNA was entered into a national database in 2016 when Cottingham pleaded guilty to another killing in New Jersey. In 2021, police in Nassau County received a tip that a suspect who might be responsible for killings in the suburban county was locked up in New Jersey. They began running DNA tests again on cold cases and came up with a match to Cottingham.

"It was only through advances in DNA technology that the NCDA and our partners at the Nassau County Police Department, could solve this 54-year-old cold case and identify a suspect in Ms. Cusick's tragic death," Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said in a statement after charges were announced in June. "We make a promise to her surviving daughter today: we will bring her mother's killer to justice."  

Cusick's daughter, Darlene Altman, said she was overwhelmed when she saw Cottingham on the video screen in the courtroom. Altman was just 4 when her mother was killed.

"He just had this like dead stare. I felt like he was looking right at me," Altman said. "It was creepy."

Mall Killing Serial Killer
Darlene Altman, daughter of Diane Cusick, center, leaves a courtroom in Mineola, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 5, 2022.  Seth Wenig / AP

Cottingham was working as a computer programmer for a health insurance company in New York at the time of Cusick's death.

CBS New York reported Cottingham previously confessed to kidnapping and killing 17-year-old Mary Ann Pryor and 16-year-old Lorraine Marie Kelly in 1974 near a mall in Paramus, New Jersey. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.