He was a suburban husband and father of three, with a secret life as a sadistic serial killer working both sides of the Hudson River.
For 13 years, insurance worker Richard Cottingham stalked his female victims in northern New Jersey and Midtown Manhattan: The youngest just 13, the oldest only 29. By the end, the man known as the “Times Square Killer” was butchering prostitutes and setting their decapitated bodies afire, earning a second tabloid alias — “The Torso Killer.”
The Lodi, N.J., man was finally arrested on May 22, 1980 when a maid at a Garden State motel heard an 18-year-old woman screaming from inside one of the rooms. Cops arrived just in time to bust Cottingham, whose violent assault on the victim was interrupted by a security guard.
Eleven women were already dead before the cuffs went on the now-notorious murderer accused Wednesday in the killing of his second victim, a Long Island mother slain in her parked car at a suburban mall in February 1968 in a case long gone cold.
Cottingham attracted no attention from neighbors or law enforcement while leading his lethal double-life, moving effortlessly between his world at home and his homicidal pursuits across the metropolitan area.
The killings started with a married mother of two who left her New Jersey home for a local bingo game in October 1967 and wound up naked and dead.
Her murderer was only a few weeks short of his 21st birthday and only three years removed from his 1964 high school graduation.
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Five teenage girls were gruesomely executed by the innocuous employee at Blue Cross/Blue Shield as he morphed from random guy next door to suburban predator. And it took investigators some time to link the Manhattan murders with the multiple killings across the Hudson.
But once armed with a search warrant for his home in the cozy borough of 24,000 residents, the NYPD uncovered a private room containing damning evidence: An apartment key belonging to Maryann Carr, killed just 10 days before Christmas in 1977, and a necklace belonging to prostitute Jean Reyner, the last of his victims in May 1980.
Cottingham, now 75, has spent more than half his life behind bars for the murders — 42 years since his arrest and imprisonment. In a letter to Rolling Stone magazine earlier this year, he offered no explanation for his killing spree.
“For a long time now I have been trying to understand the darkness that enveloped my soul during my youth,” he wrote. “Remorse back then wasn’t part of my thought process. When the sun went down, and the moon came up, the animal form that is in all of us came out and controlled my actions.”
And he’s hardly apologetic. Cottingham has admitted to more than 100 killings during his rampage, and was just arrested for the 1968 murder of a Long Island mom out shopping for shoes at the mall. In one interview, he mentioned “80 perfect murders” that remain unknown and unsolved.
His boasting came too soon, as the killer was arraigned Wednesday for murder after authorities linked the killed to the 54-year-old Long Island slaying.
Not that it makes much difference to Cottingham. Convicted of multiple counts of kidnapping and sexual assault, he’s serving a term of 173 to 197 years in Trenton’s New Jersey State Prison.