‘I had over 80 perfect murders they never even knew about’ : New doc details the heinous crimes of NYC’s ‘torso killer’ who is currently serving a 200-year prison sentence for cutting off the limbs of victims – and claims the body count is still rising
A new Netflix documentary investigates Richard Cottingham, also known as the ‘Times Square Killer’ who said he raped and killed over 105 women and is currently serving a life sentence in New Jersey
Netflix‘s documentary Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer examines the notorious case of Richard Cottingham – also known as ‘The Torso Killer’ – who claimed to have raped, slaughtered and mutilated more than 100 women between 1967 and 1980.
The series begins with a grisly discovery at the Travel Inn Motor Hotel in Times Square on December 2, 1979. Police responded to a fire in Room 417, where two women had been discovered on a pair of twin beds. But when first responders attempted CPR, they realized the bodies had no heads and no hands.
With only torsos, police were unable to identify the victims. One detective said it was ‘the cleanest crime scene he’s ever seen.’ Spatter, gore, fingerprints, puddles of blood, there was no evidence except for their clothing, a pair of Bonjour jeans, a white leotard, patent leather boots and a black fur coat, which the killer had curiously folded neatly in the bathtub.
Confounded, investigators used mannequins from nearby department stores and dressed them in the victims’ clothing, hoping someone might come forward with information.
One slain woman was positively identified through a cesarean-section scar as 22-year-old, Iranian prostitute, Deedeh Goodarzi. The other female victim has never been identified and to this day remains a Jane Doe. Their skulls were never found.
Later, Cottingham claimed that Times Square cops stopped him as he carried the severed heads in a large potato sack to his car before letting him go. He returned back to the hotel to soak the crime scene in lighter fluid and set the room ablaze.
NYPD realized they had a serial killer on their hands in December 1979, after they uncovered the charred, mutilated remains of two women at the Travel Inn Motor Hotel in Times Square. Without heads and hands, authorities were unable to identify the victims. Instead, they borrowed mannequins from nearby department stores and dressed them in the victims’ clothing (above), hoping someone might come forward with information. One victim was recognized as Deedeh Goodarzi while the other slain woman remains unknown to this day
Deedeh Goodarzi was a 22-year-old high-end prostitute from Iran whose family immigrated to Long Island when she was a teenager. She was positively identified through a cesarean-section scar after a friend recognized her clothing. Recently, her daughter that she gave up for adoption while turning tricks has made headlines for forging an unlikely friendship with Richard Cottingham in prison
Richard Cottingham earned his moniker as ‘the Torso Killer’ after he raped and murdered two women in a Times Square motel before setting their decapitated torsos ablaze. Their skulls and hands were never found. He has officially been charged with 11 murders but says he’s killed over 100 women
Netflix’s new ‘Crime Scene’ docuseries examines the notorious case of Richard Cottingham who left a bloody trail of victims between 1967 and 1980. Cottingham targeted sex workers in Times Square before torturing and mutilating their bodies, often leaving only their torsos behind as evidence
Six months later, in early May 1980, the ‘psychopathic sexual sadist’ who had been officially dubbed in the press as ‘The Torso Killer’ struck again. This time, he strangled and slit the throat of 25-year-old Jean Reyner, a single mother who had been working as a call girl to finance a custody battle.
The crime scene was particularly gruesome. ‘It was pretty much the hotel room from hell,’ said detective Malcolm Reiman in the documentary. The killer had severed her breasts and placed them on the headboard, ‘for shock value,’ recalled Vernon Geberth, former Commanding Officer of Bronx Homicide.
Like before, the murderous butcher had set the room on fire, which immediately tipped off authorities that they had a serial killer on their hands. ‘When you’re looking for a killer in 1970s Times Square, you’re looking for a needle in a haystack,’ said Geberth.
Their monster would end up being 33-year-old Richard Cottingham, a married milquetoast father of three from Lodi, New Jersey, who worked as a computer operator for BlueCross BlueShield in Manhattan. He later admitted that his psychopathic hobby for hunting sex workers in Times Square ‘as a game.’
By all accounts, he was ‘an average guy who drove an average car and lived in an average house’ explained reporter Rod Leith in the series.
Nobody at the time suspected that Cottingham’s killing spree had began over a decade earlier with the murder of Nancy Vogel in 1967 and five New Jersey high school girls in 1968 and ’69.
New York City was gripped with fear after the Travel Inn Motor Hotel murders went unsolved. Cottingham was eventually arrested in May 1980 after committing a string of grisly murders across Manhattan and New Jersey, with the same hallmark traits
Cottingham evaded law enforcement by deliberately preying on marginalized sex workers during a time when crime-ridden New York City was dubbed ‘Fear City.’ The sexual predator prowled Times Square for his victims which was considered a deviant playground for pornography, prostitution and crooks
The documentary paints a terrifying portrait of a city overrun with crime, which allowed Cottingham to flourish and evade law enforcement. A famous pamphlet made by NYPD during the 1970s advised tourists to ‘stay off the streets after 6pm,’ ‘do not walk,’ and ‘never ride the subway for any reason whatsoever’
Cops apprehended Richard Cottingham on May 22, 1980 in a New Jersey Quality Inn after staff alerted police of screams coming from a room. It was the same motel that a maid had discovered the mutilated body of Valerie Street just two weeks earlier, and the body of Maryann Car in 1977. Cottingham had been in the process of torturing his latest victim, 19-year-old Leslie Ann O’Dell, who survived the attack and testified against him during his trial
One week before Jean Reyner’s body was discovered at a Manhattan hotel, a maid at the Quality Inn in New Jersey found the naked corpse of Valerie Ann Street under the bed, with her hands tightly handcuffed behind her back. She had recently been arrested in Miami for prostitution and was last seen getting picked up by a John in New York City on May 5, 1980.
Valerie Street’s body was covered in bite marks and brutally beaten in a chillingly similar manner to the murder of 26-year-old Maryann Carr, that had occurred in the same motel three years earlier.
Despite obvious similarities, ‘no one in New Jersey connected them to the Times Square killer,’ explained former NYPD detective Malcolm Reiman in the doc. Criminal profiling was still in its infancy and it was before CCTV footage was commonplace and the use of computers helped detectives share information across states.
Cottingham slipped the noose of law enforcement by deliberately preying on marginalized sex workers during a time when crime-ridden New York City descended into lawlessness.
It was the era when the Big Apple was nicknamed ‘Fear City’ and Times Square was a deviant drain of illicit thrills, pornography, prostitution and crooks – providing the sexual predator with the perfect hunting ground.
The body of 25-year-old Jean Reyner, a single mother who was turning tricks to finance a child custody battle, was found violently murdered on May 15, 1980 in a midtown hotel. The crime scene was particularly gruesome, Cottingham severed her breasts and placed them on the headboard before torching the room. Cops eventually tied him to the crime when they found Reyner’s necklace among his ‘trophies.’ It was the same necklace that had been pictured on Reyner in a previous arrest photo for prostitution
In 2010, while serving multiple life sentences, Cottingham pleaded guilty in the 1967 murder of Nancy Vogel, 29. It is believed that she was his first victim
In 2021 Cottingham confessed and pleaded guilty to the double kidnapping and murders of Lorraine Marie Kelly, 16 and Mary Ann Pryor, 17 in 1974. They were raped and drowned in the bathtub of a New Jersey motel
In 2020, Cottingham admitted to murdering 13-year-old Jackie Harp (left) in 1968, and 15-year-old Denise Falasca (right) in 1969. Both girls were strangled to death
Cops had a lucky break in the case almost six months after the two headless torsos were first found in Times Square. On May 22, 1980, Cottingham picked up Leslie Ann O’Dell in Midtown Manhattan and dragged her back to the same New Jersey motel where he mutilated his last victim just 18 days earlier.
At knife point, he proceeded to torture, beat and sexually assault the 19-year-old runaway for hours, (nearly biting off one of her nipples) until a maid heard her muffled screams. When hotel staff investigated further, Leslie Ann O’Dell cracked open the door and quietly signaled for help.
The police apprehended Richard Cottingham while trying to flee. In his possession were handcuffs, a leather gag, two slave collars, a switchblade, replica pistols and a stockpile of sedatives.
After his arrest, NYPD drew comparisons to the numerous unsolved sexual assault cases with similar hallmarks to the New Jersey crimes. They executed a search warrant on Cottingham’s family home where they found a secret, locked ‘trophy room’ that stashed souvenirs of his evil deeds. Among S&M books and pornographic artwork were Maryann Carr’s apartment key and jewelry that belonged to his other victims.
Richard Cottingham was convicted of five murders and numerous counts of kidnapping and sexual assault using evidence found in his ‘trophy room’ combined with a matching fingerprint left on handcuffs used in the murder of Valerie Street. He was sentenced to 173 to 197 years, which he is currently serving in Trenton’s New Jersey State Prison.
‘It was a game to me. It was mainly psychological. I was able to get almost any woman to do whatever I wanted them to do, psychologically,’ said the sinister 75-year-old in a recent jailhouse interview with journalist Nadia Fezzani. ‘It’s God-like, almost. You’re in complete control of somebody’s destiny.’
Over four trials in the early 1980s, three in Jersey and one in New York, Richard Cottingham was convicted of five murders. That included the 1977 slaying of a married 27-year-old nurse whose body was found dumped by a chain-link fence in the parking lot of the same Quality Inn where he’d committed other atrocities three years later. She had been cut about the chest and legs, beaten with a blunt instrument, and covered in bites and bruises
A picture taken of the New Jersey Courts virtual hearing in April 2021, when Richard Cottingham pleaded guilty to two 1974 murders, finally closing the cold case deaths of teenage friends who had left home for a trip to the mall and never returned
In 2010, Cottingham pleaded guilty to the 1967 murder of Nancy Vogel. He also confessed under immunity to the 1968 and 1969 homicides of New Jersey teenagers Jackie Harp, Irene Blase, and Denise Falasca.
Most recently, in April 2021, Cottingham confessed and pleaded guilty to the double kidnapping and murders of Lorraine Marie Kelly, 16 and Mary Ann Pryor, 17 in 1974. He admitted that he brought the two girls to a motel room where he tied them up, raped them, then drowned them in bathtub.
He has officially been charged with 11 murders but according to Cottingham himself, has committed as many as 105 total slayings over the course of his homicidal career – 80 of which he described as ‘perfect murders.’
Directed by serial killer-aficionado Joe Berlinger, the Netflix series features interviews with former detectives, police officers, sex workers. Dominick Volpe, a former colleague at BlueCross BlueShield, testifies to Cottingham’s perverse sexual tendencies.
The doc also spotlights a conversation with Jennifer Weiss, Deedah Goodarzi’s biological daughter, who made headlines last year when she struck up an unlikely friendship with her mother’s killer while he served his prison sentence.
In a strange turn of events, Deedah Goodarzi’s biological daughter, Jennifer Weiss has forged an unlikely friendship with the man who strangled and beheaded her mother in 1979. Goodarzi gave up her daughter for adoption when she was less than two weeks old, it wasn’t until Weiss tried to reconnect with her biological mother in 2002 that she discovered the disturbing truth of her violent demise
‘All of the women that Richard killed left this world in a horrific way,’ said Jennifer Weiss in the doc. ‘So I maintain a relationship with Richard now because I want the names of the unidentified victims he took. Lives that never came to fruition. I think we need to remember them because they deserve justice’
Weiss was given up for adoption when she was less than two weeks old. It wasn’t until she endeavored to reconnect with her biological mother in 2002, that she discovered the disturbing truth of her violent demise through old newspaper clippings. Looking for more answers, she reached out to Richard Cottingham in prison and has visited him over 30 times.
‘All of the women that Richard killed left this world in a horrific way,’ she said in the doc. ‘It always weighs heavily over me.
‘So I maintain a relationship with Richard now because I want the names of the unidentified victims he took. Lives that never came to fruition. I think we need to remember them because they deserve justice.’