He was known as the Torso Killer.
Richard Cottingham of Lido, NJ gained his ghoulish nickname from cutting off the heads and hands of some of his victims. Authorities connected him to the murders of 11 women in northern New Jersey and Manhattan.
In June 2022, he was charged with the murder of a 12th woman: Diane Cusick, a Long Island mom and dance teacher who was killed in February 1968. DNA evidence led to charges in this 54-year-old murder case, and Nassau County authorities say they are reviewing other cold cases.
The Power of DNA in Unsolved Cases
When the husband and father of three was taken into custody in 1980, DNA was not used in criminal cases. Cottingham’s arrest occurred after the screams of a victim got the attention of hotel staff. Physical evidence found in his home linked him to multiple murders. Over several years, he was convicted of five murders and confessed to several others committed between 1967 and 1980.
He was arraigned on a second-degree murder charge for killing Cusick, believed to be his second victim. This new charge is largely due to DNA evidence.
In 2021, certain evidence in the Cusick case was retested. The resulting DNA profile allegedly matched Cottingham. His DNA had been added to a federal DNA database in 2005. The law during his earlier convictions did not require him to submit a DNA sample.
“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,” said Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly in a statement.
He pleaded not guilty to the new charge.
At 75 years old, the former computer operator has spent more than half his life behind bars. He is serving a life sentence without parole in a New Jersey state prison. The new charge could add another 25 years to life if convicted.
No Statute of Limitations for Murder Charges
The Nassau County DA said the Cusick case was possibly the “oldest DNA hit” to lead to prosecution in the U.S. Certain crimes can be prosecuted no matter how much time has passed.
Most crimes have a statute of limitations, a time limit in which charges can be filed. Petty offenses typically have a 1-year statute of limitations, and misdemeanor crimes have a two-year timeframe for a prosecutor to file charges. Many felonies must be charged within 5 years.
New York offenses that have no statutes of limitations include the following:
- First-Degree Murder
- Second-Degree Murder
- First-Degree Kidnapping
- First-Degree Rape
- First-Degree Aggravated Sexual Abuse
- First-Degree Sexual Conduct Against a Child
- First-Degree Incest
- First-Degree Arson
- Class A Felony
A crime with no statute of limitations can be prosecuted no matter how much time has passed since the offense was committed.
Defendants Are Innocent Until Proven Guilty
A defendant has the right to defense counsel and is presumed innocent until and unless found guilty. At Collins Gann McCloskey & Barry PLLC, we thoroughly examine all evidence in a criminal case, from witness testimony to DNA.
DNA is not foolproof. Biological evidence can be left at a crime scene after the crime was committed. Samples can be contaminated. Witness testimony becomes less reliable over time. We build strong defenses by looking at every detail and angle of the case.
If you are charged in a cold case, exercise your right to remain silent and contact our team. Schedule a consultation by contacting us online or calling (516) 218-5131.