Once upon a time, there was a killer.
- The Travel Inn Hotel – Fourth floor
- 42nd St
- Richard “Richie” Cottingham
The Time Square Killer or The Torso Killer | forty-five years ago Time Square wasn’t what it is today. In the 70s Time Square was a very sexually oriented place. It was a place like no other in the world at that time where predators could get “anything” they wanted.
On December 2nd 1979, in midtown Manhattan, an unusual act of violence was discovered. A police officer named Jim Riegel, working in the 10th Precinct in Manhattan covering Time Square was stopped at a light and saw fire trucks parked in front of the Travel Inn Hotel located on West 42nd Street and 10th Avenue.
As soon as the patrol car pulled up at the hotel they were told “you better go up to the fourth floor”.
There was a fire in room 417. The Rescue Company 1 was told the room likely had guests inside. As a result of the fire, the smoke was thick and there was also the smell of burning flesh.
Although the Rescue Company 1 made it up to the room, the thickness of the smoke made it hard for them to see clearly. They were only able to make out the shape of the bodies which were on twin beds.
One of the fireman moved towards one of the bodies in order to give CPR but quickly realised that the body had no head nor hands.
The sergeant turned to the police officer and said “a real sick bastard did this“.
Firemen responding to a fire in a room, were the first to arrived at the scene. It was around 9:30 in the morning.
Two women were found decapitated with their hands cut off. The first signs showed that the women had been killed within a couple of hours after the corpses discovery.
Female Reporter : Did it seem that the women had been killed recently when you arrived ?
Riegel : I would say so, yeah, within a couple of hours.
Female Reporter [remarks] : It seems the suspect tried to cover his tracks by setting the two beds on fire.
Riegel : The fire was on two separate fires, two separate mattresses, two separate beds.
Female Reporter : For how long?
Riegel : Five minutes, tops.
Malcom Reiman now a retired NYPD Homicide detective spent thirty-one years and a half with the New York City Police Department.
“You wouldn’t believe the things that I’ve seen. And for something to stand out, it’s gotta be really bad. It has to be absolutely horrifying to stand out. And this case still stand out”, he said.
The Time Square Killer tortured and murdered sex worker Deedeh Goodarzi, aged 22, and a still unidentified teenage victim, severed their heads and hands, and set their torsos on fire. The killer was later identify : Richard “Richie” Cottingham.
Cottingham fled the scene with the severed heads and hands, which were never recovered.
The firemen felt that the fire was poorly conceived more likely to draw attention to the room than it was to make any damage. The fire was discovered by one of the maids.
Vernon Geberth, retired former NYPD Homicide Commander of Bronx Homicide now a homicide and forensic expert and consultant said he was “intrigued” by the case which he first learned about reading the headlines.
Sergeant Jerry McQueen, 10th Precinct Detectives Unit, was in charged of the investigation. He will be working with Reiman on the case. The victims could not be identified through fingerprints because their hands were chopped off.
The detectives thought that, the killer wanted to prevent the victim’s identification hence the reason behind the decapitation and severing of the hands.
There was no wallet, no ID at the time scene. The only things connected to the victims were left being were their clothimg and shoes, neatly folded and placed in the room’s bathtub.
“Don’t forget it’s 1979, we didn’t have all this video surveillance that we have today, okay? We don’t have DNA technology. DNA technology won’t come up for another seven years. Very frustrating”, said Geberth.
The crime scene had been so neatly devoid of evidence that one detective told Riegel “this is the cleanest crime scene I’ve ever seen”.
Two women had been beheaded and their hands removed yet the detectives couldn’t find anything. “Spatter, gore, puddles, fingerprints, there was nothing. How can you behead two women, chop off the hands of two women and not have gore from one end to the other? “,said Reiman .
With two persons behind decapitated and tortured, you’d think someone would hear something.
Female Reporter : Had anybody heard any kind of struggle? Any noise on that room?
Maid : It was don’t disturb (no disturb sign was on the door). Don’t disturb. That’s all.
Female Reporter : The “don’t disturb sign”, was that there all along?
Maid : Nods and answers “Yes”
Investigation showed that Cottingham came into the hotel on November 29th 1979 and did not leave until December 2nd. He remained three days at the Travel Inn Hotel. He was alone.
At the reception desk, while he was registering under the fake name, Carl Wilson from Merlin, New Jersey, a woman was waiting, standing behind him. She was also alone. But for some odd reason, she paid close attention to the offender. From her description of the man, a sketch was made. That was the only time the Time Square Killer was seen.
At that time in Time Square, there was more traffic that anywhere in the city. From tourists, to countless business men. As such, looking for a killer was like looking for “a needle in a haystack”, said Reiman.
The composition didn’t help, no one came forward. At some point, where the detectives had no leads, they decided to dress mannequins taken from the department stores midtown, with the clothing of the victims that were left behind. The mannequins were dressed, photographed and circulars went up all over the place, newspaper, television, everywhere.
Later, the police would receive a phone call, the woman at the end of the line would say that, one of the outfit belonged to her friend, “that’s what my friend wore when she left the house”. Deedeh Goodarzi would be identified through a cesarean-section scar and chest X-ray.
January 1980, one moth after the two murders, medical examiner said that the hands and head were removed after the victims died. The examination also concluded that the victims died at different time. One saw the other being tortured. The bodies were full of torture signs. One victim had been bound facedown.
Cottingham was identified by one of his co-worker. He used to brag about being on Time Square.
May 1980, five months after the murders of Deedeh Goodarzi and Jane Doe, the firefighters respond to a call on the Hotel Seville, right off of Madison Avenue and 29th Street.
Manhattan South Homicide also responded to the call. The room was set on fire. Once inside, they found another mutilated woman. She had been beaten, tortured, was naked. Signs of a sexual assault were also present. She was strangled to death.
In this case, the killer removed both of the victim’s breast and placed them on the headboard. Once again, the crime scene was neat, devoid of evidence. But the hands were left behind. She was identified as Jean Ann Reyner, she was the mother of a little boy. A couple of week befor her murder, she had been arrested for prostitution.
In early May 1980 a maid at the Quality Inn found the naked corpse of a handcuffed woman under the bed.
The victim, Valerie Street, had just been busted in Miami for prostitution, and was last seen getting picked up by a man in New York City. The clever killer slipped up, leaving a fingerprint on the cuffs. The case also had parallels to a previously unsolved murder of nurse Maryann Carr, who was found dead in the same motel three years earlier.
On May 22, Cottingham then picked up Leslie Ann O’Dell, a 19-year-old runaway desperate to escape her pimp — something he promised to help her do over drinks in Midtown. Instead, he drove her to the Quality Inn, where he tortured, beat and sexually assaulted her for hours, until a maid heard her scream.
He began torturing her, nearly biting off one of her nipples. She later testified that he said, “You have to take it. The other girls did, you have to take it too. You’re a whore and you have to be punished.”
O’Dell’s muffled cries of pain became so loud that the motel staff, already spooked by the murder eighteen days earlier, called police and then rushed to the room demanding that Cottingham open the door
Cottingham was apprehended by arriving police officers in the hallway. When arrested he had handcuffs, a leather gag, two slave collars, a switchblade, replica pistols and a stockpile of prescription pills
As the New Jersey press reported on Cottingham’s arrest, the NYPD started to take notice. Authorities executed a warrant on his Lodi home, which had a private room containing evidence linking him to the Torso Killer.
“He had pornographic artwork, adhesive tape, books about S&M,” said Geberth.
There was also a lockbox filled with trophies from his murders, including Maryann Carr’s apartment key and a necklace belonging to Jean Reyner. These objects, along with his fingerprint on the handcuffs, were presented as evidence by prosecutors at his trial.
Cottingham was convicted of five murders and numerous counts of kidnapping and sexual assault and sentenced to 173 to 197 years, which he is serving in Trenton’s New Jersey State Prison.
But in 2009, he surfaced to again make waves, when he gave a chilling interview to journalist Nadia Fezzani about his motivation and his body count.
“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 . . . It’s Godlike almost. You are in complete control of somebody’s destiny,” he told Fezzani in footage shown in the series. “I never thought I would get caught,” he added
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