The death of a woman who was found in the car park of a shopping mall five decades ago in New York’s Long Island has been linked to the so-called “Torso Killer”.
The suspect, Richard Cottingham, who is believed to be one of America’s most prolific serial killers, was arraigned Wednesday on a second-degree murder charge in connection with Diane Cusick’s 1968 killing.
But from a hospital bed in New Jersey, where he’s already serving a life sentence for other killings, Cottingham pleaded not guilty.
Authorities believe Ms Cusick, 23, left her job at a children’s dance school and then stopped at the Green Acres Mall in Nassau County to buy a pair of shoes when Cottingham followed her out.
He is then thought to have pretended to be a security guard or police officer, accused her of stealing and then overpowered the 7st (98 lbs) woman, Nassau County Police Detective Captain Stephen Fitzpatrick said.
He added she was “brutally beaten, raped and murdered in that car”.
She had defensive wounds on her hands and police were able to collect DNA evidence at the scene.
But at the time, there was no DNA testing and the case eventually went cold.
Cottingham was working as a computer programmer for a health insurance company in New York at the time of Ms Cusick’s death.
He was convicted of murder in both New York and New Jersey in the 1980s, though the law at the time didn’t require people convicted to submit DNA samples, as it does now.
His DNA was taken and entered into a national database in 2016 when he pleaded guilty to another murder in New Jersey.
In 2021, police in Nassau County received a tip that a suspect who might be responsible for killings in the county, just east of New York City, was locked up in New Jersey.
They began running DNA tests again on cold cases and came up with a match to Cottingham.
Cottingham also led police to believe he was responsible for the death by providing some information about the case, including telling detectives he was near a drive-in theatre, which was next to the mall at the time.
However, he stopped short of confessing directly to Ms Cusick’s death.
‘He was not always a feeble older man’
This week, Cottingham asked to be arraigned by video feed from the New Jersey hospital because he was in poor health and bedridden.
Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said: “He is a violent predator and no matter how he looks today in a hospital bed he was not always a feeble older man.
“He was a young 22-year-old when he committed the murder of Ms Cusick. He was strong, stronger than these women were, and he was violent.”
Cottingham, who was nicknamed The Torso Killer and The Times Square Killer, has previously claimed he was responsible for up to 100 murders.
But authorities in New York and New Jersey have officially linked him to only a dozen so far, including Ms Cusick’s death.
He has been imprisoned since 1980, when he was arrested after a motel maid heard a woman screaming inside his room.