New Jersey inmate Richard Cottingham, 76, also known as the "Torso Killer," admits to killing five women in the 1960s and 1970s. Photo courtesy of New Jersey Department of Corrections
Dec. 5 (UPI) -- A New Jersey inmate, known as the "Torso Killer," admitted Monday to killing five women, including a 23-year-old mother outside a New York shopping mall more than 50 years ago.
Richard Cottingham, who is serving time for 11 murders and is believed to be one of the United States' most prolific serial killers, pleaded guilty Monday to strangling Diane Cusick in 1968 outside Green Acres Mall in Nassau County.
"We believe it is one of, if not, the oldest DNA prosecutions in the United States," District Attorney Anne Donnelly said during a press conference Monday.
As part of a plea deal, Cottingham, who appeared virtually in a medical gown from a New Jersey prison, was granted immunity from prosecution for the four other killings. Cottingham was sentenced to 25 years to life behind bars in Cusick's death.
"Today is one of the most emotional days we've ever had in the Nassau County District Attorney's Office," Donnelly said. "In the case of Diane Cusick, her family has waited nearly 55 years for someone to be held accountable for her death."
Donnelly said Cusick was murdered as she stopped by the mall to buy a pair of shoes on the evening of Feb. 15, 1968.
"Ms. Cusick never came home that night. Her concerned parents went to Green Acres later that evening and her father, Bernard, found his daughter strangled in the back of Diane's Plymouth Valiant," Donnelly said.
Donnelly said police worked on the case for years before it went cold.
"In July of 2021, we were fortunate to get a tip from our partners in Suffolk County that an inmate in New Jersey may be responsible for additional homicides here on Long Island," Donnelly added.
"In early 2022, thanks to advancements in DNA technology, a DNA profile was generated and we received a notification that it matched Richard Cottingham, a known serial killer."
Cottingham, who is 76 and in poor health, is already serving life in prison for his other convictions in New Jersey. He was dubbed the "Torso Killer" for the vicious way he killed his victims. Cottingham has also been called the "Times Square Killer" for the murders he committed in New York City.
Cottingham, who has been imprisoned since 1980, has claimed he was responsible for close to 100 killings. New York and New Jersey authorities have only been able to link him to a dozen murders so far.
The four other women killed were 21-year-old Mary Beth Heinz, 23-year-old Laverne Boy, 18-year-old Marita Rosado Nieves and 33-year-old Sheila Hyman. All four women were murdered in 1972 or 1973.
Relatives of the women spoke with reporters after Cottingham was sentenced Monday, including John Moy whose mother was among those killed.
"There's been some dark days behind us but today the sun shines brightly because justice has been served."