New Jersey Torso Killer, Richard Cottingham, has recently confessed to the unsolved murders of three women that took place in the sixties.
The now 73-year-old serial killer, who was active from 1967 – 1980 and has spent almost three decades behind bars at the New Jersey State Prison for the murders of six females, confessed to the murders of an additional three teenage girls between 1968 – 1969.
He claims that he abducted and murdered 18-year-old Irene Blase from Bogota On April 7th, 1969. Her body was discovered the following day face down in a river in Saddlebrook. A website dedicated to the many unsolved murders of teenagers and young women in the New Jersey area, newjerseygirlmurders.org, details Miss Blase’ murder and states the cause of death as ligature strangulation. Investigators weren’t sure what the girl had been strangled to death with but suspected it may have been the chain of a crucifix necklace she was wearing at the time of her murder.
Strangulation as a cause of death fits The New Jersey Torso killers M.O as well as his habit of beating and torturing his victims. The victim was also stabbed through the lung and Cottingham was known for carrying a knife, which he would use to threaten and force his victims into sexual acts, torture as well as to mutilate them post-mortem.
Cottingham also confessed to the murder of 15-year-old Denise Falasca, from Closter, who was abducted from Emmerson on the way to a friend’s house. She too was strangled to death with her crucifix necklace, less than 10 miles from the location Irene Blase was discovered. Similar in age and appearance to Miss Blase, Falasca was Caucasian with dark hair and eyes. She was found in a state of undress and her killers left behind the impression of her own bloody hand print on one of her thighs. Her body was found near a graveyard in Saddlebrook.
The murder of 13-year-old Jacalyn Harp was the third case he confessed responsibility for. Harper was abducted on her way home from band practice on July 17th, 1968. She cut through Middland park where Cottingham abducted and killed her. Her body was found the following day in a state of undress. She was bruised and bloodied, much like the other two girls.
The New Jersey police department have confirmed the girls are indeed victims of Richard Cottingham.
Cottingham, or “The New Jersey Torso killer”, got his morbid moniker from his M.O, which involved (usually) strangling his young female victims and often cutting off their heads and hands post-mortem. He was active between 1967 – 1980 and although he was confirmed to have killed a handful of girls and woman over the years, he claimed the real number was upwards of 85 and possibly even as high as 100, although many believe this number is far-fetched.
Many articles state that Cottingham had a relatively tame criminal record for a secret serial killer. He had a couple of misdemeanors and minor crimes including shoplifting from a department store and driving under the influence of alcohol, but he did in fact, face charges relating to assaults against women on a couple of occasions that were eventually dropped.
Cottingham was married in 1970. By this point he was already torturing and killing young women. He had three children with his wife between 1973 and 1979, but his wife left him and filed for divorce after she found out that he was having an affair. She would go on to drop the divorce and move away with the children. Cottingham kept on killing.
Nancy Shiava Vogel was one of his first known victims. Cottingham murdered her in 1967 when he was just 21 years old. Vogel was found dead in her vehicle several days after a sudden disappearance. Her hands were bound, she was naked and there was trauma to her face and head indicative of a beating.
Two years later in 1969 two headless and handless female bodies were discovered in a burning hotel room in New York City. One of the victims was identified as Deedeh Goodarz, a sex worker from Kuwaiti, the other would never be identified.
Later in May 1980, police made a harrowing discovery in a hotel room in Hasbrouck heights, New Jersey- the bound body of a teenager whose body was Dalmatian with bruises and bite marks. That same month yet another woman in her mid-twenties was found dead near the hotel where Street’s body had been discovered. The cause of death was determined as multiple stab wounds.
That same month, Cottingham attempted to subject yet another young woman, 18-year-old Leslie Ann O’Dell, who like Deedeh Goodarz was a sex worker at the time, to the same nightmarish fate as his previous victims. O’Dell was working on Lexington Avenue and 25th Street when Cottingham approached her and offered her $100 for her time. She agreed and the two went back to the same hotel the killer had previously killed in. He tricked O’Dell into submission by telling her to lay on her front for a massage before quickly snapping a pair of handcuffs on her wrists to bind her hands behind her back. Once immobilized he began to torture her a knife point and when she made muffled cries of pain the killer retaliated with demoralizing language and told her she’d have to endure the suffering “like the rest of the girls”. At one point the victim told police that he bit down on her nipple so hard that he almost bit it clean off. Her cries of pain were heard by hotel staff who quickly alerted the police who showed up in a matter of minutes and arrested the serial killer.
When they searched Cottingham’s residence, they discovered mementos and trophies he had kept from his victims as well as weapons such as knives and replica guns that he would use in his abductions and attacks.
Leslie O’Dell was not the only surviving victim of the New Jersey Torso killer; two others came forward when the case went to trial.
Richard Cottingham tried to commit suicide in his cell while awaiting trial, but his attempts failed. He also tried to avoid his trial by fainting, harming himself and attempting to escape.
There are many unsolved murders of teenage girls and women that took place in New Jersey around the time Cottingham was active. There is a website dedicated to cataloging the cold cases at newjerseygirlmurders.org. Doing a search for the word “ligature”, a key word that would come up in all of Cottingham’s killings, turns up 18 results, 3 of which are now updated as “solved” since the killer’s recent confessions. A handful of them are his confirmed victims but there are a few still unsolved murders from the time detailing candidates that could be potential victims of the infamous New Jersey Torso killer.
The first is Linda Balabanow, who was 17 years old at the time of her murder in March 1969. Balabanow was abducted, bound, beaten, suffered blunt force trauma and died by ligature strangulation. She was found face down in water. Her shoes were also missing.
The second in the list is Carol Hill, who was killed the following summer in June 1970. She was found with bites and bruises on her body, was raped and again had died due to ligature strangulation.
The third possible victim is Doreen Carlucci, who was just 14 years old when she was killed in December of 1974. She too was abducted, strangled with a ligature and was found in a state of undress.
These three crimes happened in new Jersey around the time Cottingham was active and the M.O closely matches that of the Torso killer.
Other possible victims on the list include 14-year-old Suzanne Garden in January of 1974, 18-year-old Cynthia Leslie and Janet Ipsaro Adams, also 18. All three teens were strangled with a ligature, two of the victims were mutilated post-mortem and all had been beaten.
Janet Adams was not abducted and killed outside- she was murdered in her own home. She suffered post-mortem stab wounds and was found face down in a filled bathtub with a pair of scissors protruding from one of her breasts. The M.O is very similar to that of the Torso Killer; however, he usually killed his victims outside or at motels. Adam’s threw a party the week before to celebrate her marriage, it could be possible that the killer knew the victims address for this reason.
Richard Cottingham continues serving out his 200-year sentence in New Jersey state prison. It is unclear if why, when or under what process he confessed to the unsolved crimes.