Torso killer charged with the 1968 rape and murder of Diane Cusick

June 28, 2022

Diane Cusick went missing on February 16, 1968, after driving to Green Acres, a shopping centre just off Sunrise Highway in Long Island, NY to buy shoes. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Martin, located her car, a 1961 white Valiant, the following day and quickly discovered Diane's body in the back seat. The vehicle was parked up behind a restaurant called the Steak Pub, the location of which was usually dimly lit after 9:30pm as it stayed open much later than the other stores around it.

It was evident from looking at the 23-year-old's body that she had been beaten and sexually assaulted as her face was bloodied and her leotard torn.  A strip of tape was also found across her mouth and wrapped around her neck.

Leslie Lukash, the Nassau County Medical Examiner, later revealed that Diane had been sexually assaulted, had died as a result of suffocation and had been raped and murdered between the hours of 10:30 – midnight the night before.

Diane was a dance instructor at the Wakefield School of Dance and a single mother who left behind her four-year-old daughter, Darlene, whom her parents would go on to adopt and raise. Diane and Darlene had been staying with Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Martin at 534 Eighth Avenue in Hyde park after the victim and her husband, Howard, drifted apart and became estranged. When Diane failed to return from her shopping excursion, her parents instantly became worried and went out looking for her, only to make the devastating discovering the following day. Howard didn't show up to his job the following day at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corp. where he worked as a production technician. Police questioned and released him.

Detectives discovered that the victim was last seen leaving the Wakefield School of Dance the night of her murder. She last had contact with her parents via telephone that night when she called them at around 7pm from the Dance School to inform them of her plans.

Police soon released a description of a suspect in the case whom they described as: "a white male in his late teens or early twenties, about five feet eight-to-ten inches tall, of medium build wearing glasses." He was described as being dressed in a dark “fingertip length” coat and had not only been spotted lingering around the mall and theatre on the night of Diane Cusick’s murder, but also near her car that same night.

Despite police circulating the suspect’s description, the case went cold without any leads, and remained that way until a suspect in the case was finally arraigned this week.

Darlene wouldn't remember much of her mother as she grew up in the bedroom they used to share together. Her grandparents- now her adopted parents, did not talk about their slain daughter, but they sent Darlene to attend dance classes at the studio where her mother once taught. Once she was older, and after hearing about dozens of high-profile cold cases being solved with the help of DNA testing, she penned a letter to the homicide squad in the early 2000's in the hope that they could do the same for her mother Diane. The squad was already overwhelmed with cases, so Det. Pat Bellotti of the Nassau County Police Department took it upon himself to solve the mystery.

The victims clothing was still in evidence storage and they were sent to a lab to be tested for the killers DNA, which was found on Diane’s underwear. Bellotti died in 2005, but the work he did was crucial to identifying Diane’s killer.

Last year Det. Daniel Finn took over Bellotti’s work and entered the killers DNA profile into CODIS, a federal database of criminals. There was a hit.

More than five decades later police were sure they had the man responsible.

 Richard “The Torso killer” Cottingham was charged with the 1968 rape and murder of Diane Cusick as he lay in a hospital bed. The convicted serial killer is currently incarcerated at South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, New Jersey and has been behind bars since his arrest on May 22, 1980.  Cottingham was arrested at the Hasbrouck Heights Quality Inn hotel near Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey whilst in the middle of torturing teenage sex worker Leslie Ann O'Dell whose moans of pain were so loud staff contacted the police without hesitation. Several days earlier he had murdered Valerie Street in the same hotel and left her restrained body under one of the hotel beds for workers to discover.

Cottingham is believed to have killed 12+ victims from 1967–1980 and has been convicted (at the time of writing) for eight. He was recently connected to the 1968 crime when DNA evidence linked him to the victim. Although he pleaded guilty to the murders of Nancy Vogel in 2010, the kidnap, rape and murder of Loraine Marie Kelly and Mary Ann Pryor in 2021, along with the murders of three schoolgirls in exchange for legal immunity, he has so far (at the time of writing) denied raping and murdering Diane Cusick despite DNA evidence.

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