Another female victim has been added to the list of imprisoned 75-year-old New Jersey serial killer Richard Cottingham, thanks to advances in DNA technology.
Cottingham was arraigned on Long Island via videoconference Wednesday from South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton for the 1968 slaying of a New Hyde Park woman in the parking lot of the popular Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream.
He entered a not-guilty plea to murder charges in the death of Diane Cusick, a 23-year-old divorced single mom who worked as a dance instructor.
Cottingham, a married father of three who’d lived in Lodi and worked as a computer tech for Blue Cross Blue Shield in Manhattan, has confessed to nearly a dozen killings of women and teens from decades ago.
Peter Vronsky, author of “American Serial Killers: The Epidemic Years 1950 to 2000,” said Cottingham told him he’d killed anywhere from 85 to 100 female victims.
Retired Bergen County Chief of Detectives Robert Anzilotti got Cottingham to confess to most of the slayings.
The first was 13-year-old Jackie Harp of Midland Park, who was abducted as she walked home from band practice and strangled in July 1968.
Cottingham also admitted killing Irene Blase, 18, of Bogota, who went missing from Hackensack on April 7, 1969 and was found strangled in Saddle River, and Denise Falasca, 15, of Closter, who went missing from Westwood on July 14, 1969. Her body was found the next morning by the side of a road next to a cemetery in Saddle Brook. She, too, had been strangled.
The final confession secured by Anzilotti came last year, when Cottingham admitted killing North Bergen teenagers Mary Ann Pryor and Lorraine Kelly in 1974.
The burly killer said he picked the girls up at the Garden State Plaza in Paramus and brought them to a local hotel where he raped and tortured them for three days before drowning them.
But as recently as last week Cottingham refused to cop to Cusick’s killing, Anzilotti told Daily Voice.
Advances in DNA helped make the case. Detectives in Nassau County took it to a grand jury, and a murder indictment was returned.
Cusick’s loved ones said she’d gone to the mall the night of Feb. 15, 1968, a Thursday, to buy a pair of dancing shoes, Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said.
When she didn’t return home, her parents drove to the mall and found her Plymouth Valiant in the lot – and her body in the back seat, Donnelly said.
Her mouth was covered with adhesives, her hands bound, the district attorney said, adding that Cusick had been strangled.
A retest of DNA by the Nassau County medical examiner produced a match – Cottingham – paving the way for closure, Donnelly said.
"It was only through advances in DNA technology that the NCDA and our partners at the Nassau County Police Department, could solve this 54-year-old cold case and identify a suspect in Ms. Cusick’s tragic death,” the DA said Wednesday.
“We make a promise to her surviving daughter today: We will bring her mother’s killer to justice.”
The next scheduled court date in the case is scheduled for Aug. 18 in Mineola.
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