‘Torso killer’ accused of murder of woman in 1968 New York shopping center

A serial killer has been charged with murdering a woman whose body was found 50 years ago in the car park of a shopping center on Long Island, New York.

Echard Cottingham was indicted on Wednesday in connection with the death of Diane Cusick in 1968.

From a hospital bed in New Jersey, where he is already serving a life sentence for 11 other murders, he pleaded not guilty.

While he has claimed he was responsible for 100 murders, officials in New York and New Jersey have officially linked him to only a dozen so far, including Cusick’s death.

He has been jailed since 1980, when he was arrested by a motel maid after a woman screamed inside his room.

Officers found him alive but handcuffed and suffering from bite marks and knife wounds.

Judge Karen Fink said Cottingham asked a New Jersey hospital to appear via video feed on Wednesday because he was in poor health, bedridden and not in hospital.

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Darlene Altman, at left, looks as Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly, at right, is a photo of her mother, Diane Cusick (Mary Altafer/AP).

Mr Groder said he needed his attorney, Jeff Groder, to repeat the judge’s questions several times because he has difficulty hearing.

“He’s a violent predator and from what he looks like today in a hospital bed, he wasn’t always a frail older man,” Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said in an interview with the Associated Press.

“He was a young man of 22 when he killed Ms. Cusick. He was stronger, stronger, and he was violent than any of these women.”

Authorities believe Ms Cusick, 23, quit 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.

Nassau County Police Detective Captain Stephen Fitzpatrick said detectives believed she pretended to be a security guard or police officer, accused her of stealing and then overpowered the seven-stoned Ms. Cusick. took.

“She was brutally beaten, murdered and raped in that car,” Fitzpatrick said.

The medical examiner concluded that Ms Cusick had been beaten in the face and head and had suffocated until her death.

He had defensive wounds on his hands and the police were able to collect DNA evidence at the scene.

But there was no DNA test at that time.

Police interviewed dozens of people, followed her footsteps and never stopped hunting her killer.

I felt like he was watching me rightDarlene Altman

But the road turned cold.

“The police did a great job looking for any clues they could find. He spoke to hundreds of people at the Green Acres mall to see if anyone had seen Diane,” Ms Donnelly said.

“Unfortunately, the road got cold and the case got cold.”

At the time of Ms. Cusick’s death, Cottingham was working as a computer programmer for a health insurance company in New York.

He was convicted of murder in the 1980s in both New York and New Jersey, although law at the time did not require people to submit DNA samples, as it is 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 responsible for murders in the county east of New York City had been locked up in New Jersey.

He began running DNA tests again on cold cases and brought a match to Cottingham.

Cottingham also convinced police that he was responsible for the death by providing some information about the case, including telling detectives that he was near a drive-in theatre, which was next to a shopping center at the time. was in

But he stopped short of directly acknowledging Ms. Cusick’s death, Ms. Donnelly said.

“They didn’t give a complete admission. What they told were small steps in the path that we were able to put together with the help of the police department to fill in that story,” she said.

Prosecutors are now reviewing all open cases at the same time and running DNA to see if Cottingham may be responsible for other murders.

“Based on the evidence we have in this case, we are reviewing all murders of young women from 1967 to 1980 to see if we can put together any more cases against Mr. Cottingham,” Ms. Donnelly said.

Ms Cusick’s daughter, Darlene Altman, said she was overwhelmed when she saw Cottingham on the video screen in the courtroom.

Ms. Altman was only four years old when her mother was murdered.

“He just had this dead stare. I felt like he was looking at me,” said Ms. Altman.

“It was scary.”