December 2, 1979
New York, New York
The bodies of two women, both missing their hands and heads, are found after a fire is reported in their hotel room
The hotel staff were alerted to smoke coming from a room and emergency services were called. One firefighter told reporters he had seen what appeared to be two people occupying the twin beds in the room, and he grabbed the figure closest to the door. “I carried her out the door and put her down on the hall floor,” the firefighter recalled. “I was preparing to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which is standard produce, when I suddenly noticed there was no head. At first I thought she was a mannequin. Then I realized it was a girl’s body.” The firefighter added, “I’m used to seeing charred bodies, but this was the worst experience I’ve ever had in 12 years of firefighting.”
The second figure was also retrieved. She had been decapitated as well.
Both bodies were found nude and were missing their hands and heads which had been removed with “surgical skill.” Their killer had poured flammable liquid on the lower portion of the women’s bodies and set them on fire before fleeing the room with the severed hands and heads, taken either as trophies or to prevent identification of the bodies.
The body of one woman was identified as Deedeh Goodarzi. The body of the second woman remains unidentified.
In 1980, the maid of a hotel heard an 18-year-old woman screaming from inside a hotel room and interrupted the rape and attempted murder. The woman was found with handcuffs on her ankles. She had bite marks to one of her breasts and a knife wound below the breast. Her attacker, Richard Cottingham, was promptly arrested as he attempted to flee.
Cottingham was quickly suspected of being a serial killer dubbed the “Torso Killer” or the “Times Square Ripper,” the perpetrator of numerous killings in New York and New Jersey. After killing his victims, the Torso Killer would often mutilate their bodies by severing limbs, heads, and/or breasts.
Cottingham confessed to six murders committed between 1967 to 1980 in New York and New Jersey, but bragged of killing 85 to 100. He pleaded guilty to killing Nancy Schiava Vogel (29), whose body had been found nude and restrained in her car; he received a life sentence for Vogel’s murder. Cottingham was also convicted of the 1980 murder of Valorie Street (19) as well as the 1977 murder of Maryann Carr (27).
In 2002, Jennifer Weiss, who had been placed for adoption 2 weeks after her birth, began to search for her biological mother. An agency was able to establish her birth mother was Deedeh Goodarzi, and informed Weiss her mother had been murdered. Weiss began a friendship with Cottingham to learn more about her mother and the circumstances of her death, as well as the hope of finding the identities of other victims. “I’m doing this for the mothers who lost their daughters and my own mother. And for these girls that their lives were ended one night or day by Richard playing God. I’m not going to rest easy until we figure out who they were. So that’s why I do what I do.” Weiss further stated, “The magnitude of what he did is unfathomable. But I became friends with Richard for my mother’s sake and for my quest.”
During one of their many visits, Cottingham told Weiss he had buried her mother’s head at the base of the George Washington Bridge, though authorities have yet to find it. Cottingham also informed Weiss Goodarzi was in the sex industry and he had been one of her clients for two years before the murder.
In 2020, Cottingham was linked to three previously unsolved cases of murdered teens from the late 1960s: Irene Blase (18), Denise Falasca (15), and Jackie Harp (13). Each teen had been strangled to death. Their cases are now officially closed.
State of New Jersey Department of Corrections. SBI Number: 000378516A. https://www20.state.nj.us/DOC_Inmate/details?x=1053631&n=0
Torrejon, Rodrigo. “The ‘Torso Killer’ dismembered her mother. So why did this woman become his friend?” NJ.com. January 30, 2020. Accessed: December 2, 2020. https://www.nj.com/news/2020/01/the-torso-killer-dismembered-her-mother-so-why-did-this-woman-become-his-friend.html
Torrejon, Rodrigo. “New Jersey’s ‘Torso Killer’ admits murdering 3 teenage girls over 50 years ago.” NJ.com. January 2, 2020. Updated: January 3, 2020. Accessed: December 2, 2020. https://www.nj.com/bergen/2020/01/new-jerseys-torso-killer-admits-murdering-3-teenage-girls-over-50-years-ago.html
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Moss, Linda. “Cottingham is convicted.” The Herald-News [Passaic, New Jersey]. October 13, 1982
“The trail of killings, kidnaps and assaults.” The Herald-News. October 13, 1982
Leith, Rod. “Lodi man probed in N.Y. slayings.” The Record [Hackensack, New Jersey]. May 27, 1980
Schmetterer, Jerry and Meskil, Paul. “Find 2 headless bodies of women in motel room.” Daily Times [New York, New York]. December 3, 1979