Killer connection: Woman befriends 'Torso Killer' despite him brutally killing and dismembering her mother

Richard Cottingham received the nickname of 'Torso Killer' because of the way he left his victims after he was done with them - decapitated, often with nothing but a torso


                            Killer connection: Woman befriends 'Torso Killer' despite him brutally killing and dismembering her mother
Richard Cottingham (New Jersey DOC)

Recently, the daughter a serial killer victim came forward with a rather unusual story - she had become friends with the man who brutally murdered her mother and had even grown to see him as a "father figure". In an interview with Oxygen.com, Jennifer Weiss, daughter of murder victim Deedeh Goodarzi said that she had found forgiveness and love in her heart for Richard Cottingham and she hopes it will help bring her closure. However, she says,  “The magnitude of what he did is unfathomable. But I became friends with Richard for my mother’s sake and for my quest.”

In fact, she even taught him how to use an iPad as many of us do for our family. While it may seem like a relatively strange thing to do, it gets stranger when you know about the sheer violence and gore with which Cottingham finished the job. 

She first began communicating with him through letters. Weiss penned that first letter in March 2017. It had emoji stickers plastered all over it. A month later, Cottingham responded with a three-page letter. He sent her daughter a message of apology. “I just don’t know what to say to you, or how to say it,” said Cottingham, in the handwritten letter. “I can only tell you what’s in my heart and pray that you believe me. I am truly and deeply sorry, so very sorry, for all the pain I have brought into your life.”

The Torso Killer 

Cottingham received the nickname because of the way he left his victims after he was done with them - decapitated, often with nothing but a torso. It was believed he began his spree in 1967 after he killed Nancy Schiava Vogel, a 29-year-old mother of two. He was convicted of killing nine women although he claimed to have killed over 85. 

Vogel's body was found strangled and her nude, bound body was found in her car in nearby Ridgefield Park, New Jersey. She had last been seen three days earlier when she left home to play bingo with friends at a local church. The bodies kept dropping after that. 

On December 2, 1979, two bodies were recovered from a hotel in Times Square, New York. A fire had broken out at the hotel and when they went to put it out, to their utmost shock, they found two beheaded bodies. Their corpses' hands had been removed, Cottingham had fled with their hands and heads and their torsos been doused with lighter fluid and set alight.

One victim was identified as Deedeh Goodarzi, 22, an immigrant from Kuwait who was working as a sex worker - Weiss' mother. The other body was never identified but was believed to be that of Helen Sikes, another sex worker who went missing the same year.

In 1980, he killed 19-year-old Valerie Ann Street in a Quality Inn in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. Her corpse was found to be handcuffed, beaten and had bite marks all over. There were signs of tape on her mouth. Her murder was linked to another similar incident near the hotel. Soon after, Jean Reyner was stabbed to death in the historic Seville Hotel. 

In 2020 as the friendship between Weiss and Cottingham grew, Weiss said he confessed to murdering three more women - Jacalyn Harp of Midland Park; Irene Blase of Bogota; and Denise Falasco of Closter, all of whom were killed in the 1960s, which marked the beginning of his spree to be much earlier than what is thought. The Bergen County Prosecutor's office has yet to confirm this claim.

In one of her conversations with Cottingham, Weiss learned about his double life. She said he tried to what led him to kill. “He had a sex drive that couldn’t be satiated and he wasn’t getting sleep,” Weiss said. "[He thought]that he could do whatever he wanted to. He could have prostitutes. He could go home to his family. He could take a shower, wake up in the morning and act like nothing happened yesterday.”

A well-liked employee

As was with Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, Cottingham was caught - although the man proved to be quite different from them. Stereotypically, it turned out that Cottingham had a normal life outside of his serial killer job. He married his wife Janet in 1970 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Queens Village, New York. This was three years after what was believed to be his first murder. He had three kids with Janet. A computer operator, he was a well-liked employee who worked the night shift at the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association in New York from 1966 until his arrest.

His arrest 

On May 22, 1980, was when the clock ran out for Cottingham. He had picked up 18-year-old Leslie Ann O’Dell, who was soliciting on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 25th Street after she had agreed to have sex with him for a 100 bucks. Under the pretext of giving her a message, he handcuffed her and put a knife to her throat. 

He began torturing her, nearly biting off one of her nipples. She later testified that he had told her that she had to take it because she was a prostitute. He was found with controlled substances and when arrested he had handcuffs, a leather gag, two slave collars, a switchblade, replica pistols and a stockpile of prescription pills. The police also found a personal trophy case in his home. 

Three days after he was found guilty of the New Jersey murders in 1981, he attempted suicide in his cell by drinking liquid antidepressants. He attempted suicide again by cutting his left forearm with a razor in front of the jury during his trial for the New York Murders.

Cottingham is currently serving more than 200 years for two murders in New Jersey and a life sentence for Vogel’s murder. He has a parole eligibility date in August 2025, according to prison records.

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