On December 2, 1979, New York City firefighters responded to an alarm at the Travel Inn Motor Hotel, located at 515 West 42nd Street. When the firemen entered room 417, they encountered the thick smoke which permeated their surroundings. On the room’s two beds, they saw shapes. When the firemen went to give CPR to what they hoped, were the survivors of the fire, they discovered two dead bodies, each of which had their hands and head cut off. The police secured the scene, and began investigating. The little they learned was that a man had checked into the hotel four days prior. He had registered under a false name, and gave a non-existent address. While at the hotel, he never communicated with any other guests, did not order room service, and he kept the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door for the duration of his stay. The victims were two young women, one of whom was later identified as Deedeh Goodzari, a sex worker. The other victim, has never been identified.
The killings were the depraved work of a serial killer the press would later name ‘The Torso Killer.’ He would kill again five months later. The victim, Jean Reyner, who was discovered strangled at the Seville Hotel, was also a sex worker. Eventually, Richard Cottingham, a married father of three, the man responsible for the murders, would be caught, by sheer luck.
Police were astounded to learn that his crimes weren’t limited to the times square area. Cottingham worked the night shift as a computer operator for Blue Cross Blue Shield. There was almost no supervision, thereby allowing him to manipulate the computers to make it look like he was working. In reality, he was sneaking out for hours at a time. Cottingham immersed himself in the peep booths, live sex shows, adult book stores, and sex workers that inundated the Times Square area of the 1970s and early 1980s. His crimes, however, didn’t stop there. He would bring victims from the city back to Lodi, New Jersey where he lived, and where he also killed. Although, tried and convicted of the murders of eleven people, from his own confessions, and as DNA evidence has proven, Cottingham began killing in as early as 1967, and claims the total amount of victims he has murdered numbers in the 80s.
As of the writing of this post the new, limited, Netflix series: “Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer,” centers not only on Cottingham, but the culture of the time period in New York City, as well as the investigation into capturing him. The three episodes that comprise the series feature archival footage, as well as reenactments of Cottingham’s life and crimes, and while certainly the mere thought of what’s taking place is disturbing, nothing shown is overly graphic. Furthermore, there are interviews that include, but are not limited to: Vernon Geberth, retired Lieutenant-Commander of the New York City Police Department, who worked, at the time, as a criminal profiler, and helped bring Cottingham to justice; Dominic Volpe, a co-worker of Cottingham’s at Blue Cross Blue Shield, who was a key witness for the prosecution against Cottingham at his trials; Jennifer Weiss, Deedeh Goodzari’s daughter, who had been adopted, and only learned who her biological mother was, after she had been murdered. Weiss offers insight, and the reason why she befriended Cottingham in prison. Lastly, Richard Cottingham, as he was at the time of filming, talking with Nadia Fezzani, a Canadian author and journalist, who has written extensively about serial killers.
“Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer” was directed by two time Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Joe Berlinger (Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America). Among the executive producers for the series were Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, both of whom won Oscars for the film “A Beautiful Mind.” The Netflix series was released for streaming on December 29, 2021. Parts documentary, crime, history, and mystery, its runtime is 147 minutes.
Prior to watching, I was unfamiliar with Richard Cottingham and his crimes. From what I’ve now seen and read, while he doesn’t impress me as a dumb man, he wasn’t a genius either. He avoided detection for as long as he did, because he was aided by the time period in which he lived. There was limited surveillance in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, not like today where there are security camera’s everywhere, and if that weren’t enough, everyone has video recording capability on their cell phones. The people Cottingham targeted, sex workers, were more often than not runaways, or people who were living on the fringes of society, not likely to be reported missing. One of the women, who used to work as a sex worker, believes she had a horrible experience with Cottingham. Afraid of being arrested at the time, had she gone to the police, she kept quiet. Who knows how many others, like her, afraid of the authorities, might have seen someone go off with Cottingham, and said nothing. Additionally, Cottingham was helped, because DNA evidence didn’t exist, it was still in its infancy until the 1980s.
In closing, the series provides the website address listed at the bottom. It asks that if anyone knows of someone who went missing in the 1970s or the beginning of 1980, that worked in the Times Square area, and thinks that person could’ve been a victim of Richard Cottingham, contact the police.