Richard Cottingham Mutilated His Victims By Cutting Off Heads and Breasts

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Many killers have peculiar obsessions—and many of them seek the more vulnerable in society. For ages, prostitutes have been a common target for psychopaths and serial killers alike, making it a dangerous line of work to be in. Richard Cottingham, known as the “torso” killer, was one of many who targeted this vulnerable group with absolutely horrific results. In this post, we will discuss the reality of this criminal and his victims, both the ones that made it and the ones that didn’t.

No-one Suspected Cottingham as a Killer

There is very little information available about Cottingham, particularly in his early years. We know he was born in 1946 to an everyday New York family and led a relatively uneventful life. As the oldest of three siblings, Cottingham seemed to go through the motions. He went to school every day and eventually landed a good job with a well-known insurance company. Nothing about his past life really seems to set him up to be a serial killer.


Richard Cottingham did not have an extensive criminal background, but he had one. It is unclear if he was simply not getting caught for other crimes, or if he was less active in his younger years. Later on in life, they charged him with shoplifting and driving under the influence, which, while indications of criminal behavior, does not seem to line up with the extent and horror of his eventual crimes. Most disturbingly, these charges came after his first killing, so the police literally had Cottingham in their hands and were unaware of it. On both charges, he received virtually no jail time and a small fine.

Disgusting and Deviant

In contrast with his eventual murders, Richard Cottingham’s first victim is believed to have been a mother leaving her church. According to reports, she was spending time with friends and never made it home. When they found her, she had been stripped down and strangled before being left bound up in her car. Police had no leads.

No doubt discouraged by the media attention of his first victim, Cottingham targeted those without a voice: prostitutes. This group is often targeted because many believe that police won’t look as hard for them, making it less likely for them to be identified. Police found his first set of victims from this group in a grisly hotel scene.

Look Mom, No Hands

Cottingham had mutilated each of the women with entire parts of their bodies being removed. To keep them from being identified, Cottingham stole their heads and hands before setting the room on fire, leaving behind two anonymous bodies. Eventually, one victim was able to be identified, but the other victim remains a mystery.

In the year that followed his hotel killing, Cottingham continued to kill. Sex workers continued to be a prime target. Each of the targets seemed to be bound and were found to suffer a terrible and violent death, sometimes showing signs of asphyxiation. In every case, the women were brutalized. Cottingham left some of them in such poor shape that only the torso was left behind, earning Cottingham his terrifying name.

The Survivors Tale

One shocking part of the Cottingham story is the fact that several women survived his crimes. The first woman found could lead police to arrest him and appears to have been saved just in time—but not before experiencing a terrible event. The known survivor, Leslie Ann O’Dell, was a known sex worker and ultimately was tortured by Cottingham. She and other women later told the same tale of a horrific man that had bound them, raped them, and violently bitten their breasts while claiming that they needed to be punished. While these women escaped with their lives, the scars will probably stay with them.

Locked-up Forever

During his assault on O’Dell, police were called because of her screams. Staff demanded entrance to the room and ultimately Cottingham ran straight into the police. He was charged and found guilty, particularly after input from his surviving victims. Pairing this with the collection of trophies taken from his victims, Cottingham was sentenced to prison and will die in prison, with a nearly 200-year sentence being applied. Thankfully, he was arrested before they could find more victims, but it is still unclear how many victims he had in total—a fact which we may never know.

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September 10, 2018

Jon Perry

Hey y'all I'm the main story teller on our podcast episodes. You can suggest stories for me to cover by leaving a comment on any post on this site, which I will see and respond to. If you want to listen and subscribe to the podcast just search Talk Murder To Me in any podcasting app. Thanks for reading, please share!