On a May morning in 1972, the body of 21-year-old Mary Beth Heinz was found floating face down in a muddy creek on Long Island. An autopsy determined that she had been strangled.
Three months later, the body of Laverne Moye, a 23-year-old mother of two, was found in the same creek. She was also strangled. In July 1973, Sheila Heiman’s husband returned to the family’s Long Island home to find her beaten to death with a baton. At the time, the couple’s children were at summer camp. Five months later, 18-year-old Maria Emerita Rosado Nieves was found dead in a wooded area of Jones Beach, another victim strangled.
For five decades, the cases went unresolved. That changed on Monday, when a man already in prison after being convicted in the mass murder of several other women in New York and New Jersey years ago admitted to killing Ms. Heinz, Mrs. Moye, Mrs. Heiman and Mrs. Nieves.
The admission came as the man, Richard Cottingham, pleaded guilty to murder in the murder of the fifth woman, Diane Cusick, a 23-year-old dance instructor who was found strangled in his car her at a shopping mall on Long Island on a February evening in 1968.
Anne T. Donnelly, district attorney for Nassau, NY, said in a statement that Mr. Cottingham, 76, has “caused irreparable harm to so many people and so many families” and has ” brutally assaulted and murdered” his victims “to satisfy his frenzied desires.”
“Thankfully,” she added. “He’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison, where he belongs.”
As part of an agreement with Ms. Donnelly’s office, Mr Cottingham will not be prosecuted for four other murders in Nassau County to which he was sworn to admission on Monday. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the murder of Miss Cusick.
“We firmly believe that he killed all five of these women,” Ms. Donnelly said in an emotional press conference after the hearing.
Mr Cottingham’s attorney did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Mr Cottingham is known as the Body Killer because he beheaded and murdered several of his victims. He claims to have killed more than 100 women, and although investigators believe he has other victimsthey still haven’t linked him to many of those murders.
However, before Monday he has been convicted or admitted under oath to at least 11 murders. His appearance in Nassau County proceeds via a video feed from a state prison in New Jersey, where he is serving a life sentence.
Mr Cottingham was charged with the murder of Mrs Cusick in June after DNA collected from a crime scene more than 50 years ago matched his records in a federal database.
The breakthrough, Ms. Donnelly said, has led Nassau County authorities to revisit the unsolved murders of women in the area from 1967 to 1980, the period in which Mr Cottingham was committing his murders. in and around New York City.
In interviews with Mr Cottingham, Ms Donnelly added, investigators were careful to withhold key information about the crimes.
“We don’t want a scenario where a serial killer takes responsibility for a murder he didn’t commit,” she said.
She said that in the four cases he admitted to on Monday, he knew details of crimes that only the real killer would know.
Mr. Cottingham, a married father of three who works as a computer operator in Manhattan and lives in Lodi, NJ, was first convicted of murder in the early 1980s. Told his wife he was Working at night, he rented an apartment in Midtown Manhattan and hunted down prostitutes who worked in the Times Square area, a shabby part of the city at the time.
When discussing Mr Cottingham’s admission on Monday, Ms Donnelly stressed it was a “misunderstanding” that he was only targeting prostitutes.
“Richard Cottingham killed whoever he wanted, when he wanted to because he was a serial killer,” she said. “That’s what he is.”
Law enforcement agencies were accompanied at the news conference by several family members of Mr Cottingham’s victims, including John Moye, Ms Moye’s son. Like the other relatives present, he expressed gratitude that his mother’s killer was finally held accountable.
“There have been dark days,” said Mr Moye, “but today the sun shines brightly because justice has been done.”
Kirsten Noyes contributed research.