'Torso Killer' pleads guilty in 1974 cold-case murders

NEWARK, N.J. — A New Jersey serial killer known as the “Torso Killer” admitted he kidnapped and raped two teenage girls and murdered them in a hotel room a few days later, closing the mystery of the cold-case deaths from 1974.

Richard Cottingham’s pleaded guilty Tuesday to killing 17-year-old Mary Ann Pryor and 16-year-old Lorraine Marie Kelly in August 1974.

The two had left their North Bergen homes on Aug. 9, 1974, for a trip 13 miles (20.92 kilometers) north to a Paramus mall. They had planned to take a bus there to buy bathing suits for a trip to the Jersey Shore.

The 74-year-old appeared in prison garb at a court appearance Tuesday with his attorney and Bergen County prosecutors in their office.

On Tuesday, Cottingham admitted he kidnapped them, brought them to a motel room and tied them up and raped them. He said he killed them by drowning them in the motel room’s bathtub.

A message seeking comment was left Tuesday with Cottingham’s lawyer.

Cottingham is currently in state prison on a life sentence for other murders. He has claimed he was responsible for up to 100 murders, but authorities in New York and New Jersey have linked him to 11 so far — including the two 1974 murders — though they believe the death toll is higher.

Cottingham has been in prison since 1981 but confessed to three of the murders, dating back to the late 1960s, last year.

He is known as the “Torso Killer” for brutally dismembering his victims by cutting off their limbs and heads. Mary Ann and Lorraine were found five days after they went missing — their nude, battered bodies discovered facedown in the woods of North Jersey.

Lorraine was reportedly found with a beaded bracelet and a necklace that read “Lorraine and Ricky,” a reference to her boyfriend. Mary Ann was discovered with a gold cross, a gift from her godfather.

As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors said Cottingham is expected to get two life sentences in July, to be served concurrently with the time he’s already serving.

Cottingham didn’t make a statement during Tuesday’s hearing, but offered one- and two-word answers to questions posed by state Superior Court Judge Keith Bachmann and prosecutors.

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Dazio reported from Los Angeles.

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