Retired cop describes how he convinced a serial killer to confess to murders

Former detective spent years developing relationship with 74-year-old convicted killer Richard Cottingham

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A New Jersey detective who helped crack cold cases involving a serial killer says he spent years talking to the notorious murderer before getting him to admit to the deaths of young women that date back to the 1960s.

In an interview with the New York Times, Robert Anzilotti, the former chief of detectives for the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, said he spent years developing an unusual relationship with 74-year-old Richard Cottingham — nicknamed the Torso Killer — before he shared details of previously unsolved cases.

“I thought he could be responsible for some,” Anzilotti said.

“His name had floated around in the lore of Bergen County cold cases.”

Anzilotti first met Cottingham 17 years ago when he was a sergeant in charge of closing the county’s cold cases.

Though the serial killer was uncooperative when Anzilotti met him in his prison cell, the cop undeterred.

He arranged to have Cottingham transported to his office where they would play cards with other detectives and ate pizza.


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Once the room was cleared, the cop would question Cottingham over the unsolved cases.

These meetings would go on for months, and then years, with the cop cultivating a relationship that was described as testy at times and sometimes warm.

Cottingham eventually felt comfortable enough to talk about the killings of prostitutes, which he was already serving time for.

Though the hours of questioning failed to reveal any new details regarding the cold cases, Anzilotti noticed Cottingham “would let his guard down” during his one-hour ride back to prison.

He would recall picking up a girl somewhere, and it was these kinds of recollections that led him to secretly take notes.

The trips back and forth would continue for six years until suddenly Anzilotti said Cottingham told him, “I’m going to give you one.”


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Recalling details that only a killer would know, Cottingham described how he murdered Nancy Schiava Vogel, a 29-year-old mother found strangled in her car in Ridgefield Park, N.J., in 1967.

Then on a ride back to prison in 2014, Cottingham recalled seeing Irene Blase near a store in Hackensack, N.J.

The 18-year-old was found strangled in Saddle River, N.J., in 1969.

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With permission from the Blase family, the case was quietly closed and Cottingham was not formally charged so Anzilotti could gather more information on other cold cases.

“I had long suspected that whoever killed Irene Blase also killed Denise Falasca,” Anzilotti said.

The 15-year-old had accepted a ride from a stranger July 1969 and was found dead on the side of a road near a cemetery.


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In both the Blase and Falasca cases, Cottingham knew details only the killer would know.

Then four years ago, he spoke of a third teen, Jackie Harp, who he abducted while walking home from school in 1968.

The 13-year-old’s family also agreed to forgo a guilty plea in open court in the hopes that more cold cases would be solved.

The cop and the murderer rarely spoke after the confessions, and with the pandemic, Anzilotti couldn’t find time for the cold cases while he was running his office.

As he pondered retirement, his mind would go back to the deaths of two girls found dead in the woods.

Mary Ann Pryor, 17, and Lorraine Marie Kelly, 16, went missing after they were seen hitchhiking in Ridgefield, N.J. in 1974.

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In their conversations regarding this case, Cottingham sounded conflicted, hinting he knew more about their deaths, while also denying responsibility.

“He said, ‘I know once I give you that case, I’ll never see you again,” Anzilotti said.

“He enjoys our relationship. He enjoys our time together.”

The cop also believed Cottingham was embarrassed about the murders.

“I think sometimes he grapples with his own gruesomeness back then,” Anzilotti said.


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In April, Cottingham finally confessed to the Kelly-Pryor killings, describing how he trapped the two teens in his motel room and raped them for days before he drowned them in a bathtub.

Three days after Cottingham pleaded guilty to the deaths, Anzilotti retired from the force.


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