Times Square Torso Killer


Sex and Death on the Forty-Deuce

A new book from Peter Vronsky
@RJ Parker Publishing

The story of Richard Cottingham, the "Times Square Ripper" or "Times Square Torso Killer", one of America's most sadistically depraved serial killers.

A shocking case of unbridled sex, sadism, prostitution, porn, singles bars, date-rape drugs, abduction, bondage, handcuffs, duct tape, torture, sexploitation, perverted paraphilic fetishes, serial killing and dismemberment on New York's notorious Times Square and the Forty-Deuce in the 1970s.

Historian Peter Vronsky describes his brief encounter with serial killer Cottingham in a seedy New York hotel in 1979 that later inspired him to write his bestseller history “Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters”. In “Times Square Torso Ripper” Vronsky explores the history of the notorious Forty-Deuce strip on 42nd Street near Times Square and how it spawned the sadistic monster Richard Cottingham in an era before the term "serial killer" had been coined in popular culture.

Renowned serial homicide expert t Dr. Robert D. Keppel said of Richard Cottingham, “I kept asking myself what it was that ultimately intrigued me about the Cottingham case. Partly it was the level of sadistic torture that Cottingham acted out on his victims. He didn’t kill them and desecrate their bodies; he forced them to experience pain and humiliation before he killed them. Then he desecrated their bodies.”

Includes 50 photographs.

A new book from Peter Vronsky, author of the bestseller Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Madness.  

Coming here January 2017. from PETER VRONSKY @ RJ PARKER PUBLISHING



Chapter 1
Introduction: My Random Close Encounter of the Third Kind with a Monster

Every serial murder has a precise place and time, a geography and a history leading to that fateful instant where and when a serial killer and a victim intersect on an independently but synchronously chosen killing ground.

It is a trajectory through time and space circumscribed by a hidden matrix of dark fantasies and unusual sexual addictions and perversions, called paraphilias, that are harbored by the perpetrator since childhood and adolescence. It is what profilers seek out to find on the victim’s body and at the crime scene, like secret signs or blazes, paraphilic signatures, hidden clues like subtle breadcrumbs along a dark trail leading back to the fatal intersection between a serial killer and his victim.

When I was twenty-three years old, I stepped through such a serial killing matrix on a cold grey overcast Sunday morning in New York City on December 2, 1979, when for a brief instant I unknowingly bumped into serial killer Richard Cottingham, the “Times Square Ripper” or “Time Square Torso Killer”, in the elevator doors of a declined hotel on West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan. Except back then, I did not have the term “serial killer” to explain to me what it was I had encountered.

The term “serial killer” was unfamiliar to me and to the general public and was being only used occasionally in the close-knit community of FBI behaviorists and homicide investigators in California and in the Pacific Northwest awash in the 1970s in multiple cases of unsolved homicides across different jurisdictions that appeared to be linked to single unknown perpetrators.

Without the term “serial killer” to comfort me, my encounter appeared to me as supernaturally monstrous as the stories in
Tales From the Crypt comic books I had read as a kid. My only term of reference was to one of those Alfred Hitchcock movie killers out of Psycho or Frenzy. I might as well have encountered Dracula, the Werewolf, or Frankenstein or Jason from the slasher movie Friday The 13th or Michael Meyers from Halloween. In fact, the first Halloween and Friday The 13th movies came out respectively in 1978 and 1980, before the term serial killer was introduced to mainstream media and popular culture.

I was stranded in New York for a weekend and short on cash and was looking for an inexpensive place to stay. The 252-room four-story pale blue brick Travel Inn Motor Hotel on 515 W 42nd Street fit the bill. It had seen better days when it had been opened in the late 1950s as the New York City Travel Lodge.

Located a block from the Hudson River piers, it used to be part of a strip of hotels in the area known as “Atlantic City-on-Hudson” servicing passengers from luxury ocean liners that used to dock at the foot 42nd Street. It even had an outdoor swimming pool with some of the room doors opening out on open balcony corridors overlooking it.

During the 1960s in the hot summers, New Yorkers sometimes booked into the hotel to escape the heat and take advantage of one of the few rare hotels with an outdoor pool in the city. But by 1979, ocean-going liners no longer sailed into New York, the piers were rotting and abandoned and the nearby elevated Westside Highway was rusting and collapsing. Hookers, pimps, junkies and dealers who worked nearby Times Square spilled over to flop and service customers in this increasingly desolate and drab section of 42nd Street.

Site of the Torso Killings on 42nd Street
The site of the twin torso killings, the Travel Inn Motor Hotel opened in the late 1950s but by 1977 was in decline.

When I approached the hotel, I cautiously planned to look around inside the place first before deciding whether to check into it. As I was coming in, Cottingham was going out, fleeing the scene of a double mutilation rape-homicide, carrying his victims’ severed heads and hands in a bag after having set fire to their torsos laid out on the twin beds in his room on the fourth floor.

I was waiting for the elevator in the lobby downstairs. I wanted to go up and take a walk through the hotel corridors to see just how bad this place might be but the elevator was not coming down. I was annoyed that it seemed to be stuck forever on one of the upper floors.
Cottingham had probably stood in the elevator doors on his floor, holding it up to ensure that the fire he had set in his room was taking hold. It was a reckless thing for him to do. I would have taken the stairs. But that’s how serial killers are: intrinsically reckless. His need for control over the crime scene, to enjoy it, even as he was fleeing from it, exceeded any sense of caution he might have. Eventually his reckless daring would lead to his ultimate downfall some six months later.

It probably wasn’t longer than a minute that I was waiting but in the lobby I was impatiently fuming, “how long does it take to get on an elevator? Who is the jerkoff holding up the elevator?” When the elevator finally came down and the doors slid open, I gave the occupant a ‘what the fuck is with you?’ look. A close and hard look. And that is why I have a memory of what he looked like; at least more or less, for I cannot remember, for example, if he had a mustache or whether he was wearing his wire rimmed glasses.

I remembered his strange haircut though (he might have been wearing a wig), I remember a strange sheen of perspiration on his forehead and his glassy eyes that gazed blindly through me as he plowed by me as if I was not there when he got off the elevator. He did not acknowledge me, make direct eye-to-eye contact or even appear to see me, and walked straight at me like a sweaty ghost, forcing me to move aside. Although I did not catch a glimpse of it, as he pushed by me he banged me in the knee and shin with what felt like a soft bag with bowling balls: something hard, dense, round and heavy.

I took the elevator up and walked around the floors of the large hotel for a few minutes mostly ignoring what appeared to be a faint smell of burnt chicken feathers and singed paint in the enclosed part of the hotel. My first assumption was that this was the hotel’s natural smell. What do you want for $50 a night? Then I saw what looked like grey spots floating before my eyes, little ashen-sooty floaters swirling in the corridor like tiny black snowflakes. The hall seemed to be getting misty as fire alarms began ringing.

The hotel was evacuated before there was any heavy smoke or flames to be seen and I remember going down a few flights of stairs and coming out of a parking garage next to the lobby on 42nd Street as a fire truck was pulling up in front. The closest fire station was only one block away.

Obviously I was not going to be staying there and I did not hang around in the dank morning cold to watch the spectacle but left to urgently find another hotel for the night. I did not learn about the two burning headless torsos until the next day when I read about it in the morning newspapers. The burnt chicken feather odor was the smell of scorched pubic hair.
The hotel fire became foremost in my memory afterwards, not the guy with the “bowling balls” in the elevator. I made no connection in my mind or memory between the murders and the man or “bowling balls” and severed human heads. Such an idea was inconceivable in the realm of my knowledge and experience. When I got home from New York I would tell my friends over drinks and dinner the story of how I was trying to check into a hotel with two burning torsos, but my encounter with the jerkoff on the elevator was stored somewhere else in my memory.

He had been a minor annoyance compared to the drama of the fire and somehow I did not connect the two. The NYPD had even circulated a composite sketch of the suspect, but when I saw it, it did not look anything like the guy in the elevator. It was only many months later, almost a year, after he had been arrested that I saw his photograph in a newspaper as the accused in the Times Square Torso murders and several others in New Jersey. It clicked only then. His haircut and boyish baby-fat face; the bowling balls; the missing heads; WTF!
Torso Killer suspect composite and Richard Cottingham
The NYPD composite suspect sketch did not closely resemble Richard Cottingham’s booking photo about six months after the torso killings.

It felt like that scene in the movie
Seven when Brad Pitt realizes that a man he passed on the staircase earlier was actually the very serial killer he had been pursuing, but only worse, because unlike the Brad Pitt character, I hadn’t been pursuing any serial killers. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a serial killer.

By choosing this hotel frequented by hookers and junkies that Cottingham targeted, I was “trespassing” on his killing ground, and for my sins, I was bumped by a monster...

...Richard Cottingham was eventually identified and apprehended in 1980, several months after his torso murders and convicted in a series of trials for the torture rape mutilation murders of two women in New Jersey and three in New York City in 1977-1980, in addition to a long list of other serious charges, some involving victims that survived his vicious attacks. Recently in 2010, after thirty years in prison, he suddenly confessed to and pleaded guilty in a sixth murder cold case he had committed back 1967, when he was still twenty years old. He is suspected in as many as fifty other similar murders.
Despite his spectacularly horrific crimes Richard Cottingham is not among the easily recognized serial killer ‘household names’ like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez or Jeffrey Dahmer, and the number of his confirmed six victims in comparison to other serial killers is relatively mediocre. It may have to do with who some of his victims were: street prostitutes. It’s not that police undervalue a prostitute’s life; society does. There is very little public pressure put on police to allocate resources investigating a murder of a prostitute, which many consider a ‘blight’ on their community or neighborhood in the first place.

Moreover, because of a prostitute’s transient life, unlike the murder of a stable and gainfully employed middle-class victim, it actually requires significantly more effort and resources for police to reconstruct her movements and contacts in the days before her murder, often essential to any successful homicide investigation. In allocating scarce resources, police bureaucracies tend to favor a line of least resistance in choosing which unsolved cases they will make a priority.

Finally, because there was no label “serial killer” to attach to Cottingham’s crimes at the time, he wasn’t a “news-worthy” high-concept category that automatically the press would be eager to report on until he dramatically left two smouldering headless torsos in a midtown Manhattan hotel room; only then police, media and the public started paying attention.
Yet today, for serial homicide ‘insiders’ like the former NYPD detective Vernon J. Geberth, the author of definitive homicide investigation textbooks or the renowned profiler Dr. Robert D. Keppel who worked serial killer cases in Washington State from Ted Bundy to Gary “Green River Killer” Ridgway, Richard Cottingham remains the Mt. Everest of sadistic monster serial killers.
Keppel wrote, “Years after Cottingham had been put away, as I tried to figure out what could drive the sexually sadistic serial killer subtype, I kept asking myself what it was that ultimately intrigued me about the Cottingham cases. Partly it was the level of sadistic torture that Cottingham acted out on his victims. He didn’t kill them and desecrate their bodies; he forced them to experience pain and humiliation before he killed them. Then he desecrated their bodies.”

Cottingham’s vicious killings in anonymous suburban New Jersey motels and dingy New York City hotel rooms had a paraphilic geography to them, directly related to the place and historical era in which the murders unfolded and which the victims frequented.

In the 1970s the block of West 42nd Street in midtown Manhattan between Broadway and Seventh Avenue at Times Square on one end and Eighth Avenue on the other, was known as the ‘Forty-Deuce’ or the ‘Deuce’ to its denizens.

The Deuce was both mine and Richard Cottingham’s gateway into serial murder; for me as its bystander observer author-historian; for him as its consumer predator Maximus. There on that territory Cottingham both steeped in and breached paraphilic extremes that startle even hard core serial murder experts and investigators to this day...