The most infamous “ripper” of them all, England’s Jack the Ripper, is shrouded by a darkly romantic mystique. The unknown killer stalked the crime-ridden streets of London’s East End in the summer and fall of 1888, hacking and slashing the “canonical five.” It’s very likely that Saucy Jack killed more women, but much like Jack’s identity, contemporary science is far from ending the debate.
A lesser-known ripper prowled the seedy streets of New York during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Like Jack the Ripper, the “Times Square Ripper” preyed on lonely women working the dark streets of the big city. Back then, the Big Apple was a pornographer’s paradise, and the Ripper became a bloody symbol of the city’s salaciousness.
When he was finally caught, the Ripper turned out to be an ordinary dad from New Jersey—a milquetoast monster who officially murdered six women but claimed to have killed around 100 others.
The Times Square Ripper case began at approximately 7:00 AM on the morning of December 16, 1977. On that awful morning, the body of Maryann Carr was found between a parked van and a chain-link fence in Little Ferry, New Jersey. Carr was found wearing a white nurse’s outfit. The uniform’s pants had been cut, thus exposing the victim’s left leg. The 26-year-old was also found with a clump of her own hair on her right leg. Homicide investigators noted that Carr’s shoes were missing from the crime scene.
Carr lived at the Ledgewood Terrance Apartments, which were visible from the crime scene. She was also 165 centimeters tall (5’5″), weighed 52 kilograms (115 lb), and had dyed her hair blond prior to her murder. Carr’s killer had used a sharp implement freely during the crime, and homicide detectives noted that Carr had lacerations on her chest and feet. Carr’s body also showed signs of having been bound, as ligature marks were present on her wrists and ankles.
Carr had last been seen in the parking lot speaking to a man described as white, about 32 years old, and brown-haired. Given the ligature marks, plus the fact that the residue of white adhesive tape was found across Carr’s mouth, homicide investigators deduced that Carr had been abducted after work. As it turned out, Carr had been abducted, taken to a hotel room, tortured, and repeatedly raped by her killer.
Karen Schilt was just a regular working gal. Before 6:00 PM on March 22, 1978, Karen worked the tables as a waitress at the Tuesday’s restaurant on Third Avenue in Manhattan. Karen took a break after six, visited her boyfriend at his job at a nearby hospital, and then went back to work until eight. She then downed a few beers at the Third Avenue Tavern, despite being pregnant.
While at the bar, Karen met a man named Joseph Schaefer. Karen and Joseph shared a few drinks together. At some point, Joseph asked Karen if she was a “working girl” (i.e. a prostitute). Karen replied in the negative, but Joseph kept right on badgering her. Later, when asked to describe Schaefer by police, Karen said that he looked like a million other men in New York: white, in his mid-thirties, clean-shaven with light brown hair, and medium in height. Karen also remembered that Schaefer had said that he lived in New Jersey but liked to drink at the bars on Third Avenue.
At around 9:00 PM, Karen left the Third Avenue Tavern and attempted to return to her apartment, located at 94 Third Avenue. Karen felt sick and very dizzy, almost as if someone had spiked her drink with some kind of drug. Schaefer offered her a ride. Karen agreed. The next thing she knew, Joseph was driving along Route 80 in New Jersey.
Schaefer handed Karen a pill, which turned out to be Tuinal, a depressant that impacts the central nervous system. Karen then fell asleep again, and when she woke up, she was a patient at the Hackensack Hospital. She had been taken to the hospital by Patrolman Raymond Auger of the Little Ferry Police Department. Auger had found Karen lying still in a parking lot. The parking lot was right next to the Ledgewood Terrace Apartments. Schaefer had left Karen with her breasts and genitals exposed.
Susan Geiger made her living as a prostitute. Therefore, it was unremarkable that a man approached her on the night of October 10, 1978. The incident occurred on West 47th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue. This was the sleazy part of Manhattan, and the john only had one thing on his mind. Susan told the customer that she was already booked through the night, but she left him her phone number at the Alpine Hotel. The next night, Susan received a phone call from the same man, asking her out for a date at midnight. Susan agreed, and the man picked her up in a maroon Thunderbird.
Susan would later describe the man as friendly. She also claimed that the man called himself “Jim” and that he admitted to having a wife and kids in New Jersey. Jim said that he worked as a computer operator in the city. Susan and the nice man went to Flanagan’s Tavern on First Avenue. Jim plied Susan with several cocktails, one of which was definitely drugged. Susan would later wake up in a strange motel room.
It turned out that Susan’s would-be assassin left her in Room 28 of the Airport Motel in South Hackensack, New Jersey. Susan woke up covered in her own blood. Her assailant had tortured Susan and left wounds on her face, breasts, vagina, and rectum. The mauler had also ripped the gold earrings from Susan’s ears, and Susan vaguely remembered Jim hitting her several times with a garden hose.
Susan’s savior came in the form of Captain John Agar of the South Hackensack Police Department, who drove the wounded and pregnant prostitute to the nearest hospital. Captain Agar also searched Room 28 and handed several pieces of evidence to the New Jersey State Police Laboratory. Here, examiners discovered seminal fluid left behind on a towel by a man with type O blood.
Deedeh Goodarzi came to the United States from Kuwait when she was just 14. At age 18, she ran away from her Long Island home and began working the streets of New York. At some point, Deedeh had given birth to a child. That child was then put up for adoption. Deedeh was too busy being arrested for prostitution in far-flung cities like Washington, DC, Miami, and Arcadia, California.
On a Sunday morning at about 9:00 AM, workers at the Anderson Place hotel in Merlin, New Jersey, put a call through to the local fire department. The call came about because the workers had found heavy smoke inside Room 417. The room, which had been rented since November 29, 1979, had a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging on the door latch. All the workers knew was that the room had been rented by a man named Carl Wilson.
Besides smoke, the firefighters found two nude female bodies on two different beds. The women had been brutalized prior to death, and their bodies had been set on fire by their killer. Even worse, the killer had decapitated both women and had also cut off their hands. A later autopsy revealed that both women had been tortured and sexually assaulted while still alive. Only one of the two, Deedeh (pictured above), has ever been identified.
Valerie Ann Street lived a hard life. At just 19, she worked New York City as a streetwalker. On April 30, 1980, Valerie left Florida for New York. Four days later, she was picked up by a john on Madison Avenue and East 32nd Street. Valerie was medium-sized— 163 centimeters tall (5’4″) and 61 kilograms (135 lb)—and like the Ripper’s other victims, she had dyed blond hair.
Valerie’s john drove her to the Quality Inn motel located along Route 17 in New Jersey. Two years earlier, Maryann Carr’s body had been found in the motel’s parking lot, but Street was not thinking about that murder. Rather, using the alias “Shelly Dudley,” Valerie checked into Room 132.
On May 5, motel worker Maryann Sancanelli was busy cleaning Room 132 when she noticed that a large bundle was wrapped up in blankets taken from one of the room’s two beds. When Sancanelli removed the blankets, she found Valerie’s corpse. Valerie was found handcuffed, and investigators quickly learned that she had been gagged with white adhesive tape and had two ligature marks on her throat.
Investigators also found marks on Valerie’s breasts, including lacerations on her nipples. Dr. Louis Napolitano’s subsequent autopsy revealed that Valerie’s killer had strangled her to death and then struck her lifeless body multiple times with a blunt instrument.
On May 12, 1980, a week after the gruesome discovery of Valerie Street’s body, prostitute Pamela Weisenfeld was found beaten up in a parking lot in Teaneck, New Jersey. Police and hospital reports would also note that Weisenfeld’s attacker had bitten her several times.
Like many of the Times Square Ripper’s other victims, Pamela had been drugged after meeting the killer somewhere either in New York City or suburban New Jersey. Pamela had also been subjected to a brutal beating, receiving several wounds throughout her body. However, Pamela was lucky to survive her night with the Ripper, and Teaneck police transported her to a hospital following her discovery in the parking lot.
May 1980 would prove to be the Ripper’s apogee. For, between the murder of Valerie Street and the discovery of Pamela Weisenfeld, authorities in New York City found the corpse of 25-year-old prostitute Jean Reyner. Reyner’s body was discovered at the Seville Hotel on 22 E. 29th Street. This time, the Ripper indulged in all of his gruesome desires. Investigators learned that Reyner’s killer had removed both of her breasts and had slit her throat. The detached breasts had been left by the killer on the bed’s headboard.
Like the double homicide in 1979, the Ripper had tried to dispose of evidence by lighting Reyner’s body on fire. As in the earlier murder, firefighters were the first to discover Reyner’s body. The one difference in the Reyner slaying was that she had been stabbed to death rather than strangled.
Still full of bloodlust, the Times Square Ripper returned to the scene of an earlier murder on May 22, 1980. On that date, police in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, responded to horrific screams coming out of Room 117 at the Quality Inn. This was the very same Quality Inn where Valerie Street had been raped and murdered.
At 9:30 AM, police entered the room and found 18-year-old Leslie O’Dell, a known runaway and prostitute. On May 21, O’Dell had been picked up by a john in Manhattan. From there, the pair had driven to the Quality Inn. O’Dell told the responding officers that the john had tortured her for hours before she finally managed to cry out.
The fast-acting officers caught up with O’Dell’s abuser as he tried to run down the motel’s hallway. He turned out to be a 33-year-old computer technician named Richard Cottingham. Cottingham did not fit the profile of an abusive john; the cops noted that he was married, had three young children, and lived in a nice suburban house in Lodi, New Jersey. However, it did not take police long to realize that Cottingham was guilty of worse things than assault.
Following his arrest on May 22, 1980, evidence began piling up against Cottingham. First, his fingerprints matched those taken from the handcuffs found at the Valerie Street crime scene. An analysis of Cottingham’s handwriting matched the handwriting of “Jim” and “Carl Wilson.” Finally, a search of Cottingham’s house revealed a trophy room of sorts where Cottingham stashed away clothes, earrings, and other personal items taken from his victims.
Cottingham’s crime spree did not come out of the blue. Born in the Bronx in 1946, Cottingham had grown up in New Jersey. He was the son of a stay-at-home mom and a father who worked for an insurance company. This respectable, middle-class home also included Richard’s two younger siblings. Richard went to a good high school, excelled at track, and found a good job as a computer operator for Blue Cross Blue Shield when he was only 20 years old. However, underneath this facade lurked an angry, violent young man.
In 1969, Cottingham was arrested for drunk driving and received ten days in jail. In 1972, he was arrested and charged with robbery and sexual assault. Tragically, that case was dismissed.
At his trial, Cottingham made a few shocking admissions, including the fact that he had been obsessed with bondage as a child and that he had forced his victims to call him “master” prior to murdering them. It was easy to convict Cottingham of the New York murders of Valerie Street, Jean Reyner, Deedeh Goodarzi, and the “Jane Doe” of 1979. Cottingham was also charged with and convicted of the New Jersey murder of Maryann Carr. After receiving a life sentence, Cottingham tried to end it all on his own terms by drinking liquid antidepressants. When this failed, Cottingham tried to slash his left wrist but only managed to cut his forearm.
In 2010, after languishing decades behind bars at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, Cottingham confessed to a murder that had never been attached to his name. Cottingham confessed that in 1967, he had strangled 29-year-old Nancy Schiava Vogel to death. At the time of her murder, Vogel lived in Little Ferry, New Jersey, which also happened to be where Cottingham lived. Bergen County prosecutor John Molinelli claimed that Cottingham had murdered Vogel, a mother of two, in his vehicle. Cottingham then dumped Vogel’s body like so much trash in Ridgefield Park.
Cottingham pleaded guilty to the Vogel murder. He received a new life sentence, which is running concurrent with the over 200 years behind bars he had already been sentenced to.