In a nondescript conference room in Midtown Manhattan sit Jennifer Weiss and Sonia Ruiz McGraw. Above them are black and white photos that could easily depict their twins: Weiss’ birth mother, Deedeh Goodarzi, who gave her up for adoption in 1978, and McGraw’s grandmother, Lorraine McGraw, whom she’s never met. Weiss’ mother was a victim of Richard Cottingham, a.k.a. the Torso Killer. McGraw says her grandmother was, too.
The two women held a press conference in New York City Thursday, along with serial killer expert and historian Peter Vronsky, to reveal that Cottingham confessed to McGraw and Vronsky the 1970 strangulation of 26-year-old Lorraine McGraw. Cottingham — who got his nickname due to the manner in which some of his victims were discovered — has been convicted of eight murders but claims to have killed nearly 100 women across New Jersey and New York before his 1980 arrest.
Cottingham was set to video-call into the sparsely attended presser — just three members of the press were present — but did not end up making an appearance. This was not unusual, Vronsky says, as there are several factors in play for Cottingham to make a call, including his declining health.
McGraw was disappointed, however, as she has not yet met Cottingham face to face. Rather, she’s been talking to the serial killer for several months via prison email system JPay and phone, during which time she says he admitted to her he was responsible for her grandmother’s death.
According to a 1970 issue of New Jersey’s The Journal, Lorraine McGraw was a sex worker who was found dead on what was then known as a lover’s lane in Nyack, New York, near an abandoned water tower. McGraw says that her death had a catastrophic effect on her family, especially her mother, who was a child at the time and has never recovered from the loss. “I want him to be responsible for his actions,” she says. “What he did to my grandmother has not only affected her daughter, but also her granddaughter.”
McGraw was first identified as a possible victim of Cottingham during a conversation with Vronsky, who met Sonia McGraw after she went looking for answers about her grandmother’s death; the serial killer seemed a likely candidate. Cottingham then spoke with McGraw about her grandmother’s death, before speaking to police about the murder in May 2022. Vronsky claims that Cottingham was not aware he was officially confessing, and that he and McGraw had a deal with Rockland County officials that Cottingham would make his confession with McGraw in attendance, after she had the chance to inform her mother.
Instead, Vronsky says, police announced a link between Cottingham and her case in a now-deleted Facebook post honoring one of the detectives involved for cracking the case. (Though it didn’t mention McGraw by name, it described her murder in detail.) According to what appears to be a correspondence between Vronsky and police, obtained by Rolling Stone, the post was taken down at Vronsky and McGraw’s behest. The police have yet to put out another announcement regarding McGraw’s murder and Cottingham’s alleged confession. Neither Cottingham nor the DA immediately responded to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.
McGraw says she’s been disheartened by the way her grandmother’s case has been handled by law enforcement, especially after she built such a repertoire with Cottingham, chatting about his favorite New York haunts and her Doberman, Shado. “Richard happens to really love animals. That may sound funny,” she says. “When he saw my dog and he saw me with my dog, somebody who can look very dainty-like. … it gave Richard the right idea about me. Even though I look like a dainty [woman] who can’t handle a giant animal, he was pleased to see I could handle such a thing — and maybe I could even handle him.”
Cottingham claims to have started murdering people when he was a teen in suburban New Jersey. “For a long time now I have been trying to understand the darkness that enveloped my soul during my youth,” Cottingham previously told Rolling Stone. “Remorse back then wasn’t part of my thought process. When the sun went down, and the moon came up, the animal form that is in all of us came out and controlled my actions.”
A divorcee with three kids and a job as a computer operator, Cottingham was arrested on May 22, 1980, after attempting to murder 18-year-old Leslie Ann O’Dell at the Hasbrouck Heights Quality Inn in New Jersey. The hotel was known to Cottingham, who left the remains of his last victim, 19-year-old Valerie Ann Street, there just weeks before. This time, however, staff managed to save O’Dell’s life — and nab the serial killer — after hearing her scream. Over the course of a series of trials between 1981 and 1984, Cottingham was convicted of five murders and sentenced to prison for life. His known victims at the time were Street; radiologist MaryAnn Carr of Little Ferry, who was also left in the Quality Inn parking lot, in 1977; Weiss’ mother Deedeh Goodarzi and an unidentified friend; and 25-year-old Jean Mary Ann Reyner. Goodarzi and her friend were discovered dismembered and aflame in a Times Square hotel room in 1979; their heads were never found.
Vronsky first encountered Cottingham that day in 1979, when he happened to see the killer in the elevator at that same hotel right after the bodies were discovered. In recent years, he’s made it his mission to get Cottingham to own up to the rest of those nearly 100 murders. The serial murderer began confessing to additional killings in 2010 when he fessed up to the 1967 murder of 29-year-old Nancy Schiava Vogel, a New Jersey mother of two who was found, strangled and nude, in her car. In 2020, news broke that Cottingham had also confessed to the strangling deaths of 18-year-old Irene Blase in 1969, 15-year-old Denise Falasca that same year, and 13-year-old Jackie Harp in 1968. And in 2021, he owned up to the 1974 murders of 17-year-old Mary Ann Pryor and her friend, 16-year-old Lorraine Kelly.
Just who is responsible for the McGraw confession — and those previous — is hotly debated. Vronsky credits both his work and the intervention of Sonia Ruiz and Jennifer Weiss with getting Cottingham to crack. Former Bergen County Chief of Police Robert Anzilotti — who worked on Cottingham’s case for 17 years — credits the police. “I don’t think they have a clue on how the [confessions] came about,” Anzilotti previously told Rolling Stone of Weiss and Vronsky. “There’s a big difference between the [what] I’ve gotten out of him and them talking to him.”
Cottingham was also recently charged with second-degree murder for the 1968 death of another New York woman, Diane Cusick. He pleaded not guilty to the killing, which is believed to be the oldest case prosecuted based on crime scene DNA. Vronsky also says he’s primed to confess to another high-profile New York murder.
“It was important to me today to send this message out into the public that if there is anybody else out there that has a murdered loved one… to pursue those actions to give them the honor they deserve,” McGraw says. “Also, if there’s anybody out there that thinks that Mr. Richard Cottingham was responsible for a murdered loved one, they should also come forward.”