How a detective helped nail chest killer Richard Cottingham from the grave


On Thursday, the Nassau County Police Department dispatched the widow of Det. Pat Bellotti linked to a live stream of a press conference to announce that her latest case had resulted in a new murder charge against the so-called Torso Killer – two decades after her husband started working him.

“Fortunately, everything he did ended well,” Mary Bellotti told The Daily Beast.

Pat Bellotti had always been a physically imposing presence before a protracted battle with terminal cancer handed him over to administrative duties with the Long Island County Homicide Squad in 2003. “bear” – and he was particularly affected by cases involving children.

This included his latest investigation, which he began in 2003 after reading a letter to the Homicide Squad from a 3-year-old woman when her mother was sexually assaulted and asphyxiated in her car in a mall parking lot. 35 years earlier.

This colder-than-cold affair could have been forgotten if Bellotti had simply put the letter aside. Instead, he called the now grown daughter, Darlene Altman, then went to Homicide Squad Commander Dennis Farrell.

“Pat walks into my office, he says, ‘Hey boss, I was just on the phone with a very nice woman and she said her mother was the victim of a 1968 homicide in Valley Stream,'” Farrell said. at the Daily Beast. . “I think the sum and substance was that the woman said to him, ‘You know, I know there’s been so much progress in police technology, investigative tools. Is there any chance you can take another look at my mother’s case? »

Farrell reminded Bellotti that the team was understaffed and already overwhelmed with ongoing homicides.

“I said, ‘Pat, I’m almost up to my neck in the alligators here investigating these other cases. I don’t have anyone to assign to that,” Farrell recalled. “And he goes, ‘Well, you know, I’m a detective. I can do it.”

Farrell would remember the protective impulse that comes when someone you care about is in an uphill battle with a serious illness. But Bellotti did indeed remain a detective in every important sense.

“I said, ‘OK, go do some research, come back, we’ll talk about it,'” Farrell recalled. “So he does.”

Photo illustrations by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Courtesy of Darlene Altman

Bellotti went to the case morgue to pull reports from the more than 100 detectives who had worked on the case early on. Records revealed that 23-year-old Diane Cusick left home on February 15, 1968 to shop for shoes at the nearby Green Acres mall. Her granddaughter stayed home with her grandparents, who got worried when Cusick didn’t return and went looking for her. They spotted Cusick’s car in the mall parking lot in the early morning darkness. Grandpa found Cusick inside with duct tape over his mouth. He pulled it back, but she had already breathed her last.

Thirty-five years later, Bellotti invited Altman to join the team for an interview.

“He took me to a conference room,” Altman recalled. “He had all the original files from my mother’s case…like six big cardboard boxes. He sat down and talked with me. He said he had read my letter and was touched. He was so warm and kind. And he really understood what I had been through.

She spoke to The Daily Beast like she had to Bellotti.

“I was very embarrassed that I have no memory of my mother,” she said. “I only knew what people were telling me because I was so young at the time. It was two months before my fourth birthday, so I don’t remember her.

Her grandparents adopted her after the murder.

“They then became mom and dad instead of grandma and grandpa,” she said. “My mother had twin brothers who were my uncles. So now they have become my brothers. It really affected my whole life.

“And unfortunately, no one in my family understood that. My mother’s memory has not been preserved. She didn’t talk about her.

“But I have to say very clearly, though, that my grandparents were wonderful, wonderful people. They did a wonderful job and everything they could for my benefit. I was number one to them and nothing they did was intentional and they didn’t realize how, what impact it would have on me. I guess they thought it best not to talk about her. So they chose to do it that way. »

“To be completely honest, I felt like a bit of a substitute for my mother. I grew up in her room. I went to the same schools as her. I took dance class where she was teaching dance. So it was kind of like I picked up where she left off, so to speak, and that’s how I felt anyway. But as I I said, it wasn’t intentional. It was such a tragedy for them. I mean, it was my grandparents who found it in his car. So I totally understand their position on that.

Photo illustrations by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Courtesy of Darlene Altman

She said she had always been very interested in crime shows on television.

“Fiction and non-fiction,” she recalls. “The DNA was progressing. Over the years, I thought to myself, ‘Maybe there is hope. Maybe they can find out who did this.

She noted that TV shows almost always end with the villain getting justice.

“I always said, ‘Oh, I wish that happened to me; Maybe one day,” she said.

Then she sent the letter to the Homicide Squad

“I can’t remember exactly what prompted me to write it,” she told The Daily Beast. “I guess maybe I just needed to be heard. I just needed to see if maybe there was something that could be done to fix it.

She found in Bellotti someone who sought to see him from his point of view, someone who listened.

“Finally, I’m heard,” she later said of their first meeting. “Someone who understands how I feel and what I’ve been through all these years. I explained to him how it affected the whole course of my life. And he promised me he would work on the case. And he did, and he stayed in touch with me every step of the way to let me know where they were at, what they were doing.

Bellotti located Cusick’s clothing and brought his panties and pants to the medical examiner’s office. Word came back from confirmed traces of semen.

“That was the good news,” Farrell recalled. “The bad news is that in 2003 you still needed a large sample to make a definitive judgment.”

But Bellotti made sure the clothes were saved.

“If he hadn’t, I think he might have been lost,” Farrell said.

Over the following months, Bellotti continued to periodically check in with Altman.

In 2004, realizing she hadn’t heard from him for some time, she called the team and was told he had left the department.

Cancer proved capable of beating even someone as strong as Bellotti. He died in 2005.

Photo illustrations by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Courtesy of Darlene Altman

In June of last year, Nassau County Det. Daniel Finn took on the case. Current technology has matched sperm traces with a DNA profile in a federal database that belonged to a serial killer incarcerated in New Jersey since 1981.

Richard Cottingham, now 75 and ailing, was a father of three from New Jersey who became variously known as the Times Square Killer because he murdered some of his victims there and as the Torso Killer for dismembered some of them. He was convicted or confessed to 11 murders, beginning with a New Jersey mother of two in October 1967, and is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Altman and one of his two sons live in Florida. Local police showed up at her apartment and said Nassau County cops should contact her. She initially feared something had happened to her other son, who lives in New York, so she called him to make sure he was okay, then called the number the police had given her . She spoke to Finn, who seemed just as kind and caring as Belotti had been.

“He was wonderful,” Altman told The Daily Beast.

Finn explained that the man they were certain killed his mother was charged with the murder. “The day has finally come after 54 years,” said Altman, who is now 58.

On Thursday, Cottingham was arraigned via video link from a New Jersey hospital bed in Nassau County Supreme Court. Altman was in the courtroom and later said she was glad she was spared seeing Cottingham in person. She told The Daily Beast that the evil in the monster’s gaze was all the more pronounced as a yellow surgical mask hid the rest of its face.

“You just saw those eyes,” she said.

After the procedure, Altman and Farrell spoke for a moment about Bellotti.

“He was such a nice man,” she said.

Altman then joined Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly at the press conference. Mary Bellotti watched from a distance with her two adult sons, one of whom is now a Port Authority police officer. She later spoke about her husband and what the case meant to him, recalling her motto, which was printed on the holy card for his wake: “It’s good to be important, but more important to ‘be kind”.

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