‘Torso Killer’ pleads guilty in 1974 cold-case murders

In this image taken from a New Jersey Courts virtual hearing, Richard Cottingham, center, known as the "Torso Killer," pleads guilty Tuesday, April 27, 2021, to two 1974 murders, finally closing the cold case deaths of teenage friends who had left home for a trip to the mall and never returned. Cottingham, 74, is currently in state prison on a life sentence for other murders. (New Jersey Courts via AP)
In this image taken from a New Jersey Courts virtual hearing, Richard Cottingham, center, known as the "Torso Killer," pleads guilty Tuesday, April 27, 2021, to two 1974 murders, finally closing the cold case deaths of teenage friends who had left home for a trip to the mall and never returned. Cottingham, 74, is currently in state prison on a life sentence for other murders. (New Jersey Courts via AP)

NEWARK, N.J. – For years, a savage murderer called the “Torso Killer” dribbled out confessions to a New Jersey detective, closing cold cases into the brutal deaths of four young women that dated back to the late 1960s.

But there was one unsolved case the notorious serial killer would never admit to: The slayings of 17-year-old Mary Ann Pryor and 16-year-old Lorraine Marie Kelly in 1974.

Until now.

On Tuesday, Richard Cottingham, 74, sat in a wheelchair in beige prison scrubs as he pleaded guilty to kidnapping the teenage girls and raping them for days before he drowned them in a motel room bathtub.

The teenagers were last seen on Aug. 9, 1974, in North Bergen. They'd left home for a trip 13 miles (21 kilometers) north to a Paramus mall, telling family they planned to take a bus there to buy bathing suits for a trip to the Jersey Shore.

Witnesses at the time told police the girls were hitchhiking and had gotten into a man's car. They were found five days after they went missing, identified by their jewelry when their nude, battered bodies were discovered facedown in the woods of North Jersey's Bergen County.

“He’s relieved that this cloud that’s been hanging over his head for many, many years is now removed,” said his defense attorney, John Bruno, adding that Cottingham has “serious regret” for the crimes and hoped to give the families some closure.

Mary Ann's sister, Nancy Pryor, watched the virtual hearing after years of working with detectives.