LONG ISLAND - Darlene Altman is finally receiving some sense of closure. She was only four when her mother, 23-year-old Diane Cusick, was brutally murdered back in February 1968.
"Justice never runs out of breath no matter how many years have gone by," said Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly. "We are sorry for the loss."
On Wednesday, more than half a century later, Darlene, through a virtual arraignment, saw the man who prosecutors say is responsible for taking her mother’s life.
75-year-old Richard Cottingham pleaded not guilty from his hospital bed.
"He had a dead stare, I felt like he was looking dead at me," Altman said. "It was creepy."
Back in 1980, FOX 5 NY covered other cases involving Cottingham, the Manhattan computer programmer known as the so-called "Torso Killer" after he dismembered some of his victims. The convicted serial killer has spent the past four decades serving a life sentence in connection with other murders across the tri-state area.
"The Suffolk police came to us and said they were aware there were other murders in Nassau and Suffolk involving someone incarcerated in New Jersey," Donnelly said.
Officials say Cusick, a dance teacher, stopped at Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream to get a pair of shoes. Her parents reported her missing when she didn’t come home. They were the ones to find her strangled body in the back seat of her car in the parking lot of the former Steak Pub restaurant. According to police, Cottingham used to frequent the area, would pose as a security guard and target young women.
"He would accuse them of stealing something and once he got their attention he’d commit this violent act," said Det. Capt. Stephen Fitzpatrick with the Nassau County Police Department.
This case prompted the Nassau District Attorney’s office to review all on salt homicides involving women from 1967 to 1980. Police tell us, so far DNA has been submitted for an additional five cases, to look into whether there is any connection.
"Now because technology has become so advance, we can do deeper testing of the same DNA," Donnelly said.
While Darlene feels overwhelmed she also expressed a sense of relief.
"I never thought I’d see this day," she said. "I had given up but all these people got justice for me and for my mother."