‘Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer’ Explained – Who Was The Torso Killer?


Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer, is a documentary based on the infamous killings of the late 1970s and 80s, in the heart of New York. Dominick Volpe, a worker from Blue Cross Blue Shield, after reading the news of the killings, asked his colleague who would be so wretched to commit such an act, and his colleague replied, “It could have been me, it could have been you.

What the colleague said was absolutely right. The killings were done in such a manner that there was little or no evidence about the identity of the Torso Killer. It could have been any face walking down the street in Times Square. It had stunned the people and the authorities. Never in their dreams had they imagined that they would live to see such a horrific sight.

Trigger and Explicit Warning

What ‘Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer’ Is About?

A fire had broken out in a hotel named Travel Inn, located 42nd street in Times Square. It had been reported that there were some guests still stuck inside. When the firemen went inside, they skipped a beat at the sight that they witnessed. Two women were lying on their bed decapitated, and even their hands were cut off. Neither did they have any clue who the girls were nor any clue about who could have committed such a dastardly act. 

We are talking about 1979, when there was no video surveillance or any such advanced means to track the killer. The hands were gone, so there was no fingerprint, and even worse was the fact that with headless bodies, nobody would be able to even identify the victims. Somebody inside the Investigation Bureau had this idea of dressing a mannequin in the clothes of the victims, and that gave them the much-needed breakthrough. 

The media houses published the photos of the mannequin, and one victim was identified to be Deedah Goodzari. When her name was made public, Jenifer Weiss came forward and told the authorities that Deedah was her birth mother. She had been adopted at an early age, and for a long time, she was trying to find her birth mother. Little did she know that she would find her in such a state.

How Martin Hodas Changed Time Square?

Deedah Goodzari was a sex worker. The authorities had suspected that the other unnamed victim would also be one. The 1960s and 70s were a period when society was changing, and so were the sensibilities of the people. 

Times Square was a gold mine, and Martin Hodas was ready to cease the opportunity. He had one basic understanding of human behavior, i.e., Prohibition is the greatest form of marketing that could ever be done. You restrict a person from seeing in a particular direction, and they would become all the more interested in looking there. Martin Hodas came up with the idea of Peep shows. One could pay and peep inside a small box that played pornographic movies. These peep boxes were placed like phone booths throughout Times Square. From films, he advanced to real interactions. An actual sex worker was made to sit inside the booth, and from the hole, a customer could peep or also put his genitalia inside for getting an oral simulation.

A lot of girls who didn’t have jobs or had to support their family, now had a chance to earn quick money. But it came at a cost. They were abused most of the time and had to put their lives in great peril. Since prostitution was illegal, sex workers generally kept quiet even when they were abused. They knew that going to the authorities to complain would definitely land them in more trouble. The Times Square Killer (or The Torso Killer) also knew that, and he took full advantage of this fact. 

Martin Hodas, the man who created Peep shows
Credits: Netflix

Who Was The Times Square Killer?

After the two victims in Times Square, there were a lot of cases in Bergen County in the state of New Jersey. The problem was that there was no inter-jurisdictional communication between the investigation agencies. So the cops in New Jersey had no clue that a crime of similar fashion had been committed in New York too. The Times Square Killer took full advantage of the fact. He conveniently used to intoxicate the women and then take them to a hotel where he used to torture them for his pleasure. 

The socio-political environment provided the perfect hunting ground for the killer. His credence came from the fact that he had done it several times without being caught. His triumph was short-lived, though. A girl named Leslie Ann O’Dell shouted so loud that it alerted the hotel authorities in Quality Inn. Leslie opened the door and somehow was able to tell them through her gestures that she was in danger. The next moment the cops came and caught the killer. The Times Square Killer (or The Torso Killer) was a man named Richard Cottingham.

Richard was a predator and found pleasure in putting the women through severe mental and physical suffering. He liked seeing them in such a miserable state. Though he was caught, the cops still did not have enough evidence to link him to the other killings. In the case of Leslie, he pleaded that she had consented to everything. That’s when other victims started speaking up. Karen Schilt, Susan Geiger, and Pamela Weisenfeld were a few victims who testified against him. Dominick Volpe, who had been a colleague, testified too in the court of law.

Richard never told the name of the girl whom he had killed in the Travel Inn hotel with Deedah Goodzari in Times Square. 

Richard Cottingham also known as The Times Square Killer or Torso Killer
Credits: Netflix

Why Richard Cottingham Became The Times Square Killer?

Nadia Fezzai, a journalist, met Richard Cottingham after 30 years he had been sentenced.

She asked him about his motivations to know what went on psychologically when he was in between the barbarous act. The eerie killer acceded to talk about his actions which were quite surprising as in the court of law 30 years back, he stood for the fact that he was innocent. He did not plead guilty even when each and every piece of evidence was against him.

Richard Cottingham told her that he liked being in that position of dominance. It gave him a Godlike feeling. He could do it and not be caught; this very fact gave him this extreme rush of adrenaline. He was proud of the fact that he had committed the perfect crime. He told Nadia that he had abused over 80 women and the police found him guilty of murdering only a handful of them.

The crime committed by Richard Nottingham raised an essential question about the status quo of prostitution laws in any country. If the women had not been scared in approaching the authorities, then a lot of lives would have been saved today. The sex workers were the denigrated members of society. The fundamental human rights did not apply to them. They were mere objects of pleasure in the eyes of society. Also, many a time, when the authorities found dead bodies of sex workers, they termed the case as “NHI” that meant no human involvement. They did not consider the case to be significant enough to be pursued. It was inevitable that a criminal like Richard Nottingham would leverage the situation in such circumstances. 

In the strife to be known where people exercise their freedom of choice and expression, Times Square became a sewer of sexuality. The Times Square of the 70s was analogous to the idea of the wild wild west, and nothing like what it is today. The documentary directed by Joe Berlinger is not only informative but also creates a sense of eerie suspense, which makes it an intriguing watch. 

Crime Scene: The Times Square is a 2021 Crime Documentary directed by Joe Berlinger for Netflix.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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