Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer (2021) s01e02 Episode Script

The Perfect Hunting Ground

1 [horns honking.]
[vehicles passing.]
[horns honking.]
[dramatic music playing softly.]
Times Square was sex, sex, sex everywhere.
[indistinct street chatter.]
There were men everywhere seeking what they were seeking.
It wasn't just one or two girls standing on a street corner.
There were girls everywhere and I was one of them for 13 years.
One night I was out there, and, uh, I had gotten into this car.
This guy, he was just some younger white guy.
- I mean, normal-looking person.
- [car door closes.]
He didn't look, you know, deranged or anything.
[voice shaking.]
And, um when I got in the car, I told this man to drive and take a left.
And he didn't.
He took a right.
[dramatic music intensifies.]
So he took me down to some by the river somewhere.
And he had a gun.
My heart just sank 'cause I knew I knew what was gonna happen.
- [car door closes.]
- When someone thinks they've bought you, they think they could do whatever they want to with you.
And he did rape me, and he did rob me.
And then he told me, "Get out of the car, and don't turn around.
" And I I didn't.
I got out of the car, and I didn't turn around.
I thought he was still gonna shoot me in the back.
I know my mind kind of left my body during that.
It was horrible.
It's beyond horrible.
There's no word to describe it.
[engine revving.]
[car departing.]
I'm pretty sure that I was in the car with a serial killer, and I don't know why he didn't kill me.
I don't know why.
[rain pattering.]
[tense music playing.]
[horns honking.]
This past December, we told you about an especially brutal murder at a Times Square motel.
A man killed some women and cut off their heads.
[tense music continues.]
The killer police want may be guilty of other crimes against prostitutes.
When I read the headlines about a murder at the Travel Inn and I hear a report about a murder at the Hotel Seville that's when I realized there are people that are walking around out there that are pure predators.
There's no there's no stopping 'em.
Once you start cutting pieces off of people, once you start beheading people, cutting hands off of people, you're getting on the news.
And, uh, the city started calling these homicides the Torso Killings.
At the time of the Times Square torso murders, it was what we sometimes called tongue-in-cheek, the golden age of serial murder, 1970 to 2000.
You have about 82% of all 20th-century American serial killers emerge in that 30-year period.
[dramatic music playing.]
[subway brakes squealing.]
At that time, people were very aware of what a serial killer was, and it was on people's minds.
The Torso Killings occurred less than two years after the Summer of Sam.
These were the Son of Sam killings in New York City.
This photograph of the man accused of killing six and wounding seven was taken by police this morning.
He confessed after he told them he was a killing machine ordered by a voice speaking through a neighbor's dog to carry out his bloody outrages against young, pretty women.
The idea of having another serial killer out there again, absolutely terrifying.
[sirens wailing.]
You wanna get him off the street before he kills somebody else.
He's a ticking time bomb.
[horns honking.]
The NYPD started a task force and set in motion a tremendous effort over a wide range of law enforcement officers, NYPD officers of various units.
We knew we were dealing with a serial killer, a psychopathic sexual sadist, and he's targeting prostitutes.
Some serial killers like to dispose of the bodies and hide them, so the authorities are not aware.
But this guy, he gets off on the presentation, shocking people and doing outrageous things to the bodies.
So to me, it speaks to someone who's a malignant narcissist, who considers themselves smarter than the police, and he wants to kind of, like, taunt you.
"I'm superior to you, and you're dumb, and you won't catch me.
" Well, you keep waiting, you asshole.
We're gonna catch you.
[sirens wailing.]
[dramatic music playing.]
[sirens continue.]
They work the stroll on 11th Avenue.
Tonight, these hookers were scared.
It's it's frightening, you know.
It's it's very scary.
[woman 2.]
I mean, you know, I just hope whoever it whoever it is, just please get him, you know what I mean? So the girls be able to work safely out here.
But I remember fear rippling through the track.
That community of us of us girls.
We would all talk.
They knew that there were dangerous johns showing up that they had to protect themselves against.
They all knew each other, and they had warning signs.
If somebody got in a car and drove off, they often had somebody who was looking out for them and making sure that they came back.
[sirens wailing.]
At this point, the investigation was concentrating on johns, and rightfully so.
[police radio chatter.]
Serial killers predate within a zone, and his zone was Times Square.
And that was a place to pick up his prey.
[horn honking.]
You had a lot of abusive johns in the Times Square area who got forceful, got violent, got mean.
You gotta filter through 'em.
Who's just a mean guy, or who's a killer? So in a case like this, police would do prostitution sweeps.
Undercovers would go into these prostitution-prone areas and talk to 'em, each and every one of them, one by one.
[dog barking.]
The investigators were interviewing prostitutes to see if anyone knew anything about johns of the victims who were killed.
And they asked them, "Have you had any problems with johns in the area?" [sirens wailing in distance.]
I was out on the street, [clears throat.]
and these detectives were trying to talk to me, and I didn't wanna talk to them, and finally, I just gave up, and I was like, "What?" And they said, "Another girl was killed last night.
" "This guy has killed many girls.
" "Please, do you know this face?" I thought, "Yeah, I remember that face.
" But when the police asked me if I knew this man, I told them no.
I lied.
I lied to them because I was so scared of my trafficker Moses and what he would do to me if I talked to the police.
Now, this isn't a simple thing.
This isn't like what you see on TV, where the detectives pull up to the corner to one streetwalker who tells them what they need to know.
Very often, prostitutes are not likely to cooperate with police.
They don't want to be seen cooperating with the police.
There's been so many cops out there, and you gotta keep running every time you see 'em.
The relationship between sex workers and police is fraught.
There were times the policing could be harsh, cruel, and out of step.
You wouldn't tell the police if you'd been assaulted by a john.
There's no way.
Because you were doing something illegal, and so you were putting yourself into danger of being arrested.
And when you have an arrest for prostitution, that can cut off all sorts of avenues for credit, for an apartment, for another job, even for retaining custody of your children.
It will be used against you.
I still, to this day, feel bad about that because I didn't tell them the truth, you know, I But telling them the truth, that's the last thing that I could do.
[dramatic music playing softly.]
When you living this life, you only live day-to-day.
You don't think about tomorrow, and you don't think about yesterday.
Just day by day.
[indistinct shouting.]
Because the industry is criminalized, you create a very dangerous situation for women working on the street.
There were sexual predators stalking and preying on women who were marginalized because they were not protected by the police.
Girls were, you know, just easy targets, but it didn't matter.
When you're out there, you Nothing can keep you off the street.
Because I was told I had to do whatever I had to do to get as much money as I could.
Prostitution is a is a business that keeps money circulating, and that's what your that's what the goal is all about, to get money.
Is it worth it? Uh.
Yeah, I come out ahead.
You can make up to a thousand a night.
It's quick.
It's easy, you know? It is kind of dangerous.
Everything is dangerous.
Transactional sex is part of the way society has developed for millennia.
For some sex workers, it's how people survive and how people thrive.
In New York generally, Times Square operated as a known sexual district, and it had been, of course, for decades.
[dramatic music playing.]
At the turn of the century, prostitutes were walking the streets.
There were women leaning out of windows soliciting.
The city fathers didn't much care, so it it was everywhere.
Times Square developed into the greatest entertainment district in America.
[upbeat music playing.]
The Great White Way, the street that is paved with tears and laughter.
There are more picture palaces and theaters here than any other street on Earth.
So at the peak of the Roaring '20s, the cult of the chorus girl developed on 42nd Street, attracting thousands of pretty women from all over the country coming here hoping to get jobs.
Many of them, when they couldn't launch an entertainment career, ended up becoming prostitutes to make some money.
Over time, Times Square became a prostitute's promenade, as they called it.
[indistinct chattering.]
By the 1970s, things had changed in the sex industry when pimping becomes a cultural icon.
- Hey, where you going? - [woman.]
I'll be back, honey.
You had all these blaxploitation films coming out making heroes out of figures like Iceberg Slim, who controlled women and who made money.
When I ask you a question, you answer.
[dramatic music playing.]
I was around 12, maybe 12 and a half, when Moses first brought me up to New York City.
He would tattoo this cross on all of his girls' hands like a branding, some kind of, um uh, you know, property of ownership.
He made it very clear that he was the one in charge, and he also made sure that I saw he had a big Glock in his belt, a gun.
Isn't it true, pimps keep their girls working on the streets by threats or by force? Oh yes.
Any of the girls ever hold out on you? - [pimp.]
One time.
- [interviewer.]
What did you do about it? Well, she and I had a little talk, and then she went to the hospital.
When she came back, she didn't hold out again.
- [interviewer.]
What did you do to her? - I had an argument with my belt with her.
[indistinct shouting.]
It's nothing to hear that a girl got killed or that a girl got beat up.
It's an occupational hazard, and it happens to everybody.
They say, "She's the third one today, or she's the third one this week.
" [sirens wailing.]
They were getting constantly put in these traumatic situations where they were getting abused by the pimps and abused by the johns who wanted to take their anger out on these sex workers.
It was so easy for my mother's killer to get away with torturing young women.
Horrific things happened on the street all the time.
[dramatic music playing.]
[projector whirring.]
The investigators went through mountains of dead ends, and all these detectives had to think outside the box.
Detectives started looking at arrest records for johns in the area that had assaulted prostitutes.
One of the detectives pulled the records from two cases that might hint at someone, uh, who committed this crime.
Both crimes took place years before, in 1973 and in 1974.
In both cases, the complainants are working girls.
One of the charges was actually filed by the girls' pimp.
They claimed that the perpetrator would not let them go.
He he insisted on keeping them in his car, and one of them says that he took her money.
In both cases, he took their costume jewelry.
Jewelry wasn't expensive.
It was a trophy.
He was accused of robbery, kidnapping, and sexual assault.
So we had crimes against two different women by the same man, Richard Cottingham.
Richard Cottingham was an average guy.
He drove an average car, had an average home in Lodi, New Jersey, which is nestled there right close to New York for commuters.
He had a full-time job in New York City as a computer operator with Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
He was a family man.
His wife, she was a fairly typical housewife raising a daughter and two sons.
When they interviewed Cottingham in these cases, he said the women were lying.
He was either at home, or he was at work at the time of these crimes.
He adamantly denied these charges.
It goes to court, but the sex workers don't show up to the trial, to the hearing.
No victim, no crime.
So in 1973 and 1974, in both cases, the charges were dismissed.
And that's it.
It's gone.
But now, in 1980, now the task force is looking at this guy.
How did Richard Cottingham fit the profile of the Torso Killer? [dramatic music playing.]
Richard Cottingham comes from a very stable family.
There's nothing in his family history that is typical of serial killers.
There's no indication that he was ever abused as a child.
He had a pretty good relationship with his mother.
He also, uh He excelled at work.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield employed hundreds of people, and, uh, Richard was one of their lead employees.
At that point in time, middle-class men were not profiled as being potentially violent, especially if they were well-spoken, appeared to be educated, drove a nice vehicle [inhales deeply.]
You know, you would think, "Oh, well, he's okay.
" [Geberth.]
He didn't fit the profile.
And you'd have to eliminate the suspects based on how the profile doesn't fit them.
That's how it works.
So once again, detectives had no suspects.
[dramatic music playing.]
When we're talking about serial killers a lot of these guys are are moving around.
They're moving around from borough to borough, from county to county.
Once they'd cross boundaries, it becomes far more difficult to link different crimes together.
Now, if you get out of state, it was like another planet.
Because back then different departments didn't communicate.
So the task force that was looking for the Torso Killer in New York City had no idea what was going on in New Jersey.
[horns honking.]
[dramatic music playing.]
[police radio chatter.]
[sirens wailing.]
[radio receiver clicks.]
- [sirens continue.]
- [police radio chatter.]
In May 1980 about 32 minutes away from New York City, in New Jersey [sirens wailing.]
at the Quality Inn motel.
The maid had gone to clean room 132.
[vacuum whirring.]
She's vacuuming the room.
Bunk, bunk.
She's hitting something under the bed.
She looks under the bed and there's a body of a naked woman with her hands handcuffed behind her back.
- [police radio chatter.]
- [sirens wailing.]
The Bergen County homicide squad picked up on that case.
There is traces of adhesive around her mouth, circular scratches, cuts around her breasts, but clearly cause of death is manual strangulation.
The victim was a young woman thought to be approximately 19 years old.
Upon printing the victim, Bergen County Police learned that she had been arrested in Miami for prostitution.
Her name was Valerie Street.
And they found out from the authorities in Miami that she had come to New York.
[phone ringing.]
She'd only been in town a few days when she was seen being picked up by a man and brought to New Jersey.
[dramatic music playing.]
At the Quality Inn motel, a processing of the crime scene revealed that the killer inadvertently left a latent print on the handcuff.
So they lift that print.
Remember, in those days, again, you're doing physical searches, a guy with one of those eye loupes looking for the swirls and trying to identify the print.
But at the time, that print matched nobody.
Because the killer wasn't in the system in New Jersey, so the detectives had no suspects.
The law enforcement agencies in Bergen County continued to investigate, [inhales deeply.]
and that's when, uh, one of the detectives remembered a crime that took place over two years before where a woman was murdered in the same fashion at the same location, the Quality Inn.
[timer ticking.]
The victim was a woman named Maryann Carr.
She was a nurse, not a sex worker.
This was an open homicide from December 16th, 1977.
She was supposed to meet her mother-in-law for supper, and she didn't show up.
They had a witness who saw Maryann Carr arguing with a man in the dimly lit parking lot by her apartment in Little Ferry, New Jersey.
Her body was found the following day in the parking lot of the Quality Inn motel in Hasbrouck Heights.
There is a ligature strangulation mark around her throat, with traces of adhesive around her mouth as well.
And, of course, the evidence that she had been handcuffed both on her ankles and her wrists.
Between Valerie Street and Maryann Carr, the connections are becoming very obvious.
[dramatic music playing.]
This is the same hotel.
Victims handcuffed as well.
There was a determination made that this was a signature.
This is a signature of the same killer as Valerie Ann Street.
And now New Jersey had a serial killer.
The Quality Inn motel appears to be a comfort zone for him.
And and one thing about serial killers, the first killings are usually close to home and/or work.
The best way to explain it is that they're able to control the environment.
So the Bergen County homicide squad knew that he was familiar with the area.
With Valerie Street and Maryann Carr, they have no suspect.
In New Jersey, there's no connection yet to anyone at this point, and both of these cases, they just go dead.
Dead ends.
And no one in New Jersey connected them to the Times Square Torso Killer in New York.
[sirens wailing.]
[horns honking.]
[indistinct street chatter.]
Walking down the Deuce, it was shocking and pretty filthy.
My father could have taken 42nd Street and made it a pretty thing, but his personality was in the gutter.
And a lot of bad things happened on 42nd Street because the porno world was there.
It just created a monster over there.
More peep shows, more freak parlors, more everything.
It has increased.
- What's your feeling? - They're increasing.
Increasing? Huh? Every restaurant that closes down, a peep show opens.
Talk about pushing the envelope.
My father loved pushing the envelope.
His business expanded and expanded, getting much, much XXX.
And in some of those peep shows, I mean, it wasn't only those girls dancing.
My father came in with having live sex acts.
Now, you know, there's people having sex on the stage, and people were just watching the whole thing.
Oh yeah.
Come on, sugar.
It's all live.
And it's all happening right here at Show World Center.
At Show World, my wife Brandy and I got into doing live shows.
So basically, there's a stage with a bed.
No barrier, just a live show.
You're naked.
Your back is to the audience.
It was up to us at that point, but you had to have at least three positions so that the audience could see the penetration.
And then that's a half-hour show.
People from out of state would be sitting there like, "Oh, God.
" You know? "What is this?" Meanwhile, the regular patrons wouldn't even flinch.
And my wife and I did eight shows a day.
We had a following.
Guys would actually come just to watch her and me.
But men have a tendency to be [sighs.]
What's the word? Stupid.
They feel that, "Oh, she's naked.
She just did a sex show, so I can do whatever I want.
" [tense music playing.]
In between shows, Brandy went in the ladies' room.
She was in the stall.
So this guy entered the bathroom behind her.
He reached under to grab her, and every time he reached under, she would hit him with her heels.
I was like, "No, no.
" Walked up to him and proceeded to beat the shit out of him.
That's the mentality that we were dealing with.
It was either you were a victim, or you were a predator.
When you're at work, and people are talking, they say a lot of crazy things just to spike your interest.
At Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Richard was, like, the dark side of the talking.
One of the, uh, stories Richard told was about The Hellfire Club.
[sirens wailing.]
It was a sex club, and Richie talked about this master and slave act that was going on there.
[sinister music playing.]
He said this guy was dragging this woman around on the on the floor.
There was some pain given to women.
Sticking pins in them, in the woman's breast.
And he told me that really turned him on.
I said, "That turned you on?" He says, "Yep.
" He was into, uh, sadomasochism.
He was into that stuff, that bloody stuff.
[sirens wailing.]
The sex trade, period, is always gonna attract a darker side and the Deuce started getting grittier and grittier.
The girls faced a lot of violence because the cops weren't stopping anything.
It was just, you know, as they would put it, "The scum getting rid of the scum.
" Nobody really gave a shit.
It was like they were ready for Times Square to fold under the pressure anyway.
[male reporter.]
Ask any patrolman in this area, either in the subways or on the street.
He'll tell you 42nd Street and 8th Avenue is a frightening place day or night.
[sirens wailing.]
The difficulty was because of the fiscal crisis in the 1970s.
The city laid off 5,000 police officers, took them off the streets, so crime went out of control.
[man catcalling.]
New York City, the state it was in was real shitty.
[sirens wailing.]
It's the only way I can describe 42nd Street I got shot.
all the crime that surrounds the area.
With the sex-related businesses and the problems that it's caused the residential community, it feels that it is in a state of siege.
[man 2.]
We're being threatened, we're being harassed, and we're being chased.
And I think something has to be done.
A group of police officers came out with this pamphlet, "Welcome to Fear City," with a reaper on the front.
Hold on to your belongings.
Don't go here.
Don't go there.
It was a guide to how not to get killed or victimized in New York City, especially in Times Square.
The fears were real.
I have children.
I wanna be able to walk down the street without fear and with and without being exposed to what we've been seeing every day, every day, every night.
[crowd chanting.]
Smut must go! Smut must go! The city decides that the Deuce and that whole area is too much crime, too much public sex, and that they need to crack down.
That's when it all started, saving New York from itself.
Then they created the Office of Midtown Enforcement.
Uh, we can't overemphasize this is not going to be a glossed over, one-shot thing.
And we're gonna be at it as rough and as tough as we can possibly be.
The man directly in charge of the cleanup of vice in the Times Square area is Sidney Baumgarten, an assistant to the mayor, who'll have a full-time staff of 14 and $432,000 of federal money to do the job right.
We had identified 450 illicit establishments.
Massage parlors, topless, bottomless bars, drug dens, all the illegal activities that were going on.
Baumgarten's attack on the porno and prostitution problems will be aimed at catching the people involved in those businesses violating new laws he hopes to get, as well as electrical, building, health, and zoning codes already on the books.
We needed a mechanism to shut them down.
We had a variety of reasons why these places were illegal.
You'd find the massage parlor had hooked up its electric [chuckles.]
to the next-door neighbor.
So the ConEd people would come down, they would disconnect it, and they'd be in the dark, so they'd light candles.
The fire department would go in and close them up because they didn't have an open flame permit.
We're using whatever means we have at our disposal that are legal and proper to close the premises down.
[dramatic music playing.]
We would see the orange sticker from the mayor's Midtown Enforcement closing a place, one after another.
[police radio chatter.]
I think that it's such nonsense.
What is going on today is such nonsense, and all all the money that's being spent We'll look back at it as we look back today on what Massachusetts did to the witches up there in those days.
A lot of the politicians were going after my father, and he was becoming like public enemy number one.
My father had a friend in the police department say, "They want you.
" They wanted to catch the porno king of New York City to show that they cleaned up porn.
He was arrested 12 times and got off.
And then eventually, my dad went to jail.
They got him on tax evasion.
[sirens wailing.]
My arrest record runs eight times for doing the live shows.
But the streetwalkers, that was a different level.
Those arrests were a lot more frequent.
It's easier to arrest women than to, you know, hunt a serial killer, to stop muggings, to do all these other kinds of things.
And so, people in the sex industry become the victims of police public relations to make it look like the cops were being tough on crime.
It's, uh, a never-ending war.
It's not like World War I, when it's over, it's over.
It's always there to be fought.
[horns honking.]
Mayor Beame noted the city has shut down 173 sex-related businesses.
Many others are still flourishing, though, right in the open in the shadow of Times Square.
There were times when we closed a place down, and then a month later, it was reopened.
That happened too often.
The desire for deviant behavior is is insatiable.
Once you permit one level, then people go to the next level.
And if you permit that, they go to the level beyond that.
Where do you stop? [sighs.]
Where do you stop? [sinister music playing.]
Basically, Richard's big thing was adventure.
Always an adventure.
One morning at Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Richard and I were sitting at the console, and Cottingham was in his chair, rocking away, shaking his leg.
He was a leg shaker.
That drove me nuts.
He was talking about taking girls from New York, bringing them to this hotel in Jersey, and drew this complete diagram of the Quality Inn hotel.
The entrances, the exits, the easy ways in, and the easy ways out.
He told me he would go there with a date and then slip out whenever he wanted to and leave the girl completely undressed, no money, and nowhere to go because she had nothing.
According to other guys in the office, Richard said that he would drug them.
And you know when he said it, you think you would say to yourself, "What a sick son of a bitch this guy is.
" But you don't because you don't believe half of it.
It goes in one ear and out the other.
You know, we took it with a grain of salt.
I don't know when he had time to be with his family 'cause he was always out at night prowling.
The guy never slept.
His wife eventually found out that her husband was going to places in New York to buy sex.
And finally, she, uh, she filed, uh, filed for divorce.
His life seemed to be unraveling.
[dramatic music playing.]
The detectives in different police jurisdictions in New Jersey, in New York, they can't find the guy, and then it went nowhere.
There was nothing more they could find out.
So now it's 18 days after the murder of Valerie Street in New Jersey and seven days after the Jean Reyner murder in New York.
And now another girl is in danger.
[projector whirring.]
Leslie O'Dell was a 19-year-old girl.
She had come into town through the Port Authority building.
There are so many runaway kids at this time who were showing up at Port Authority on a bus trying to figure out how to survive.
And there were a lot of men who were looking to exploit them by turning them into sex workers.
When she got there, she was probably hungry, had a couple bucks in a big city.
Next thing you know, this pimp says, "What's a girl like you doing on the street? I can help you.
" She went for it.
She was immediately snapped up and put on the street.
She was only out there a few days, and she was trapped.
She she knew she was in a bad situation.
Leslie Ann O'Dell was approached in Manhattan by the john.
And he had a lot of money.
He was waving a lot of money, uh, in front of her.
This individual had asked her to come with him, and she did.
At a bar, he came across very friendly, and he said his name was Tommy.
He, uh, bought her drinks.
He showed interest in her.
She said she wanted to get away from the pimp.
He said, "I can help you out.
I'll give you money.
You can go home.
" "I'm gonna help you out of your situation.
" He promised her if he if she did go with him that he would get her safely to a bus station in New Jersey so that she could make her escape, uh, from her pimp.
She felt very comfortable with this man.
She trusted him, so she got in the car with him willingly and drove to New Jersey.
[suspenseful music playing.]
And then he said, "I'd like to have sex with you before you go," and he took her to the Quality Inn motel.
[sinister music playing.]
He wanted to put her in handcuffs, that he wanted to spank her.
That's when the horror began.
Next thing you know, he's attacking her.
She was beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted, on and on for hours.
[music intensifies.]
And finally, he removed the handcuffs [dramatic music playing.]
and pointed a gun at her.
She knew she had to get out.
[music intensifies.]
She grabs the pistol, points it at him pulls the trigger.
[trigger clicking.]
The trigger goes "click.
" [clicking continues.]
It's not a real pistol.
It's a fake pistol.
- Now he's coming at her with a knife.
- [clicking continues.]
- [Leslie screaming.]
- [Reiman.]
A maid hears muffled screams.
The maid is already frightened and horrified by the earlier homicide of Valerie Ann Street.
- [Geberth.]
They send somebody to the door.
- [knocking on door.]
And they said, "Is everything all right?" [Leith.]
Leslie went to the door [door creaking.]
and he warned her to tell them that she was okay.
She managed to get the door open just a a wee bit enough to make some kind of a hand signal.
[menacing piano playing.]
[dramatic music playing.]

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