BERGEN COUNTY, N.J. — A notorious serial killer who pleaded guilty earlier this week to murdering two teenagers in 1974 could be responsible for dozens of other killings, according to a woman who’s developed an unlikely relationship with the convicted murderer.
Jennifer Weiss, a New Jersey mother of four, started visiting serial killer Richard Cottingham behind bars in 2017. Cottingham had apologized, in a letter, for dismembering and burning Weiss’ biological mom in 1979 at a Times Square hotel.
“Once I started to find out details about my mother’s crime, that’s when he opened the door to talking about other women that he killed,” Weiss told PIX11.
Cottingham has said in the past he’s killed up to 100 women.
Weiss’ biological mother, Deedeh Goodarzi, was an escort who knew Cottingham, a married father of three. Now Weiss, who was adopted as a child, has more questions about her paternity.
“He said he knew her for two years, and so, that raised questions in my mind: Is it possible we could be blood-related?” PIX11 sought to clarify, asking if Weiss thought Cottingham was her father. “That’s something, unfortunately, I might have to deal with,” she said.
Weiss added that Cottingham, now 74, has expressed willingness to take a DNA test.
Jennifer Weiss has gained some prominence for her friendship with Cottingham and her assistance to law enforcement authorities who are looking to interview him. She has spoken with investigators on both sides of the New York/New Jersey border.
“I want to get as many closures as I can in the next six weeks,” Weiss told PIX11. “His health is just failing him. He’s not in a good way.”
Cottingham was brought in a wheelchair Tuesday into Bergen County Superior Court, where he pleaded guilty to the 1974 Cold Case murders of Hudson County teens Mary Ann Pryor and Lorraine Kelly. He almost backed out, Weiss said, because he didn’t want to see the victims’ families. It turns out the families watched the proceedings on Zoom.
“I believe he’s embarrassed about all of his crimes,” Weiss said, “because they’re all horrific.”
Dr. Peter Vronsky, an investigative criminal historian, had an explanation for Cottingham‘s apparent change of heart.
“He’s developing what we might call cognitive remorse,” Vronsky said. “I’m not sure that he feels anything.”
Weiss had a similar perception.
“On Mother’s Day, I went [to prison], and he apologized again,” Weiss said, as she held up a photo of herself with Cottingham. “He’s not thinking like a regular individual. He’s a psychopath.”
Cottingham revealed to Chief Robert Anzilotti, who has interviewed the killer numerous times since 2004, that he picked up the hitchhiking teens on Aug. 9, 1974. He made the decision to kidnap them and take them to a Bergen County hotel, where he raped them over a three day period and then drowned them.
“Over the years, he would throw out little tidbits that made me think he was responsible for it,” Anzilotti told PIX11. “There’s a number of things that only the killer would know, and he pointed them out.”
Vronsky and Weiss have created a map that shows dozens of murders in New Jersey — some solved, some unsolved. In terms of how many women they’ve accounted for, Weiss’ estimate was staggering.
“I believe we’ve got up to 75 cold cases,” she said.
Weiss said Cottingham told her that his own father was a heavy drinker and his mother was very busy with his three little sisters, who came along after his birth.
“He didn’t have any supervision,” Weiss said. “No one really guided him to be a responsible individual.”
Cottingham had a computer job with a well-known insurance company when he was arrested in 1980. His brown hair turned gray in prison, and some people call him Santa Claus, because of his white hair and beard.
Weiss continued to visit the man who killed her mother — and dozens more — with an ultimatum
“I said ‘If I’m going to continue to come and visit you, I’m not going to be able to visit you unless we close cases.”