Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella announced the charging and conviction of Richard Cottingham, 74, for the murders of 17-year-old Mary Ann Pryor and 16-year-old Lorraine Kelly in August 1974.
According to officials, in the afternoon of August 9, 1974, Pryor and Kelly, both of North Bergen, left their homes and were last seen walking together on Broad Avenue in Ridgefield.
They had told several people they were attempting to get to a Paramus shopping mall. Witnesses told police at the time that the two were hitchhiking and got into a vehicle driven by an unknown white male.
According to the investigation, after failing to return home that night, the girls were reported missing to the North Bergen Police Department. Five days later, on August 14, the bodies of the two missing girls were located in a wooded area of Montvale.
At the time, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, North Bergen Police Department, and Montvale Police Department conducted an extensive investigation and exhausted all leads.
While Cottingham was arrested and charged in 1980 on the sexual assault and murder of multiple young women in Bergen County and New York City, detectives from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office were not able to prove that Cottingham had murdered Pryor and Kelly until April 14, when Cottingham provided a detailed, sworn and recorded statement to Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Detectives Robert Anzilotti.
Chief Anzilotti had interviewed Cottingham on many occasions over approximately 15 years while investigating this as well as other unsolved homicides dating from the 1960s and 1970s.
As a result of an investigation conducted by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Cold Case Unit, on Tuesday, April 27, Cottingham was charged by Accusation with two counts of Murder.
According to officials, he waived his right to prosecution by indictment and agreed to plead guilty to the charges as set forth in the Accusation. On April 27, Cottingham appeared in Bergen County Superior Court and admitted to kidnapping and raping Pryor and Kelly, and to their willful, deliberate, and premeditated murders between August 9 and August 14, 1974.
“This is a somber day as we revisit the horrific acts and terror this man brought upon Bergen County nearly 50 years ago," Prosecutor Musella said. "It is my fervent hope that this arrest and conviction bring some semblance of closure to the friends and family of Mary Ann and Lorraine and a measure of justice to members of our communities, who have long feared this unknown actor.”