It’s one thing to forgive someone, but could you imagine becoming friends with the serial killer who murdered your mother?
That’s what happened between Jennifer Weiss and Richard Cottingham, who is also known as “The Torso Killer.” Weiss claims that becoming friends with her mother’s killer may help bring closure to the families of his other victims. She also says it has helped her learn more about her mother.
It all started back in 1979 when Jennifer Weiss’s mom, Deedeh Goodarzi, was found dead in a Times Square motel room alongside another unidentified woman.
Her mother was only 22 years old at the time, and the manner of her death was brutal. She was missing her head, which has never been found, and her body was set on fire.
And her killer? He seemed like a normal guy to most people, working as a computer operator and married with three children. However, Richard Cottingham led a double-existence unknown to his family.
Cottingham gained the moniker “The Torso Killer” because of the way he left his victims. He often left them dismembered, with missing heads and hands, as a way to hide their identity and escape criminal charges.
The killer was finally arrested for a string of deaths in 1984. A judge convicted him for killing Goodarzi, along with six others in New York and New Jersey. He claims that he’s killed up to 100 people.
Ever since Jennifer Weiss found out what happened to her mother in 2002, she felt inclined to meet Cottingham, even if only through cellphones.
“I always knew I was going to befriend him for information,” she said in an interview with Oxygen.com. “That’s something I knew even when I didn’t know if I was going to approach him. In order to do this, I had to build up actual forgiveness and love. What meant more was that this is a human being. I had to go there with love and respect and I had to respect this whole man because he was put on the planet to do all these tragic things.”
Weiss wrote Cottingham a letter before they met.
“I wrote to him and said, ‘You’re gonna be blown away by me and I’m gonna make you cry. Your friends are going to be jealous when they see me come and visit you. I’m so cool and I’m so kind. You should be honored to have someone like me as a friend.’”
And when she did finally meet him, she immediately dove into questions. She asked how he had known her mother, and if it was possible that he was her biological father.
Weiss learned that Cottingham had known her mother for a few years. He said it’s “possible, but not probable” that he is Weiss’ biological father.
Weiss doesn’t care if they’re related by blood or not. She says she “cares about him like family and treat[s] him like a daughter would.”
Weiss is hoping that someday she will be able to find her mother’s missing skull with Cottingham’s help.
“I’d love to sort through the mess he made. It’s like, come on, Dad, we gotta pick up these pieces because he’s so old. Sometimes when I talk to him, I’ll say, ‘Hey pops,’ to bring him back to, ‘Let’s do this for humanity,’ because he has no desire to do anything for humanity.”
While Weiss believes that Cottingham doesn’t have a genuine desire to bring closure to anyone, she thinks that he might be willing to help her because of their friendship.
Peter Vronsky, a serial killer expert and author, had this to say about the matter:
“Jennifer has given him some positive motive to make his confessions, assuring him that while she cannot guarantee how other victims’ families will respond, on her part, she extends her friendship and support in every confession he makes.”
He continued, “At this point, with Cottingham never getting out of prison, the most important thing is resolution and truth in those old unsolved code cases, not justice or punishment. Cottingham is never getting out but there are still victim family members who don’t know what happened to their loved ones,” he said.
“It may not offer closure—there is never ‘closure’ for families, but resolution at least.”
Weiss said that “[Cottingham] doesn’t want to do it, but he did promise he’d do it for me.”