How a retired detective snared his seventh ‘Torso Killer’ confession
By Michael Starr, New York Post
Robert Anzilotti retired as Chief of Detectives for the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office in 2021.
But, as exclusively revealed in the upcoming A&E documentary “The Torso Killer Confessions,” Anzilotti has now closed his seventh cold-case linked to serial killer Richard Cottingham: the murder of Mary Ann Della Sala, who was 17 when she vanished in January 1967 after working her shift at the Shop-Rite on Essex Street in Hackensack.
Her body was found three months later in the Passaic River in Hawthorne; the case remained unsolved until March 2022, when Anzilotti elicited a confession from Cottingham, kept secret until now.
Cottinghman, 76, is serving six life sentences after terrorizing Bergen County and the surrounding area with a string of brutal, unsolved murders from at least 1967 until his arrest in 1980.
“I was determined … to use my retirement as a tool to get [Cottingham] to talk about more of those [cold] cases,” Anzilotti, 53, told The Post. “He had teased me over the years that he was responsible for other murders but never wanted to admit to it.
“Unfortunately many of [Mary Ann’s] family have passed, but her brother and sister are still here and I’ve spoken to her sister a number of times and made sure her brother knows as well. They’ve been more inclined to stay out of the spotlight … but have been extraordinarily supportive of my efforts. Mary Ann’s sister cried … about not having her big sister around all these years.”
In 2004, Anzilotti was tasked with re-opening a slew of cold-case murders of women, most of them living in Bergen County, dating back to the mid-1960s. Eventually the trail led him to Cottingham, dubbed “The Torso Killer” after dismembering the bodies of two female victims in a midtown Manhattan hotel room.
As documented in A&E’s “The Torso Killer Confessions,” airing March 9 and 10 (9-11 p.m. each night), Anzilotti spent hundreds of hours with Cottingham from 2004 through the present day, first gaining his trust and, in 2010, after six years of a cat-and-mouse game, getting Cottingham to confess to murdering Nancy Vogel, a young mother whose naked body was found in the back seat of her car in Ridgefield Park in the fall of 1967.
“He was a very tough nut to crack and remains so today,” Anzilotti said. “He only tells you what he wants to tell you and there are plenty of times where he can be misleading. He likes to play games — and gaining his trust was most definitely the biggest priority over the years.”
“The Torso Killer Confessions” also features never-before-heard audio tapes of conversations between Anzilotti and Cottingham, along with exclusive footage that shows how their relationship factored into multiple confessions.
“It’s extraordinarily frustrating,” Anzilotti said of the process. “I’ve had so many conversations with people outside of my field who say, ‘What’s he got to lose [by confessing]?’ He’s now serving more than six life sentences and I explain to everybody that the only control Richard has in his life is what comes out of his mouth … he’s a definite control freak and it’s very difficult to get him to make these admissions and he’s trying to get as much from me as possible because it’s a game to him.
“It took me six long years to get that first [Nancy Vogel confession] out of him,” Anzilotti said. “He always said that was one of his first, but not THE first, of his murders. Mary Ann Della Sala disappeared on Jan. 24, 1967, 10 months prior to Vogel, so that’s the earliest known killing linked to Cottingham.
“His first [killing]? I have no idea.”
Anzilotti urged Vogel’s family — and succcessive families of Cottingham’s murder victims — not to talk publicly about his confessions.
“In each of the cases we closed, the families needed some convincing … we said, ‘Hey, there’s a bigger picture here’ and I think they had the common bond with any other victim’s families out there to know the pain they’ve had all these years,” Anzilotti said. “Once I explained to them the greater good — for us to continue to see what other cases he’s responsible for to bring closure to some other families who’ve endured the same kind of tragedy … the families got on board one by one.”
Cottingham has confessed to multiple murders and is suspected in many others (he’s claimed to have killed over 100 women). Anzilotti is retired, but said he “would drop everything” if law-enforcement authorities want his help to continue his relationship with Cottingham and, perhaps, solve more cold cases.
“These victims all need to have someone that tries to be their voice. They can never be forgotten,” he said. “Mary Ann Della Sala was a 17-year-old who had her whole life ahead of her when this animal snatched her off the street and killed her.
“It’s sad that it took this long for us to figure it out, but it also highlights the fact that we don’t give up on these cases,” he said. “I think there’s always hope that every case will be solved.”