June 15, 2020 | By Kylie Kidd
Updated February 6, 2023 | By Kylie Kidd
The original story was part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project. In December 2022 Mary Beth Heinz’s case was solved after 50 years. The family had stayed in touch with writer who graduated from UNF and went to work in Virginia as a reporter. The family asked Ms. Kidd to write a follow up story and she agreed.
Update: Case Solved
50 Years after losing her big sister to a homicide, Jeanne Heinz looked into the eyes of a serial killer as he plead guilty to strangling her sister.
The unthinkable happened to the Heinz family on Friday, May 5 1972 when Mary Beth Heinz was expected to be home for a dance but never made it. Mary Beth worked as a live-in nanny in Bellmore N.Y. and took the bus home to her family home in Mineola N.Y. on the weekends. The 21-year-old was unable to drive due to epilepsy and suffered from grand mal seizures. “I had to sleep in the same room as her to make sure she didn’t swallow her tongue in the middle of the night,” Jeanne recalled.
After Mary Beth didn’t come home Jeanne says her mother knew something was terribly wrong and called the police. Unfortunately, the Nassau County Police Department said there was nothing they could do because Mary Beth was an adult. After 5 days of Mary Beth being missing the silence was shattered when her body was found in a creek in Rockville Centre N.Y. Mary Beth was strangled and had abrasions on her neck and face.
Jeanne Heinz was just 12 years old when she lost her sister. Jeanne admits today that she is a victim of childhood trauma and losing her sister affected her life in ways she didn’t even realize. “No one said maybe we should get Jeanne some help,” she said.
A short time after finding Mary Beth’s body another woman’s body was found in the same area and according to newspaper clippings, police believed the two incidents could be related. As it turns out they were right but that news didn’t come until 50 years later. With no suspects found and no leads, Mary Beth’s case went cold, but Jeanne Heinz never stopped talking to police and spreading the word about her sister.
“I tried, I contacted the police, I did social media…There’s nothing no one’s calling me back,” said Jeanne. After years and years of working on her sister’s case, Jeanne Heinz accepted it and had no expectations. “Expectations will kill you in the end so I moved into acceptance,” said Jeanne. Jeanne says it wasn’t the detectives’ job anymore to call her every six weeks and tell her there was nothing new.
“My sister was gone, the case was cold and I had to still find a way to have a happy life…BANG the phone rings,” said Jeanne. On the phone was Detective Dan Finn with the Nassau County Homicide Squad and he invited Jeanne to their office for a meeting. “I knew time was fleeting, I knew as Mary Beth was getting older so was whoever killed her, and if there was going to be a chance it had to happen soon,” Jeanne Heinz said. Jeanne said after that phone call was the first time she was able to grieve her sister.
On 2/22/22 Jeanne and Mary Beth’s mother’s birthday, Jeanne sat down for her meeting with detectives. “I went in thinking I had five minutes, five minutes that’s all you are going to get Jeanne, bring it all with you. You’re ready to hear what they have to say,” she said. Jeanne brought everything including pictures of Mary Beth, comments on Mary Beth’s case on Facebook, notes of every conversation she had about Mary Beth, Rosary Beads blessed by the Pope as a gift to the detectives, and much more. Jeanne said she went in expecting nothing, no new updates.
During the meeting, detectives gave her small bits of information since they were still investigating. They were wrapping up the case on Diane Cusick who was a dance teacher found strangled in her car in 1968. The case was similar to Mary Beth’s and detectives had a match for DNA found on Cusick’s body. Mary Beth’s DNA was also retested but was not conclusive because her body was found in water.
The DNA found on Cusick was from none other than serial killer Richard Cottingham who according to a Netflix documentary may have murdered up to a hundred women. Cusick was found murdered before Mary Beth.
“When they have someone, you have to share what you know to put a timeline together,” said Jeanne. Jeanne shared with detectives that a cousin had said Mary Beth had spent New Year’s Eve in New Jersey, a place where Cottingham had also had connections. With the tip from her cousin detectives connected the dots.
On Monday, December 5, 2022, 50 years and 7 months to the day that Mary Beth went missing, Jeanne Heinz and the families of three other victims sat in a courtroom in Nassau County. A fifth woman was also identified as being a victim of Cottingham but detectives were unable to locate her family.
Jeanne says the courtroom was small and she was about ten feet away from Richard Cottingham who was on a video monitor due to his declining health condition. NCPD had a DNA sample from the 1968 case of Diane Cusick that was a 100% match to the convicted serial killer Cottingham. The police used this information to charge and convict Cottingham of Diane Cusick’s murder, and acquire additional statements from him about other women he killed.
“Let’s remember who we are dealing with here, this is Richard Cottingham, he did not speak for close to 40 years, he did not make any statements at all,” recounted Jeanne. The moment Jeanne’s life changed was when the Nassau County District Attorney, Anne Donnelly asked “Did you on May 10th strangle and kill Mary Beth Heinz?”
“Yes,” said Cottingham.
Donnelly asked, “Did you throw her off the bridge?”
“Yes,” said Cottingham.
“To have this information gave me a life, I’ve been trapped in a way,” said Jeanne Heinz. Jeanne says after admitting to murdering all five women; Mary Beth Heinz, Laverne Moye, Maria Emerita Rosado Nievesand Diane Cusick, Cottingham was given a chance to say something to the families and he said nothing. “He has no soul,” said Jeanne. When asked what Jeanne would say to the man that took her sister from her, she said: “Thank you for making those statements to police.”
“I felt like I could smile freely,” said Jeanne. Jeanne says she got lucky in her sister’s case being solved because she was told that it could potentially never be. According to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about half of all murders in the United States go unsolved.
Jeanne Heinz has since become an advocate for families who are struggling with an unsolved homicide. “For anyone who has lost someone, and it remains an unsolved homicide, you have rights as a family member,” she says. Jeanne urges families to take these steps:
- Talk to the police and tell them to look again, remind detectives that you are waiting for answers
- Talking about what you have gone through is important. She says there are support groups out there for people who have lost a loved one to homicide.
- Talk to an organization like Project: Cold Case to bring more publicity to the case.
- Mental health is important and so is counseling
“I’ll never have all of the answers to my questions, but I know he did it, I know it wasn’t her fault, those are to great pieces of information,” Jeanne said “I really don’t need more than that.”
“Your sisters don’t die. Only old people die.”
Jeanne Heinz remembers thinking just that when she was 12 years old. She looked up to her sister, after all. It was incredibly difficult to comprehend for a child that her sister was just gone.
The body of Mary Beth Heinz was discovered on May 10, 1972, near a creek in Rockville Centre, New York. She had been strangled and had abrasions on her neck and face. The Heinz family couldn’t believe it.
Mary Beth Heinz grew up in Mineola, New York on Long Island. She adored the King of Rock and decorated her room with Elvis Presley posters.
Attending school, partaking in the local Girl Scout troop, and doing arts are crafts were just some of Mary Beth’s favorite activities. “There was a show on TV she enjoyed that showed you how to draw,” Tommy Heinz said of his sister. “Our mother always made sure she had plenty of art supplies.”
The Heinz family would spend each summer in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania, assisting their grandmother run a motel. Mary Beth and her six siblings could always be found enjoying their time in the swimming pool or collecting frogs and turtles that would frequent the pool. “On Saturday mornings. Mary Beth and [her sister] Peggy would clean the sheets and rooms of guests,” Tommy said.
Mary Beth loved to play dress up when she was young. She never outgrew that. “In every picture, her hair is done,” Jeanne recalled. “She could really do an updo.”
Mary Beth was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was young. She suffered from grand mal seizures, which cause a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. “I had to make sure she didn’t swallow her tongue in the middle of the night,” Jeanne recalled.
Seizures occurred daily. Because of that, Mary Beth needed to have someone around her to know exactly how to assist her. She couldn’t drive herself around town due to her condition.
Even school became difficult for Mary Beth. “She had one in her classroom and kids took it as a joke. She was bullied for that,” Tommy said.
In 1972, Mary Beth was working as a live-in nanny. She would live with the family during the week and spend the weekend at her family’s home. “She really cared about people,” Tommy said.
Because she couldn’t drive, she would take the bus each weekend. This weekend, Mary Beth was excited to attend a local epilepsy dance.
Mary Beth never made it home.
When her date and his mother knocked on the door, “my mother was mortified!” Jeanne recalled. The Heinz family invited them into the house to wait for Mary Beth to arrive. After a few hours, they left.
By morning, Mrs. Heinz was starting to panic.
She contacted the Nassau County Police Department but was told that there wasn’t much they could do. Mary Beth was 21 years old and an adult, after all. “They say every parent knows their child and my mother knew something was very wrong,” Jeanne said.
Five days later, her body was discovered.
Mr. Heinz was a New York City police officer and went to the scene a day later. Mary Beth’s older brothers followed suit. There, one of her brothers discovered another woman’s purse at the scene. “My father questioned how police could’ve missed that,” Jeanne said.
A short time later, another woman was discovered dead in the same area. Newspaper clippings from the time indicate that police believed the two murders possibly were related.
Mary Beth’s death hit the family hard. The grief prevented them from talking about it much. “It hit our father the hardest,” Tommy recalled.
“Cases on TV get solved in an hour and we are still waiting for Mary Beth’s case to get solved,” Jeanne said.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Mary Beth Heinz, please contact the Nassau County Police Department at (516) 571-2120.
Research & Impact
Many of the cases we receive have unfortunately been lost in the digital age. If you search many of the victim’s names on Google, few resources appear. Some cases have zero search results.
We have recently coined the term “Internet Silence,” in which historic accounts of currently unsolved homicides are difficult – if even possible – to access on the internet. Newspaper archives such as Newspapers.com have been vital in our attempts to record and re-tell these stories, but that collection isn’t complete by any means.
Based in Jacksonville, Florida, our local Florida Times-Union newspaper is not available on Newspapers.com, making it even more difficult to discover information on northeast Florida cases. In those situations, we often utilize the Jacksonville Public Library’s microfiche collection of Times-Union papers in the Downtown Jacksonville location.
We publish Spotlight articles every week in an attempt to help close the gap of lost stories. These are sometimes the beginning of a digital-age telling of a family’s lost loved one.
It’s one of many services we are proud to provide at Project: Cold Case.
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