Joel Rifkin, 61, is an American serial killer, active between 1989 and 1993. who is believed to have killed 17 women, although he was only convicted for 9 murders, of which he is currently serving a 203 years to life prison sentence. His fluke capture occurred when police pulled him over for an unrelated incident and discovered a gruesome scene in his truck.
Born on January 20th 1959, both his biological parents were young, unwed college students. Unable to care for the young baby, they placed him up for adoption and when he was only 3 weeks old he was adopted by a loving couple Bernard Rifkin, a structural engineer and Jeanne Rifkin, a homemaker. The family welcomed Rifkin’s adopted baby sister, Jan, into their upper class family 3 years later and together they moved to East Meadow, Long Island, New York, where they settled quickly and became well respected, established members of the community.
It is reported that Rifkin was an average child who enjoyed photography and crafts. He was nice and friendly but incredibly shy. He struggled to make friends and despite having an IQ of 128, he performed poorly academically. It was unknown to the family at the time but Rifkin had learning difficulties (Dyslexia) which not only affected his grades but also his ability to interact socially. In his very early years Rifkin developed a speech impediment which caused him to stutter, but he seemingly grew out of it and had no issues regarding his speech later on in life.
When he was 11 years old his parents told him he was adopted. It’s unclear how he reacted to this news but it doesn’t appear to have been a big deal to him.
As he grew older his posture became hunched, he wore prescription glasses and was extremely clumsy, slow and awkward, earning him the nickname Turtle. School bullies homed in on him and he became a regular target for their bullying, however he never retaliated and sadly appeared to accept things as they were.
Despite everything, Rifkin tried hard to fit in. He joined various sports teams but was often excluded by his teammates. He had his camera equipment stolen from the yearbook club and again was excluded by fellow club members. No one would accept him, no matter how hard he tried.
Eventually Rifkin gave up trying to fit in socially and rapidly withdraw into himself, preferring to be alone. It’s unsurprising really when the only time classmates wanted to interact with Rifkin was when they were playing cruel, mean and humiliating pranks on him.
As time went on resentment and anger began brewing within Rifkin. He became interested in true crime and was obsessed with the Alfred Hitchcock movie ‘Frenzy’. He became fixated on violent sexual crimes, fantasising about rape and murdering women via strangulation.
Whilst at college, Rifkin found himself to be just as much of an outcast as he had been in high school. His parent’s gifted him a car, and he began driving around picking up prostitutes where he was able to experience the somewhat tame part of his fantasies in real life. These woman boosted Rifkin’s self esteem and they became a habit that was so time consuming and costly that Rifkin ended up quitting college, spending what little time and money he had on them.
Dropping out of school and moving home caused a rift between Rifkin and his father and they began to argue about Rifkin throwing his life prospects away. Rifkin felt like he had failed his father, who had always been a successful man. However, it all became insignificant when in 1986 Rifkin’s father, who was already chronically ill with emphysema, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Unable to cope with the debilitating illness any longer, he committed suicide in 1987, after almost a year of pain and suffering.
Devastated by his fathers death, Rifkin began using the prostitutes as a distraction, spending more and more time with them. He soon realised that with his father gone he could do as he pleased and it wasn’t long before he began to re-enact his violent fantasies in real life.
Shortly after his father’s death, Rifkin was arrested and fined after trying to soliciting a prostitute, who unbeknownst to him was actually an undercover police officer.
Side Note: Rifkin later told police he’d developed a hatred towards prostitutes in particular after discovering he had contracted AIDS from one of them. As a result of this hatred, the majority of his victims were prostitutes and / or drug addicts. He also claimed during an interview that he killed prostitutes because not only were they easy targets but also
“ because they had no one. They had no lasting relationships. No family who cared. No one would ever come looking for them.”Joel Rifkin
Heidi “Susie” Balch, 25, was a prostitute who was invited back to Rifkin’s house whilst his mother and sister were away in March 1989. Believed to be Rifkin”s 1st victim, he killed her after becoming annoyed that she kept shooting up heroin (he was anti drugs) and sleeping a lot. The anger built up until he finally snapped. Rifkin grabbed an souvenir Howitzer artillery shell and repeatedly smashed Susie in the head with it. She attempted to fight him off, biting him on his left hand but he wasn’t deterred. Realising she was still alive he then strangled her and suffocated her until he was sure she was dead. Then he calmly took himself off to bed.
“I just lost control, I stopped when I got tired.”Joel Rifkin
When he awoke he was confronted with the aftermath of the night before. Realising he had to dispose of Susie’s body he decided the best course of action would be to take her into his basement and dismember her into smaller pieces, (6 to be exact) using an X-Acto knife and then distribute them throughout several locations. He even went so far as to remove all her teeth and fingerprints to prevent identification. His fantasies were coming true!
Susie’s head was discovered in a paint bucket on a Hopewell Township, N.J. golf course, near the 7th hole, in 1989. As Rifkin had predicted, identification was near on impossible and despite facial reconstruction images, it was to be another 24 years before she was formally identified via DNA in 2013. Test on her skull also determined that Susie had in fact had AIDS and it is likely to be her who had passed it onto Rifkin before he killed her.
Rifkin confessed to killing Susie (after his arrest) and told police where he had dumped the other body parts.
Julie Blackbird, 28. In a similar scenario to his 1st murder, Rifkin invited Julie Blackbird, a prostitute, to his home whilst his mother and sister were away. After spending the night together he went to the ATM to get the money to pay her only to find he had no funds available. Although he hadn’t initially been intending on killing Julie, he felt he had no other option now. Upon returning home he bludgeoned her with a table leg before strangling her to death.
Since dismembering and scattering Susie’s remains had worked so well for him before, he decided to do the same again with Julie, this time dismembering her in his basement before placing the body parts into buckets filled with concrete and dumping them into the Brooklyn Canal and the East River. Rifkin later confessed to killing Julie but her remains have never found.
Rifkin also admitted he had briefly considered raping Julie, post mortem, to be Ted Bundy-esque, but the very thought of it disgusted him.
At this point Rifkin knew he was going to kill again. He enjoyed doing so. What he didn’t enjoy was the unpleasantness of having to dismember his victims afterwards. With his confidence in getting away with murder growing, Rifkin decided to dump the bodies intact from there onward.
Barbara Jacobs, 31. On 13th July 1991, Barbara, a prostitute, had sex with Rifkin, falling asleep not long afterwards. Rifkin used the opportunity to bludgeon Barbara with the same table leg that he had used to kill Julie Blackbird. Although Barbara tried to defend herself and fought back, she was no match for Rifkin as he hammered blow upon blow onto her. He then strangled her. He put her lifeless body into a bag and cardboard box before dumping her into the Hudson river. Barbara was found only hours later, and despite having clearly being beaten (and strangled) to death, as well as how she was disposed of, authorities unbelievably ruled she had died of a drug overdose. It wasn’t until Rifkin’s confession that her real cause of death was established.
Mary Ellen DeLuca, 22, died on 1st September 1991. Mary was a prostitute who had been solicited by Rifkin, however she wasn’t interested in having sex with him, she just wanted the drug reward he had bought her. He claimed he asked her afterwards if she wanted to die, to which she apparently said she did. So he obliged, strangling her to death. She didn’t struggle or fight back. Her body wasn’t found until a month later and it took another 2 years before she was identified.
Yun Lee, 31, was a prostitute already associated with Rifkin as he had paid her for sex before. However, in September 1991, Rifkin had picked Yun up but was unable to perform sexually. In his frustration he lashed out and strangled her to death before dumping her body in a steamer trunk and into the East River. She was found later that month.
Victim Number 6 has sadly never been identified and her remains have never been found. Rifkin claimed she was a prostitute he had strangled after they’d had sex. He said her body was crammed into an oil drum and dumped into Netown Creek.
Lorraine Orvieto, 28. Rifkin confessed to strangling Lorraine, a prostitute, during sex. As per his new disposal techniques, he jammed her body into an oil drum and dumped it into Coney Island Creek. Lorraine’s skeletal remains weren’t discovered until 6 months later on 11th july 1992. Rifkin took her drivers licence as a trophy.
Mary Ann Holloman, 39 was found inside an oil drum a mere 2 days before Lorraine Orvieto was found, in the same location – Coney Island Creek. She had been picked up off the street at night, by Rifkin, who had then strangled her and dumped her body.
Victim Number 9 sadly remains anonymous, although she is now known as the ‘Jane Doe’ victim, Rifkin confessed to killing her, placing her body in an oil drum and dumping it into the Harlem River but he claimed he couldn’t remember when he killed her or even who she was.
Iris Sanchez, 25, a crack addict, was strangled to death by Rifkin on Mothers day, 1992 (US). He had gotten fed up with using the oil drum as a make shift coffin and simply dumped Iris’ body under a dirty mattress in an empty lot near JFK airport. Her remains were found after Rifkin had confessed to her murder and cops went to check out where he claimed to have left her lifeless body.
Anna Lopez, 33 was a cocaine addicted prostitute that Rifkin admitted to strangling after he had paid her for sex. He didn’t bother trying to conceal her body, instead opting to dump her in a wooded area off Interstate 84 in Brewster. Her remains were found May 25, 1992.
Violet O’Neill, 21, was another prostitute that Rifkin had invited back to his home when his mother was away, in 1992. Resorting back to his earlier MO, he strangled her before dismembering her (this time in the bathtub). He wrapped the body parts in plastic and / or or stuffed them into suitcases before disposing of them in several waterways throughout New York.
Mary Catherine Williams, 31, was prostituting herself to fund a drug habit, Cocaine to be precise. (Note: Her family deny this, stating she was not a prostitute as reported, but an aspiring actress) Rifkin had reportedly dated Mary in the past, and on this occasion, October 2nd, 1992, he had bought her some cocaine for a “fix”. She was dozing off in his mother’s car when he tried to strangle her but she, like Jenny Soto, put up a fight and as she thrashed about she kicked her legs out hard, breaking the gear stick off. He changed tactics and smothered her until she was dead. Her decomposed remains were found in December 1992 in New York. He took her costume jewellery and credit card as a trophy.
Jenny Soto, 23, was a who prostitute died November 16, 1992. During his confession, Rifkin claimed Jenny fought the hardest out of all of his victims. She didn’t want to die. He recalled her fighting hard and scratching at his face, causing her all her fingernails to break off. Unable to kill her as per his usual MO, due to her fighting back so vigorously and taking “too long” to die, Rifkin snapped her neck before dumping her over a cliff edge into the Harlem River. She was found floating in the river the following morning. An Autopsy found she had traces of cocaine in her system. Jenny’s underwear and drug syringe were discovered in Rifkin’s house after he was arrested.
Note: Jenny Soto’s sister confirmed she dabbled in prostitution and had a drug problem. However, Jenny’s mother denies her daughter was ever a prostitute, claiming..
“She wanted to be a model and a dancer. She used to dress up nice and put on those big earrings,”Margarita Gonzalez / LA Times
Rifkin was shocked by Jenny Soto’s fight for her life, and Mary Catherine Williams’ before her. All the others had been an “easy kill” in comparison and he hadn’t expected it. He waited just over 3 months / 15 weeks before taking his next victim.
Leah Evans, 28, was a mother of 2 young children. She was also a drug addicted prostitute who sold herself to raise money for her next hit. Sadly, this put her in the path of Joel Rifkin. On 27th February, 1993, he agreed to pay her $40 for sex but instead of paying her, he killed her. He took her ID card and driving licence before burying her in a shallow grave in a wooded area in Northampton. Her skeletal remains were discovered on Mothers Day the same year.
Rifkin had grown overly confident in his killing and disposing technique, However, this confidence eventually led to sloppiness, carelessness and mistakes when dumping his victim’s bodies.
Lauren Marquez, 30, was killed on 2nd April 1993. Rifkin and Lauren had just started having sex when he wrapped his hands around her neck and throttled her until she died. He buried her in Pine Barrens, Suffolk County, where her remains were found on June 29, 1993. She was identified a couple of months later.
Tiffany Bresciani, 22, became Rifkin’s final victim when he strangled her to death on 24th June 1993. He then proceeded to store her corpse in his mother’s garage, hidden in a wheelbarrow, for 3 days, during scorching hot temperatures, whilst he waited for an opportunity to dispose of her.
At this point I would like to mention… Rifkin stated that nobody would notice if a prostitute went missing, that no one cared about them or what happened to them. He was ignorant! They were / are loved and missed and I would like to take a moment to honour the victims and post some comments from a few of their loved ones…
“There’s nothing that can make up for the pain that he caused all these families.”Jenny soto’s sister, Margarita Gonzalez
“This is very painful for us, but we have to show that they have families, that we miss them, We have to show that he did not kill a dog.”Anna Lopez’s mother, Maria Alonzo
“They knew in their hearts something bad had happened to her.”State Police Det. Sgt. Stephen Urbanski, a comment made in regards to Heidi “Susie” Balch’s parents.
“I was waiting for her to come home,”Lorraine Orvieto’s mother, Florence Orvieto. She was saving Christmas presents to give to her daughter on her return.
Capture and Arrest:
Three days after killing Tiffany Bresciani, on 27th June, 1993, Rifkin decided that he had waited long enough and the time was right to dispose of her body. Infact, truth be told, he didn’t really have a choice about moving Tiffany elsewhere because her decomposing corpse was giving off a revolting smell of decay. Before storing her in the garage he had kept her in the trunk of his mother’s car, wrapped in tarpaulin. At one point his mother had even driven around with the body in the car, not knowing that there was a dead girl in the trunk.
In order to transport the body, Rifkin had to wipe Noxzema round his nose to alleviate the stench. With Tiffany in the bed of his truck, he headed towards Melville’s Republic Airport via the Southern State highway. It’s probable he planning on disposing of her the same way he had disposed of Iris Sanchez.
That’s when it all began to go wrong for Joel Rifkin…
State troopers, Deborah Spaargaren and Sean Ruane happened to be doing routine patrols of Long Island’s Southern State Parkway when they spotted Rifkin’s truck and the fact it was missing a rear licence plate. They followed Rifkin, attempting to pull him over but he continued to drive on, even the sirens and demands to pull over through the loud speaker didn’t deter him. Rifkin began to increase his speed so the State Troopers requested backup, however, before help arrived Rifkin lost control of his vehicle, crashing it into a pole which was ironically right in front of the court house where he was to later stand trial.
Rifkin was promptly arrested as the State Troopers investigated the undeniable stench hailing from the truck. They were shocked to discover the body of Tiffany Bresciani hidden under the tarpaulin.
When questioned about the body in his truck Rifkin told them…
“She was a prostitute. I picked her up on Allen Street in Manhattan. I had sex with her, then things went bad and I strangled her. Do you think I need a lawyer?”Joel Rifkin
Once in police custody, Rifkin began singing like a canary, confessing to interrogators that he had killed 17 woman. He gave them names, dates, details and locations, all the while showing no emotion or remorse. The interview was conducted without legal counsel for Rifkin who later claimed he had asked numerous times for an attorney but was refused. However, the police, and his confession statements, indicate that he was offered an attorney but refused.
Following the horrifying confession, a search of the Rifkin family home uncovered 228 ‘trophies’ Rifkin had taken from his victim’s along with blood and human matter on various tools and chainsaws. Blood was located in the wheelbarrow where Rifkin said he had stored Tiffany Bresciani, yet tests determined that the blood wasn’t hers. It was never determined whose blood it was.
Using Rifkin’s confession, the items found in his home, (driving licences, medication, photographs, jewellry, purses, wallets, identification etc) the missing persons database and known ‘Jane Does’, police were confidently able to confirm and identify 15 of Rifkin’s 17 victims.
Despite confessing to the murders in great detail, Rifkin pled not guilty. He was confident his lawyers would be able to get him off the murder charge via an insanity plea and refused a plea deal of serving 46 years to life in exchange for pleading guilty to the 17 murders. Bet he wishes he’d taken the deal now!
During his trial, Rifkin still showed no emotion or remorse and at one point he even had the audacity to fall asleep during the proceedings.
Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, in 1994 Rifkin was found guilty and sentenced to 203 years to life prison for 9 of the murders. He is currently housed in the Clinton, New York correctional facility. If he behaves himself he’ll be eligible for parole in 2197, aged 238 years old!
References: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Rifkin#:~:text=Joel%20David%20Rifkin%20(born%20January,on%20Long%20Island%2C%20New%20York. Biography.com https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/joel-rifkin Thoughtco.com https://www.thoughtco.com/profile-of-joel-rifkin-973144 Find a grave https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/29481632/heidi-balch / https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/124011110/julie-elizabeth-blackbird / https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/29495702/barbara-jacobs / https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/29477910/yun-lee ABC news https://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2013/03/how-police-identified-severed-head-after-24-year-mystery Daily News https://www.tribpub.com/gdpr/nydailynews.com/ Trentonian https://www.trentonian.com/news/severed-head-found-on-hopewell-golf-course-identified-years-later/article_f7640877-911a-5b2b-aeb1-8318d765e902.html Websleuths https://www.websleuths.com/forums/threads/ny-julie-blackbird-28-manhattan-1990s.394520/ Frank F Weber, Author http://frankweberauthor.com/blog/a-killer-without-a-conscience / Murderpedia https://murderpedia.org/male.R/r/rifkin-joel.htm / https://murderpedia.org/male.R/r/rifkin-joel-photos.htm Wattpad https://www.wattpad.com/4369219-the-death-of-charlotte%27s-daughter-a-grim-reminder Radford University http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu/Psyc%20405/serial%20killers/Rifkin,%20Joel%20-%202005.pdf Los Angeles Times https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1993-07-04-mn-9922-story.html Strange New York http://strangenewyork.blogspot.com/2007/01/joel-rifkin.html Biff Bam Pop https://biffbampop.com/2016/12/06/true-crime-corner-joel-rifkin/ Newsday https://projects.newsday.com/gdpr/ Pinterest https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/79376012158504062/ / https://www.pinterest.co.uk/katyazzie/joel-rifkin/ / https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/524810162806221943/ / https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/153263193542563773/ Investigation Discovery https://www.investigationdiscovery.com/ Newsday https://projects.newsday.com/gdpr/