||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (May 2010)|
Rifkin in court
January 20, 1959 |
|Other names||"Joel the Ripper"|
|Criminal penalty||203 years to life in prison|
|Number of victims||9-17+|
|Span of killings||1989–1993|
|Date apprehended||June 28, 1993|
Joel David Rifkin (born January 20, 1959) is an American serial killer convicted of the murders of nine women (although it is believed he killed as many as 17), mostly drug addicted prostitutes, between 1989 and 1993 in New York City. Also, he is suspected by some to be responsible for some of the Long Island Prostitute Murders whose remains were found in March and April 2011, as four of his victims' bodies were never found. In an April 2011 prison interview with Newsday, Rifkin denied having anything to do with recently discovered remains. Experts and victims' rights advocates, however, believe that Rifkin's recent statements have no value. Although Rifkin often hired prostitutes in Brooklyn and Manhattan, he lived in East Meadow, a suburban town on Long Island.
Rifkin's birth mother was a 20-year-old college student, and his birth father was a 24-year old college student and army veteran. He was adopted by Benjamin Rifkin, who was of Russian Jewish descent, and his wife, Jeanne (Granelles), of Spanish descent, who converted to Judaism when she married. The Rifkin family did not have a synagogue affiliation; Joel considered himself to be an agnostic, having never had a bar mitzvah. The Rifkins adopted Joel on February 14, 1959, when he was three weeks old. The couple adopted another child, a daughter, three years later.
As a young boy, he was a member of the Cub Scouts. In 1965, the family settled in East Meadow, New York, where Rifkin would spend most of his remaining years. A shy, awkward child, he was a target for bullies. He attended religious classes at the Sholem Aleichem Folk School. While at the school, he learned a little bit of the Yiddish language. He had an I.Q. assessed at 128, but struggled academically in school due to severe dyslexia. At East Meadow, he joined the track team as a long distance competitor.
After graduating from East Meadow High School, Rifkin, who was particularly interested in horticulture and photojournalism, made several attempts at community college and attended the State University of New York at Brockport, where he majored in political science. While enrolled in college, he worked for a time as a photographer on the school's newspaper, The Stylus. He also attended classes at Nassau Community College, where he only completed one course. During his freshman year at college, he was arrested for shoplifting a bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce, a charge that he pled down to disorderly conduct and for which he paid a $15 fine. While he was in college, he wrote a quasi-autobiographical book, The Frosh, which depicted the feelings and adventures of a college freshman that parallelled his own.
He worked as a merchant at several flea markets, a clerk in the records department in Times Square Stores, a camera repairman at Olympus Corporation, a clerk at a flower shop, and as an order-picker and tape manager at Record World headquarters in New York City. One of his landscaping clients in Roslyn Harbor was Sophia Casey, the widow of William Casey, the former Chief of the CIA under President Ronald Reagan. Rifkin started to show a profound interest in horticulture and, with the help of Owen Smith, the president of the Arboretum and the son-in-law of former CIA chief William Casey, started an internship at the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay. At the park, Joel was assigned as a groundsman to tend the miniature pines in the Dwarf Conifer garden. At the time of his arrest, he was working as a horticulturist as a temp for Dunhill Temporary Services and had also been a self-employed landscaper for four years, considering himself to be a horticulturist.
Rifkin committed his first murder in 1989, killing a woman and then dismembering her body and tossing it into the East River. Over the next four years, it is presumed he killed 16 more women. Sometimes he would take his victims back to East Meadow, to the house where he lived with his sister and elderly mother. Other times he killed them in his car. Rifkin has also been implicated in the murder of a woman whose severed head was discovered on a Hopewell, New Jersey, golf course on March 5, 1989. In 2013, investigators determined this victim, a prostitute named Heidi Balch, was the same woman that he described as his first victim.
Police finally caught up to Rifkin on June 28, 1993, when state troopers spotted him driving his pickup truck without license plates on the Southern State Parkway. A high-speed chase ended in Mineola when he crashed into a utility pole directly in front of the courthouse where he eventually stood trial. Troopers detected a foul odor from the back of the truck. It came from the corpse of prostitute and dancer Tiffany Bresciani, 22, the girlfriend of Dave Rubinstein (a.k.a. Dave Insurgent, a member of the 1980s punk band Reagan Youth), Rifkin's final victim. Rifkin had picked Bresciani up in his Mazda pick-up truck on June 24, 1993, where she was working on Allen Street.
During his trial, Rifkin was represented by Mineola-based attorney John Lawrence. Rifkin was found guilty of nine counts of second degree murder in 1994 and sentenced to 203 years to life in prison. His first possible parole date is February 26, 2197.
In early 1994, it was reported that Rifkin had engaged in a jailhouse scuffle with mass murderer Colin Ferguson. The brawl began when Ferguson asked Rifkin to be quiet while Ferguson was using the telephone. The New York Daily News reported the fight escalated after Ferguson told Rifkin, "I wiped out six devils and you only killed women," to which Rifkin responded, "Yeah, but I had more victims." Ferguson then punched Rifkin in the mouth.
Prison officials decided in 1996 that Rifkin was so notorious that his presence in the general prison population could be disruptive. He was confined to his cell at the Attica Correctional Facility for 23 hours a day. He spent more than four years in solitary confinement before being transferred to the Clinton Correctional Facility in Clinton County. In 2000, a state appellate court determined that prison officials had not violated Rifkin's constitutional rights by housing him in isolation. Rifkin's lawsuit sought $50,000 for each of his 1,540 days in solitary confinement (totaling $77 million). Had he received any money, it would have been subject to state laws that earmark most of the award for the families of his victims. Corrections officials say that Rifkin is now imprisoned with more than 200 other inmates at Clinton who are not allowed into the general prison population.
In 2010, Rifkin was interviewed by ABC's Martin Bashir as part of the Nightline mini-series, Secrets of Your Mind. During the course of the episode, Rifkin underwent a brain scan to see if abnormal brain chemistry could have possibly made him more likely to commit murder.
In popular culture
Rifkin's name was a key plot point in the Seinfeld television episode entitled The Masseuse, in which Elaine Benes is dating a man named Joel Rifkin and she hopes that he will change his name because she's embarrassed to be dating a man who shares his name with a serial killer. (Ironically, one name she prefers is "O.J.," which occurs to her as she is viewing a magazine piece on football players; seven months after the episode aired, famed football player and actor O.J. Simpson was charged with murder in the deaths of his ex-wife and her boyfriend.) Rifkin was also mentioned in the Criminal Minds episode "Charm and Harm" (120) as an example of a criminal who used the ruse of being an amateur photographer. In James Patterson's book Tick Tock, two murders are committed that are similar to Rifkin's first two murders.
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- "Rifkin: 'I have nothing to do with' victims". Newsday. Retrieved 2011-05-15.
- "The Drifter, Joel Rifkin". Retrieved March 8, 2007.[dead link]
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- "Joel Rifkin's first victim ID'd from severed head, was Heidi Balch, cops say". Newsday. 27 March 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2013.
- "Reagan Youth - Pandora Internet Radio". Pandora.com. Retrieved 2011-03-07.
- Newton, Michael. "Joel David Rifkin: New York's Most Prolific Serial Killer". TruTV, accessed August 21, 2011
- Kasindorf, Jeanie Russell. "The Bad Seed", New York Magazine, pp. 38–40, August 9, 1993
- Simmonds, Jeremy. "Dave Insurgent". The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches, p. 301, Chicago Review Press, 2008, accessed August 21, 2011 ISBN 1-55652-754-3
- New York Times, Long Island Serial Killer Gets a Personality Profile, by Manny Fernandez and Al Baker, 22 April 2011
- Shepherd, Chuck (1994-05-19). "News of the Weird". Chicago Reader (Chicago, Illinois). Retrieved 2009-11-07.
- "Joel Rifkin". Biography.com. 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
- Mariotte, Jeff. Criminal Minds: Sociopaths, Serial Killers, and Other Deviants. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010. Print.
- Adoption:Uncharted Waters by David Kirschner, PhD includes three chapters detailing his psychological interviews with Rifkin prior to and during the trial.