Joel Rifkin

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Joel Rifkin
Rifkin in court
Joel David Rifkin

(1959-01-20) January 20, 1959 (age 62)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Other namesJoel the Ripper
Criminal penalty203 years to life in prison
Span of crimes
State(s)New York
Date apprehended
June 28, 1993

Joel David Rifkin (born January 20, 1959) is an American serial killer who was sentenced to 203 years in prison for the murders of nine women between 1989 and 1993. He is believed to have killed up to 17 victims[1] between 1989 and 1993 in New York City and on Long Island, New York. Although Rifkin often picked up sex workers in Brooklyn and Manhattan, he lived in East Meadow, a suburban hamlet on Long Island.

Early life[edit]

Joel Rifkin's birth parents were both young college students, his biological father an army veteran. On February 14, 1959, when he was three weeks old, Rifkin was adopted by an upper-middle class Long Island couple.[2] His adoptive father Bernard Rifkin was of Russian Jewish descent and his adoptive mother, Jeanne (Granelles) of Spanish descent converted to Judaism when she married.[3]

Rifkin performed poorly in school due to learning disabilities and was unpopular with classmates due to his poor social skills.[4] He graduated from East Meadow High School in 1977, then attended classes at Nassau Community College; the State University of New York at Brockport; and the State University of New York at Farmingdale ; he left before earning a degree. After leaving college, Rifkin became self-employed as a landscaper.[5]

On February 20, 1987, his father Bernard died by suicide, overdosing after suffering from prostate cancer for several months.[6]

On August 22, 1987, Rifkin was arrested during a sex worker sting in Hempstead, New York after offering an undercover female police officer money for sex.[7]


Rifkin committed his first murder in 1989, killing Heidi Balch in his home in East Meadow. He then dismembered her body, removing her teeth and fingertips, putting her head in a paint can which he left in the woods on a golf course in Hopewell, New Jersey, disposing of her legs farther north, and then dumping her remaining torso and arms into the East River around New York City. On March 5, 1989, Balch's severed head was discovered on the seventh hole of the golf course.[8] On April 8, 1989, Balch's legs were found in Pequonnock Creek near Jefferson Township, New Jersey.[9] A blood test just a few weeks later revealed the presence of HIV. Balch's remains were not identified until 2013.[10]

Over the next four years, it is presumed Rifkin killed 16 more women.[1] After his arrest in 1993, he was implicated in Balch's murder.[11] In 2013, investigators determined that Balch and the woman he described as his first victim were the same person.[12]

On June 24, 1993, Rifkin picked up Tiffany Bresciani, a sex worker who was working on Allen Street in Manhattan. Tiffany was with her boyfriend, punk rock musician Dave Rubinstein at the time and told Rubinstein that she would return in 20 minutes. After she failed to return, Rubinstein called the police with a description of the 1984 Mazda pickup truck driven by Rifkin.[13][5][14]

Arrest and trial[edit]

On June 28, 1993, two troopers with the New York State Police were patrolling Long Island's Southern State Parkway when they noticed the pickup truck. A low speed (topped out at 35 MPH) chase ensued, which turned into a high speed chase (up to 90 MPH) that ended when Rifkin crashed into a utility pole in Mineola, New York, directly in front of the courthouse where he later stood trial. Troopers arrested Rifkin and after detecting a foul odor stemming from the back of the truck, found Bresciani's decaying body under a tarp.[13][15][16]

During his trial, Rifkin was represented by attorney John Lawrence. He was found guilty of nine counts of second-degree murder in 1994, and sentenced to 203 years up to life in prison.[17]

Prison life[edit]

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 the former was using a prison phone. The Daily News reported the fight escalated after Ferguson told Rifkin "I killed six devils and you only killed women," to which Rifkin responded "Yeah, but I had more victims." Ferguson then punched Rifkin.[18]

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 per day. He spent more than four years in solitary confinement, then was transferred to the Clinton Correctional Facility in Clinton County, New York. Rifkin sued, arguing that his solitary imprisonment was unconstitutional. In 2000, a state appellate court determined that prison officials had not violated his constitutional rights by housing him in isolation. His lawsuit sought $50,000 for each of his 1,540 days in solitary confinement (totaling $77 million). Corrections officials say that Rifkin is imprisoned with more than 200 other inmates at Clinton who are not allowed into the general prison population.[19]

Known Victims[edit]

Victims Notes
Heidi "Susie" Balch, 25 Remains found in 1989. Identified in March 2013.[20]
Julie Blackbird Remains never found
Barbara Jacobs, 31 Remains found on July 14, 1991 in the Hudson River.[21]
Mary Ellen DeLuca, 22 Remains found on October 1, 1991 in Cornwall, New York.[22][23] Identified on July 4, 1993.[23]
Yun Lee, 31 Remains found on September 23, 1991 in the East River off Randalls Island.[22]
"Number 6" Never identified, remains never recovered
Lorraine Orvieto, 28 Remains found on July 11, 1992 in Coney Island Creek.[24] Identified on July 4, 1993.[23]
Mary Ann Holloman, 39 Remains found on July 9, 1992 in Coney Island Creek.[25]
"Number 9" Identity remains anonymous
Iris Sanchez, 25 Remains found on June 29, 1993 near John F. Kennedy International Airport.[22][26]
Anna Lopez, 33 Remains found on May 25, 1992 in Patterson, New York.[22]
Violet O'Neill, 21 Remains found in July 1992 in the Harlem River at 123rd Street, the East River at 23rd Street, and near Governors Island. Identified in September 1993.[27]
Mary Catherine Williams, 31 Remains found on December 21, 1992 in Yorktown, New York.[25][28] Identified on July 6, 1993.[29]
Jenny Soto, 23 Remains found on November 17, 1992 on the shores of Harlem River in the South Bronx.[30]
Leah Evans, 28 Remains found on May 9, 1993 in Northampton, Suffolk County, New York.[22]
Lauren Marquez, 30 Remains found on June 29, 1993 in the Long Island Central Pine Barrens in Suffolk County, New York.[31] Identified on August 20, 1993.
Tiffany Bresciani, 22 Body found on June 28, 1993 in bed of Rifkin's pickup truck

In popular culture[edit]

  • The 2018 independent film Joel was based on Rifkin's life and crimes.[32]
  • In the Seinfeld episode "The Masseuse," Elaine's boyfriend is named Joel Rifkin and references to the serial killer are made throughout the episode. At a New York Giants game they are attending, the crowd's reaction to her boyfriend's name when it is announced over the loudspeaker prompts her boyfriend to agree to Elaine's suggestion to change his name.
  • The Howard Stern Show producer Gary Dell'Abate briefly worked with Rifkin at a Record World location in New York.[33]
  • Mentioned in list of serial killers in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode “Tortured”.
  • The song "Nasty by Nature" by the group The New York Ska Jazz-Ensemble was written about Joel Rifkin. The band's founder, Fred Reiter (aka Rocksteady Freddie) grew up next door to Joel Rifkin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Eftimiades, Maria (1993-12-06). "The Quiet Man". People. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  2. ^ "The Drifter, Joel Rifkin". Archived from the original on 2005-12-16. Retrieved 2007-03-08.
  3. ^ Mladinich, Robert (2002). From the Mouth of the Monster: The Joel Rifkin Story. New York City: Simon & Schuster. p. 2. ISBN 9780743424448. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  4. ^ Schechter, Harold (2003). The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World's Most Terrifying Murderers. Ballantine Books. p. 163. ISBN 0-345-46566-0.
  5. ^ a b Russell Kasindorf, Jeanie (1993-08-09). "The Bad Seed". New York Magazine. Vol. 26 no. 31. pp. 42–3.
  6. ^ Eftimiades, Maria (February 11, 2014). Garden of Graves: The Shocking True Story of Long Island Serial Killer Joel Rifkin. St. Martin's Publishing Group. p. 281. ISBN 9781466863125. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  7. ^ "N.Y. police are led to two bodies 10 other cases may be involved". Baltimore Sun. June 30, 1993. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  8. ^ Zdan, Alex (March 26, 2013). "Woman whose severed head was found on Hopewell golf course in 1989 is identified". Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  9. ^ "Severed head found in New Jersey in '89 ID'd, linked to serial killer". Fox News. March 27, 2013. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  10. ^ "Heidi Balch Identified: Severed Head Found On Golf Course Was Serial Killer Joel Rifkin's First Victim". Huffington Post. 2013-03-27. Retrieved 2018-05-30.
  11. ^ "Accused Serial Killer on L.I. Called a Suspect in 1989 Slaying of a Woman". New York Times. March 24, 1994. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  12. ^ "Joel Rifkin's first victim ID'd from severed head, was Heidi Balch, cops say". Newsday. 2013-03-27. Retrieved 2013-04-30.
  13. ^ a b Smith, Andrew (2018-06-27). "25 years after Joel Rifkin's arrest, key players look back at the case". Newsday. Retrieved 2018-10-22.
  14. ^ Simmonds, Jeremy. "Dave Insurgent". The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches, p. 301, Chicago Review Press, 2008, accessed 2011-08-21 ISBN 1-55652-754-3
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ Kasindorf, Jeanie Russell. "The Bad Seed", New York Magazine, pp. 38–40, August 9, 1993
  17. ^ Baker, Al; Fernandez, Manny (April 22, 2011). "Bright, Careful and Sadistic: Profiling Long Island's Mystery Serial Killer". New York Times. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  18. ^ Shepherd, Chuck (1994-05-19). "News of the Weird". Chicago Reader. Chicago, Illinois. Retrieved 2009-11-07.
  19. ^ "Joel Rifkin". 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  20. ^ Newcomb, Alyssa (March 27, 2013). "How Police Identified Severed Head After 24-Year Mystery". ABC News. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
  21. ^ "In Serial-Killer Inquiry, Doubts Arise on Prostitute Link". New York Times. July 3, 1993. Archived from the original on April 30, 2011. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  22. ^ a b c d e Marks, Peter (July 1, 1993). "Three States Investigating Tale of Killing". New York Times. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  23. ^ a b c Rabinovitz, Jonathan (July 4, 1993). "3 More Victims of Serial Killer Are Identified". New York Times. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  24. ^ "Thousands of Missing-Persons Cases". New York Times. July 25, 1993. Archived from the original on January 8, 2010. Retrieved October 31, 2019.
  25. ^ a b "State Police Link Possible 18th Victim to Suspect in Slayings". New York Times. July 8, 1993. Archived from the original on May 26, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  26. ^ McQuiston, John (November 14, 1993). "Reporter's Notebook; The Sad, Angry Vigils at Rifkin's Court Hearings". New York Times. Archived from the original on May 26, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  27. ^ Marks, Peter (September 3, 1993). "Police Identify 13th Body As Victim of L.I. Killer". New York Times. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
  28. ^ "18TH VICTIM TIED TO SUSPECT IN SERIAL KILLINGS, POLICE SAY". sun-sentinel. Sun Sentinel. July 7, 1993. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
  29. ^ Faison, Seth (July 7, 1993). "14th Body Is Linked to Suspect in Serial Killings, Police Say". New York Times. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
  30. ^ McLarin, Kimberly J. (July 3, 1993). "One Name on a Roll Call of Death". New York Times. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
  31. ^ "Rifkin Pleads Not Guilty In Deaths of Two Women". New York Times. October 1, 1993. Archived from the original on May 26, 2015. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
  32. ^ "Joel" – via
  33. ^ June 11, 1999 - The Howard Stern Show - Lo Fidelity Allstars segment - approx. 6:55 am

External links[edit]

  • Adoption:Uncharted Waters by David Kirschner, PhD includes three chapters detailing his psychological interviews with Rifkin prior to and during the trial.