Joel Rifkin

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Joel Rifkin
Rifkin in court
Born Joel David Rifkin
(1959-01-20) January 20, 1959 (age 57)
New York
Other names Joel the Ripper
Criminal penalty 203 years to life in prison
Victims 9–17+
Span of killings
Country US
State(s) New York
Date apprehended
June 28, 1993

Joel David Rifkin (born January 20, 1959) is an American serial killer. In 1994, he was sentenced to 203 years in prison for the murders of nine women, mostly drug-addicted prostitutes, between 1989 and 1993. He is believed to have killed up to 17 victims[1] between 1989 and 1993 in New York City and in Long Island, New York. Although Rifkin often hired prostitutes in Brooklyn and Manhattan, he lived in East Meadow, a suburban town on Long Island.

He is also suspected to be responsible for some of the Long Island Prostitute Murders whose remains were found in March and April 2011.[2] In an April 2011 prison interview with Newsday, Rifkin denied having anything to do with then-recently discovered remains.[2] Experts and victims' rights advocates, however, believe that Rifkin's recent statements have no value.[2]

Early life[edit]

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. At three weeks old, on February 14, 1959,[3] Benjamin Rifkin, who was of Russian Jewish descent, and his wife, Jeanne (Granelles), of Spanish descent, who converted to Judaism when she married, adopted him.[4] The Rifkin family did not have a synagogue affiliation; Joel considered himself to be an agnostic, having never had a bar mitzvah. 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. During his freshman year at college, he was arrested for shoplifting a bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce, a charge that he pleaded 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 in his home in East Meadow, Nassau County, Long Island, New York. He then dismembered her body, removing her teeth and fingertips, putting her head in a paint can and then leaving the paint can in the woods of a southern New Jersey golf course and her legs farther north in New Jersey and then dumping her remaining torso and arms into the East River around New York City.

Over the next four years, it is presumed he killed 16 more women.[1] Sometimes he would take his victims back to East Meadow, New York, to the house where he lived with his sister and elderly mother. Other times he killed them in his car.[citation needed] After his final arrest in 1993, Rifkin was implicated in the murder of a woman whose severed head was discovered on a Hopewell, New Jersey, golf course on March 5, 1989.[5] In 2013, investigators determined this victim, a prostitute named Heidi Balch, was the same woman that he described as his first victim.[6]

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, New York 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 his final victim:[7] prostitute and dancer Tiffany Bresciani, 22, the girlfriend of Dave Rubinstein (a.k.a. Dave Insurgent, a member of the 1980s punk rock band Reagan Youth),[8] Rifkin had picked Bresciani up in his Mazda pick-up truck on June 24, 1993, where she was working on Allen Street in Manhattan, New York City.[7][9][10]

During his trial, Rifkin was represented by Mineola, New York–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.[11]

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 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.[12]

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.[13]

Rifkin sued, arguing that his solitary imprisonment was unconstutional. 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.[13]

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 abnormalities could have possibly made him more likely to commit murder.

In popular culture[edit]

  • Rifkin was 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.[14]
  • In Seinfeld's season 5 episode "The Masseuse", first aired November 18, 1993, Elaine dates a man who coincidentally shares Joel Rifkin's name. She tries to convince him to change it to avoid the negative publicity arising from the murderer's trial; ironically, one of the alternative names is "O.J.". By surprise and coincidence, the episode predates the O.J. case approximately by a year, though.
  • Investigation Discovery's Most Infamous episode "My Mother's Basement" (season 1, episode 2) tells about Rifkin's early life, murder spree, capture, and subsequent trial.


  1. ^ a b Eftimiades, Maria (6 December 1993). "The Quiet Man". People Magazine. Retrieved 2009-06-04. 
  2. ^ a b c "Rifkin: 'I have nothing to do with' victims". Newsday. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  3. ^ "The Drifter, Joel Rifkin". Archived from the original on December 16, 2005. Retrieved March 8, 2007. 
  4. ^ From the Mouth of the Monster: The Joel Rifkin Story - Robert Mladinich - Google Books. Retrieved 2014-05-14. 
  5. ^ [1][dead link]
  6. ^ "Joel Rifkin's first victim ID'd from severed head, was Heidi Balch, cops say". Newsday. 27 March 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Newton, Michael. "Joel David Rifkin: New York's Most Prolific Serial Killer". TruTV, accessed August 21, 2011
  8. ^ "Reagan Youth - Pandora Internet Radio". Retrieved 2011-03-07. 
  9. ^ Kasindorf, Jeanie Russell. "The Bad Seed", New York Magazine, pp. 38–40, August 9, 1993
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ New York Times, Long Island Serial Killer Gets a Personality Profile, by Manny Fernandez and Al Baker, 22 April 2011
  12. ^ Shepherd, Chuck (1994-05-19). "News of the Weird". Chicago Reader. Chicago, Illinois. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  13. ^ a b "Joel Rifkin". 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-31. 
  14. ^ Mariotte, Jeff. Criminal Minds: Sociopaths, Serial Killers, and Other Deviants. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2010. Print.

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.