Joel Rifkin

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Joel Rifkin
Rifkin in court
Joel David Rifkin

(1959-01-20) January 20, 1959 (age 60)
Other namesJoel the Ripper
Criminal penalty203 years to life in prison
Victims17+ (9 convictions)
Span of crimes
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 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 he often hired sex workers in Brooklyn and Manhattan, he lived in East Meadow, a suburban hamlet on Long Island.

Early life[edit]

Rifkin's birth mother was a 20-year-old college student, and his biological father was a 24-year-old college student and army veteran. At three weeks old he was adopted by an upper-middle class Long Island couple, on February 14, 1959.[2] His adoptive father, Benjamin 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 Nassau Community College, State University of New York, Brockport and State University of New York, Farmingdale, but left before earning a degree. After leaving college, he became self-employed as a landscaper.[5]


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 and then leaving the paint can in the woods of a golf course in Hopewell, New Jersey. Her legs further north, then dumping her remaining torso and arms into the East River around New York City. Balch's remains weren't identified until 2013.[6]

Over the next four years, it is presumed he killed 16 more women.[1] After his final arrest in 1993, he was implicated in Balch's murder.[7] In 2013, investigators determined this victim, a sex worker named Heidi Balch, was the same woman he described as his first victim.[8]

Police finally caught up to Rifkin on June 28, 1993, when New York State Police spotted him driving his Mazda pickup truck without a rear license plate 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:[9] sex worker 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),[10] Rifkin had picked Bresciani up in his pickup truck on June 24, 1993, where she was working on Allen Street in Manhattan, New York City.[9][5][11]

During his trial, Rifkin was represented by Mineola, New York-based attorney John Lawrence. He 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.[12]

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 a prison phone. The New York 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.[13]

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.[14]

Rifkin sued, arguing that his solitary imprisonment was unconstitutional. In 2000, a state appellate court determined that prison officials had not violated Rifkin's 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). 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.[14]

Victims Notes
Heidi "Susie" Balch, 25 Remains found in 1989; unidentified until April 2013
Julie Blackbird Remains never found
Barbara Jacobs, 31
Mary Ellen DeLuca, 22
Yun Lee, 31
"Number 6" Never identified, remains never recovered
Lorraine Orvieto, 28
Mary Ann Holloman, 39
"Number 9" Identity remains anonymous
Iris Sanchez, 25
Anna Lopez, 33
Violet O'Neill, 21
Mary Catherine Williams, 31
Jenny Soto, 23
Leah Evans, 28
Lauren Marquez, 30
Tiffany Bresciani, 22 Body found in bed of Rifkin's pickup truck
Nicole White Survived

In popular culture[edit]

  • The 2018 independent film Joel was based on Rifkin’s life and crimes.[15]
  • In the Seinfeld episode "The Masseuse," Elaine's boyfriend is named Joel Rifkin and references to the serial killer are made throughout the episode. The crowd's reaction when his name is announced over the loudspeaker at a New York Giants game they were attending prompts Joel to agree to Elaine's suggestion to change his name.
  • Tiffany Bresciani was the girlfriend of Dave Rubinstein, singer and co-founder of the New York-based hardcore punk band Reagan Youth. David Rubinstein committed suicide a week after the discovery of Tiffany's death.
  • The Howard Stern Show producer Gary Dell'Abate briefly worked with Rifkin at a Record World location in New York.[16]
  • Mentioned in list of serial killers in the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Episode "Tortured"


  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. ^ From the Mouth of the Monster: The Joel Rifkin Story - Robert Mladinich - Google Books. Retrieved 2014-05-14 – via Google Books.
  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. ^ "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.
  7. ^ Accused Serial Killer on L.I. Called a Suspect in 1989 Slaying of a Woman New York Times. 24 March 1994. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  8. ^ "Joel Rifkin's first victim ID'd from severed head, was Heidi Balch, cops say". Newsday. 2013-03-27. Retrieved 2013-04-30.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ "Reagan Youth - Pandora Internet Radio". Retrieved 2011-03-07.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ New York Times, Long Island Serial Killer Gets a Personality Profile, by Manny Fernandez and Al Baker, 22 April 2011
  13. ^ Shepherd, Chuck (1994-05-19). "News of the Weird". Chicago Reader. Chicago, Illinois. Retrieved 2009-11-07.
  14. ^ a b "Joel Rifkin". 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  15. ^ "Joel" – via
  16. ^ 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.