When many people think of a serial killer who went after prostitutes, many will think of Jack the Ripper - the unidentified killer from the late 1800s in London - but a little closer to home for those of us in America, we have Long Island murderer Joel Rifkin to talk about! Let's jump back a few years, to where this started in 1989...
Joel David Rifkin was born on January 20th, 1959 and in 1965, his family had relocated to East Meadow, New York, a town on Long Island just outside of New York City. It is reported that growing up, Rifkin had trouble fitting in with the other kids at school and was often the target of bullies. He grew up with undiagnosed dyslexia and struggled academically, despite having a 128 IQ. Desperate to fit in, Joel tried both school athletics and the yearbook staff, only to be excluded and tormented from both, leaving Joel feeling completely left out. It was soon after his horrible school career that Rifkin began to live in his own delusional world. By 1972, he had become fixated on the idea of strangling prostitutes. Once he got his license and first car, Rifkin used the vehicle to pick up prostitutes in nearby towns and NYC.
By this point, Rifkin was enrolled at Nassau Community College and was rarely showing up to class or his part time jobs, instead choosing to spend his time with prostitutes. As one could imagine, having an addiction to prostitutes could not possibly be a cheap addition - and before he knew it, Rifkin was broke and back living in his parents house. It is assumed that all throughout this time, Rifkin's sick fantasy of strangling prostitutes was always in the back of his mind, and in March 1989, those dark fantasies could no longer be restrained. When Joel's mother left for a business trip, Joel picked up his first soon to be victim and bludgeoned her to death with a Howitzer artillery shell. When the woman fought back with Rifkin, he finally fulfilled his fantasy, and strangled the woman to death. Here's what it gets really dirty; Joel Rifkin dismembered his victim with a knife - he severed her fingertips and removed her teeth with pliers in hopes to remove the woman's identity. He removed her head and stored it in an old paint can before storing the rest of the body in garbage bags. The head and legs of the woman were dumped in a woods in Hopewell, New jersey, and the rest of the body was tossed into the East River in New York. A local golfer found the paint can with the woman's head in it just days later, however, Joel succeeded in removing the woman's identity, as police were unable to identify the body or who was responsible for the murder.
Just a year later, Rifkin was at it again with his second victim (and prostitute) Julie Blackbird. As before, once his mother had left the town, Rifkin beat Blackbird with a wooden table leg and then strangled her to death before dismembering her body as well. However this time, the dismembered body parts were placed into paint cans that were weighted down with concrete and tossed into the East River and a Brooklyn canal in hopes to dispose the body. Rifkin ended up started his own landscaping business soon after, where he used the job site as a place to help store the bodies of his victims until he was ready to dispose of them properly. Many of his victims ended up either being prostitutes or drug addicts - and Rifkin is said to have strangled 17 of them before his arrest on June 28th, 1993.
Rifkin was on his way to dump the body of his final victim when police pulled him over for a missing rear license plate. Joel ended up taking his pick up truck into a high speed chase with police which ended in Mineola, New York when he crashed his truck into a utility pole, ironically in front of the same courthouse that he would eventually stand trial. As police approached the vehicle, they noticed a very foul odor coming from the back of the truck - and it is there that they found the body of Tiffany Bresciani, a prostitute and dancer whose body was left in a wheel barrel in the summer heat for three days.
During his interrogation, Rifkin described all 17 of his murder victims, and even went as far as drawing maps to help police find the bodies. The next day, he plead not guilty before being sentenced on May 9, 1994. He was sentenced to 25 years to life for murder and reckless endangerment. He ended up pleading guilty to two more counts of murder and received two additional consecutive 25 to life terms. In the end, Joel Rifkin was sentenced to 203 years to life in prison for his murders. Joel is currently being held at Clinton Correctional Facility in New York, where he will be eligible for parole in 2197, at the ate of 238.
But wait! Are you familiar with the Gilgo beach serial murders?! Ten to sixteen victims (many of whom were involved in the sex trade industry) were found beginning in 2010 in Gilgo Beach and Oak Beach, NY - which are just a short half hour ride from the home where Joel Rifkin committed his murders. While Joel Rifkin denies having anything to do with the Gilgo Beach murders, many expects and victims' rights advocates believe that Rifkin's statements hold no value and cannot be believed. Is it possible future investigations will link those victims back to Rifkin? Only time will tell. But for now, Rifkin only claims responsibility for the charges he is currently serving for for the rest of his life.
If this case interests you, be sure to check out the interview and documentary below from A&E! It is a fascinating look into the mind of Joel Rifkin and his crimes, as well as the stories of the victims families.
Image courtsey of New York Daily News.