Who Is Joel Rifkin?

Joel Rifkin is a serial killer who went on a string of murders in New York in the 1990s. In 1989, he killed his first woman. He discarded the bodies of his victims so they could not be identified. His reign of terror came to an end in June 1993, when Rifkin was pulled over by the police who discovered a corpse in his car. He was convicted of murder the following year and later pleaded guilty to additional counts of murders.

Troubled Childhood

Joel David Rifkin was born on January 20, 1959, to two unwed college students. New York couple Bernard and Jeanne Rifkin adopted Joel three weeks after his birth. Three years later, they also adopted a daughter, Jan. In 1965, the family moved to East Meadow, Long Island, where Rifkin enrolled in Prospect Avenue Elementary School.

Rifkin had difficulty fitting in with his peers and became a frequent target of school bullies. He was excluded from team sports and neighborhood games because of his sloping posture and slow gait. Suffering from undiagnosed dyslexia, he also struggled academically despite his 128 IQ.

As Rifkin entered his teens, he desperately tried to fit in. He joined the track team with hopes of making friends, but his teammates frequently tormented him. Frustrated with athletics, Rifkin joined the yearbook staff. His camera was immediately stolen, and he was excluded from the wrap party at the end of the year.

Targeting Prostitutes

The mistreatment and isolation eventually wore on Rifkin, who began retreating to his own disturbed world. He started having daydreams about raping and stabbing women. In 1972, inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock film Frenzy, Rifkin became fixated on the idea of strangling prostitutes. Around this same time, his parents gave him a car. He started using the vehicle to troll for prostitutes in nearby Hempstead, and later Manhattan.

His passion for prostitutes would increase as he entered Nassau Community College in 1977. He frequently skipped his classes and rarely showed up to his part-time jobs, preferring to spend his time with prostitutes instead. His obsession drained Rifkin of what little money he had, causing him to move in and out of his parents' house throughout the 1980s. He also bounced from school to school, earning poor grades, until he finally dropped out in 1984.

By March 1989, Rifkin could no longer fight the violent mental fantasies. Rifkin waited for his mother to leave on a business trip, and then picked up a young prostitute named Susie. He brought the woman back to his Long Island home, where he bludgeoned her with a Howitzer artillery shell. When she continued to struggle, he strangled her to death.

He then dismembered the corpse with an X-acto knife, removing her identity by severing her fingertips and removing her teeth with pliers. He hid her severed head in an old paint can, and stashed the rest of her body into garbage bags. Rifkin dumped Susie's head and legs in the woods in Hopewell, New Jersey, and tossed the arms and torso into the East River back in New York.

Despite Rifkin's elaborate attempts to conceal the murder, a member of the Hopewell Valley Golf Club found the can containing Susie's head several days later. Police were unable to uncover the victim's identity, or who was responsible for the murder.

Rising Body Count

A year later, Rifkin claimed his second victim, prostitute Julie Blackbird. Again waiting until his mother was out of town, Rifkin drove Blackbird to his Long Island home. The next morning, Rifkin beat his victim‚ this time with a table leg‚ before strangling her. He dismembered the corpse as before, but this time he placed the body parts in buckets weighted with concrete and tossed the remains into the East River and a Brooklyn canal.

Rifkin started his own landscaping business in 1991, and he began using the rented job site to stash corpses until he could properly dispose of them. Among his victims during this year were prostitutes Barbara Jacobs, Mary Ellen DeLuca and Yun Lee. Rifkin would go on to strangle 17 women, most of whom were drug addicts or prostitutes. The Police were rarely able to identify the victims, much less the perpetrator of the crimes.

In June 1993, Rifkin strangled hooker Tiffany Bresciani and drove her back to his mother's home, stopping at stores along the way for rope and tarp, while Bresciani's corpse lay in the backseat of his mother's car. By the time he got home, she was wrapped in tarp and concealed in the trunk.

Rifkin moved Bresciani into the garage, leaving her body in a wheelbarrow in the summer heat for three days. He was on his way to dump the corpse about 15 miles north of his home, when police troopers noted he was missing a rear license plate on his truck. When police attempted to pull Rifkin over, he began a high-speed chase instead. Panicked, he crashed his car into a utility pole in front of the local court house. As troopers came up to the car, they detected a strong odor from the back of the truck. It came from Bresciani's rotting corpse. Police took Rifkin into custody.

Arrest and Imprisonment

Homicide detectives began interrogating Rifkin on June 28, 1993. He described all 17 murders, writing out the names he remembered and even sketching maps to help police find those victims still missing. He was transferred to the Nassau County Correctional Facility in East Meadow to prepare to stand trial.

On May 9, 1994, Rifkin was sentenced to 25 years to life for murder, as well as reckless endangerment for leading police on a car chase. Rifkin was transferred to Suffolk County jail shortly after the trial, where Rifkin pleaded guilty to two more counts of murder. He received two more consecutive terms of 25 years to life in prison. By January 1996, Rifkin was scheduled to serve at least 183 years for seven slayings, with 10 counts outstanding. That same year, after several conflicts with other inmates, prison officials decided that Rifkin's presence at the prison was disruptive. He was placed in solitary confinement at the Attica Correctional Facility for 23 hours a day over the course of four years.

In 2000, Rifkin attempted to sue the prison for violating his constitutional rights, saying that he should not be placed in solitary confinement. The court ruled in favor of the prison. Corrections officials say Rifkin is now imprisoned with more than 200 other inmates at Clinton who are not allowed to mix with the general prison population.

In 2002, New York's Supreme Court rejected Rifkin's appeal of his convictions for the murder of nine women.

Rifkin is now serving 203 years in the Clinton Correctional Facility. He is eligible for parole in 2197, at the age of 238.


  • Name: Joel Rifkin
  • Birth Year: 1959
  • Birth date: January 20, 1959
  • Birth State: New York
  • Birth City: New York
  • Birth Country: United States
  • Gender: Male
  • Best Known For: American serial killer Joel Rifkin killed 17 women in the 1990s before the police pulled him over for a missing license plate and discovered his latest victim in his trunk.
  • Industries
    • Crime and Terrorism
  • Astrological Sign: Aquarius

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  • Article Title: Joel Rifkin Biography
  • Author: Biography.com Editors
  • Website Name: The Biography.com website
  • Url: https://www.biography.com/crime/joel-rifkin
  • Access Date:
  • Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
  • Last Updated: August 21, 2019
  • Original Published Date: April 2, 2014