Victim Studies 010: Joel Rifkin

on January 30, 2012 in Serial Killers, Victim Studies, Victimology by

Joel Rifkin is known for being New York’s most notorious serial killer. Rifkin was formally charged for the murders of nine women, but is suspected of and confessed to the murders of 17 women. His known murder series spanned from 1989, at the age of 30, until his arrest in June of 1993. Although most of Rifkin’s victims have been identified, some of them still remain unidentified today.

In 1959, the Rifkin family adopted Joel Rifkin when he was 1 month old in New York. From a young age Rifkin experienced difficulty when he tried to get along with others. He was known to have done poorly in school and was often picked on by his classmates. Rifkin was often locked in gym lockers and had eggs thrown at him. He attempted to join the track team, but was called a ‘lard ass’ by his teammates. They often hid his gym clothes, which rendered him unable to compete. It is believed that when Rifkin joined the yearbook club that it was his final attempt to stay connected with people. However, this attempt also ended in disappointment after his camera was stolen and he was not invited to the year-end wrap party. Rifkin’s parents gave him a car in an attempt to help his depression, which he later used to hunt for victims.

Before the beginning of Rifkin’s murder series he enrolled in two colleges, completing a few courses in each, but never they never amounted to a full diploma. Many different companies employed him, but he would always go to work late and had poor hygiene. In 1986, Rifkin’s adoptive father was diagnosed with late stage prostate cancer and committed suicide a few months after experiencing massive amounts of pain. Many experts claim that it was at this point that Rifkin began to look for someone to take his anger out on.

All of Rifkin’s victims were middle-aged women who were known prostitutes and drug addicts. Most of the prostitutes worked for illegal drugs instead of money. Rifkin was known to drive the women around in search of drugs so that he could later have sexual relations with them. As with most serial killers who prey on prostitutes, Rifkin believed that no one would notice their absence. In many cases he was right. The majority of the women who were murdered were not even reported missing. Even as the bodies were being found within days of each other, and the police suspected that there was a serial killer, not much was done to investigate how the women had died. Some of the causes of death for Rifkin’s victims were labeled as drug over doses when there was a trace of cocaine found in their systems. At this point in time New York was averaging over 2,000 murders a year, leading police to not pay much attention to the murdered prostitutes and drug addicts.

At first, Rifkin would wait for his mother to go on vacation and then he would find a prostitute. He would drive around to buy her drugs and engage in sexual relations with them. He would murder his victim during the sexual act or afterwards. Rifkin would typically strangle his victims to death, but was also known to bludgeon his victims. He was never known to bind or torture his victims for lengthy amounts of time. Rifkin claimed that at first he would dispose of the bodies immediately, but over time he began to not worry about being apprehended.

Rifkin spent a lot of time dismembering his first victim. He took out all of her teeth, divided her body into numerous parts and severed all of her fingertips. Rifkin spread the body parts over many different locations in the hopes that they would not be found, however he forgot the victim’s head in a paint can, so it was quickly discovered at the Hopewell Valley Golf Club. Rifkin claimed that after the police discovered his victim he had a panic attack and waited for a long period of time before killing again. However, when he began murdering again it started to become an automatic response to sexual arousal. Rifkin stated that when he would pick up a prostitute, he would murder them in the act without even thinking, it would become a natural reaction to becoming aroused. Rifkin was known to have taken a 15 week break from his murder series after one of his victims fought for her life until she had no fingernails left and Rifkin was covered in scratch marks.

After becoming tired of dismembering bodies, Rifkin began to wrap the victims in tarps and then place them where there was water. The remains were usually left nude. Rifkin became tired of this method as well and began to use barrels to dispose of remains. After the first victim was discovered, Rifkin started not to care about whether or not the remains were found. He decided that since he had not been connected to any of the murders he could remain undiscovered, regardless of what the police found.

Rifkin was known to collect totems from all of his victims. Upon Rifkin’s arrest police were able to identify many of his victims just through the pieces of identification and jewelry that Rifkin has stolen. He was known to collect more than one item per victim, which at first caused police to believe that he had murdered many more women than he admitted to.

Throughout his murder series Rifkin was known to mimic things that he would see on television or in movies. He claimed that on two separate occasions he put victims into small steamer trunks, as he had seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy. Also, after Rifkin heard news reports that stated Ted Bundy had sex with his victims’ postmortem, he began to consider doing the same. Rifkin claimed that although he tried, the thought about having sex with a corpse repulsed him. When police arrested Rifkin he had a layer of Noxema beneath his nose, which was used to cover up the smell of his victim. This was also seen in the movie Silence of the Lambs. Some believe that Rifkin copied things that he saw in movies because of his low intelligence level and his inability to comprehend how serious his actions were. When Rifkin related himself to movies, or even was inspired because of them, it allowed for him to feel like he did something successfully.

Rifkin was arrested on June 28, 1993. Police had noticed that he was missing a rear license plate and after police had pulled him over they realized there was a body in the back. Rifkin confessed to the murders of 17 women but only went to court for 9 of those murders. Although Rifkin originally pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity it was found that he was sane each time a murder was committed. Rifkin was sentenced to life in prison for each of the 9 murders, which totaled up to 203 years in prison. He is currently serving his time in the Clinton, New York correctional facility.

Sources:
Joel Rifkin in the Serial Killer Timelines at Radford.edu
Joel Rifkin biography at Biography.com
Joel Rifkin on Wikipedia
Joel David Rifkin: New York’s Most Prolific Serial Killer by Michael Newton on TruTV.com

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