New York’s Most Prolific Serial Killer

In the 1980s, Joel Rifken left a trail of 17 bodies strewn over New York and New Jersey.

His first victim was a sex worker named “Susie.” In 1989 while his mother was out of town, Rifkin brought her back home. After sex, he strangled her to death. He then dismembered Susie’s body, and her remains were scattered throughout New Jersey. Her severed head was found on a golf course, and her legs were found in Jefferson Township.

Rifkin’s lust for depraved sex followed by lurid murder did not stop there. According to a recent Oxygen documentary, he killed 16 more sex workers. He dismembered their bodies and disposed of their remains in the New York area.

His other victims included Tiffany Bresciani, Julie Blackbird, Lauren Marquez, Mary Catherine Williams, Barbara Jacobs, Yun Lee, Maryann Hollomon, Leah Evens, Violet O’Neill, Mary Ellen DeLuca, Lorraine Orvieto, Iris Sanchez, Jenny Soto, and Anna Lopez, Newsday reported.

Rifkin specifically chose women who wouldn’t immediately draw attention if they went missing. And police weren’t aware that one man was specifically targeting sex workers in the area. Scattering the remains throughout New York also made it less likely for authorities to notice a pattern.

The Tiny Mistake That Ended a Killing Spree!

Rifkin’s body count would have likely continued to climb had it not been for what authorities later called his “25 cent mistake.” 

In June of 1993, he murdered Bresciani, a 22-year-old who left Louisiana for Los Angeles before arriving in New York. At the time, she was pursuing her dreams of becoming a singer and actress. However, a drug problem resulted in sex work to feed her addiction, Newsday reported. 

Bresciani’s body was found in the back of Rifkin’s pickup truck after he was stopped by the state police for a minor traffic violation – a missing license plate. When cops tried to flag down Rifkin’s truck on the NY’s Southern State Parkway for the missing plate, the driver would not stop and then engaged authorities in what could only be described as a “slow-speed chase,” as they never went above 50 miles per hour. But after about 20 miles of pursuit, the truck crashed into a utility pole on Old Country Road in Mineola.

When the cops pulled up to the crashed car, they found an unharmed Rifkin — but were also greeted by what they described as an absolutely horrific smell emanating from the vehicle. After searching the car, they found the shocking source: A dead body was in the truck’s bed.

Rifkin, 34 at the time, was hauled into a police station for questioning. Over a six-hour interrogation, he admitted he had killed the woman in the truck, 22-year-old Tiffany Bresciani, three days earlier after offering her money for sex. Rifkin then strangled her and stored her in his mother’s garage until he was ready to dispose of her body. 

Authorities continued to ask if he had killed any others during the interrogation. 

Rifkin confessed he’d murdered 17 women, all of whom were sex workers he picked up off the streets of Manhattan over the past five years. He’d strangled and bludgeoned them and occasionally dismembered their bodies; Rifkin said he disposed of the bodies all over the New York metropolitan area, from a Brooklyn creek to an Orange County town, the New York Times reported in 1993. He even drew police maps of where he abandoned the bodies.

Rifkin displayed little emotion during the interrogation, police said.

“He never gave us motive,” a law enforcement source told the Daily News. “But he said he’s been picking up prostitutes — his word is ‘patronizing’ them — since he got his license. He got his license when he was 16. That scares the hell out of us.”

During an interview with CBS in 2011, Rifkin said that he killed sex workers both because of the stigma around the work and because they were easier to get away with murdering.

“Drug addicted, disease-carrying vermin is the lie I told myself,” Rifkin said. “They’re easy because they travel a lot. They can disappear for months.”

Rifkin, who eventually was sentenced to 203 years in prison, admitted he might never have stopped killing if he hadn’t been pulled over that day. 

“As much as I say I wanted to stop there probably would have been others,” he told CBS.

Rifkin continues to serve his life sentence at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Clinton County, mostly in solitary confinement.

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