The smell of death
There’s a chance Joel Rifkin would never have been caught….
As the Mazda pick-up truck drove by on the New York highway, police noticed that it was missing a rear license plate.
They ordered the driver, Joel Rifkin, to pull over, but instead, he accelerated.
It triggered a high speed chase, with five other patrol vehicles joining the pursuit.
It was an extreme reaction to a simple traffic stop.
Finally, Rifkin lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a utility pole outside of a local court house.
As officers approached the car, they noticed a foul stench coming from the trunk.
When they opened it up, they physically retched.
Suddenly, the crime of a
missing license plate paled into insignificance…
Joel Rifkin had struggled to fit in growing up. He was awkward and relentlessly bullied.
He felt isolated, so retreated into his own world, where he started to have fantasies about being violent towards women.
Around the same time, he watched the Alfred Hitchcock film Frenzy, which is loosely based on the Jack the Ripper murders, and became fixated on the idea of strangling prostitutes.
When Rifkin’s mum gave him a car, he’d cruise around Manhattan, picking up sex workers in the area.
He’d skip college classes to find women to have sex with.
It left him in debt and saw him drop out of college.
Rifkin lost job after job, meaning he spent most of the 1980s living at home in Long Island with his mum. By March 1989, having sex with prostitutes wasn’t enough. When his mum was away, he picked up a young sex worker called ‘Susie’. She was never identified. Back at his house, Rifkin bludgeoned her with an artillery shell, before strangling her to death. ‘I just lost control,’ he’d later confess. ‘I stopped
when I got tired.’
He dismembered her body with a knife, severed her fingertips, and removed her teeth with pliers to hide her identity.
After stuffing her head in a paint can, and body parts in rubbish bags, Rifkin scattered them across woods and in a river.
It was the start of a five-year period of brutal murders.
A year later, he killed Julie Blackbird – again, he brought her back to the house for sex, but beat her to death with a table leg.
After dismembering the corpse, Rifkin placed the pieces in buckets weighed down with concrete and tossed them into the East River and Brooklyn Canal.
In 1991, he half-heartedly started a landscaping business. But his passion was murder. He’d pick women who were drug
addicts, trying to feed their habit with prostitution.
Barbara Jacobs, 31, was clubbed to death with the same table leg that he’d used to kill Julie Blackbird.
Addict Mary Ellen Deluca, 22, was last seen alive leaving friends to earn the price of her next fix. Rifkin strangled her after sex. Lorraine Orvieto, 28, was murdered and stuffed in an old drum before being dropped in a creek.
At 39, Mary Ann Holloman was his oldest victim, an addict working the streets. The victim that followed Yun Lee, 31, was never identified.
Rifkin picked up Iris Sanchez, a 25-year-old crack addict and strangled
her during sex. Anna Lopez, 33, was strangled in Rifkin’s car. Violet O’neill, 21, ended up in the Hudson River. Mary Catherine Williams, 31 came next. Jenny Soto, 23, was the last victim of 1992, and Rifkin would later admit she proved ‘the toughest one to kill.’ She broke all 10 fingernails as she clawed Rifkin’s face and neck. In 1993, Leah Evens, 28, was strangled to death and Lauren Marquez, 28, had her neck snapped. Because Rifkin picked women with drug problems and records for soliciting, the police struggled to
identify victims – or even connect the cases.
They didn’t even know a serial killer needed to be found.
Then in June 1993, Rifkin, who was now 34, picked up Tiffany Bresciani, 22.
She had been drawn to New York by her dreams of becoming an actress or a dancer.
Instead, she’d ended up hooked on heroin and forced into stripping and selling her body to pay for it.
Rifkin killed her, then wrapped her body in tarpaulin before leaving her in a wheelbarrow in his garage, in the summer heat, for three whole days.
Neighbours could smell the decay – they often did. But they assumed it was something to do with his garden business. Tiffany was the girlfriend of
David Rubinstein – singer and co-founder of the New York-based hardcore punk band Reagan Youth.
He was the last to see Tiffany and the grief destroyed him.
David committed suicide a week after learning about her murder.
On June 28, 1993, Rifkin was on the highway, on his way to dump Tiffany’s rotting body, and he’d loaded her into the boot.
He was 15 miles north of his home, when traffic cops spotted he was missing a license plate.
When they tried to pull him over, Rifkin panicked and sped away.
A chase reached speeds of 90 miles an hour, sirens wailing, before Rifkin crashed into a pole.
As officers approached the vehicle, that’s when they noticed the stench coming from the truck. Rifkin’s reign of terror was over. ‘Do you think I need a lawyer?’ he asked.
He had Noxema on his moustache – a strong smelling cream that helps deal with the smell of corpses.
In custody, Rifkin started talking about the woman in the boot. ‘She’s
number 17,’ he said, calmly.
It was a staggering confession they weren’t expecting from the quiet, awkward man.
He wrote down the names he could remember and even drew maps of the dumping grounds.
It had taken police five years to capture him – and a matter of hours for him to confess to a string of murders.
Investigators searched his home. In his bedroom, they found 75 pieces of women’s jewellery that he’d taken from his victims.
In the garage, they found three ounces of human blood in the wheelbarrow, tools coated in congealed blood and a chainsaw that had blood and human flesh stuck in the blades.
Joel Rifkin is now serving 203 years in the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York.
He is eligible for parole in 2197, at the age of 238.
By pure accident, police caught one of New York’s most notorious serial killers – a man they weren’t even looking for.
The serial killer was caught after a simple traffic stop Neighbours noticed the stench
He targeted the vulnerable
Jenny Soto put up a brave fight
He drew maps of his dump sights
There was a body in the boot
Rifkin lived with his mum