This week’s episode focuses on serial murderer, Joel Rifkin. His name became synonymous with Jack “The Ripper”, as he himself was also dubbed the ripper after the brutal murders of at least 17 women in the New York area in the 1980’s and 90’s, though a number of his victim’s remains wouldn’t be found until the early to mid 2000’s. Without sugarcoating it, he was a seriously bad dude, especially if you were a younger, attractive female, working the streets of Long Island & New York City during this time. As I mentioned earlier he was coined “The Ripper”, first reported by the New York Post Newspaper, which is a paper local to Long Island & NYC. And, you will soon hear why that was. But I want to give you a little bit of a back story on Joel Rifkin, so you can formulate, and we can discuss if there was possibly anything from his background that may have caused this behavior, socially, emotionally, or genetically. So, let’s all get to know Joel Rifkin, AKA New York’s “Ripper”.
Joel was born on January 20th, 1959, weighing 8lbs 6oz. His biological mother was a 20 year old college student, and his biological father was a 23 year old Army vet, who was also in college at the time. My understanding was that they were dating when they became pregnant. For reasons known only to them, they decided to give their newborn son up for adoption. Perhaps they felt they were too young, didn’t have enough money, the familial support necessary, or just didn’t want a baby at this time. For whatever the reason he was given up by his biological parents, this newborn boy was soon adopted by Bernard & Jeanne Rifkin, about 3 weeks later. Joel’s adopted father, Bernard, who went by Benjamin, was a structural engineer of Russian Jewish descent. His adopted mother, Jeanne Granelles, was of Spanish descent. They had met, and decided to attend college together at Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College, which now many people know as Oklahoma State University. This was around the 1940’s, so it was not common for women to attend college, it was much more common for them to find a husband, have a family, and live a life of domestication. But this was not the case for Jeanne. She took graduate courses in education and then decided to teach art at OSU. Ben, in turn, received his degree in architectural engineering. Both being New Yorkers they decided to move back to start a family, after getting married. Jeanne converted to Judaism after they were married, and not having any biological children of their own, they decided to adopt. To do so, they enlisted the help of an adoption agency, Louise Wise Services in Manhattan. They worked with Jewish families with the adoption of Jewish babies. That was how they adopted and then named their son Joel David Rifkin. About 3 years later they decided to adopt again, this time a girl, who they named Jan. After expanding their family they decided to do what many people do, and that’s move out of the city and into the suburbs. More specifically they moved to East Meadow, Long Island. This was a middle to upper class neighborhood in Nassau County. Many neighbors described them as a quiet family and that they didn’t know much about them, which is somewhat contradictory to their level of professionalism. Both Ben and Jeanne became involved with organizations to better the neighborhood, Ben ran for and was on the East Meadow School Board and after that the East Meadow Library Board of Trustees. Jeanne, besides raising both Joel and Jan, loved to work in her garden and make crafts. Pretty much sounds like your typical, mid to upper class, suburban family. But for Joel, he didn’t exactly fit in here, academically or socially. Joel actually refers to his childhood pre- & post- move to East Meadow. He had very fond memories of living in New City, New York, which is where they moved from after his parents adopted Jan. But going to school in East Meadow was anything but easy for Joel Rifkin. Although being of high intelligence, he had an IQ of 128, you never would have guessed that from interacting with him. His gait was awkward, and when he walked, his shoulders were slouched and he would lean forward, with his chin kind of tucked down. Because of this, he earned the nickname the “Turtle”. Joel was described as quiet and shy, a skinny child, and didn’t really have any close friends. He became the target of classmates’ ridicule, especially in the locker room. And, for someone who was small & skinny, they still called him a “Lard Ass” because he was not athletically gifted. This also was a point of contention with his father, who himself was at Joel’s age. Joel really was the opposite of his father.
Academically, as I mentioned earlier, he struggled. Although undiagnosed at the time, Joel suffered from Dyslexia. So, he had difficulty reading and communicating effectively. Because of those stresses, he then developed a speech impediment, stuttering when he did speak. So, as you can imagine, this did not help him with his classmates. Actually some of the stories of bullying were quite mean. One time, members of the track team got together, and waited for Joel to try and leave the library one night after work. Joel worked there after school part-time. And I say try, because they surrounded the exits and wouldn’t let him out. Joel had no other choice but to call his father to come help him. When his father arrived, the boys dispersed.
And, he wasn’t just pranked by the jocks at his school. When Joel joined the Yearbook Club, as a photographer, he got picked on too. While going into the darkroom to develop some film of photos he took, someone took his camera. There’s another story from high school, where classmates threw eggs at him in the shower. But, he never retaliated or fought back. He just metaphorically swallowed it, and moved on. Without getting too political, I feel like these days, if a child, like Joel was picked on as severely as Joel was, they might retaliate against those bullies, or even those they felt didn’t protect them from it. Specifically, the mass shootings we read and hear about all too often in the U.S.
And for a teen who didn’t fit in with others his own age at school or home, he definitely didn’t have success with the girls his own age. He was the absolute opposite of a ladies man. He repeatedly watched and became obsessed with the 1972 Alfred Hitchcock film, Frenzy, that led to some pretty disturbing thoughts. Joel began fantasizing about raping and strangling prostitutes. I wasn’t familar with the movie, so I read the description on IMDB, and it says, “London is terrorized by a vicious sex killer known as The Necktie Murderer. Following the brutal slaying of his ex-wife, down-on-his-luck Richard Blaney is suspected by the police of being the killer. He goes on the run, determined to prove his innocence.” So, what did Joel, who didn’t possess the ability to approach or date a girl his own age do?
Since Joel now had a driver’s license, was more mobile, and able to leave his suburban neighborhood, where everyone knew him as that awkward, antisocial, skinny kid. He began to seek out the services of prostitutes. He actually got busted one time when he offered $20 to an undercover cop, posing as a prostitute, for oral sex. Can’t imagine how that phone call went to his parents? But, this was just the start for Joel, and for the women whose services he sought, this was perhaps the worst thing that could happen to them.
After high school, Joel didn’t go off to Yale, Harvard, or other Ivy League schools like some of his classmates did, despite his IQ of 128. Instead, in the Fall of 1977, he enrolled full-time at Nassau Community College. But by the end of the semester, he only managed to complete 1 course. A year later, Joel enrolled full-time at SUNY Brockport, which is a state school near Rochester, NY. He took classes there until Spring of 1980. And, interesting detail, this is the only time when anyone who has come forward and admitted to knowing Joel, remembers him having an actual girlfriend. This woman was described as heavyset, with dark hair. And supposedly, according to Glenn Stolfi, a friend who knew Joel at the time, he remembered that Joel was so in love with her, that when the relationship ended, he talked about her a lot for a long time after. Joel, once again didn’t finish college at Brockport, instead he decided to go back to Nassau County and re-enroll at Nassau Community College, this time as a part-time student. Once again he dropped the 3 classes he enrolled in before the end of the semester. He would try again, 3 years later, but was never able to finish what he started.
During this time, he still lived at home and worked random jobs here and there. Nothing lucrative or spectacular that someone would ascribe to be.
He continued to buy the time and services of prostitutes, especially along 9th Avenue, near the 40’s in Manhattan. To be clear, when I say the 40’s, I don’t mean the 1940’s, I mean from the 40th to 49th Streets, intersecting with 9th Avenue. It was not uncommon for him to ask for, what was known as a “half and half”, vaginal and oral sex. The typical cost of these services, was about $40, but Joel would often give the prostitutes a little more about $50, so the women could purchase drugs. I’m sure even though he was paying for their services, Joel probably felt relieved not to be judged by them, as he seemed to be by many others in his life.
Joel’s father, Benjamin, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the Fall of 1986. The cancer was pretty aggressive, and after months of unending pain, Benjamin Rifkin committed suicide in February of 1987. Despite not being able to live up to the expectations of his father, Joel still loved him very much. During the funeral, Joel spoke during his father’s eulogy, saying, “Though my father did not give me life, he gave me love”. This is a very heartfelt statement from a guy that would later admit to killing 17 women.
After Ben’s death, Jeanne wanted Joel to stay and live at home. Joel, at this time, had decided to move to an apartment on West 49th Street in Manhattan. He had a roommate, a female, by the name of Kathryn Ludwig. Ms. Ludwig was an aspiring screenwriter, and wanted Joel to help her edit her screenplay, since as she put it, “he was good at grammar”. Although originally agreeing to do it, Joel never fulfilled the request, instead according to Ludwig, he decided to spend his time working for a courier service across the street. It sounded like, from my research that they had agreed in lieu of rent, Joel would help her edit the screenplay. Also, Joel had lied that he was writing one too and was enrolled in NYU. This was how he was able to weasel his way into Ludwig’s life and apartment. But since he didn’t follow through with his end of the arrangement, she kicked him out after a month and a half. For the record, there was nothing sexual between them, she claims Joel had come on to her but she shut it down the minute it happened. She also claims that he was “crazy about her”. Also, Ludwig said that Joel’s mother, Jeanne, was begging him to come home, and as she put it, was very demanding and “busted his balls”.
Joel finally did give in to his mother, moved back home, and once again enrolled in school. This time it was a 2 year course at SUNY Farmingdale for an associate’s degree in ornamental horticulture. During this time, he also was able to find a job working as a groundskeeper for the New York State Parks Dept. He was doing well…well for the first 2 semesters anyway. But, a year later, in the Spring of 1989, things started to fall apart. He was now failing out of school and left his job, though it is unclear if he quit or was fired. This was also the year that Joel Rifkin killed his first victim.
Heidi Balch, who went by “Susie”, was Joel Rifkin’s first kill. Joel waited for his mother to go out of town for a work trip, and he brought Susie back to his house. Unlike the other prostitutes whose services he solicited, this time he decided to kill her. When bludgeoning her with a Howitzer artillery shell didn’t kill her, he decided to strangle her. This was February 20th, 1989. To dispose of the body, he dismembered her with an X-acto knife. He was smart enough to remove her teeth and fingertips so she wouldn’t easily be able to be identified if she were found. He put her head in a paint can, leaving it in some woods near a golf course in Hopewell, NJ. He disposed of her legs separately further north in NJ. And, her remaining parts, arms and torso, were dumped into the East River in NYC. Those were all placed in plastic garbage bags. The paint can with her head was discovered on March 5th, 1989. Her legs were found on April 8th, 1989 in the Pequonnock Creek, near Jefferson Township NJ. But, because of the extreme measures Rifkin had taken to hide her identity, Susie Balch was not identified for another 24 years, in March of 2013. Joel killed only once in 1989, I guess I shouldn’t say only, but knowing what’s to come, “only” actually has a positive connotation to it.
A year later, Joel killed his second victim, a prostitute by the name of Julie Blackbird. Much like his first victim, he brought Julie back to his house, had sex with her, then bludgeoned her with a table leg, before stangling her to death. Once again, he dismembered the body, only this time he placed the dismembered body parts in buckets of concrete and tossed them into the East River and a canal in Brooklyn. This way of covering his tracks, and making it harder for anyone to find or identify the body seems to be how Rifkin chose to use that 128 IQ. Much like in 1989, Joel killed one victim in 1990. But in 1991, that would all change.
Joel decided to start his own landscaping business in 1991 . This new change in career was only a front, however, for him to be able to rent commercial space, for his “real” business of stashing the murdered corpses of his victims until he could dismember and dispose of their bodies. Also I want to mention that for the past 2 years, besides being a killer, Joel had also been looked upon as an embarrassment to his family and his community. He was parking old, jalopy pick-up trucks out in front of their house. Most of the time, he was using one of those trucks to pull parts for another, in order for it to work. One neighbor said it was so unsightly that they planted greenery on their property to be able to shield the old trucks from their view. It does sound prudish, but given this mid to upper class neighborhood, where people took pride in the look of their homes and landscaping, this is probably not what they wanted to see when sitting or looking outside. Joel’s mother still believed that Joel was “trying”, so it seems as long as she had her son living at home, she was satisfied with that. Little did she know what she was enabling by providing her adult son with money and a free place to live.
In addition to the new “business” Joel started in 1991, he would claim 3 more victims: Barbara Jacobs – 31, whose remains were discovered in the Hudson River in New York; Mary Ellen DeLuca – 22, her remains were found in Cornwall, located in Orange County NY; and Yun Lee – 31, whose remains were found in the East River near Randall’s Island NY. Joel had developed into a serial killer, whose M.O. was well defined. Pick up an unsuspecting prostitute, who likely wouldn’t be reported as missing for a while, bring her back to his place, have sex with her, bludgeon, then strangle her, mutilate and dismember the body, separate the parts, and dispose of them in different locations, different jurisdictions, to elude detection and victim identification. Over and over, this was his pattern. For 14 years he got away with it. And with the passing of each of those years, the body count kept rising.
So, how does a man with such a specific M.O., who is so cautious about camouflaging his victim’s identities, and the meticulousness in the disposal of their bodies get caught? As is often the case in solving serial crimes, it was just plain luck. By June of 1993, Rifkin had taken the lives of 16 women. There were parts of bodies emerging from different bodies of water, in woods, or land areas from Long Island to NYC to Westchester and Orange Counties, above the city. They were in plastic trash bags, buckets, large metal barrels, or naked for the world to see. Identification was near impossible and in many cases, loved ones, or people who knew them, didn’t even realize they were missing to be able to report their disappearance. Joel Rifkin was a serial killer working his way up and down the east side of New York and New Jersey and no one was the wiser. That is until June 28th, 1993. That is when police would soon meet & interview the man later dubbed “Joel the Ripper”.
Victim #17, was a young woman by the name of Tiffany Bresciani. She was 22, and was the girlfriend of Dave Insurgent, a member of the 80’s punk band, Reagan Youth. Tiffany had left her home at 17 in Metairie, Louisiana, with the dream & aspiration to become a dancer. She had first moved to LA, then ended up in New York City, but had developed a drug habit along the way. With no money, she turned to prostitution to fund her habit. Unfortunately for her, Allen St. in Lower Manhattan is where Tiffany crossed paths with Joel Rifkin. Much like his other victims, Joel solicited and paid for Tiffany’s services, and she paid with her life. Joel had driven them to a secluded area, where he ultimately strangled Tiffany, before driving her back to his home in East Meadow. He needed a tarp & a rope. After wrapping her up, he hid her body in a wheelbarrow inside his garage for the next few days. 3 hot, summer days, to be exact. This time, Joel was not being as careful as he had been in the past.
June 28th, 1993 around 3am in the morning, Joel loaded the body of Tiffany Bresciani into the bed of his covered pickup truck and drove off to find a place to dispose of her remains. While driving on Long Island’s Southern State Pkwy, 2 NY State troopers noticed the truck was missing a license plate. The troopers attempted to pull over the vehicle, but instead it kept going, and tried to elude them. I guess you could call it a high speed pursuit, except it wasn’t. It was more of a slow speed pursuit that ended after about 25 mins, when Rifkin hit a utility pole in front of the Nassau County Courthouse, ironically enough. When they approached the pickup, they could smell a foul odor emanating from it. One of them supposedly commented that it smelled like a dead body, but that trooper denies ever saying it. One of the troopers saw a large object that was wrapped in a blue tarp. Inside they would discover the badly decomposed body of Tiffany Bresciani.
Joel “The Ripper” Rifkin was now in police custody. But they had no idea what they were in for when they interviewed him. Joel admitted to killing Tiffany, and that he was on his way to dispose of her body when he was caught. But he also admitted to the murders of 16 other women over the past 14 years. He detailed each of the 17 murders, provided the names of the women he could remember, and maps for where the police could find the bodies. Rifkin would later say that he would “think of people as things”, and that if he had not been caught, he likely would have kept killing.
While in custody giving police the sordid details of his crimes, other detectives obtained a search warrant for the Rifkin residence. Inside Joel’s room, they found the trophies Joel had taken from his victims. This included: 27 pieces of jewelry, women’s underwear, bras, library cards, black suede pants, a floral dress, driver’s licenses, and a wallet that were spread all over the room. Inside a safe, police found 48 more pieces of jewelry. They also found pieces of paper with women’s names written on them. Some of these women were still alive. Seems obvious they were future targets, which shows Joel’s premeditation in the murders of these women. Detectives also found multiple books: The Green River Killings, articles about Arthur Shawcross – another serial killer of prostitutes near Rochester, NY, and a manual called Ropes and Knots. Being as a lot of this evidence was in plain sight, police question whether Jeanne and Jan knew anything about the murders. Ultimately they denied it and police couldn’t prove it.
Rifkin went on trial, where he was defended by Nassau criminal defense lawyer, Robert Sale. Sale had previous success in defending and getting an acquittal for Mate Ivanov, a mass murderer in Nassau County, who was tried for the murders of his wife, 3 children, and their family dog after they were killed with a bayonet. He used the insanity defense in that case successfully, and was going to repeat that same defense with Joel Rifkin. Only this time, he would not be successful.
When all was said and done, Joel Rifkin was found guilty on 9 counts of second degree murder and sentenced to a total of 203 years to life. He would be eligible for parole in 2197, at the age of 238. He began serving his time at Rikers Island, but was then moved to Attica State Prison after getting into an altercation with other inmates, where he ended up getting a black eye. He is currently serving his time at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY. This facility is considered to be the “Siberia” of correctional facilities in New York. It is located in the northeasternmost county of New York and is called “Siberia” because of the cold winters and the isolation of the upstate area.
According to the Oxygen Network, after the trial, Jeanne and Jan, Rifkin’s mother and sister, disappeared from the public eye. In 1995, Jeanne Rifkin auctioned off a jailhouse interview with her son, in order to cover his legal costs. This didn’t apply to the Son of Sam laws as it was her property, not his. Until her death on March 10th, 2010 Jeanne Rifkin stayed in the family home in East Meadow, Long Island. After her death it was put up for sale, but many were deterred from buying it after they found out the history of the property. Ultimately, it did sell for $322,000 in 2011. This was $102,500 less than the original asking price.
Accessed July, 2022. ‘He’s Not Evil’: How Joel Rifkin’s Family Reacted When Learning He Murdered Women In Their Home https://www.oxygen.com/rifkin-on-rifkin-private-confessions-of-a-serial-killer/crime-news/how-joel-rifkins-mom-sister
Accessed July, 2022. SALE OF KILLER’S VIDEO INTERVIEW BY MOTHER WOULD SIDESTEP BAN https://buffalonews.com/news/sale-of-killers-video-interview-by-mother-would-sidestep-ban/article_12a15816-d769-5e67-82a3-390165727dcd.html
Accessed July, 2022. Serial Killer’s Home Sells in East Meadow https://patch.com/new-york/eastmeadow/serial-killers-home-sells-in-east-meadow
Accessed July, 2022. A ‘Frenzy’ Of Murder: The Story Of New York Serial Killer Joel Rifkin https://www.investigationdiscovery.com/crimefeed/crime-history/a-frenzy-of-murder-story-of-new-york-serial-killer-joel-rifkin
Accessed July, 2022. Joel Rifkin, One Of New York’s Most Terrifying Serial Killers, Was Caught Over One Tiny Mistake https://www.oxygen.com/rifkin-on-rifkin-private-confessions-of-a-serial-killer/serial-killer-week/joel-rifkin-serial
Accessed July, 2022. How Joel Rifkin Terrorized New York And Became A Plotline In ‘Seinfeld’ https://allthatsinteresting.com/joel-rifkin
Accessed July, 2022. Joel Rifkin https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Rifkin
Accessed July, 2022. He’s New York’s Most Prolific Serial Killer — Who Were Joel Rifkin’s Victims? https://www.oxygen.com/rifkin-on-rifkin-private-confessions-of-a-serial-killer/serial-killer-week/who-were-serial-killer
Accessed July, 2022. HERE’S WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT SERIAL KILLER JOEL RIFKIN’S CHILDHOOD https://www.grunge.com/410161/heres-what-we-know-about-serial-killer-joel-rifkins-childhood/
Accessed July, 2022. Frenzy https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068611/
Accessed July, 2022. ‘Not the Joel I Knew” says Former Roomie https://www.newspapers.com/image/?clipping_id=37440112&fcfToken=eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJmcmVlLXZpZXctaWQiOjQ3MTE2Mjc2MywiaWF0IjoxNjU0OTg4ODU5LCJleHAiOjE2NTUwNzUyNTl9.KF7Rv0ypmZ_z1vLevLVxNaWD47Jvfd8pTNCIwsNwq-8
Accessed July, 2022. Murderpedia https://murderpedia.org/male.R/r/rifkin-joel.htm
Accessed July, 2022. BIOGRAPHY: JOEL RIFKIN https://www.biography.com/crime-figure/joel-rifkin#citation
Accessed July, 2022. Unidentified Person / NamUs #UP8295 | NamUs https://namus.nij.ojp.gov/case/UP8295
Accessed July, 2022. Clinton Correctional Facility – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinton_Correctional_Facility
Accessed July, 2022. Frenzy – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frenzy