Joel Rifkin often solicited prostitutes from Manhattan’s lower East Side, known as the Stroll. Over a four year period, he killed seventeen prostitutes, dismembering and disposing of their bodies. His crimes went unreported and the victims’ disappearances unnoticed. Trooper Sean Ruane noticed a vehicle with no license plate. When he attempted to pull the vehicle over, the driver fled, and a high speed chase ensued. The driver was Joel Rifkin and he was transporting the body of Tiffany Brescinani.
Rifkin was cooperative with authorities and admitted to strangling Bresciani. After killing her, he stored the body for three days before attempting to dispose of it. Detectives were amazed with his detached demeanor and eventual confession. Rifkin directed detectives to burial sites of two bodies.
Police interrogated Rifkin for twelve hours and he was able to recall details of each murder, dating back to 1989. Rifkin lived with his mother and sister during his crime spree. Police searched his room and found personal belongings from the victims: id, underwear, jewelry, which helped Rifkin to remember and relive his crimes. He also collected news clippings of other serial killers.
He became the most prolific killer in New York State history.
Joel was adopted and raised in a loving family. He was tormented in school so he developed strategies to escape abuse and avoid people. As he became more isolated, his rich fantasy life eventually overpowered his real life. He sought out a prostitute to lose his virginity. His first sexual experience fulfilled his need to be in control and eliminated the possibility of rejection. In 1986, Rifkin’s father Ben was diagnosed with cancer and committed suicide months later. With his father’s death, Rifkin turned to prostitutes with greater frequency, considering it his “drug of choice”.
In February 1989 Rifkin committed his first murder, bludgeoning a prostitute and strangling her. After the murder, he went to bed and slept and only contemplated the problem of removing her body hours later. Using an exacto knife, he dismembered her body to remove it from the home. He drove around and discarded the body parts at various locations.
He returned to his regular routine and vowed to never kill again, but the urge never left him. He killed again and with greater frequency. He killed most of his victims in his home, after having sex with the girls he would beat them and strangle them. The bodies were kept in the basement until he could discard them. He considered the women objects and never thought of the families they left behind. He grew more and more bold; even propping a dead body in the passenger seat of his car and stopping for gas.
Rifkin pled not guilty by reason of insanity and his lawyers fought the submission of his confession, claiming it was coerced. The prosecution provided evidence of Rifkin’s cunning and deception to prove he was sane at the time the crimes were committed, and aware they were wrong. The defense claimed he was a paranoid schizophrenic and unable to control his actions. Rifkin was disinterested and detached during the trail, often falling asleep during the testimony. He was found guilty and sentenced to over 200 years in prison.
He didn’t fully grasp the impact of his actions until the events of 9/11 when families desperately sought missing people. He realized the consequences of his actions but he isn’t able to guarantee he wouldn’t kill again if given the opportunity.