Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joel David Rifkin: New York's Most Prolific Serial Killer

Losing Control

Despite his history of morbid fantasy, Rifkin would later claim he had to plan the murder of his first victim, in March 1989. Rifkin acknowledged that his violent mental images were a little more intense than regular at that time. His mother chose that month to travel out of state, leaving Joel alone in the East Meadow house.

Cruising Manhattans East Village for hookers one night, at about 10 p.m., he selected a young woman remembered only as Susie. She was a hard-core drug addict, demanding several stops to purchase crack before they drove back to Long Island. After listless sex, Susie again asked Joel to take her out in search of drugs. Instead, he picked up a souvenir howitzer shell and beat her furiously. I just lost control, he told Robert Mladinich later. I stopped when I got tired.

Susie was still alive, however, and she fought back when he tried to move her, biting one of Rifkins fingers deeply before he strangled her to death. After wrestling her body into a plastic trash bag, Rifkin cleaned up the blood and signs of combat in his living room, then lay down and slept for several hours as if nothing had happened. Upon waking, he dragged Susie down to the basement, draped her body across the washer and dryer, then used that makeshift operating table to dismember her corpse with an X-acto knife. In his mind, the grim task was reduced to biology class. To foil identification, Rifkin severed Susies fingertips and pulled her teeth with pliers, then jammed her severed head into an old paint can. The other parts went into garbage bags and then into his mothers car.

Rifkin drove the body parts across the state line to New Jersey, dropping the head and legs in the woods near Hopewell. Doubling back from there, he returned to Manhattan, pitching the arms and torso into the East River. Rifkin believed his victim would never be found, but he had been careless. On March 5, 1989, a member of the Hopewell Valley Golf Club sliced his ball into the woods along the seventh green and found the can containing Susies head. Rifkin suffered a major anxiety attack after learning that Susie was HIV positive, following the case as police prepared artists renderings of the victim in life and checked them against a list of 700 missing women. But Susie has never been identified. Her case remained unsolved until Rifkin confessed in 1993.

Joel waited more than a year to claim his second victim. He was vague on dates, different reports placing the crime 14 months after Susies murder, or late in 1990. The victim was prostitute Julie Blackbird, selected for her pseudo-Madonna look. Rifkin drove her home to East Meadow when his mother was again out of town, and they spent the night together. At about nine the next morning, Rifkin recalled completely bugging out, beating Blackbird with a heavy table leg before he strangled her. When she was dead, he considered raping her corpse in conscious emulation of serial killer Ted Bundy, but the prospect repulsed him.

Determined not to bungle the disposal this time, Rifkin went out to purchase cement and a large mortar pan. He dismembered the corpse as before, placing the head, arms and legs in buckets weighted with concrete; the torso filled a milk crate by itself. Driving into Manhattan, he consigned Blackbirds head and torso to the East River, then dropped her weighted arms and legs into a Brooklyn barge canal. The remains were never found. We know Blackbirds fate today only from Rifkins confession, and from her diary stashed in his bedroom.

Murder was easy.

Joel couldnt wait to play the deadly game again.

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