Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Working Girls

Rifkin started his own landscaping business in April 1991, renting space at a local nursery to store his equipment. It was a half-hearted effort at best. He complained to his landlord, I keep losing all my customers, and by summer he was falling behind on his rent. The obsession with murder had consumed his life and he began using the rented job site as a way station for corpses in transit.

Barbara Jacobs was the next to die, a 31-year-old addict with arrests on her record for auto theft and prostitution. Joel picked her up on July 13, 1991, and took her home to East Meadow for sex. When she fell asleep, he clubbed her with the same table leg he had used on Julie Blackbird, then finished the job by manual strangulation. Put off by the thought of another dismemberment, Rifkin wrapped Jacobs in plastic, folded her into a cardboard box, and placed her in the back of his mothers Toyota pickup. He drove to the Hudson River, dropping her into the water near a cement plant. She was found hours later by firefighters on a training exercise, but this time Rifkin reported, It didnt even faze me.

The coroner blamed her death on a drug overdose, and Jacobs was buried in Potters Field cemetery, unidentified until Rifkin confessed her murder two years later.

Mary Ellen DeLuca
Mary Ellen DeLuca

Crack addict Mary Ellen DeLuca, a 22-year-old Long Island native, was last seen alive at 11:00 p.m. on September 1, 1991, when she left a group of friends to earn the price of her next fix. Rifkin found her on Jamaica Avenue in Queens and drove her around New York until sunrise, shelling out $150 for drugs at various stops. They wound up at a cheap motel, DeLuca first balking at sex and demanding more dope, then rushing through the act, complaining all the while. At some point in the litany, Rifkin asked DeLuca if she wanted to die, and she allegedly said yes. As he strangled her, Rifkin recalled, She did nothing, just accepted it. He remembered her murder as one of the weird ones.

It also left Rifkin with a new problem. Afraid to drag the corpse out in broad daylight, he drew inspiration from Hitchcocks Frenzy and went out to purchase a cheap steamer trunk, squeezing DeLuca inside it. From the motel, he drove upstate to Orange County and left DeLucas body at a rest stop outside Cornwall, near West Point. She was found on October 1, nude except for a brassiere, without ID. Decomposition made it impossible to determine a cause of death, and she was buried nameless, unidentified until June 1993.

Rifkins selection process was erratic, sparing most of the hookers he patronized on a near nightly basis, prompting him to kill others on a whim. On the September night he picked up 31-year-old Yun Lee, a Korean native he had been with before, she was his second prostitute in an hour. That may explain his failure to perform as Lee went to work. He struck her on impulse, strangling her while she mouthed something about making a big mistake. It was Rifkins first murder of someone he knew beforehand, and he experienced fleeting remorse. Actually, he later said, I thought I liked her.

Rifkin wedged Lee into the same trunk hed used for Mary DeLuca and dropped her in the East River. She was found on September 23--eight days before DeLuca--floating past Randalls Island, at the Harlem Rivers mouth. Lees ex-husband identified the body, sparing her from an unmarked grave.

Rifkin could not recall the name of number six, murdered a few days shy of Christmas 1991. He picked her up on West 46th Street in Manhattan and strangled her in his car during oral sex, describing the event as very quick. Afterward, he drove back to Long Island with the body slumped beside him, concealing her under a tarp at his rented workplace. Next, he drove to a recycling plant in Westbury, where he had once worked part-time, and helped himself to a 55-gallon oil drum. There was ample room for Jane Doe in the barrel, safely hidden for their ride to the South Bronx, where Rifkin found a district rife with junkyards and rolled her into the East River. About to leave, he was confronted by patrolmen who accused him of illegal dumping, but Joel persuaded them he was collecting junk instead. They let him go with a warning.

Lorraine Orvieto
Lorraine Orvieto

The oil drum worked so well for Rifkin that he purchased several more for use as makeshift coffins. He used the next one on Lorraine Orvieto, a 28-year-old manic-depressive who tried to control her mood swings with cocaine. The habit was expensive and she tricked to keep herself supplied. It was a life far removed from her affluent Long Island home where shed been a high school cheerleader. Rifkin found Orvieto on December 26, 1991, in Bayshore, Long Island. He parked near a schoolyard fence and strangled her while she performed oral sex, discovering her HIV-positive status when he found a bottle of AZT in her purse. He kept the pills, along with Orvietos jewelry and ID, as souvenirs of the kill. Back at the landscaping lot, Rifkin stuffed her into an oil drum, drove her body to Brooklyn and dropped it into Coney Island Creek. She was found by a fisherman on July 11, 1992, two months before her family filed a missing persons report.

Even the parents of his victims didnt seem to miss Rifkins prey.

It was a killers dream come true.

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