Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Coming Clean

Police escort Rifkin, shackled
Police escort Rifkin, shackled

Homicide detectives began interrogating Rifkin at 8:25 a.m. on June 28, 1993. They questioned him for eight hours, but for some reason never recorded the sessions. Rifkin later claimed that he asked for a lawyer at least 20 times and was always refused, investigators telling him he couldnt speak with counsel until you give us one more homicide. The written transcript of his interview, presumably reconstructed from memory, suggests that Rifkin was offered a lawyer and declined.

He described all 17 murders in the absence of counsel, writing out the names he remembered, sketching maps to help police find those victims still missing. Rifkin was dispassionate, referring to the murders as events or incidents, listing his victims by number. Mary Catherine Williams was number 13, Joels omission of her name confusing police and some reporters into citing Williams as an 18th victim. Their mistake made Rifkin laugh, explaining that the clumsy cops had counted Williams twice.

Back in East Meadow, Jeanne Rifkin found officers circling her house by mid-morning. Confronting them, she was first told that Joel had been detained after a traffic accident, then that he was jailed for a crime which the officers refused to describe. A 9 a.m. media report cleared up the mystery, and Jeanne phoned her lawyer, who referred her to criminal attorney Robert Sale. Sale called the state police at 3:30 p.m. and ordered them to cease interrogation of his client, but the questioning continued in Sales absence for at least another hour, until Rifkin completed his grim recital of death.

His memory was far from perfect. Rifkin had apparently forgotten the date of his fathers death and told police he murdered Barbara Jacobs in August 1991, although her body had been found in July. He had forgotten names of several victims and knew others only by their street names. He directed police to the remains of Lauren Marquez and Iris Sanchez, found five hours apart on June 29, but Julie Blackbird was gone forever.

Robert Sale met his new client for the first time at 9 a.m. on June 29, and Rifkin complained that police had taken his glasses and left him with a migraine headache, unable to function. Thirty minutes later, Sale and Rifkin appeared before Judge John Kingston, entering a preliminary plea of not guilty on the Bresciani murder. Sale waived application for bond, knowing it was hopeless, but won a two-week postponement of formal arraignment. Rifkin was transferred at once to the Nassau County Correctional Facility in East Meadow. The prison van carried him past the high school where he had graduated 16 years before.

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