In the fourteen years between 1989 and 1993, Joel Rifkin killed no less than 17 women, many of whom would never have been identified as his victims but for his own confession in June 1993 after he was finally apprehended by the police by chance. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the story of another serial killer.
Orvieto was another prostitute who had the misfortune of running into Rifkin. That was on December 26, 1991 in Bayshore, Long Island. He picked her up and drove near a schoolyard fence and asked her to perform oral sex on her, and while she was at it, he strangled her to death. Later, he discovered that she was HIV positive, as she had a bottle of AZT (Azidothymidine) on her. He retained the pills, her jewelry and her ID as souvenirs. He brought the body back to his rented workplace, where he stuffed into an oil drum for disposal. He took the drum with her body in it to Brooklyn and dropped it into Coney Island Creek. The body was discovered many months later on July 11, 1992 by a fisherman, and that was some two months before her family bothered to report her missing to the police. Unfortunately, she was long dead by the time she was sufficiently missed.
A week later, on January 2, 1992, Rifkin was at it again, cruising around looking for a target when he chanced upon a 39-year-old Mary Ann Holloman, who would be his oldest victim. She was a drug addict and sewed customized G-strings and sold them to strippers, which was when she was not on the streets looking for some quick money. It was not particularly difficult for Rifkin to get her into his car, after which he drove her to the same parking lot where he had killed Yun Lee. He did a quick job of killing her and recalled it as “very automatic. Not much with that one”. The disposal was also just as automatic. Rifkin went to the same routine as in the case of Orvieto – Long Island, oil drum and Coney Island Creek. Her body was discovered on July 9, 1992, when an anonymous caller called the police control room to report a floating corpse. And although Orvieto’s body was found two days later on July 11, 1992, she could not be identified whereas Holloman’s identity could be ascertained by the dental records, and her body was handed over to her family for a proper burial.
So, in a span of two days two bodies had been discovered and the police could have theorized that there might be a serial killer on the loose, but junkie prostitutes were not exactly priority investigation, particularly when the New York police had as many as 2000 murders a year on their hands already.
However, before the bodies of Orvieto and Holloman were found, another body was discovered when someone noticed a foot sticking out from a rusty barrel in Brooklyn’s Newtown Creek on May 13, 1992. This was Rifkin’s ninth victim, whom he had killed after Holloman, but her body surfaced prior to Holloman’s and Orvieto’s did. At the time of his confessional statement, Rifkin could not remember the woman’s name or whether or not he knew her though he did recall that she had tattoos on her, that he had picked her in Manhattan and that she had fought very hard for her life when he strangled her to death. Her body was packed in the last of the oil drums that Rifkin had and was dropped into Brooklyn’s Newtown Creek. The police did not think she had been murdered and realized their mistake only after Rifkin confessed. But she could not be identified.
By the time the spring of 1992 arrived, Rifkin’s business had pretty much failed and his landlord was demanding a long overdue rent of $700. Rifkin went back to school to take uncredited classes at SUNY Farmingdale, but his heart was not in the classes and he spent most of his time repairing his truck, borrowing porn videos on rent and predating for the next prey.
Another crack addict, Iris Sanchez (25), came across Rifkin, and was picked up in the middle of the day by Rifkin who drove her to a Manhattan housing project, where he had sex with her and strangled her to death during the act itself. He brought her body to the Brooklyn Bridge and placed the body underneath a discarded mattress 200 feet off Rockaway Boulevard after taking her watch and jewelry. She was found only in June 1993 after Rifkin confessed to slaying her and told the investigators where to find the body.
Anna Lopez (33) was a cocaine addict with three children fathered by three different men, and had taken to prostitution to meet her cocaine needs. One of those days when she was looking for a customer for her services, she came across Rifkin. It was May 25, 1992 when she met Rifkin and the two went to a residential street in close vicinity to have sex. Little did she know that Rifkin would turn out to be his last client. He strangled her to death after sex, and drove down to Brewster, in Putnam County through the night and discarded her body along I-84, where she was discovered the next day by a motorist who had stopped to relieve himself. Rifkin had taken her earring as a souvenir and it was later found in his bedroom.
Next was Violet O’Neill (21), another prostitute, but she wasn’t killed on the street. She was taken to East Meadow by Rifkin, where he strangled her to death after sex, and took her body apart in the bathtub. Her body parts were discarded in River Hudson, in which her torso was found in a plastic bag and her legs and arms packed in a suitcase.
Mary Catherine Williams (31), was a very attractive woman, and had been a college cheerleader in North Carolina, where she was born and brought up. She had married a professional football player in 1986, but they divorced a year later. She then came to New York looking for a career in acting, but ended up becoming a drug addict and had to turn to prostitution to have sufficient money to keep herself supplied with drugs. Rifkin dated Williams twice, and said that he had “a great time” with her.
But when Rifkin picked her up on October 2, 1992, it was to be the last day of her life. He got her a fix and once she was high and dozed off in his mother’s car, he started strangling her. She woke up and fought hard for her life, but Rifkin managed to kill her. Rifkin drove her body to Yorktown, a Westchester suburb, and dumped her there. Her body was discovered on December 21, 1992. Rifkin took Williams’ credit cards and a handbag full of jewelry. She couldn’t be identified until Rifkin confessed to having killed her six months later.
Jenny Soto (23) was Rifkin’s next victim. She had been to rehabilitation programs several times over to get rid of her drug addiction, but they did not really do any good to her. At 11:00 p.m. on November 16, 1992, she met Rifkin near the Williamsburg Bridge in lower Manhattan. After sex, Rifkin tried to kill her, but she put up a fight harder than Rifkin had ever faced before. She turned out to be what Rifkin called “the toughest one to kill”. She put her fingernails hard on Rifkin’s neck and face and left him wounded, but he still managed to kill her. Rifkin kept her panties, bra, ID cards and drug syringe as souvenirs, and dropped her body in the Harlem River around the same spot where he had left Yun Lee’s corpse some 14 months before. Soto was found the next day and was almost instantly identified from her fingerprints in police records, as she had been recently arrested. The police suspected Soto’s ex-boyfriend, who was something of a con artist, of the murder, but nothing substantial connected him to her death. So, the mystery of Soto’s death remained unsolved. However, the wounds Soto left on Rifkin forced him to slow down, and he stayed down for the next 15 weeks.
After fifteen weeks of laying low, the urge to kill arose again in February 1993 when, on February 27, 1993, Rifkin came across Leah Evens (28), another drug addict, roaming around looking for customers to make some money to get her fix. Evens had two children and had been abandoned by the father of her children. She found comfort in addiction, which was what led her to the bringer of her death – Joel Rifkin. He took her to an abandoned parking lot, where the two stopped for sex, but when she demanded more privacy to undress, Rifkin refused to budge and strangled her to death instead after she started crying. He drove down to the eastern end of Long Island with Evens’ body in the car and buried her in a shallow grave in the woods. Her body was found by the hikers on May 9, 1993, in the state of advanced decomposition. The investigators enlisted the assistance of a forensic anthropologist to reconstruct her face, but before he could finish, Rifkin had already confessed. Evens’ driving license was recovered from Rifkin’s house.
Lauren Marquez (28) was Rifkin’s next victim, and like all others, she was also a prostitute and a user of drugs. On April 2, 1993, Rifkin found her at Second Avenue, New York, and picked her up. The duo drove to a point by the Manhattan Bridge, but the blood thirst in Rifkin was perhaps a little too overpowering for him to follow his regular routine. So, there was no sex and nothing else; only the kill. As soon as Rifkin saw that he could comfortably kill her without the danger of being watched, he was at her throat. But he was distracted for a moment by a man walking his dog and in that small gap of time he almost lost Marquez, who tried to get away from him. But he managed to hold on to her. She fought as hard as she could, but in the end Rifkin snapped her neck and she fell dead. Rifkin drove some 82 miles down to Suffolk County and dumped the body in the pine barrens, where it kept lying until Rifkin was apprehended and disclosed the location of the body to the police. She had a broken neck and fractured ribs, but Rifkin did not recall hitting her. On August 20, 1993, the dead body was formally identified as Lauren Marquez’s by a DNA test.
Tiffany Bresciani (22), a southern girl from Metairie, Louisiana, was Rifkin’s last victim. She had come to New York with dreams of making it big in the acting and dancing, but she got addicted to drugs and became a heroin junkie, which landed her on the streets as a prostitute. She used to perform her seductive moves for men at strip clubs and in their cars. She was picked by Rifkin in the early hours of June 24, 1993 on Allen Street, New York. She was the second prostitute he had picked that night. Rifkin drove her to the New York Post’s parking lot, and strangled her to death at around 5:30 a.m., after which he drove to East Meadow with Tiffany lying dead on the back seat of Rifkin’s mother’s car. On the way he picked some tarp and rope and stuffed her in the car trunk after bundling her up in tarp.
…to be continued