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For most people, the idea of murdering a person is completely unfathomable. Joel Rifkin, meanwhile, killed 17 people — a staggering amount of victims that makes him New York’s most prolific serial killer. Now, he’s claiming that he once didn’t believe he could kill.
“I wanted to be normal. To have the normal picket fence and three kids and a dog and a cat and get on with life. Very few people start out life thinking, ‘Oh gee, my goal in life is to wind up in Attica [Correctional Facility],” he said in Oxygen’s new special “Rifkin on Rifkin: Private Confessions of a Serial Killer,” which features recordings of his conversations with an old friend while in prison.
From 1989 to 1993, Rifkin preyed upon sex workers in New York City. He would bring some of them to the East Meadow home he shared with his mother and sister to brutally strangle them; others he killed in his car after sex. Some victims he dismembered, others he disposed of in oil drums or concrete blocks, while other bodies were brought to fields. He stashed bodies all over the New York region, from a Brooklyn creek to an Orange County town, the New York Times reported in 1993.
Rifkin managed to slip under New York police’s radar by focusing on women who were mostly invisible to society. In fact, he was only caught over what he has since termed a “25-cent mistake” — during the early morning hours of June 28, 1993, cops spotted him driving down the Southern State Parkway without a license plate.
They tried to pull him over, and Rifkin instead initiated a car chase, eventually crashing into a utility pole, according to a 1993 New York Daily News report.
When police approached the crashed car, they were overwhelmed by a horrific odor; inside the car’s trunk was Rifkin’s 17th and final victim, Tiffany Bresciani.
Rifkin soon confessed to all 17 murders during a police interrogation, even drawing them maps of where to find the bodies of his victims.
“He kind of leaned back and said, ‘One or 100, what’s the difference?’” recalled Eugene Corcoran, the state police lieutenant who supervised the investigation, according to a 2018 Newsday article.
Rifkin was sentenced to 203 years in prison. At sentencing, he took a moment to claim to the court that he felt remorse for his massive string of murders.
"You all think that I am nothing but a monster, and you are right," Rifkin said, the New York Times reported at the time. "Part of me must be […] I want you to know that I am sorry for what I have done to you and your daughters. I will go to my grave carrying the deaths of these innocent women with me.”
Loved ones of Rifkin’s victims’ have voiced their disgust and horror with the killer.
“Leah was not a throwaway. None of them were throwaways,” a friend of Leah Evans’ told “Rifkin on Rifkin” producers. At the sentencing, the sister of another victim, Iris Sanchez, called Rifkin “a cold-blooded killer” who “will now rot in hell,” according to the Times.
Rifkin has continued to express regret for the murders in various interviews from prison, claiming he doesn’t know why he killed the women. He told ABC News in 2002, “It was just something that happened and, you know, I had no plans to repeat it. Am I just evil? Am I brain-damaged? I mean, these are questions I want answered."
In the years since his spree, Rifkin has come up with some potential explanations for his murderous nature. While talking to the New York Daily News in 2010, he alluded to the intense bullying he endured in his youth as stoking his homicidal tendencies. He falsely claimed serial killings are an American phenomenon — “America breeds serial killers. You don’t see any from Europe.”
Rifkin has also implied Paxil, an antidepressant he took, inspired his murder spree, the Sun Community News reported in 2011.
When explaining to CBS News in 2011 why he specifically targeted sex workers, he said, “You lie to yourself. You deny that there’s a family. That’s there’s parents and possibly kids. You think of people as things [..] Drug addicted, disease-carrying vermin is the lie I told myself.”
Eventually, he said in “Rifkin on Rifkin,” he believes killings became an addiction.
“As much as I say I wanted to stop, there probably would have been others,” he admitted to CBS News, a sentiment he reiterates in “Rifkin on Rifkin.”
“Where I am right now today, I know this is the best place for me,” he said.
For more on Rifkin’s troubled childhood, his murder methods, and his current prison life in his own words, watch Oxygen’s special, “Rifkin on Rifkin: Private Confessions of a Serial Killer.”
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