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Joel Rifkin, One Of New York’s Most Terrifying Serial Killers, Was Caught Over One Tiny Mistake

Over a five-year period, Joel Rifkin said he murdered 17 sex workers and disposed of their bodies all over New York.

Police officers never would have thought to pull the 1984 Mazda pickup truck over that summer night in 1993. After all, it wasn’t speeding or moving erratically except for one small issue — the vehicle was missing a license plate.

On June, 28,1993, when the two cops tried to flag the driver down on the Southern State Parkway in Long Island, the person simply kept going down the road, according to a 1993 New York Daily News report. The driver then engaged authorities in what could only be described as a “slow-speed chase,” as they never went above 50 miles per hour. But after about 20 miles of pursuit, they crashed into a utility pole on Old Country Road in Mineola, as Newsday reported in 2018.

The driver was Joel Rifkin, the subject of Oxygen’s upcoming special “Rifkin on Rifkin: Private Confessions of a Serial Killer,” airing Saturday, April 10 at 9/8c on Oxygen.

When the cops pulled up to the crashed car, they found an unharmed Rifkin — but were also greeted by what they described as an absolutely horrific smell emanating from the vehicle. After searching the car, they found the shocking source: A dead body was in the trunk.

Rifkin, a 34-year-old unemployed landscaper, was hauled into a police station for questioning. Over a six-hour interrogation, he admitted he had killed the woman in the trunk, 22-year-old Tiffany Bresciani, three days earlier after offering her money for sex. Rifkin then strangled her and stored her in his mother’s garage until he was ready to dispose of her body, Newsday reported.

Authorities continued to ask if he had killed any others during the interrogation. 

“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 Newsday.

Rifkin confessed he’d murdered 17 women, all of whom were sex workers he picked up off the streets of Manhattan over the past five years. He’d strangled and bludgeoned them, and occasionally dismembered their bodies; Rifkin said he disposed of the bodies all over the New York metropolitan area, from a Brooklyn creek to an Orange County town, the New York Times reported in 1993. He even drew police maps of where he abandoned the bodies.

Rifkin displayed little emotion during the interrogation, police said.

"He never gave us motive," a law enforcement source told the Daily News. "But he said he's been picking up prostitutes — his word is 'patronizing' them — since he got his license. He got his license when he was 16. That scares the hell out of us."

Thanks to his detailed confession, police knew they had a serial killer on their hands.

"Basically, his operation consisted of picking up the women, having sex with them, killing them, and disposing of them," Captain Walter Heesch, who supervised the state’s investigation, said, according to the New York Times. "The definition of a serial killer by the F.B.I. is someone who has killed more than three people and takes a cool-off period in between each of them. That’s what we have here.”

The next step was searching the East Meadow home Rifkin shared with his mother and sister. On the premises, police uncovered more dark clues: clothing, jewelry, driver’s licenses, library cards, and credit cards belonging to approximately 10 women. With this information, they were able to identify even more of his victims, the Times reported. Investigators also found a blood-stained wheelbarrow and chainsaw at the residence.

A total of 15 of Rifkin’s victims have been identified over the years: Bresciani, Julie Blackbird, Lauren Marquez, Mary Catherine Williams, Barbara Jacobs, Yun Lee, Maryann Hollomon, Leah Evans, Violet O’Neill, Mary Ellen DeLuca, Lorraine Orvieto, Iris Sanchez, Jenny Soto, Anna Lopez, and Heidi Balch, according to a 2018 Newsday article.

Rifkin said in a 2011 CBS interview that he killed sex workers both because of the stigma around the work and because they were easier to get away with murdering.

“Drug addicted, disease-carrying vermin is the lie I told myself,” Rifkin said. “They’re easy because they travel a lot. They can disappear for months.”

Rifkin, who eventually was sentenced to 203 years in prison, admitted he might never have stopped killing if he hadn’t been pulled over that day. 

“As much as I say I wanted to stop there probably would have been others,” he told CBS.

For more on Rifkin, watch Oxygen special “Rifkin on Rifkin: Private Confessions of a Serial Killer,” airing Saturday, April 10 at 9/8c on Oxygen.

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Oxygen’s Serial Killer Week brings viewers inside the minds of the most notorious criminals of all time. Featuring specials about fearsome and fascinating serial killers, it’s a can’t-miss event for true crime fans. Tune in on Oxygen April 10 to April 18.

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