A&E’s ‘Cold Case Files: The Rifkin Murders’ chronicles how convicted serial Joel Rifkin killed over a dozen women in New York during the 1990s. He operated between 1989 to 1993 before the former landscaper was apprehended and convicted of killing nine women and sentenced to over two centuries in prison. If you’re curious to learn more about the case, including more about his victims and how he killed them, we’ve you covered. Let’s begin then, shall we?
Who Were Joel Rifkin’s Victims?
On February 20, 1989, Joel perpetrated his initial act of homicide by taking the life of Heidi Balch inside his East Meadow residence. Subsequently, he dismembered her body and extracted her teeth and fingertips. He deposited her head in a paint can in the woods on a Hopewell, New Jersey, golf course. He disposed of her legs further north and discarded her remaining torso and arms into the East River near New York City. On March 5, 1989, a Hopewell Valley Golf Club member discovered Heidi’s decapitated head.
The authorities found her legs in Pequonnock Creek near Jefferson Township on April 8, and the remains were not positively identified until 2013. Joel waited over a year to claim his second victim, though he was vague on dates. Different reports placed the crime 14 months after his first killing or in late 1990. He drove Julie Blackbird to her home, spending the night together, before beating her with a heavy table leg and strangling her. He again dismembered the corpse, weighing down various body parts with concrete, and disposed of in the East River.
His third victim was Barbara Jacobs, a 31-year-old addict with prior arrests for auto theft and sex work. Joel took her home on July 13, 1991, and clubbed her with a table leg before fatally strangling her in her sleep. Joel wrapped the body in plastic, folded her into a cardboard box, and dropped her in the Hudson River. Some firefighters found the remains, and the coroner blamed her death on a drug overdose. Joel eventually confessed to her murder two years later. His fourth victim was 22-year-old Mary Ellen DeLuca, a Long Island native.
She was last seen at 11:00 pm on September 1, 1991, and Joel picked her up on Jamaica Avenue in Queens. He strangled her to death after drug-fueled sex before leaving her body in a steamer trunk at a rest stop outside Cornwall, near West Point. Her decomposed remains were discovered on October 1. He admitted to strangling 31-year-old Yun Lee, a Korean native, in September 1991 — his first murder of someone Joel knew beforehand. He wedged her in a trunk and dropped her in the East River, and her remains were found on September 23.
Joel failed to recall the name of his sixth victim, murdered a few days shy of Christmas 1991. He picked her up on West 46th Street in Manhattan and strangled her in his car before stuffing her remains in a 55-gallon oil drum retrieved from a Westbury recycling plant he used to work at. He drove the barrel to the South Bronx and rolled it into the East River, almost getting caught but still managing to fool the authorities. Joel purchased several more drums for makeshift coffins before selecting his seventh victim, Lorraine Orvieto, 28.
How Many Did Joel Rifkin Kill?
Joel found Lorraine in Bayshore, Long Island, on December 26, 1991, and strangled her inside his car parked near a schoolyard fence. He stuffed her into an oil drum, drove her body to Brooklyn, and dropped it into Coney Island Creek. A fisherman found her remains on July 11, 1992, two months before her family filed a missing persons report. A week later, he strangled Mary Ann Holloman, 39, on January 2, 1992, before disposing of her in Coney Island Creek. An anonymous caller reported Mary’s floating remains to police on July 9, 1992.
Joel also strangled his ninth victim (he could not recall her name) before stuffing her in an oil barrel and dropping her into Brooklyn’s Newtown Creek, where she was found on May 13, 1992. His tenth victim, Iris Sanchez, a 25-year-old addict, was strangled in May 1992 and disposed of in an illegal dump 200 feet off Rockaway Boulevard, within sight of JFK International Airport. Joel found Anna Lopez, 33, on May 25, 1992, strangled and dumped her corpse along I-84. His next victim was Violet O’Neill, a 21-year-old sex worker.
He picked her up in the city, strangled her after sex at his mother’s house, and dismembered her corpse in the bathtub. Her torso surfaced in the Hudson River, wrapped in black plastic, while her arms and legs were found in a discarded suitcase. Mary Catherine Williams, 31, was a former engineering student who did drugs and lived on the streets. Joel picked her up on October 2, 1992, and choked her to death, and her remains were found in Yorktown on December 21, 1992. Joel confessed to her murder six months after she was found.
Joel’s last victim in 1992 was Jenny Soto, a 23-year-old addict, whom he picked up at about 11:00 pm on November 16, near the Williamsburg Bridge in lower Manhattan. He strangled her before breaking all her fingernails. His next victim was Leah Evens, 28, whom he strangled on February 27, 1993, drove her to the far eastern end of Long Island, and buried her in the woods. He killed Lauren Marquez, a 28-year-old addict, on April 2 before dumping her body in the Suffolk County pine barrens. She had a broken neck and fractured ribs.
Joel’s last victim, Tiffany Bresciani, was killed in the predawn hours of June 24, 1993. He picked her up on Allen Street and drove her to the New York Post’s parking lot, where he strangled her at 5:30 am. State troopers on patrol along Long Island’s Southern State Parkway observed a pickup truck lacking a license plate on June 28. Following their decision to stop Joel, they made the gruesome discovery of Tiffany’s body concealed beneath a tarp. Found guilty of nine counts of second-degree murder in 1994, he was sentenced to 203 years to life.
Read More: Joel Rifkin: Where is the Serial Killer Now?