Joel David Rifkin: New York's Most Prolific Serial Killer
Success breeds repetition. One week after he killed Lorraine Orvieto, on January 2, 1992, Rifkin went hunting again. At 39, Mary Ann Holloman was his oldest victim, an addict who sewed personalized G-strings for strippers when she wasnt working the streets. Rifkin drove her to the same parking lot where he had taken Yun Lee and strangled her during fellatio. Later, he recalled the act as very automatic. Not much with that one. He followed the same disposal procedure as with Orvieto: back to Long Island, the oil drum and Coney Island Creek.
An anonymous caller reported Hollomans floating remains to police on July 9, 1992, two days before Orvietos corpse was found. Unlike Orvieto, Holloman was identified from dental records and returned to her family for burial. Two floaters in as many days suggested a serial killer at large, but New York police had their hands full with 2,000 murders a year in those days, and junkie prostitutes were never high priority.
Rifkins ninth victim, ironically, surfaced before numbers seven and eight. He was vague on the details in later confessions, unable to recall the womans name, if he had ever known it. He remembered her tattoos, a pickup in Manhattan, and the way she fought for life when he began to strangle her. She followed Mary Holloman, sometime that winter, dismembered remains consigned to the last of Rifkins oil drums. He dropped her into Brooklyns Newtown Creek, where she was spotted floating with the current, foot protruding from the rusty barrel, on May 13, 1992. The cocaine in her system prompted detectives to brand her a drug mule, killed accidentally by the rupture of drug-filled condoms in her stomach. Police learned their mistake a year later, when Rifkin confessed to her slaying, but number nine remains anonymous, the last Jane Doe.
Rifkin went back to school in spring of 1992, taking uncredited classes at SUNY Farmingdale. His landscaping business had folded by then, his landlord clamoring for $700 in overdue rent. As before, Joel cut most of his classes, focused for the most part on repairing his truck, renting video porn and trolling for prey.
He found Iris Sanchez, a 25-year-old crack addict, working First Avenue on Mothers Day weekend. Rifkin was AWOL from his part-time job at an East Meadow liquor store, looking for trouble. He picked Sanchez up in broad daylight, driving her to a Manhattan housing project down by where Macys has the fireworks. After strangling Sanchez during sex, he drove her corpse across the Brooklyn Bridge, seeking a drop-off point. The site he chose was an illegal dump, 200 feet off Rockaway Boulevard, within sight of JFK International Airport. Rifkin wedged the body underneath a rotting mattress, first relieving Sanchez of her watch and other jewelry. She would not be found until June 1993, when Rifkin drew detectives a map.
At age 33, Anna Lopez had three children by three different fathers, but she worked the streets primarily to feed her own cocaine addiction. Rifkin found her on May 25, 1992, Memorial Day, working Atlantic Avenue in Queens, and retired to a nearby residential street for sex. After strangling Lopez in his car, Rifkin drove through the night to Brewster, in Putnam County, and dumped her corpse along I-84. A motorist stopping to relieve himself found Lopez the next day. She was missing one earring, later found in Rifkins bedroom stash.
Violet ONeill, a 21-year-old prostitute, was the first victim Rifkin had taken home to East Meadow in nearly a year. He picked her up in the city, strangled her after sex at his mothers house and dismembered her corpse in the bathtub. Rifkin consigned her remains to the waters surrounding Manhattan. 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, 10 years older than ONeill, had been a high school homecoming queen and college cheerleader in her native North Carolina. Married to a pro football player in 1986 and divorced the following year, she had come to New York in search of an acting career, but wound up doing drugs and living on the streets. Rifkin had dated Williams twice and enjoyed a great time before the final pickup on October 2, 1992. He bought Williams a fix that night, then tried to choke her when she dozed off in his mothers car. She woke up fighting for her life, kicking the gear-shift hard enough to snap it off before Joel smothered her. After a struggle to get the car started and moving, Rifkin drove Williams to Yorktown, a Westchester suburb, where she was found on December 21, 1992. He kept her credit cards and a wicker handbag filled with costume jewelry--so much, in fact, that the amount would briefly cause detectives to inflate his body count. Williams would fill another nameless paupers grave until Rifkin confessed to her murder, six months after she was found.
Jenny Soto was the last victim of 1992, a 23-year-old addict whose many trips to detox never turned her life around. Rifkin picked her up at about 11 p.m. on November 16, near the Williamsburg Bridge in lower Manhattan. Strangled in Joels pickup after sex, she proved the toughest one to kill, he said, breaking all 10 fingernails as she clawed Rifkins face and neck. Winded from the battle, Rifkin claimed her bra and panties, earrings, ID cards and drug syringe as trophies for his cache. He rolled Soto into the Harlem River, near the spot where Yun Lee had been found 14 months earlier. Discovered the following day, Soto was identified from fingerprint records of her last arrest, police initially suspecting her ex-con ex-boyfriend of the murder.
Sotos grim fight for life gave Rifkin pause. Her slaying capped his own frenzied acceleration period and left him with embarrassing wounds to explain. Joel would not strike again for 15 weeks, and when he did, he would take better care to hide his tracks.