How Many Victims Did Joel Rifkin Actually Have?

New York serial killer Joel Rifkin confessed to killing 17 sex workers and drug addicts from 1989 to 1993 after he was caught by police with a decomposing body in the trunk of his car.

The way Rifkin was caught exemplified a man who had gotten away with murder so many times he wasn't even that careful anymore. Of all things, police pulled him over because he was missing a license tag on his car. According to Biography, a short chase ensued and Rifkin ultimately crashed his car into a pole. The body of his last victim, a sex worker named Tiffany Bresciani, was in the trunk. It didn't take long until Rifkin told police in detail about the 17 women he'd killed, providing names and maps to various places where he dumped body parts, according to Biography.

For all the care he took early on not to get caught – dismembering the bodies of his victims and dropping the parts off at different locations to keep the bodies from being identified and to evade detection — something as benign as a missing license tag finally ended the serial killer's four-year murder spree.

Dr. James A. Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Bosto,n told the New York Times in 1993, "A killer starts killing, and at the beginning, he's very careful, because he's scared he'll get caught. But only those who are careful enough remain on the street, and they begin to feel invincible. Like any of us, they cut corners."

Joel Rifkin was convicted of nine murders

In the years since Rifkin killed his first victim, Heidi "Susie" Balch in 1989, the care he took to get away with murder worked exceedingly well. His victims' lifestyles meant that it wasn't unusual for their families to not know their whereabouts for a while, so they weren't necessarily reported missing immediately.

Other times, remains were found, yet police were unable to identify them due to Rifkin's diligence in doing things like removing their teeth and cutting off their fingerprints, according to Lawyers Update. In one case, he even put body parts in vessels with cement before dropping them into the East River. That victim was never found and her murder is only known due to Rifkin's confession, per Lawyers Update

Ultimately, Rifkin was not convicted of all the murders he confessed to, but his conviction for nine murders got him a prison sentence of 203 years, which he is serving at the Clinton, New York correctional facility, Lawyers Update reports. 

At his sentencing hearing, Rifkin spoke to the victims' families. In a documentary titled Serial Killer Joel Rifkin Interview With FBI Profiler Mark Safarik (pictured above, and posted on YouTube)court footage shows him saying, "I want you to know that I'm sorry for what I've done to you and your daughters. What I have done can never be forgiven. But I ask you to believe me when I tell you that I will never understand the part of me that caused me to do these terrible things to your children."