Here’s What We Know About Serial Killer Joel Rifkin’s Childhood

When police arrested Joel Rifkin during a routine traffic stop in 1993, there didn’t seem to be anything too peculiar at first — the Long Island native was, after all, simply caught driving without a license tag. However, after Rifkin tried to flee and ended up crashing his car into a pole, the body of a missing sex worker was discovered in the trunk of the vehicle; Rifkin would later confess to killing a total of 17 women over a span of four years, offering details such as the names of the victims and the locations where he dumped their body parts.

Years after those gruesome murders took place, Rifkin’s legacy remains intact as one of the most prolific and shocking serial killers of his era. Former NYPD officer Robert Mladinich, who wrote the Rifkin biography “From the Mouth of the Monster,” recently told Fox News that during their private conversations, Rifkin “never expressed any remorse whatsoever” for his crimes. This begs the question of what may have turned him into such a dangerous individual by the time he started his killing spree in 1989.

Looking at the backgrounds of serial killers, many of them show certain traits as children that could predict their future behaviors in adulthood. Others are victims of traumatic abuse from parents, guardians, and/or peers while growing up. But no matter how you look at it, it isn’t uncommon for serial killers to have a troubled childhood, and that was the case in more ways than one for Joel Rifkin.

Joel Rifkin felt like a disappointment to his smart and athletic father

Joel Rifkin was adopted just three weeks after his birth on January 20, 1959, and most accounts suggest that he was raised by a loving, middle-class family. However, it also appears that he had trouble pleasing his adoptive father, Bernard (Ben) Rifkin, a structural engineer who served on the Board of Trustees of the East Meadow Public Library in Long Island, according to ThoughtCo. Growing up, Ben Rifkin was a good student and athlete, as opposed to Joel, who was clumsy and uncoordinated and did poorly in school despite being tested with an I.Q. of 128. As further noted, this was due to an undiagnosed case of dyslexia.

For much of his youth, Joel Rifkin felt like he was letting his dad down by being his exact opposite; on a more pointed note, Oxygen described the relationship between father and son as “rocky.” Nonetheless, after Ben Rifkin died by suicide in 1987, one year after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, Joel chose to remember his father as a loving parent when he was delivering his eulogy. 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

He was severely bullied all throughout middle school and high school

While Joel Rifkin’s home life seemed pretty ordinary apart from his allegedly strained relationship with his father, school was a war zone in comparison for the awkward young boy as he became a popular target for bullies in middle school, per ThoughtCo. Aside from his bad grades and lack of coordination, his poor posture, elongated face, and the fact he wore prescription eyeglasses made him easy pickings for just about everyone he interacted with, even the otherwise nerdy kids who would normally get picked on regularly.

The bullying would unfortunately ramp up when Rifkin entered high school, where he was given the derisive nickname “Turtle” for his slow gait and posture. According to Murderpedia, Rifkin’s high school bullies referred to him as an “abuse unit” and a “subtly obnoxious” person who was easy to take advantage of. But that didn’t stop him from trying to fit in, as he joined the track team and yearbook staff, only to fall victim to cruel pranks. Instead of treating him like a potential asset to the team, his track teammates dunked his head in the toilet bowl, hid his clothes, and called him a “lard a**.” Meanwhile, someone stole Rifkin’s camera soon after he signed up for the yearbook staff, and while he worked hard to get the senior yearbook published, he was rewarded for his efforts by not being invited to the year-end wrap party.

He started entertaining violent sexual fantasies as a teenager

For Joel Rifkin’s bullies, it apparently wasn’t enough that he was made to feel like a social pariah for joining clubs despite his outcast status. Per Murderpedia, they also made sure to sabotage his dating life, with one such date getting ruined when his track teammates cornered him in the gym and threw eggs at him. During another date, those same jocks chased him and his companion out of a pizza parlor, running after the couple until they were able to hide out at a public library.

Bad as it was for Rifkin to be bullied out of a chance to go on dates like an average teenager, there was something far more concerning that was going on in private. In 1972, the then-13-year-old Rifkin watched Alfred Hitchcock’s “Frenzy,” which was, in part, loosely based on Jack the Ripper’s late-1880s crime spree. Inspired by what he had just viewed, he began fantasizing about strangling sex workers, and these fantasies would soon involve thoughts of bondage, rape, and a “gladiator type thing with two girls that would fight to the death,” as Rifkin later admitted to his biographer Robert Mladinich.

Shortly before graduating from high school in 1977, Ben and Jeanne Rifkin gave their son Joel his first car, and while it would be more than a decade before he would act on his twisted fantasies, he wasted little time using the vehicle to cruise around for sex workers during his free time.

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