NEW YORK -- Joel Rifkin's claims that he was a prostitute-stalking serial killer who murdered 17 women led police to two badly decomposed bodies yesterday, exactly where he said they would be: one in a shallow grave in a wooded area on Long Island in New York, the other in a deserted field near Kennedy Airport.
And law enforcement sources said they have so far matched a total of 10 unsolved killings to the 34-year-old East Meadow man's chilling admissions, which include dismembering three victims. Mr. Rifkin also detailed a slaying jag that took him to New Jersey, upstate New York, the Bronx and Brooklyn, where women's bodies were found stuffed in oil drums, sources said.
Mr. Rifkin, an unemployed landscaper, was arraigned yesterday in First District Court in Hempstead for second-degree murder after a woman's body was discovered Monday in his pickup truck. His attorney, Robert Sale, entered a plea of not guilty and said he is considering an insanity defense.
Although Mr. Rifkin drifted from college to college and job to job, friends and neighbors said they never suspected the adopted son of a respected resident had a darker side, which police said he described after his arrest. The only hint of his hidden personality -- unnoticed by neighbors -- appeared to be the words on a bumper sticker on the pickup truck in which he was arrested:
"Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, but Whips and Chains Excite Me."
Mr. Rifkin, 34, told officers he had started seeing prostitutes as soon as he got his driver's license at age 18, New York state police said. He also told them he mostly chose white hookers, as well as some who were Asian or Latino.
Since 1991, he told state police, he killed 17 prostitutes in the New York area, picking up many of them in lower Manhattan. Police said he would have sex with them, strangle or suffocate them, and bury their bodies or dump them in waterways.
His forays were not confined to Manhattan. According to court papers, on Aug. 22, 1987, Mr. Rifkin was arrested during a sweep of johns in Hempstead, on Long Island, after offering an undercover female police officer money for sex. Authorities said they couldn't immediately provide the outcome of the case.
But to friends and neighbors, Joel Rifkin's life was unremarkable.
He was a sweet, quiet and awkward bachelor who never moved away from home and was never seen with a girlfriend, they said. They described him as someone who liked to bring in a neighbor's groceries or greet their grandchildren, but seemed relieved when he could return to his truck repairs, his amateur photography and his flowers.
"I don't believe it. I'm sorry, even if I heard it from him, I wouldn't believe it," said Alan Whitlock, 33, a high-school friend.
The only thing that irked neighbors was his constant tinkering in recent years with his two 1984 Mazda pickup trucks.