By Jordan Soldaczewski
Look around the room you’re in. Now think about the fact that one of those people may one day become a serial killer.
This may not seem possible, but for Brockport student Robert Mladinich, this was reality. In 1993 he read the paper one day to find out that one of his former classmates from college was on trial for the murder of nine women.
Joel Rifkin was pulled over for a missing license plate on his car where police discovered a corpse in the trunk. Rifkin was arrested for murder and was later charged with various other counts of murder. He admitted to killing 17 people and to targeting female prostitutes. However, he was only tried for 9, since that is all the FBI were able to find. He will serve 203 years in the Clinton Correctional Facility in the North Country of NY.
Rifkin was born in 1959 and grew up on Long Island. He had a troubled childhood. He was an adopted child with diagnosed dyslexia, a low IQ, and an awkward nature. Rifkin was different from his peers, which led them to exclude him, especially when he tried to get involved in activities like the track team and the yearbook club.
In 1972 he was inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock film Frenzy, leading to his later obsession with strangling prostitutes. In this same year his parents gave him a car that he used to begin picking up prostitutes.
Rifkin attended Nassau Community College for one semester and then dropped out. He then took three years to pursue landscaping in various parts of the country.
Rifkin then started at SUNY Brockport in 1977 and pursued photojournalism. Classmate Robert Mladinich shared a story about working on an article for The Stylus with Rifkin as explained in Mlandinich’s book, From the Mouth of the Monster: The Joel Rifkin Story. Rifkin and Mladinich were covering a boxing match featuring up-and-coming boxer, Rocky Fratto. The two had a lot in common to talk about on the thirty minute ride to Rochester and when the match took a turn of events, they were able to share a moment which most journalists dream of. Fratto was named the winner of a fight he clearly lost causing the crowd to become furious and drunkenly throw items and punches Fratto’s way.
“Joel initially sought refuge under the ring, but quickly realized that from a journalistic standpoint, valor took precedence over safety. He was soon amid the fray, firing away with his camera like a front-line war correspondent while bullets whizzed past his head. We could not believe our good fortune. On our very first paid assignment ever, we would not just be reporting the news, we were actually becoming part of it,” Mladinich said.
At Brockport, students truly looked up to Rifkin for his photography skill. The photography club and most others believed he would go on to become a successful photographer, that is until he dropped out. Rifkin was battling severe depression leading to his low grades and sloppiness. He found it hard to commit to his relationship at the time and often went to Rochester to pick up hookers. This all lead to the demise of his relationship and his academic career. Rifkin has argued that if he had access to anti-depression medication, he may have become the successful photographer he was destined to be and not the murder he is.
Rifkin moved back to Long Island with his parents and pursued a career in retail with the company Record World. He enjoyed it at first, until he had difficulty with the accounting aspects of paperwork. Rifkin felt like he had fallen back into his childhood years when he struggled to do simple math and would often get frustrated by it.
In 1986, Rifkins’ father became terminally ill and begged his son to take classes at SUNY Farmingdale. Rifkin enrolled in Biology and at midterms his father fell into a coma. The day before he died Rifkin said into his unconscious ear, “Gee, Dad, I got a ninety, isn’t that great?”
After his father’s death, Rifkin went back into his ways, working landscaping side jobs to pay the expenses of prostitutes. Officially out of college, instead of studying a major, Rifkin studied past crimes to learn how to cover up murder. Since he lived at home, Rifkin would have to wait until his mom was out of town to turn his sick fantasies into reality.
Rifkins first murder wasn’t until 1989. His next murder was 18 months later. After that it became routine to Rifkin.
17 victims lives were allegedly taken by Joel Rifkin. Killing became routine to him and he says he is surprised he wasn’t caught sooner, especially when disposing of the bodies which he often dismembered and disguised in burlap bags or paint cans on the way to dumping it into a river or a secluded area.
When you think of the people who attended the same college as you, you’re inclined to think about the people who have been successful. There are many interesting people who went to Brockport including renowned actors, film producers, journalists, entrepreneurs, senators, and more. What you may not think of are the murderers who walked the same halls as you do now, let alone serial killers.