Police hold serial killer: New York gardener found with woman's corpse in his vehicle says he killed her and 16 other prostitutes

A NEW serial-killer case in the United States has emerged, after police stopped a driver on Long Island, New York, for a routine traffic offence and found the decomposing body of a woman wrapped in tarpaulin in the back of his vehicle. Joel Rifkin, 34, an unemployed landscape gardener from Long Island, confessed to killing the woman and to murdering least 16 other women - all white prostitutes - in the New York City area.

State police confirmed yesterday that Mr Rifkin, who lived with his mother and sister and was well liked by neighbours, had confessed to the murders and to burying his victims in scattered locations on Long Island and in upstate New York and Connecticut.

The grisly confession has drawn teams of investigating officers from several surrounding areas, including New Jersey and Connecticut, intent on linking them to unsolved cases on their books of murdered or missing women that stretch back three years.

Police pursued Mr Rifkin's pick-up truck in the early hours of Monday after seeing it had no licence plates. As they handcuffed him following the 20-minute chase, one of the officers noticed a stench coming from the back of the vehicle. When the body was uncovered, Mr Rifkin, according to police, declared: 'I killed her. She was a prostitute.' He had apparently been driving to bury the body at a regional airport at Farmingdale, Long Island.

In preliminary interviews with police, Mr Rifkin described at least 17 murders, some with precise dates and locations. He said all the victims were prostitutes, picked up on the streets of New York City, with whom he had had sexual intercourse before either suffocating or strangling them.

After being formally charged yesterday on one count of murder, Mr Rifin, looking dazed and confused, pleaded not guilty. However, his lawyer made no request for bail, saying the case had drawn too much publicity.

As police began the work yesterday of trying to match Mr Rifkin's claims with known murder cases, officials said links had been found with at least four killings, one involving a body of a woman discovered beside a New Jersey highway last month.

Tall and bespectacled, Mr Rifkin yesterday hardly fitted any notions of a serial killer. 'I never heard anything bad about him,' one of the Rifkin family's neighbours, Jon Julien, said. The accused man lived in a moderately prosperous community where a wing of the local library is dedicated to the Rifkin family.

(Photograph omitted)

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