The New York Times this morning ran what may be the most detailed profile yet of the Long Island serial killer. He's "most likely a white male in his mid-20s to mid-40s. He is married or has a girlfriend. He is well educated and well spoken. He is financially secure, has a job and owns an expensive car or truck. He may have sought treatment at a hospital for poison ivy infection. As part of his job or interests, he has access to, or a stockpile of, burlap sacks"
The burlap sacks mention seems like a curveball but it makes sense, and it's been mentioned before. The bodies of many of the victims were found wrapped in burlap--not actually all that common a material these days. In fact, a lot of the information in the Times piece rings familiar because a lot of it has been in previous coverage--the profile is only based off publicly-available details, and its value comes from its pulling together of a lot of previous disparate theories into one spot. Let's take a look at where some of those originated.
The killer is a tradesman with a penchant for burlap: None other than Joel Rifkin solidified this theory in the press. Newsday last week interviewed New York's most prolific serial killer about its newest and Rifkin, who confessed to killing 17 women in the late 1980s and early '90s, had a theory.
He thinks the culprit could be a local whose line of work would allow him to go unnoticed if he carries burlap bags, like the clam fishermen who frequented the same South Shore area where he went fishing with his dad during his childhood.
"My guess is it would be someone like a landscaper, contractor or a fisherman," said Rifkin, who is serving the 15th year of a 203-year sentence for his killing spree.
The Times elaborates on Rifkin's idea that the killer is a local, pointing out that the use of a single "dumping ground" instead of spreading the victims' remains over a wide area, as Rifkin did, indicates the killer has an attachment to the Jones Beach area. It also got some insight on the burlap question:
The burlap sacks provide another clue. He could be using them either because they are part of his killing ritual or because they are the easiest cover he can find. Burlap, however, is no longer common, and it might be easier to trace than a plastic bag. “To me, it takes away from his forensic sophistication and criminal sophistication and adds to the possibility that he is more interested in this ritual aspect,” [former FBI profiler Jim] Clemente said.
The killer is an ex-cop: That's what Good Morning America and ABC News reported on April 9 and 10, after they conferred with a few ex-cops of their own, as well as unnamed "law enforcement sources." The phone calls made to one of the victim's families seemed to indicate that the killer knew how detectives did their work.
The calls were placed from crowded spots like New York's Penn Station, where even if police were able to trace the cell signal, it would be next to impossible for surveillance cameras to single out the killer.
"The caller always stayed on the phone for under three minutes -- which indicated that he or she knows that it takes the police from three to five minutes to trace the call," Rod Wheeler, former homicide detective told "Good Morning America."
The Times notes this angle but focuses less on the ex-cop issue than on the difference between so-called organized killers, like Rifkin, who are often educated, methodical, and hard to catch, and disorganized killers, who are "impulsive and haphazard" and often get caught early on.
The killer is a psychosexual sadist: This is, of course, what people's minds often jump to right away, thanks to famous cases like John Wayne Gacey, but it actually stayed out of the commentary on this case until a criminologist named Casey Jordan brought it up on the Early Show on April 4. "Jordan said the police are likely dealing with a "power control killer" or "hedonistic lust killer," because the women were lured through Craigslist," CBS reported. But Jordan didn't elaborate much on his psychological diagnosis.
The Times takes this theory further with Ted Klein, the former Nassau County district attorney who prosecuted Rifkin.
“It was a psychosexual sadism,” said Mr. Klein, now an assistant professor at Hofstra Law School. “Most murders, there’s an additional motive to it. You want to eliminate witnesses, or there’s a fight, or you want to eliminate the person for some reason, such as a husband kills a wife or vice versa. Rifkin was killing people for the pure purpose of killing them. He would actually get sexual pleasure out of the murder.”
Serial-killer experts say they believe that the current killer is fueled by similar impulses, as shown by his desire to call the teenage sister of one of his victims — using the victim’s cellphone — and taunt her.
The killer is all of the above: That's really the point of the Times article. Plus, we get some details that haven't been mentioned before. Most striking: The idea that the killer is working according to season. The for women who have been identified disappeared during the summer months between 2007 and 2010. " 'There may be a seasonal nature to his connection to the area, or to his fantasy and ritual,' Mr. Clemente said. 'It may be the time his wife or kids or parents are away for the summer. There are many possibilities.' "
The search for more victims continues today at Tobay beach, where a skull was found on April 4.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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