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Thread: Joel Rifkin

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    outline Joel Rifkin

    Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA)
    July 5, 1993
    Edition: AM
    Section: MAIN NEWS
    Page: A1

    Index Terms:


    Author: Daniel Goleman / New York Times Service

    Article Text:
    Since the days of Jack the Ripper, forensic psychiatrists have come far in sketching the inner dynamics that shape a serial killer. Some well-established patterns seem to fit what little is known so far about Joel Rifkin, though it is far too early to tell how his case may differ in singular specifics, the experts say.
    Like confirmed serial killers, Rifkin kept mementos from his victims - driver's licenses, lingerie and the like - displayed on his dresser, police say. They were, authorities say, much like the more grisly collection of victims' body parts kept on display by Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee serial killer, in his apartment.
    And, like Dahmer, Rifkin was a social outcast, isolated in his school years as an eccentric.
    These are the earliest indications that Rifkin will fit a pattern well-known to experts in forensic psychiatry who have done studies of other serial killers.
    The most telling resemblances, though, have yet to be revealed. These will come as psychiatric interviews or confessions open the still-hidden landscape of Rifkin's inner world, revealing the murky mix of feelings and fantasies that apparently drove him to take the life of victim after victim.
    The portrait that emerges from exhaustive studies of serial killers is of men locked in an isolated universe of bizarre fantasies that eventually drive the men to act them out in a murderous ritual.
    In the language of psychiatry, such people are schizoid personalities, ``withdrawn in their own peculiar world,'' said Dr. Naftali G. Berrill, a forensic psychologist who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. ``They live in a truncated emotional world, with extremely limited social relationships.''
    Dahmer was known as a loner from his school days. By the time he began murdering homosexual partners in his apartment, his social life was largely confined to visiting places where he would pick up potential victims. A serial killer in England told police he kept his victims' bodies in his apartment because he was so lonely.
    Typically, serial killers are absorbed in an inner world that replaces the pleasures of social life with those of perverse fantasies. ``They don't do well in relationships because they have this hidden agenda they are obsessed with, which makes them seem odd and reclusive,'' said Dr. Michael Spodak, a forensic psychiatrist at the University of Maryland.
    ``They live inside their heads in a tremendous fantasy life, which is the source of their gratifications,'' said Berrill. ``They are usually obsessed with a fetishistic masturbatory fantasy or an extensive, vivid daydream that they spend hours lost in.''
    The most common perversion among serial killers is sexual sadism. Said Spodak, ``The murder is part of the sexual act.''
    The turning point for a serial killer is the moment that a building force from his fantasy life leads him to contact his first victim. ``It's tremendously exhilarating, the first contact with the longed-for person in their fantasy reality,'' said Berrill. ``The act is so terrifically reinforcing once they do it that they are compelled to keep doing it.''
    Most serial killers who have been captured are middle-class white men between 20 and 40, often of greater than average intelligence. But that pattern may be an artifact of the clumsiness of other killers, some experts say.
    ``This is the group who may find it easiest not to get caught,'' said Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, a psychiatrist at New York University, who has examined nine serial killers, including Theodore Bundy, as part of extensive research on violent criminals.
    ``I've seen many other murderers who might well have gone on to become serial killers if they had had the wits not to get arrested.''
    Another common trait among successful serial killers is that they have the ability to stay calm and calculating under stress. This allows them to plan and execute their crimes with enough attention to details to escape arrest, at least for a while.
    This coolness is often part of a biological pattern known as psychopathy, which entails both a liking for risk-taking and thrills and a biological steadiness that allows them to remain fearless under conditions - like committing murder - that would make most people anxious.
    Physiological studies of criminal psychopaths have found that their nervous systems are far less responsive to stress than is ordinary.
    It was just such coolness under pressure that allowed Dahmer to bluff two Milwaukee policemen into returning a drugged, handcuffed Vietnamese boy who had escaped into the street. Dahmer claimed they were just having a lovers' quarrel; after the police left, he killed the boy.
    Last edited by Starless; 05-29-2008 at 07:24 PM.

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