Prostitute murders New York
Auction patrons look over plaster models of artwork by sculptor Feliz de Weldon in his studio. Prostitutes can be easy targets for serial killers By The Associated Press NEW YORK — How could 17 women dis- < appear or turn up dead in two years without 'police noticing they were missing? Apparently : because they were streetwalkers — outcasts ! whose bodies were cut up, dumped or buried around a vast metropolitan area with many police forces. "We didn't have most of the bodies, and we didn't have the missing persons reports," Thomas Constantine, state police superintendent, said Wednesday. "It's a tragedy, but no one reports (prostitutes) missing." Joel Rifkin's murder arrest Monday was hardly a triumph of police work. He virtually surrendered: Driving a pickup without plates and with a rotting body in back, he ran a stop sign in view of state troopers. And investigators said it was Rifkin who told them he had killed 17 prostitutes. But if police were surprised, those who study serial killings said they were not. "That's why prostitutes are the most common victims of serial killers," said James Fox, a Northeastern University criminologist. "It's a lot easier to do it and to get away with it." "When a streetwalker disappears, you hope for the best and expect the worst. They get killed by Johns, by muggers, by junkies, by pimps, by each other." — Francine Shifrin of Covenant House "When a streetwalker disappears, you hope for the best and expect the worst," said Francine Shifrin of Covenant House, the social services agency that aids young runaways. "They get killed by Johns, by muggers, by junkies, by pimps, by each other.'' As lawbreakers who tend to live alone and have weak social and family ties, prostitutes are slow to be reported missing; even then, they may not be described as prostitutes. Many also have poor dental records, which delays identification when and if a body is found. Witnesses to attacks on prostitutes are usually other prostitutes or their customers, meaning they are often unreliable or uncooperative. And usually the case is not a high police priority. Maria Alonso of Brooklyn, whose daughter, Anna, is believed to have been a Rifkin victim, said that when she reported her daughter missing last year a policeman told her: " 'She probably met somebody and went to the Bahamas."' New York State police have a computerized program called HALT — Homicide Assistance Lead Tracking — to help local departments match up seemingly unrelated murders by matching details such as bite marks on a corpse or signs of gagging. But it failed to pick up a pattern in the Rifkin case. "The problem with these tracking systems is that prostitutes are killed so frequently," Fox said. In Rifkin's case, the eight bodies that were found turned up from western New Jersey to eastern Long Island; they were decomposed; missing persons reports either were not filed or were too vague. Prostitutes are easy targets, lacking even a pimp to protect them against their occupational hazards. They have to climb into a car with a stranger—a' 'date''—to earn their pay. The murder of such women is not exceptional, especially in New York, with 5,000 to 8,000 streetwalkers. The police list 76 unsolved murders of prostitutes over the past seven years, but those are just the ones on the books. A streetwalker's death is not generally regarded as any more tragic than her life. About 75 percent are on drugs; a third have the AIDS virus; half are functionally homeless (some live in large trash bins); and almost all are desperate. Many of them are women whom drugs have left with veins as hard as wire, faces masked with scabs and lesions, bundles of twitching nerves. But someone cares about them. Seven in 10 are mothers — although that's not how a serial killer sees them.