Police say that they have identified the remains that were found on a New Jersey golf course in 1989. According to officials, Heidi Balch was the first victim of Joel Rifkin – the famous Long Island serial killer who confessed to murdering 17 women over the course of four years.
Officials had always suspected that Rifkin was responsible for the severed head that was found over two decades ago, and until now they had not been able to identify the remains. After his arrest in 1993, Rifkin admitted to dismembering his first victim and placing her body parts in streams throughout New Jersey.
Balch, who was a 25-year-old prostitute from New York City at the time of her death, used different aliases and had several Social Security cards. Her parents never reported her missing, it wasn't until 2001 that a report was made by her aunt.
During questioning after his arrest in the 90s, Rifkin told police that his first victim went by the name of “Susie.” This led officials to believe the remains belonged to Susanne Spencer, a prostitute with about 15 different false identities – some of which were traced back to Florida and Ohio.
The case sat on the shelf for years, remaining a mystery, and every once in a while new evidence would surface. In 2011, police obtained a list of prostitution arrests in New York City, knowing that Rifkin mostly targeted drug-addled prostitutes. One of the women in those reports fit the description of the severed head, but was disregarded because a report said she was seen in 1995, six years after the head was found.
This woman was Heidi Balch.
Eventually, police found out that Susanne Spencer had also gone by the name of Heidi Balch. Balch was reported missing by her aunt in 2001, who had originally told investigators that she had seen Balch in 1995. Police found out that this was a botched report, and that Balch’s aunt had only heard a rumor that her niece was seen.
Despite the confusion surrounding this inaccurate report, a big break came earlier this month, when Balch’s aunt identified her in an arrest photo. A DNA test from the victim’s parents confirmed that police had indeed found Joel Rifkin's first victim.
Rifkin is currently serving a 203-year sentence for the 17 murders. He was originally arrested in 1993 after a police officer pulled him over for a missing license plate and found a dead body in his trunk.
The Nassau County district attorney’s office did not say whether or not Rifkin would face charges for Balch’s murder.