Hopewell police identify victim from 1989 homicide

March 27, 2013 1:33:50 AM PDT
Hopewell Police have identified the first victim of self-confessed serial killer, solving a cold case that spanned more than two decades.

24 years after a severed head was found on the Hopewell Valley golf course, police have positively identified the victim as 25-year-old Heidi Balch, a drug addicted New York prostitute who was the first victim of convicted serial killer Joel Rifkin.

"We almost treated Heidi as a family member, because we know how many years this has been worked on," said Detective Michael Sherman.

Police say Rifkin dismembered her and removed her teeth and fingertips to keep her from being identified.

"She was young. She met a horrible death, and as bad as everything is, maybe at this point at least, we can provide closure to her family. They now know what happened to their daughter," said Hopewell Police Chief George Meyer.

The case started to come together last month when Detective Mike Sherman and Lieut. Bill Springer of the Hopewell police department began working with state police and New York detectives on a list of prostitutes working in New York's lower Eastside in 1989.

Heidi Balch wasn't on that list, but a woman who went by the name "Susie" was.

The name raised a red flag for cops, because in a book about Joel Rifkin, the killer said that Susie was the name of his first victim.

"It is fitting the story exactly how Mr. Rifkin described it with the head being disposed of here in Hopewell, the legs in North Jersey and the torso in the East River," said Lt. Bill Springer.

"We were able to develop names based on information he provided, so he sort of gave us all the information we needed. It was just us putting it together at that point," said Detective Sherman.

When investigators compared a forensic reconstruction of the golf course victim to Susie's mug shot, the similarities were obvious.

"The mole was important to compare and there were other features obviously a scar on her eyebrow and the hair," said Forensic Anthropologist Donna Fontana.

A relative confirmed that Susie's mug shot was in fact her missing niece Heidi Balch and DNA samples from her parents confirmed it.

"We felt that this needed to be solved, and get Heidi back to her family," said Detective Sherman.

Hopewell police learned just last week that the torso recovered in New York's East River in 1989 was never entered into a law-enforcement database at the time. It was just recently sent to the FBI for analysis and appears to be a DNA match for Heidi Balch.

"I don't know whether there will be any interest in prosecuting Joel Rifkin for this homicide. He is currently serving 203 years to life in prison," said Chief Meyer.