When Joel Rifkin walked into the visiting room and took a chair, he smiled politely and introduced himself.
It was the first time I had ever come face to face with a known serial killer - and it was one of the toughest interviews of my life. But, how did it happen? Let's back up a minute.
I was working feverishly on deadline last Wednesday for one of our April 16 editions when I just missed a call. I picked up the phone and immediately checked my voicemail. It was a call from an editor at Newsday, a daily newspaper based in Long Island. He was calling in regard to the rash of murders in the Long Island area, and, in particular, if I had any interest in interviewing Rifkin on their behalf. The editor wanted to know if Rifkin - who's currently serving a life sentence at the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora for murders he committed from 1989 to 1993 - had any connection to any of the older human remains found during the course of the investigation there.
My reporter's instinct kicked in, and I quickly called the editor back. I was given the details for the assignment and agreed to take on the charge. The following morning, I found myself standing at the main gate of the prison. This was it.
I went through several security checkpoints and answered numerous questions before getting anywhere close to Rifkin. The experience of walking into a maximum security prison was surreal and one I was definitely glad I was doing on my own free will.
When I finally got to the visiting room, I waited for more than a half-hour until I saw the door to the prisoners entrance open. That's when Rifkin walked in on his own accord - no shackles, no guard assisting him.