A cold case dating back to 1989 when a young woman’s severed head was found on a New Jersey golf course has been solved 24 years later after police identified the victim as a New York City prostitute.
Heidi Balch, 25, last worked as a prostitute in March 1989 before she was murdered.
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Balch's dismembered body was found in two separate New Jersey locations. Her head was found on a golf course in Hopewell, in Central Jersey, and her legs were found more than 60 miles always in Jefferson Township, in North Jersey.
Her skull stayed in evidence as officers spent nearly a quarter of a century trying to identify it. The head tested positive for the AIDS virus, one of few leads the police had immediately after the discovery.
“It was a long investigation — it was a long, intense investigation,” former Hopewell Detective Bruce Carnall, who was the lead on the case from 1989 until his retirement in 2005, told the Times of Trenton. “This could have been easily put aside and forgotten.”
Police have not confirmed the killer. Balch’s homicide is believed to have been at the hands of Long Island serial killer Joel Rifkin
, who told police 20 years ago Balch, whom he called “Susie,” was one of his 17 victims, the Daily News reported.
Rifkin, 54, was sentenced to more than 200 years for his four-year killing spree. He is known for dismembering and dumping victims. In 1996, Rifkin claimed that contracting AIDS from a prostitute sparked his hatred of women and the rampage.
Rifkin said “Susie” was his first victim, and said after killing her he knocked out all her teeth and dismembered her to make identification harder.
The claim was never confirmed.
Carnall said he sees similarities between Balch’s murder and the other killings Rifkin has admitted.
“He obviously did it,” Carnall told the Times of Trenton. “There’s no doubt. He had information only the killer would know."
New Jersey State Police helped local police solve the cold case. Using Rifkin’s confession, they looked up New York City women with prostitution offenses around the time of Balch’s death and found only one of 20, Susan Spencer, with the possible name “Susie.”
Part of the reason investigators had a hard time finding Balch was her parents never reported her missing. It was her aunt who reported her missing in 2001.
Police approached Balch's aunt with the evidence on March 5, 24 years to the day Balch’s head was discovered on the seventh hole of the Hopewell Valley Golf Club, and she confirmed that it was her niece. She also said Balch went by Susan Spencer.
To verify, police got DNA samples from Balch’s mother and father. The samples matched DNA taken from the head in 2004.
“It’s the fulfillment of my whole career,” Carnall said.
No charges have been filed against Rifkin for Balch’s death. Hopewell police said authorities in New Jersey will not be pressing charges against him. It’s unlikely New York authorities will seek to try him for Balch’s murder, which police say occurred in their jurisdiction, The Times of Trenton reports.
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