By Ellen Wulfhorst
(Reuters) - A human head discovered on a New Jersey golf course 24 years ago has been identified and is believed to be the first victim of serial killer Joel Rifkin, according to police.
The head belonged to Heidi Balch, who was murdered and dismembered at age 25 in New York, according to a statement issued on Monday by the Hopewell Township, New Jersey police.
Detectives had long suspected a link between the head and Rifkin after he was arrested in 1993 and questioned but they had been unable to identify the head until now, police said in the statement.
During questioning, Rifkin said he dismembered his first victim, a prostitute, and put her head and legs in streams in New Jersey, police said.
Rifkin was convicted of nine murders and is believed to be responsible for at least 17 deaths, most of them prostitutes. He is serving a 203-year prison sentence.
Police periodically tried to identify the New Jersey head and in 2011 obtained a list of prostitution arrests in New York City, from which they found one whose description matched the victim, according to the statement.
They found a missing person report that matched her description but had been ruled out because it said the woman had been last seen in 1995, six years after the head was discovered.
Police met with the person who filed the missing person's report and now believe the sighting date in the report was erroneous.
DNA samples from the missing prostitute's parents confirmed the identity of the head, police said.
Rifkin will not be charged with Balch's murder in New Jersey, the statement said.
Her head was found along the edge of a stream at the Hopewell Valley Golf Club in March 1989 and human legs, found to match the head, were discovered later that spring, police said.
When police stopped Rifkin, who lived in East Meadow, New York, in 1993 for missing a license plate, they found the body of a dead woman in the car truck.
He became known as the Long Island Serial Killer.
(Editing by Toni Reinhold)