Photo: Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office
On Friday, law-enforcement officials on Long Island announced that, after a 12-year investigation, they had solved the Gilgo Beach serial-killer case. In a news conference, Suffolk County district attorney Raymond A. Tierney said that authorities had arrested local architect Rex Heuermann on Thursday night. He has been charged with murdering three women, whose remains were found in December 2010 on a parkway close to Gilgo Beach; he is also the prime suspect in the death of another woman found in that area. Authorities are still investigating the killings of at least six others whose remains were found nearby but did not indicate that Heuermann is responsible for those deaths.
Here, what we know about the case and Heuermann’s arrest so far:
In December 2010, Suffolk County police officer John Mallia and his police dog found human remains off Gilgo Beach during a search for a different missing person. The body was identified as Melissa Barthelemy, a 24-year-old sex worker from the Bronx who disappeared in July 2009 after telling a friend she was going to meet a client. Two days after Barthelemy’s remains turned up, the corpses of three other women — Amber Lynn Costello, last seen on September 2, 2010; Megan Waterman, last seen on June 6, 2010; and Maureen Brainard-Barnes, last seen on July 9, 2007 — were found feet apart from one another in the same vicinity. All four women were in their 20s and worked as escorts; two of them had children. Their bodies had all been bound at the ankles or feet and wrapped in burlap, and all appeared to have been strangled.
At present, Heuermann has been charged with the murders of only Barthelemy, Costello, and Waterman, though according to CNN, bail documents indicate that he is the prime suspect in Brainard-Barnes’s murder as well. In the weeks after officers found their bodies, they would find six others: four more women, a man, and a 2-year-old girl. Heuermann has not been charged in connection with their deaths.
Before his arrest, Heuermann had worked as an architect and architectural consultant in Manhattan since 1987, doing projects with the city, at JFK airport, and for Cipriani, to name a few clients. He lived in his childhood home in Massapequa Park with his wife and has a daughter. Interviews with people who knew him point to a polarizing personality. Steve Kramberg, a property manager who worked with Heuermann for 30 years, told the New York Times that Heuermann was “a big goofy guy, a little bit on the nerdy side.” One professional acquaintance described him as “overly fastidious” and “adversarial with everyone,” while another called him “cold and distant.” Some of Heuermann’s neighbors told the Times that he kept to himself, meanwhile another — Nicholas Ferchaw — characterized him as sinister, “kind of creepy,” and “somebody you don’t want to approach.”
In February 2022, authorities put together the Gilgo Beach homicide task force, made up of local, state, and federal investigators. According to the Times, the task force focused its investigation on cell-phone data records, which showed that calls to and from the women’s phones in their final days came from two main locations: midtown Manhattan, near Heuermann’s office, and Massapequa Park, near his home.
In March 2022, the task force caught a break when it located a Chevrolet Avalanche truck similar to the one a witness described seeing outside a victim’s home the day before she disappeared. Using the vehicle’s registration history, and working from the witness’s description of its driver, the team reportedly was able to narrow its focus on Heuermann.
According to CBS, authorities also collected DNA from 11 bottles taken from a trash can outside Heuermann’s home in July 2022 and compared it to hairs found on two of the victim’s bodies. Although the samples also implicated Heuermann’s wife, she was out of state at the time of the murders and has not been charged. Pizza crusts tossed in a trash can by Heuermann and fished out by detectives also linked him to Waterman’s remains.
On Friday, the Suffolk County DA’s office charged Heuermann with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of second-degree murder. He appeared briefly in court as his attorney entered a not-guilty plea. Judge Richard Ambro denied him bail, citing the “extreme depravity” of the crimes he is accused of committing.
At the press conference on Friday, Suffolk County police commissioner Rodney Harrison said the investigation into the other remains found near Gilgo Beach would continue. “Even with this arrest,” he told reporters, “we’re not done.”