Starting in 2010, police searching for a missing woman found 10 sets of human remains in the scrub along a barrier island parkway, not far from the sands of New York’s remote Gilgo Beach. Police almost immediately feared some were left by a serial killer.
Over the years, investigators used DNA analysis and other clues to identify the victims. In some cases, they were able to connect them to remains found elsewhere on Long Island years earlier. Investigators concluded that an 11th woman found dead — the initial subject of their missing persons search — accidentally drowned.
Prosecutors have charged a Long Island architect, Rex Heuermann, in three of the slayings and say he is a suspect in a fourth. But a majority of the killings remain unsolved.
Here is a timeline of the investigation:
April 20, 1996: The partial remains of Karen Vergata are discovered on Fire Island, a barrier beach off Long Island’s southern coast. Her name remains unknown to investigators until 2022, when new DNA analysis helps them make an identification. Vergata, 34, was last in contact with her family on Feb. 14, 1996. She was involved in sex work when she vanished.
June 28, 1997: The partial remains of a woman, nicknamed “Peaches” by investigators after a tattoo on her body, are discovered stuffed inside a plastic tub in a state park in West Hempstead, New York. Her identity remains unknown.
September, 2000: The partial skeletal remains of Valerie Mack, who had been working as an escort in Philadelphia, are found in a wooded area in Manorville, New York. Mack, 24, was last seen by her family in the spring or summer of that year in Port Republic, New Jersey.
July 26, 2003: The partial skeletal remains of Jessica Taylor are discovered in a wooded area of Manorville. She was 20 when she vanished and had been an escort working in New York City.
July 9, 2007: Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, who had traveled to New York City from her home in Norwich, Connecticut, for sex work, is last heard from by a friend. She says she is leaving her hotel to meet a client. Investigators later say cellphone records showed her phone was last used on Long Island.
July 10, 2009: Melissa Barthelemy, a 24-year-old sex worker, is last seen at her apartment in the Bronx. She tells a friend she is going to see a man and would be back in the morning. Cellphone location data puts her phone’s last known location on Long Island.
July 17, 2009: A man begins using Barthelemy’s mobile phone to make taunting phone calls to her relatives. There are additional calls on July 23, Aug. 5, Aug. 19 and Aug. 26. In one, a man says he killed her.
May 1, 2010: Shannan Gilbert, a sex worker, disappears in the barrier island community of Oak Beach, New York, after fleeing the house of a client and banging on a neighbor’s door. In a recorded 911 call, she tells a dispatcher people are after her, but she can also be heard refusing offers of help. Her pimp, the client and his neighbor all tell police she appeared disoriented and ran into the night on her own.
June 6, 2010: Megan Waterman, 22, who had traveled to Long Island from Maine for sex work, is last seen at a motel in Hauppauge, New York.
Sept. 2, 2010: Amber Lynn Costello, 27, is last seen leaving her home in West Babylon to meet with a sex work client. A male friend later tells investigators he noticed a Chevrolet Avalanche, presumably driven by the client.
December 11, 2010: A police officer and his dog discover Barthelemy’s remains while conducting a training exercise along Ocean Parkway.
Dec. 13, 2010: Police find the bodies of Costello, Brainard-Barnes and Waterman on the same quarter-mile stretch of Ocean Parkway where Barthelemy’s remains were located.
Dec. 14, 2010: Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer publicly announces the discovery of the bodies and says a serial killer might be to blame. Police expand the search, looking for additional remains or for any sign of Gilbert.
March 29, 2011: Some of Taylor’s remains are discovered along Ocean Parkway.
April 4, 2011: Additional remains of Valerie Mack are found along Ocean Parkway. Near those remains, investigators also find the remains of an unidentified female toddler, later identified through DNA as the daughter of “Peaches.” Elsewhere on the parkway, investigators discover the remains of an Asian male. Investigators estimate he died 5-10 years earlier and was in his late teens or early 20s. He still has not been identified.
April 11, 2011: Additional remains of Vergata are discovered along Ocean Parkway, several miles west of Gilgo Beach. Police also find remains belonging to “Peaches” along the beach parkway.
Dec. 13, 2011: Gilbert’s skeletal remains are discovered in a tidal marsh near Oak Beach. After an autopsy and further investigation, Suffolk Police say she most likely accidentally drowned. Her family still suspects she was murdered. One expert hired by the family said it was possible her death was a homicide.
January, 2022: The Suffolk County district attorney convenes a new task force to investigate the Gilgo Beach slayings.
July 13, 2023: Investigators arrest Heuermann and charge him with murdering Costello, Waterman and Barthelemy. They say they also believe he killed Brainard-Barnes, but do not initially charge him with her slaying.
Aug. 11, 2023: Asa Ellerup, the estranged wife of Rex Heuerman, said she is struggling to pay for her skin and breast cancer treatment while living in a house trashed by investigators. Bob Macedonio, an attorney for Ellerup, said Heuermann was living a “complete double life,” with his wife and children totally in the dark about his alleged crimes.
Top: Rex A. Heuermann, the architect accused of murdering at least three women near Long Island’s Gilgo Beach, appears before Judge Timothy P. Mazzei in Suffolk County Court, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023, in Riverhead, N.Y. (James Carbone/Newsday via AP, Pool)