An architect from Massapequa Park has been charged with murder in the deaths of three of the 11 victims in the Gilgo Beach slayings.
Rex Heuermann, 59, has lived for decades across the Great South Bay from where the remains were found.
He is charged with first- and second-degree murder in connection with the deaths of three victims, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Costello.
Authorities say he is also the “prime suspect” in another killing, likely that of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, whose death and alleged contact with Heuermann is also outlined in a highly detailed, 32-page bail application filed by the Suffolk County DA’s office.
Her remains were also among those of the first four women found buried off Ocean Parkway in December 2010. The others were Barthelemy, Waterman and Costello, known together as the “Gilgo Four.”
“Rex Heuermann is a demon that walks among us, a predator that ruined families,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said at a press conference Friday afternoon in Yaphank, where he was surrounded by other investigators, as well as victims’ relatives.
If convicted on the current charges, Heuermann faces multiple sentences of life without parole.
He was taken into custody late Thursday in Manhattan, according to the New York Post, which acquired footage of the arrest. He was arraigned Friday afternoon in Riverhead, where he pleaded not-guilty to all charges and a judge ordered him held without bail.
A message seeking comment was left with his lawyer. Voice and email messages were left at Heuermann’s Manhattan office and at possible numbers for his home and family Friday.
According to the bail application, prosecutors allege that Heuermann used several burner phones over several years to arrange meetings with sex workers, including three he’s charged with killing.
He allegedly used one of those same phones to taunt the surviving relatives of Melissa Barthelemy in the days after the 24-year-old went missing.
Investigators back-traced the phones’ locations in an exhaustive probe.
“Heuermann lived in Massapequa Park where the victims were believed to have disappeared from, and he worked in Midtown Manhattan, in the vicinity where the taunting calls were made to the sister of Ms. Barthelemy,” reads the DA’s bail application.
Prosecutors allege that on four different dates in 2009, between July 17 and Aug. 26, Heuermann “made taunting phone calls to Ms. Barthelemy’s family members, some of which resulted in a conversation between the caller, who was a male, and a relative of Melissa Barthelemy.”
Heuermann allegedly admitted in these calls to killing and sexually assaulting Barthelemy, who was last seen alive July 10, 2009.
Suffolk County prosecutors asked that Heuermann be held without bail, citing the “heinous nature of these serial murders,” as well as recent searches he made for sadistic materials, including sexually exploitive images of children and photos of the victims and their relatives.
DNA from hairs recovered from the bodies (the first woman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, went missing in 2007) were much later analyzed in 2020, when investigators were finally able to generate DNA profiles thanks to advances in lab technology.
They eventually linked those profiles to Heuermann, as well as his wife. Investigators matched the couple’s DNA by going through the couple’s personal trash outside their home, as well as a recovered pizza box that Heuermann discarded in New York City.
The hairs allegedly belonged to both him, and his wife.
“It is likely that the burlap, tape, vehicle(s) or other instrumentalities utilized in furtherance of these murders came from Defendant Heuermann’s residence, where his wife also resides, or was transferred from his clothing,” the bail application reads of the wife’s hairs.
Prosecutors said a March 14, 2022 discovery of a first-generation Chevy Avalanche that was registered to Heuermann at the time of the murders was “significant.”
“Because a witness to the disappearance of Amber Costello identified a first-generation Chevrolet Avalanche as the vehicle believed to have been driven by her killer,” the document reads.
That helped investigators build their case against Heuermann, which they say involved over 300 subpoenas, search warrants and other legal processes for evidence. Suffolk DA Raymond Tierney said it wasn’t just the Chevy that helped, but “his physical size, where he lived, where he worked.”
Police wouldn’t speak to the other bodily remains found at Gilgo Beach, with Tierney saying “we need to maintain investigative secrecy.”
Tierney wouldn’t offer details on why Heuermann hasn’t yet been charged in the killing of Brainard-Barnes. “When we conclude that investigation, we will bring it to a conclusion,” he said. “But we will not do it before.”
‘A long time coming’
“This is a day that is a long time in coming, and hopefully a day that will bring peace to this community and to the families — peace that has been long overdue,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said during an unrelated appearance on Long Island.
The news of an arrest came as a shock to some of the relatives after so many years waiting for a break in the case. In a text message, a sister of one victim said her family wasn’t ready to speak publicly because they “really haven’t had a chance to process the news today.”
Heuermann lives in Massapequa Park, just north of Gilgo Beach where skeletal remains were first found along Ocean Parkway in 2010 and 2011. The deaths have long stumped investigators. Most of the victims were young women who had been sex workers.
Law enforcement personnel converged before dawn Friday on a small red house on 1st Avenue, which it was later learned is Heuermann’s house. The cross street is Michigan Avenue. There, dozens of residents mingled alongside police and media, watching as a half-dozen investigators in protective suits conferred outside the front porch, which was in disrepair, its roof propped up by 2-by-4s.
The home belonged to a family that had long kept to themselves, neighbors said, noting that the dilapidated property seemed out of place among rows of single family homes and well kept lawns in the small community.
“This house sticks out like a sore thumb. There were overgrown shrubs, there was always wood in front of the house,” said Gabriella Libardi, a 24-year-old teacher. “It was very creepy. I wouldn’t send my child there.”
Barry Auslander, another neighbor, said the man who lived in the house commuted by train to New York City each morning, wearing a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase.
“It was weird. He looked like a businessman,” said Auslander. “But his house is a dump.”
Heuermann, married with two children, is a licensed architect with a small Manhattan-based firm that, according to its website, has done store buildouts and other renovations for major retailers, offices and apartments.
Last year, law enforcement agencies on Long Island formed a multi-agency Gilgo Beach task force, showing what Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said was a renewed commitment to solving the killings.
“We’re happy to see that they’re finally active, the police, in accomplishing something. Let’s wait and see what it all leads to,” said John Ray, the attorney for the families of two of the women whose remains were found, Shannan Gilbert and Jessica Taylor.
Gilbert’s disappearance in 2010 triggered the hunt that exposed the larger mystery.
A 24-year-old sex worker from upstate Ellenville, N.Y., she vanished after leaving a client’s house on foot in the Oak Beach community, disappearing into the marsh.
Months later, a police officer and his cadaver dog were looking for her body in the thicket along the parkway (map below) when the officer happened upon the remains of a different woman.
Within days, three other bodies were found, all within a short walk of one another.
By spring 2011, that number had climbed to 10 sets of human remains — those of eight women, one man and one toddler. Some were later linked to dismembered body parts found elsewhere on Long Island, with a search extending from western Nassau, to the East End and Fire Island.
Gilbert’s body was eventually found a year later, in December 2011, about three miles east of where the other 10 sets were discovered. In talking about the bodies near Gilgo Beach, investigators have said several times over the years that it is unlikely one person killed all the victims.
— Additional reporting by Michael White and the Associated Press
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated the location of Heuermann’s arrest.
Top: Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison hugging victims’ family members at Friday’s press conference in Yaphank. (Credit: Nicholas Esposito)