In December 2010, police found the bodies of four women wrapped in burlap and hidden in thick underbrush along a remote beach highway that runs parallel to the ocean at Gilgo Beach, on the coast of Long Island, New York. Within a few months, they discovered six more bodies in the same area, including the skeleton of a toddler.
And then, for over a decade, there was nothing. The deaths long stumped investigators. Most of the victims were young women who had been sex workers. Last year, an interagency task force was formed with investigators from the FBI, as well as state and local police departments, aimed at solving the case.
Then, this past Friday, more than a quarter of a century after the first news emerged about the Long Island serial killer – one of the most famous unsolved crime cases in recent U.S. history – the police finally announced the arrest of a suspect. The announcement brought some relief to the residents of South Oyster Bay, as well as to the relatives of the victims.
In denying bail, Judge Richard Ambro cited “the extreme depravity” of Heuermann’s alleged conduct.
The suspect has been identified as Rex Heuermann, a 59-year-old architect. He was a family man with two children who looked like he’d never killed a fly. He lived in a house in a residential area in Massapequa Park, a community just north of South Oyster Bay and about a 25-minute drive away along a causeway spanning the bay. The arrest, however, took place in midtown Manhattan, where he worked.
His neighbors in the community where he has lived for decades told the media that they would never have imagined such a nondescript individual could have had anything to do with the macabre events. “We’re going to continue to work, investigate, and try to get a small measure of closure for all the victims’ families,” Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said.
Heuermann has been charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Costello over a decade ago. He is also considered the prime suspect in the death of another woman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, although he has not been charged yet. Investigators have said it’s unlikely just one person killed all the victims.
The killer allegedly contacted his victims on disposable cell phones at a time when tracking technology had not yet reached today’s levels of sophistication. He called them to request their escort services from places in midtown Manhattan, where his studio is located. The first disappearance that caught the attention of the authorities was in May 2010, when Shannan Gilbert, 24, went missing after visiting a client five kilometers from Gilgo Beach, but had time to call 911 and say, “Someone is trying to kill me.” Her body appeared near there in December 2011.
During the search for her remains, police also found the bodies of Amber Lynn Costello, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Megan Waterman and Melissa Barthelemy, all sex workers in their 20s. Months later, investigators unearthed the dismembered body of Valerie Mack, who had disappeared 20 years earlier.
Following the gruesome findings, which quickly captured the imagination of the American public, the investigation entered a nearly decade-long dead end. In 2020, it was reactivated thanks to an image of a belt with the initials (HW or MH, depending on the orientation of the buckle) allegedly belonging to the suspect and found wrapped around one of the victims.
Heuermann was first identified as a suspect in March 2022, when detectives linked him to a pickup truck that a witness reported seeing when one of the victims disappeared in 2010. In March, detectives recovered Heuermann’s DNA from a pizza crust he discarded and matched it to evidence found on one of the victims, authorities said.
In a news conference on Friday afternoon, a few hours after the accused’s lawyer enterered a “not guilty” plea at an arraignment Friday, Suffolk County District Attorney Tierney said the decision to arrest Heuermann was based on the suspicion that he was about to kill again. “He kept using fictitious email addresses, fictitious identities, disposable phones, harassing sex workers,” he said. “We had to get him off the streets.”
Like so many true crime stories in a country obsessed with them, the Gilgo Beach crimes inspired a series of cultural products, from books to podcasts to movies, including The Long Island Serial Killer (2013) and the Netflix production Lost Girls, which focuses on Gilbert’s mother’s struggle to find her daughter’s killer.
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