The bodies were discovered near remote Gilgo Beach on Long Island's South Shore more than a decade ago, leaving residents terrified and bereaved of their families. In all, the remains of nine women, a man and a toddler were found.
Since then, investigators have been trying to determine whether the killing was carried out by one person or by multiple attackers. But for more than a decade the case remained unsolved.
Then Rex Heuermann, an architect who spent most of his life in Nassau County and worked in Manhattan, was arrested Thursday, charged with the murders of three women and suspected of murdering a fourth. Prior to his arrest, investigators had sifted through clues as simple as a monogrammed belt wrapped around one of his victims and as sophisticated as the electronic signals of a disposable cell phone.
Mr. Heuermann was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of second-degree murder in the murders of Amber Lynn Costello, Megan Waterman and Melissa Barthelemy, whose bodies were found wrapped in burlap camouflage hunting within a quarter mile of one another on a stretch of beach. All of them are in their 20s, petite and working as chaperones. They disappeared between 2009 and 2010.
The body of a fourth woman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, who went missing in July 2007, was also found beside their bodies and buried in the same manner.
Mr Heuermann was not charged with the murder of Ms. Brainard-Barnes, but he “is the prime suspect in his death,” according to a bail application filed by Allen Bode, assistant chief district attorney in Suffolk County. The evidence in his case “fits the modus operandi of the accused.”
Prosecutors asked in court papers that Heuermann was being held without bail based on circumstances including the “serious, heinous nature of these serial killings,” the planning that went into them, the suspect's history of firearms possession and a “recent sadistic search.” material, child pornography, images of victims and their relatives.”
Mr Heuermann, who had been arrested in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday night, appeared Friday afternoon at the Suffolk County courthouse, where he spoke in a low voice only to identify himself.
Handcuffed, his hair disheveled, he grimaced and sighed as District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney described the DNA evidence linking him to the crime, gathered from pizza crust, bottles and human hair.
Mr Tierney said Mr Heuermann had a license for 92 guns and an “irresistible” motive for fleeing.
Judge Richard Ambro said he ordered him detained “on extremely lecherous charges.”
Outside the courthouse, Michael Brown, Mr. Heuermann, said the evidence was circumstantial and his client was in tears, telling him, “I didn't do this.”
“We hope to fight this case in a court of law, not a court of public opinion,” he said.
Investigators say they linked Heuermann to the murder using not only DNA, but technology that pinpointed the location of the disposable cell phone they believe the killer used to contact the victims hours before their disappearance.
“Rex Heuermann was a demon who walked among us, a predator who destroyed families,” said Rodney K. Harrison, commissioner of Suffolk County. Despite being criticized for the lengthy investigation, he said, investigators never give up.
Ms. body Barthelemy was the first to be found, on December 11, 2010, when police officers conducting training with his pet dog found his body. Two days later, police found the bodies of the other three women.
Later that year, they found the remains of Valerie Mack, a 24-year-old mother from southern New Jersey who had been footing the bills as a chaperone and had been missing for 20 years. The remains of six other people – four women, one man and a 2-year-old girl who was the daughter of one of the women – were also exhumed in the following months. The six deaths remain unsolved.
“The job isn't done yet, but it's a very big step forward,” said Steve Bellone, Suffolk County executive.
Families of some of the victims say Mr Heuermann's arrest has left them feeling optimistic that the cases of their loved ones will also be resolved.
“I thank you for the hard work you've put in,” said Jasmine Robinson, a cousin of Jessica Taylor, a 20-year-old woman who used to work as an escort in New York. Some of his remains were found in 2003, soon after he went missing. More were found along the Ocean Parkway around Gilgo Beach in early 2011.
“I am grateful that this day happened,” said Ms. Robinson. “And I look forward to the future.”
Prosecutors launched a complex investigation that stalled in March 2022 when investigators discovered that Mr. Heuermann was in possession of a Chevrolet Avalanche truck at the time of the murders. A witness had seen Avalanche parked in one of the driveways of the woman who was killed shortly before her disappearance, Mr Bode, the prosecutor, wrote in his filing.
By the time detectives learned about the truck, they had narrowed their search to a few men who were in a small area of Massapequa Park where cell site information led them to believe the killer was alive, according to someone with knowledge of the truck. affairs.
Investigators learned that the killer had used an incendiary cell phone to contact victims hours before their disappearance. Using mapping technology, they found that the calls to the victims were from two main locations connected to Mr. Heuermann: near his home on First Avenue in Massapequa Park and parts of Midtown Manhattan near his offices on Fifth Avenue and 36th Street.
It was near the office that a series of “mocking” calls were made to Ms. Barthelemy, using his phone, according to court filings. One came in July 2009 to Ms. Barthelemy, Amanda.
“Do you think you'll ever talk to him again?” a soft and calm voice said to him, according to someone familiar with the call.
When he told the caller that he hoped to speak to his sister again, he replied that he had killed her after having sex with her. Seconds later, the caller hangs up.
Investigators learned that Mr Heuermann used an incendiary cell phone to contact prostitutes or massage parlors and used fake names to set up e-mail accounts to search for “sex workers, sadists, torture-related pornography” and images and videos of sexually abused women and children.
The account was also used to post selfies “to solicit and arrange sexual activity” and to search for podcasts and documentaries related to the investigation. He “repeatedly” viewed “hundreds of images depicting the murdered victims and their immediate family members,” Bode wrote.
Mr. Heuermann also searches for articles about a task force set up in 2022 to investigate the murders.
But when he finds out about the task force, it finds out about him. In July 2022, a detective retrieved 11 bottles from a trash can outside Mr. Heuermann's house. Investigators compared the DNA from the vials with DNA extracted from hair found on some of the bodies.
It was a perfect match for Mr. Heuermann's wife, who had been out of state or out of state when each of the three women disappeared. Detectives deduce that Mr. Heuermann somehow transferred his wife's hair onto the victims.
In January 2023, Mr. Heuermann was under routine surveillance, and investigators saw him dump a pizza box into a roadside trash can outside his office building. The Suffolk County Crime Laboratory swabbed removed crust for DNA, which in June matched hair found on Ms. Waterman.
Mr Tierney said the task force used a grand jury to issue more than 300 subpoenas and search warrants. The grand jury helped investigators covertly pursue Mr Heuermann, Mr Tierney said at a news conference.
“We knew this one person would be watching,” he said.
Mr. Heuermann lived most, if not all, of his life in a tidy working-class suburb about an hour by train or car from Midtown Manhattan.
Neighbors said he attended Alfred G. Berner High School and lived in his old family home, which had a roof overhang that was partly supported by bare logs. With cracked and faded shingles and an unkempt yard, the little house stands out from the neatly arranged houses on the block.
Neighbors say they avoid it on Halloween.
Residents described Heuermann as an “ordinary” man who went to Massapequa Park station every day, wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. “You would never think he was a businessman,” said a neighbor, Barry Auslander.
In a February 2022 interview, Mr. Heuermann described himself as an architect and consultant who carefully reads building and administrative codes and maintains an “extensive library of outdated books”.
“I'm a problem solver, born and raised on Long Island, have worked in Manhattan since 1987 – a very long time,” he said in the 18 and a half minute interview with Antoine Amira, a real estate agent and host of a show called Bonjour Realty on YouTube, who spoke to Mr. Heuermann in his office.
On Friday, police officers and journalists stormed the white and cream brick building where Heuermann worked. At around 3:15 p.m., law enforcement officers left carrying boxes, hammers, and other large tools as passers-by looked on curiously.
In an interview with Mr Amira, Mr Heuermann said his father was an aerospace engineer who helped build satellites and made furniture at home. Mr Heuermann said he also made furniture from his in-house workshop.
Sitting at a table and wearing a light blue button-down shirt, Mr. Heuermann described the “patience” and “tolerance” required to deal with out-of-town architects who were intimidated by New York's Byzantine building regulations.
Her job, she said, taught her more about “how to understand people.”
At the end of the interview, Mr. Amira asked Mr. Heuermann to take a selfie. Mr. Heuermann, the 6-foot tall burly man who towers over Mr. Amira, wears sunglasses.
“Can you smile?” asked Mr. Amira.
Mr. Heuermann replied that he was smiling.
Andy Newman, Nate Schweber, Erin Nolan And Ellen Yan reporting contribution. Jack Begg research contributions.