In his office near the Empire State Building, Rex Heuermann was a meticulous expert: a veteran architectural consultant and a self-styled expert at navigating the intricacies of New York City's building codes. He impresses some clients and drives others crazy with his sharp leads.
At the house in Massapequa Park on Long Island, while some neighbors saw Mr. Heuermann was only a commuter in a suit, others saw him as a threatening figure. He glared at the neighbors while swinging an ax in the front yard of a low-slung ramshackle house that parents warn their children to avoid on Halloween. He was kicked out of Whole Foods for stealing fruit.
“We're going to cross the street,” said Nicholas Ferchaw, 24, a neighbour. “He is someone you don't want to get close to.”
On Friday, Suffolk County district attorney said the Massapequa Park resident owned a serial killer living in their midst. They allege Mr Heuermann, 59, left a trail a quarter of a mile from the young woman's body on Long Island's South Beach in what became known as the Gilgo Beach Murders. But he was so careful about covering his tracks, they say, that it took him nearly 15 years to catch him.
Mr.'s friends and clients. Heuermann in the real estate business was stunned.
His neighbor Mr Ferchaw said “I wasn't surprised at all – because of all the spooky stuff.”
Mr Heuermann, who was arrested in Midtown on Thursday night, was charged Friday with three counts of first-degree murder and ordered to be held without bail during a brief appearance at a courthouse in Suffolk County. His lawyers said outside the courthouse that Heuermann denied committing the murders.
If convicted of this crime, Mr. Heuermann will join the ranks of serial killers leading double lives, the other of whom is quite ordinary. John Wayne Gacy is a construction contractor in Illinois. Richard Cottingham, known as the Torso Killer, was a computer operator for a New Jersey insurance company.
In a video interview posted on YouTube last year and carried out in his unremarkable-looking office on Fifth Avenue, Mr. Heuermann – tall and stocky, with a 1970s wig cut and a blue shirt with a pen peeking from a pocket – comes across as a recognizable character: a scrappy guy , Street-smart Noo Yawker, the I-have-a-man.
“When a job that should be routine suddenly becomes non-routine,” he told the interviewer, Antoine Amira, “I get a call.”
According to his resume and company website, Reproductive Health Consultants & Associates, customer Mr. Heuermann includes American Airlines, Catholic Charities, and the city's own Department of Environmental Protection. He represented clients before the Landmark Preservation Commission many times and claimed credit for hundreds of successful applications before city agencies.
Steve Kramberg, a property manager in Brooklyn who worked with Mr. Heuermann for about 30 years, called him “a gem to deal with, very knowledgeable”. Mr Heuermann was a “big goofy fellow, a little on the nerdy side” who worked long hours and was available day and night, said Mr Kramberg. But he is also devoted to his wife, who Mr. Kramberg says has health problems, and to his elderly mother.
In Massapequa Park, a compact village of neat houses with manicured lawns, Mr. Heuermann, the son of an aerospace engineer, lives in the house where he grew up and tinkers with furniture in his father's old workshop. A man she went to high school with said she was bullied as a teenager but sometimes fought back. In 1990, she married an executive at an office supply company. He has a daughter who works in his company.
Mr Ferchaw recounted several disputes with his neighbours, none of which were pleasant. There was a time when he greeted Mr. Heuermann while he was chopping wood and Mr. Heuermann responded by silently glaring back between the split pieces of his maul. Other times he would sit by his woodpile on the porch watching an old television.
Mike Schmidt, who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, has a friend who lives behind Mr. Heuermann. Occasionally Mr. Schmidt would visit a friend, have a beer in the backyard, look at Heuermann's degenerate house, “and say ‘He probably has a body in there.'”
Last Halloween, Mr. Schmidt and his friends decided to take their kids trick-or-treating at Mr. Heuermann's house, just to look inside. To their surprise, Mr. Heuermann himself opened the door and gave each child a small plastic pumpkin filled with candy.
When Mr. Schmidt's wife found out where the candy came from, she told her to throw it away.
At work, Mr. Heuermann misunderstood some people. Kelly Parisi, former president of the co-op board of a building in Brooklyn Heights that hired Mr. Heuermann to oversee renovations, said she was “hostile with everyone” and was “too thorough” that the board ultimately fired her.
Paul Teitelbaum, another former president of the building's council, described him as “a very cold and distant person, a bit sinister”. He added, “There's a conceit — ‘I'm the expert, you're lucky to have me.'”
But one man's arrogant demands are another man's eye for detail. “He is very good at shepherding all of them,” said Mr. Kramberg.
According to a timeline issued by prosecutors and the Department of Buildings and court records, Mr. Heuermann kept up his busy work schedule even when the victims disappeared.
In 2009, prosecutors said that after killing Melissa Barthelemy, a 24-year-old woman working as an escort, Mr Heuermann made a series of mock calls to her family, during lunchtime and after work, from locations near her office.
In June 2010, about two weeks after 22-year-old Megan Waterman, from Maine, was last seen alive, Mr. Heuermann submitted an application to install a new fire escape in a building in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. In August of that year, she applied to repair the terra cotta and re-lay bricks in a building on the Upper West Side, nine days before Amber Lynn Costello, 27, disappeared near her home a few miles from Mr. Heuermann.
On March 9, 2022, as the net of investigation tightened, Mr. Heuermann wrote a typically detailed letter to a lawyer regarding a project on West 71st Street:
“It appears from my travels that the drain is above the interior floor slab and if the trench drain is placed below this level, it will not be able to transmit gravity,” he wrote. “I would highly recommend investigating the downside of using waterproofing at this site.”
Five days later, investigators learned that Mr. Heuermann owned the same model of pickup truck that a witness said was driven by Mrs. Costello's killer. Two weeks later, prosecutors said, Heuermann Googled “Long Island serial killer” and saw an article titled “New Task Force Aims to Solve Long Island Serial Murder Cases.”
Late last summer, Mr. Heuermann, sweaty and wearing a soiled T-shirt and shorts, was spotted at the Massapequa Park Whole Foods stealing clementines from bowls set out for children.
“He took three and put them in his pocket, then he took out more,” said Tara Alonzo, an employee at the shop. After a few more rounds she called him out. “I said, ‘Sir, that's for the kids,'” he recalls. He said Mr Heuermann shouted back and got so hot that his manager walked him out. She didn't see his face again until it appeared on TV on Friday.
“My co-workers say, ‘That's the orange guy!'”
Mr Kramberg said he had spoken to Mr Heuermann on the phone late Thursday. He was his usual chatty self, cracking jokes.
“It must have been right before he left the office and they caught him,” said Mr. Kramberg.
Ginia Bellafante, Corey Kilgannon And Michael Wilson reporting contribution. Jack Begg research contributions.