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The bodies were unearthed near remote Gilgo Beach on Long Island’s South Shore more than a decade ago, terrifying residents and leaving the victims’ families bereft. In all, the remains of nine women, a man and a toddler were discovered.
Since then, investigators have tried to determine whether the killings had been committed by one person or by multiple attackers. But for more than a decade the cases went unsolved.
Then Rex Heuermann, an architect who had lived most of his life in Nassau County and worked in Manhattan, was taken into custody on Thursday, accused of killing three women and is suspected in the murder of a fourth. Before his arrest, investigators had sifted through clues as simple as a monogrammed belt wrapped around one of the victims and as sophisticated as the electronic signals of disposable mobile phones.
Mr. Heuermann was charged with three counts of first degree murder and three counts of second degree murder in the killings of Amber Lynn Costello, Megan Waterman and Melissa Barthelemy, whose bodies were found wrapped in hunting camouflage burlap within a quarter mile of each other on a stretch of beach. All had been in their 20s, petite and working as escorts. They disappeared between 2009 and 2010.
The remains of a fourth woman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, who went missing in July 2007, were also found alongside their bodies and buried in a similar way.
Mr. Heuermann was not charged with the killing of Ms. Brainard-Barnes, but he “is the prime suspect in her death,” according to the bail application filed by Allen Bode, the chief assistant district attorney in Suffolk County. The evidence in her case “fits the modus operandi of the defendant.”
Prosecutors asked in the court papers that Mr. Heuermann be held without bail based on circumstances including “the serious, heinous nature of these serial murders,” the planning that went into them, the suspect’s history of firearm possession and “his recent searches for sadistic materials, child pornography, images of the victims and their relatives.”
Mr. Heuermann, who had been arrested in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday night, appeared Friday afternoon in a 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 DNA evidence linking him to the crime, gathered from pizza crust, bottles and human hairs.
Mr. Tierney said Mr. Heuermann had licenses for 92 guns and an “irresistible” motive to flee.
Judge Richard Ambro said he was ordering him held “because of the extreme depravity of the allegations.”
Outside the courthouse, Michael Brown, Mr. Heuermann’s lawyer, said the evidence was circumstantial and that his client had wept, telling him, “I didn’t do this.”
“We’re looking forward to fighting this case in a court of law, not the court of public opinion,” he said.
Investigators said they linked Mr. Heuermann to the killings using not only DNA, but technology that pinpointed the locations of disposable cellular phones they believed the killer used to contact the victims in the hours before they disappeared.
“Rex Heuermann is a demon that walks among us, a predator that ruins families,” said Rodney K. Harrison, the Suffolk County commissioner. Despite criticism over the long investigation, he said, investigators had never been discouraged.
Suffolk County, N.Y., prosecutors argued against bail for Mr. Heuermann in a 32-page document that explicitly details the investigation into the Gilgo Beach killings. The New York Times has redacted phone numbers, email addresses, personal addresses and the names of private social media accounts. It has also redacted offensive material that was included in Mr. Heuermann’s internet searches.
The body of Ms. Barthelemy was the first that was discovered, on Dec. 11, 2010, when a police officer conducting a training exercise with his canine partner found her remains. Two days later, the police found the remains of the three other women.
Later that year, they found the remains of Valerie Mack, a 24-year-old mother from southern New Jersey who had paid the bills as an escort 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 unearthed in the months that followed. Those six deaths remain unsolved.
“The work is not done, but this is a major, major step forward,” said Steve Bellone, the Suffolk County executive.
The families of some victims said the arrest of Mr. Heuermann made them feel optimistic that their loved ones’ cases would also be solved.
“I’m grateful for the hard work that has been done,” said Jasmine Robinson, a cousin of Jessica Taylor, a 20-year-old woman who had worked as an escort in New York. Some of her remains were found in 2003, soon after she went missing. More were found along Ocean Parkway around Gilgo Beach in early 2011.
“I’m grateful that today is happening,” Ms. Robinson said. “And I’m hopeful for the future.”
Prosecutors laid out an intricate investigation that saw a break in March 2022 when investigators discovered that Mr. Heuermann had owned a Chevrolet Avalanche truck at the time of the killings. A witness had seen an Avalanche parked in one of the murdered women’s driveways shortly before she disappeared, Mr. Bode, the prosecutor, wrote in his filing.
By the time detectives learned of the truck, they had already narrowed their search to several men who were in a small area of Massapequa Park where cell-site information had led them to believe that the killer lived, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
Investigators learned that the killer had used burner phones to contact victims in the hours before they disappeared. Using mapping technology, they found that the calls to the victims originated from two key locations connected to Mr. Heuermann: near his home on First Avenue in Massapequa Park and parts of Midtown Manhattan near his office at Fifth Avenue and 36th Street.
It was near that office that a series of “taunting” calls was made to Ms. Barthelemy’s family, using her phone, according to the court filing. One came in July 2009 to Ms. Barthelemy’s sister, Amanda.
“Do you think you’ll ever speak to her again?” a bland, calm voice said to her, according to a person with knowledge of the call.
When she told the caller that she hoped to talk to her sister again, he replied that he had killed her after having sex with her. Several seconds later, the caller hung up.
Investigators learned that Mr. Heuermann used burner phones to contact prostitutes or massage parlors and used false names to set up an email account to search for “sex workers, sadistic, torture-related pornography” and imagery and videos of women and children being sexually assaulted.
The account was also used to send selfies “to solicit and arrange for sexual activity” and to search for podcasts and documentaries related to the investigation. He “repeatedly” viewed “hundreds of images depicting the murdered victims and members of their immediate families,” Mr. Bode wrote.
Mr. Heuermann also searched for articles about a task force set up in 2022 to investigate the killings.
But while he was finding out about the task force, it was finding out about him. In July 2022, a detective took 11 bottles from a trash can outside Mr. Heuermann’s house. Investigators compared DNA from the bottles to DNA extracted from hairs found on some of the bodies.
It was an apparent match for Mr. Heuermann’s wife, who had been out of the country or out of state when each of the three women disappeared. Detectives concluded that Mr. Heuermann had somehow transferred his wife’s hair to the victims.
By January 2023, Mr. Heuermann was under regular surveillance, and investigators saw him throw a pizza box into a sidewalk garbage can outside his office building. The Suffolk County Crime Laboratory swabbed the discarded crusts for DNA, which in June matched with a hair found on Ms. Waterman’s body.
Mr. Tierney said that the task force used a grand jury to issue more than 300 subpoenas and search warrants. The grand jury helped investigators quietly pursue Mr. Heuermann, Mr. Tierney said during 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 roughly an hour by train or car from Midtown Manhattan.
Neighbors said he had attended Alfred G. Berner High School and lived in his longtime family home, which had vegetation on a roof that was partly supported by bare wood. With its cracked and faded shingles and unkempt yard, the small house stood out from the neatly kept homes on the block.
Neighbors said they avoided it on Halloween.
Residents described Mr. Heuermann as an “average” man who went to the Massapequa Park station every day, wearing a suit and toting a briefcase. “You’d never think he was anything but a businessman,” said a neighbor, Barry Auslander.
In a February 2022 interview, Mr. Heuermann described himself as an architect and consultant who closely read building and administrative codes and kept an “extensive library of obsolete books.”
“I’m a troubleshooter, born and raised on Long Island, been working in Manhattan since 1987 — 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 with Mr. Heuermann at his office.
On Friday, police officers and reporters swarmed the white and beige brick building where Mr. Heuermann worked. Around 3:15 p.m., law enforcement officers left carrying boxes, a mallet and other large tools as curious passers-by stared.
In the interview with Mr. Amira, Mr. Heuermann said his father was an aerospace engineer who helped build satellites and crafted furniture at home. Mr. Heuermann said he also built furniture out of a workshop at his house.
Sitting at a desk and dressed in a light blue button-down shirt, Mr. Heuermann described the “patience” and “tolerance” needed to deal with out-of-town architects intimidated by New York’s byzantine building regulations.
His job, he said, taught him more about “how to understand people.”
At the end of the interview, Mr. Amira asked Mr. Heuermann to pose for a selfie. Mr. Heuermann, a 6-foot-4, heavyset man who towered over Mr. Amira, put on a pair of black sunglasses.
“Can you smile?” Mr. Amira asked.
Mr. Heuermann replied that he was smiling.
Andy Newman, Nate Schweber, Erin Nolan and Ellen Yan contributed reporting. Jack Begg contributed research.
Posted on 15 Jul 2023 07:22 link