Investigators zero in on Valerie Mack, Karen Vergata and other victims in Rex Heuermann case. NewsdayTV's Anthony M. DeStefano reports. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr., John Paraskevas

Gilgo Beach investigators are doing an intense, deep dive into the personal lives and travels of additional victims in the serial killer case to determine if they are connected to suspect Rex A. Heuermann, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison told Newsday.

Heuermann, 60, of Massapequa Park, was arrested July 13 and charged with multiple murder counts in the killings of Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Costello, whose remains were found in the Gilgo Beach area in 2010. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Authorities have also said Heuermann, an architect who worked out of a Manhattan office, is a prime suspect in the death of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, whose remains also were found in the Gilgo Beach area. He has not been charged in her killing. 

The commissioner told Newsday last week that investigation was “looking very good."

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Gilgo Beach investigators are taking a close look into the personal lives and travels of additional victims in the serial killer case to determine if they are connected to suspect Rex A. Heuermann.
  • Heuermann was arrested July 13 and charged with multiple murder counts in the killings of Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Costello, whose remains were found in the Gilgo Beach area in 2010. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
  • Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison said he has assigned two additional investigators to the Gilgo Beach killings task force to prioritize work on the backgrounds of suspected victims Valerie Mack and Karen Vergata, the two latest victims authorities identified in the Gilgo probe.

Heuermann's attorney, Michael J. Brown, did not return a request for comment.

Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison announces the arrest on July 14...

Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison announces the arrest on July 14 in Massapequa Park. Credit: Howard Schnapp

More Gilgo task force investigators

Harrison said he assigned two additional investigators to the Gilgo Beach killings task force to prioritize work on the backgrounds of suspected victims Valerie Mack and Karen Vergata, the two latest victims authorities identified in the Gilgo probe.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney recently said the task force began expanding its work into the other victims, including three unidentified persons whose remains were found in the Gilgo Beach area. 

The new arrivals to the task force will also work on vetting "numerous" Crime Stopper tips the police have received, Harrison said.

“I thought it was a good idea to grab some people from the outside to take a look at other things that may be, potentially attach themselves to Rex Heuermann,” explained Harrison.

Two of the latest victims identified

Sources familiar with the recent task force inquiries noted detectives have been probing the background of Mack, paying close attention to her activities before she disappeared from her New Jersey home in the late summer of 2000. 

The dismembered remains of Mack, 24, a sex worker, were found in two locations: in November 2000 in Manorville and along Ocean Parkway in April 2011. Her remains were conclusively identified by the FBI through genetic genealogy in May 2020.

Valerie Mack went missing in 2000 when she was 24.

Valerie Mack went missing in 2000 when she was 24. Credit: SCPD

Tricia Hazen, a half-sister of Mack living in New Jersey, said task force detectives had questioned her recently about Mack’s family history — she was adopted — and told her they were constructing a timeline about where she was traveling in the late summer of 2000. 

Investigators also collected copies of letters Mack sent to other family members, Hazen said.

“This is not going to be solved overnight,” Hazen said last week. “I am grateful for the deep dive into Valerie and the other women killed.”

Karen Vergata, a Manhattan woman whose partial remains were found...

Karen Vergata, a Manhattan woman whose partial remains were found on Fire Island in 1996, appears in the 1979 North Shore High School yearbook. Credit: North Shore High School

Harrison noted the task force is trying to determine how the dismembered body of Vergata, 34, another sex worker, who grew up in Glenwood Landing, was found on Fire Island in April 1996. Vergata’s skull was found in April 2011 along Ocean Parkway. The FBI used genetic genealogy to identify Vergata in August. 

“We have to take a look at what happened on Fire Island and take a look at that investigation and how it went from Fire Island over to Ocean Parkway,” Harrison said.

Virginia Vergata, Karen Vergata’s stepmother, declined to comment for this story.

Working on unidentified remains

“We will continue to work hard to see if we can attach these other unidentified bodies that were discovered on Ocean Parkway, so it is a work in progress,” Harrison said.

The three unidentified Gilgo remains include a woman referred to as “Peaches” because of a tattoo she had, a toddler identified as her child, and an Asian man.

A sign along the Ocean Parkway points to Gilgo Beach in...

A sign along the Ocean Parkway points to Gilgo Beach in May 2011. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Officials have said genetic genealogy is being used, particularly in the case of Peaches, who may have had relatives in Alabama.

Because many of the task force investigators are helping prepare discovery materials that need to be turned over to Heuermann’s defense team, Harrison said he believed it was best to pull in the two additional investigators.

“This is something I need — a dedicated team of investigators to prioritize, to come to work — not going to do anything but looking at the unidentified bodies along Ocean Parkway to see if you can attach them to where they came from," Harrison said. “Once we get that, then maybe we can go forward with either [the bodies] being something that Rex Heuermann might have been involved in or identify another subject who might have been involved."

The evidence so far

In a 32-page bail document unveiled after his arrest, prosecutors detailed the evidence against Heuermann, including DNA lifted from a pizza box he allegedly discarded outside his office that authorities said linked him to one of the victims, and cellular phone site data that investigators said also linked his whereabouts to the victims at key times.

State Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro ordered Heuermann, a married father of two, held without bail, saying it was due to “the extreme depravity of the allegations.”

Gilgo Beach serial killings

More than a decade after the remains of 10 victims were found off Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach, Rex A. Heuermann has been charged with murder in three cases and is a prime suspect in a fourth.

Who is Rex Heuermann? The Massapequa Park architect lived in a rundown house and had strained interactions with neighbors. His second wife filed for divorce days after his arrest.

The victims: Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello were young women who were sex workers. Their bodies were discovered after another woman, Shannan Gilbert, made a frantic 911 call from the area that set off a police search.

The case: Investigators used DNA from pizza crust and stray hairs to tie the victims to Heuermann; burner cellphone data and a 2002 Chevrolet Avalanche also are key evidence in the investigation. 

The search: Police retrieved more than 200 guns from Heuermann's home and searched two Amityville storage facilities for evidence, including evidence connected to the victims.

Timeline: Key moments in the investigation, from the discovery of several sets of remains in 2010 to Heuermann’s arrest.

Full coverage of the Gilgo Beach serial killings

Tierney told the judge that police made the arrest even though the investigation was ongoing because investigators were concerned that Heuermann, who owns property in South Carolina and a timeshare in Las Vegas and continued to use the services of sex workers, might attempt to flee — or attack again.

Heuermann used seven burner phones over a 14-month period to search more than 200 times about the Gilgo Beach investigation — even visiting the website Suffolk police created in 2020 as a clearinghouse for information and tips — and for photos of the victims and to learn about their family members, including siblings and children, Tierney said.

The seventh burner phone was recovered during Heuermann’s arrest.

The Chevy Avalanche that once belonged to alleged Gilgo Beach...

The Chevy Avalanche that once belonged to alleged Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex A. Heuermann sits at the Suffolk County Crime Lab in Hauppauge in July. Credit: James Carbone

His Chevrolet Avalanche pickup truck, which authorities said helped crack the case after a witness described it as being driven by a man who paid for services from Costello the day before she went missing, was recovered by FBI investigators in South Carolina.

Heuermann is back in court on Nov. 15.

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