Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison said Wednesday the Gilgo Beach Homicide Task Force is looking into new witness statements claiming to connect suspected killer Rex A. Heuermann to other victims, assertions that caught Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney off guard.
The statements, two of which were provided through sworn affidavits, purportedly connect Heuermann to homicide victim Karen Vergata and Shannan Gilbert, the woman whose disappearance led to the discovery of 10 sets of remains along Ocean Parkway in the Gilgo Beach area.
“We have the information,” said Harrison, who appeared at a news conference at the office of Miller Place-based criminal defense attorney John Ray, and said he personally sat in on the interview of one of the witnesses. “We’re working on it and we’ll see where it leads us down the road.”
Hours later, Tierney issued a scathing statement criticizing both Harrison and Ray, without directly naming them. Tierney did not address the substance of the allegations — and whether or not they’re credible — brought forth by the witnesses who spoke to Ray, who represents Gilbert’s estate and the family of victim Jessica Taylor.
WHAT TO KNOW
- Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison said Wednesday that the Gilgo Beach Homicide Task Force is looking into new witness statements claiming to connect suspected Gilgo Beach killer Rex A. Heuermann to other victims.
- The statements, two of which were provided through sworn affidavits, purportedly connect Heuermann to homicide victim Karen Vergata and Shannan Gilbert, the woman whose disappearance led to the discovery of 10 sets of remains along Ocean Parkway in the Gilgo Beach area.
- The new assertions caught Suffolk District Attorney Ray Tierney off guard. Tierney issued a scathing statement that criticized both Harrison and Ray, without directly naming them. Tierney did not address the substance of the allegations — and whether or not they're credible.
“Without providing any advance notice to the prosecutors pursuing this case in court or the Gilgo Beach Homicide Task Force members investigating these murders day in and day out, we watched today’s press conference not knowing what was going to be reported. We will continue to investigate this case through the grand jury process and not through press conferences,” Tierney said in the statement.
Tierney said anyone with potential information should contact law enforcement, including the district attorney’s office, police department or FBI.
“Any attorneys representing victims or their families, by definition have a conflict of interest and should not be part of the investigation,” Tierney said.
Heuermann’s attorney, Michael J. Brown, could not be reached for comment.
One of the witnesses, who identified herself as a 54-year-old woman from New York City, said in a sworn statement that she and her former boyfriend, who were swingers, went to a home she believes was Heuermann’s for sex in 1996 with a woman who she believes was Vergata.
Vergata, previously known as “Jane Doe No. 7” and “Fire Island Jane Doe,” was a former Glen Head resident whose partial remains were found on Fire Island in 1996. Tierney announced in August the FBI had positively identified Vergata, a sex worker who was 34 years old when she went missing on Feb. 14, 1996.
“I saw Rex on T.V. recently and a picture of Karen Vergata,” the Aug. 31 affidavit released by Ray on Wednesday read. ”I recognized her as the woman who [my former boyfriend] and I brought to Heuermann’s home. I was shocked, and deeply sorrowful for having left her behind at Heuermann’s house. I told John Ray of these things because I needed to speak with him so that Karen would not be left behind again.”
A second witness said she was a taxi driver in 2009 when she was dispatched to the Sayville Motor Lodge and believes she encountered Gilbert and Heuermann. Police contend Gilbert died accidentally, though Ray continues to believe she was a murder victim.
Bob Macedonio, who is representing Heuermann’s estranged wife, Asa Ellerup, dismissed the new assertions.
“This is a desperate attempt by Johnny Ray to stay relevant in a case that he’s been chasing his tail on for 12 years,” Macedonio said. “ . . . On behalf of Asa Ellerup, we unequivocally deny the outlandish and ludicrous claims being made.”
Heuermann, 60, was arrested on July 13 and charged with first- and second-degree murder in the killings of three women — Megan Waterman, Melissa Barthelemy and Amber Lynn Costello, whose remains were found near Gilgo Beach 13 years ago. Heuermann has pleaded not guilty and remains held without bail at the Suffolk jail.
Prosecutors have said Heuermann, who worked as a Manhattan architect before his arrest, is also the “prime suspect” in the slaying of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, whose remains were found with the other three victims. All four of the women — the first of 10 sets of remains found along Ocean Parkway that are believed to be the work of one or more serial killers — were sex workers.
“I know our district attorney should be doing an announcement real soon,” Harrison said. “He will keep you advised regarding if there is a nexus [between] the DNA that was recovered and if there is a match.”