Investigators will be using the same methodology they used in the Gilgo Beach cases to take a "fresh look" at other unsolved cases. Newsday courts reporter Grant Parpan discusses the strategy. Credit: Newsday

The Gilgo Beach Homicide Task Force has expanded its scope to take a “fresh look” at other unsolved cases involving human remains found elsewhere in the county, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said.

The revelation follows a report issued by the district attorney’s office that stated the work of the task force is “far from complete” regarding Gilgo Four suspect Rex A. Heuermann and other defendants “yet to be named.”

“We’re looking at other dead bodies,” Tierney told Newsday in an interview Thursday. “We’re using the same methodology that we used before, but we’re taking a fresh approach to each body.”

The goal, Tierney said in his office’s annual report, is “solving every outstanding cold case homicide.” When asked about that statement, Tierney said the task force started with Gilgo but has “morphed into something else.”

“We have six other bodies on Gilgo and we’ve expanded the investigation off Gilgo,” Tierney said of recent efforts by what has been referred to as the Gilgo Beach Homicide Task Force since its inception in January 2022. “We’re not going to confine ourselves to Gilgo.”

Tierney spoke of the expanded focus of the multiagency task force one week after it concluded a 9-day search by police cadaver dogs of thousands of acres of woods in and around Manorville, where partial remains of two Gilgo Beach victims were found.

That search eventually expanded to North Sea to a wooded preserve where the remains of another cold case victim, Sandra Costilla, were found in 1993. Prosecutors under former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota named since-convicted killer John Bittrolff, of Manorville, a suspect in that case.

While Tierney acknowledged the K-9 search of Manorville ended May 1, he declined to discuss specific individuals or to say if the search was fruitful.

“Anytime you do anything, you learn something,” Tierney said of the search. “The significance of it, well, you know, I guess that will have to be evaluated.”

The Gilgo Beach Homicide Task Force, which is led by Tierney, includes four additional Suffolk prosecutors, Suffolk and New York State Police investigators, FBI, and the Suffolk County Crime Lab, Medical Examiner and sheriff’s offices, according to the district attorney’s office. Members of the Task Force, outside of the prosecutors who have appeared in court, have not been publicly named.

Tierney is the only member of the multiagency group to speak about the ongoing investigation since the resignation of former Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison last year.

Former Nassau County prosecutor Fred Klein, who was the major offense bureau chief and is now a Hofstra University professor, said there are several reasons why investigators might want to expand the scope of the task force. One reason would be to look at any possible connection Heuermann might have to other unsolved cases.

“When it does go to trial, they’re showing they ran down every lead or how far away from Gilgo,” said Klein, who prosecuted the case against convicted serial killer Joel Rifkin in 1994.

Additionally, Klein said it makes sense to take advantage of all the resources available to such a large group of investigators from multiple agencies working on a high-profile case.

“They've got all that kind of institutional experience built up now with crime scene searches, of autopsies on parts, and DNA and phone analysis, and you name it, they might as well take all that knowledge and try to use it and maybe they'll be able to solve some other unsolved cases,” Klein said.

Retired Suffolk judge Peter Mayer, who decades earlier prosecuted homicide cases in Suffolk County, said it always helps to put a fresh set of eyes on old cases. 

“Once these cases go dormant, you have to have somebody to kick them back into high gear,” Mayer said. “As the years go by police officers change, the constituents of the homicide squad changes, the DA changes and all those cases are forgotten about. So this is perhaps an opportunity to say, ‘Let's gear this up, because maybe there's some similarities between some of these things that we've missed.’” 

The district attorney's annual report, a 108-page magazine-style publication highlighting the accomplishments of the office, also referenced investigative assistance the task force received from the U.S. Secret Service’s Electronic Investigations Section.

Tierney said the task force turned over more than 420 devices investigators seized during search warrants executed at the home, office and storage spaces rented by Heuermann to Secret Service investigators who specialize in analyzing encrypted devices following his July 13 arrest.

Tierney said the items turned over to the federal agency include smartphones, palm pilots, tablets, laptops, desktop computers and CD-ROMs.

“A large number of smart devices were found at the locations,” Tierney said. “An unusual amount.”

Tierney said the Secret Service used Greykey, extraction software he said the agency is particularly proficient at using, to access information from Heuermann’s devices. Following a court appearance last month, Tierney said discovery associated with those devices has been turned over to Heuermann’s defense attorney, Michael J. Brown, who declined to comment.

Secret Service spokesperson Alexa Worley declined to comment, citing agency policy regarding ongoing investigations.

Heuermann has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree murder in the killings of Megan Waterman, Amber Lynn Costello and Melissa Barthelemy, and second-degree murder in the slaying of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, collectively known as the Gilgo Four. The victims, whose remains were discovered in 2010, were sex workers. Their remains were found “completely nude” and restrained by either tape, burlap or belts, court records show.

Discovery has included 12 terabytes of data, including a transcript of the grand jury presentation, 85 grand jury exhibits, autopsy reports, photographs from the crime scene and the medical examiner’s office, search warrants and affidavits, prosecutors said in a recent court filing. The defense was also given paperwork from the Suffolk County Police Department and its crime lab, as well as outside laboratory documentation, prosecutors said.

Heuermann has been held without bail since his July 13 arrest.

Prosecutors have said Heuermann had hundreds of contacts with sex workers in the years before he was arrested. He was connected to the crime primarily through cell site data, burner phone records and DNA evidence linking him to the women and the location where the bodies were found, prosecutors have said.

Heuermann used seven burner phones over a 14-month period to do approximately 200 searches 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 has said.

The Gilgo Beach Homicide Task Force has expanded its scope to take a “fresh look” at other unsolved cases involving human remains found elsewhere in the county, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said.

The revelation follows a report issued by the district attorney’s office that stated the work of the task force is “far from complete” regarding Gilgo Four suspect Rex A. Heuermann and other defendants “yet to be named.”

“We’re looking at other dead bodies,” Tierney told Newsday in an interview Thursday. “We’re using the same methodology that we used before, but we’re taking a fresh approach to each body.”

The goal, Tierney said in his office’s annual report, is “solving every outstanding cold case homicide.” When asked about that statement, Tierney said the task force started with Gilgo but has “morphed into something else.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Gilgo Beach Homicide Task Force has expanded its scope to take a “fresh look” at other unsolved cases involving human remains found elsewhere in the county, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said Thursday.
  • The revelation follows a report issued by the district attorney’s office that stated the work of the task force is “far from complete” regarding Gilgo Four suspect Rex A. Heuermann and other defendants “yet to be named.”
  • The report also referenced investigative assistance the task force received from the U.S. Secret Service’s Electronic Investigations Section, which helped analyze encrypted devices following accused Gilgo Beach killer Rex A. Heuermann's July 13 arrest.

“We have six other bodies on Gilgo and we’ve expanded the investigation off Gilgo,” Tierney said of recent efforts by what has been referred to as the Gilgo Beach Homicide Task Force since its inception in January 2022. “We’re not going to confine ourselves to Gilgo.”

Tierney spoke of the expanded focus of the multiagency task force one week after it concluded a 9-day search by police cadaver dogs of thousands of acres of woods in and around Manorville, where partial remains of two Gilgo Beach victims were found.

Suffolk police and NYPD K-9 units gather on April 24...

Suffolk police and NYPD K-9 units gather on April 24 along Wading River Road in Manorville as a search for bodies related to the Gilgo Beach homicide investigation. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

That search eventually expanded to North Sea to a wooded preserve where the remains of another cold case victim, Sandra Costilla, were found in 1993. Prosecutors under former Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota named since-convicted killer John Bittrolff, of Manorville, a suspect in that case.

While Tierney acknowledged the K-9 search of Manorville ended May 1, he declined to discuss specific individuals or to say if the search was fruitful.

“Anytime you do anything, you learn something,” Tierney said of the search. “The significance of it, well, you know, I guess that will have to be evaluated.”

The Gilgo Beach Homicide Task Force, which is led by Tierney, includes four additional Suffolk prosecutors, Suffolk and New York State Police investigators, FBI, and the Suffolk County Crime Lab, Medical Examiner and sheriff’s offices, according to the district attorney’s office. Members of the Task Force, outside of the prosecutors who have appeared in court, have not been publicly named.

Tierney is the only member of the multiagency group to speak about the ongoing investigation since the resignation of former Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison last year.

Former Nassau County prosecutor Fred Klein, who was the major offense bureau chief and is now a Hofstra University professor, said there are several reasons why investigators might want to expand the scope of the task force. One reason would be to look at any possible connection Heuermann might have to other unsolved cases.

“When it does go to trial, they’re showing they ran down every lead or how far away from Gilgo,” said Klein, who prosecuted the case against convicted serial killer Joel Rifkin in 1994.

Additionally, Klein said it makes sense to take advantage of all the resources available to such a large group of investigators from multiple agencies working on a high-profile case.

“They've got all that kind of institutional experience built up now with crime scene searches, of autopsies on parts, and DNA and phone analysis, and you name it, they might as well take all that knowledge and try to use it and maybe they'll be able to solve some other unsolved cases,” Klein said.

Retired Suffolk judge Peter Mayer, who decades earlier prosecuted homicide cases in Suffolk County, said it always helps to put a fresh set of eyes on old cases. 

“Once these cases go dormant, you have to have somebody to kick them back into high gear,” Mayer said. “As the years go by police officers change, the constituents of the homicide squad changes, the DA changes and all those cases are forgotten about. So this is perhaps an opportunity to say, ‘Let's gear this up, because maybe there's some similarities between some of these things that we've missed.’” 

The district attorney's annual report, a 108-page magazine-style publication highlighting the accomplishments of the office, also referenced investigative assistance the task force received from the U.S. Secret Service’s Electronic Investigations Section.

Tierney said the task force turned over more than 420 devices investigators seized during search warrants executed at the home, office and storage spaces rented by Heuermann to Secret Service investigators who specialize in analyzing encrypted devices following his July 13 arrest.

Tierney said the items turned over to the federal agency include smartphones, palm pilots, tablets, laptops, desktop computers and CD-ROMs.

“A large number of smart devices were found at the locations,” Tierney said. “An unusual amount.”

Tierney said the Secret Service used Greykey, extraction software he said the agency is particularly proficient at using, to access information from Heuermann’s devices. Following a court appearance last month, Tierney said discovery associated with those devices has been turned over to Heuermann’s defense attorney, Michael J. Brown, who declined to comment.

Secret Service spokesperson Alexa Worley declined to comment, citing agency policy regarding ongoing investigations.

Heuermann has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree murder in the killings of Megan Waterman, Amber Lynn Costello and Melissa Barthelemy, and second-degree murder in the slaying of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, collectively known as the Gilgo Four. The victims, whose remains were discovered in 2010, were sex workers. Their remains were found “completely nude” and restrained by either tape, burlap or belts, court records show.

Discovery has included 12 terabytes of data, including a transcript of the grand jury presentation, 85 grand jury exhibits, autopsy reports, photographs from the crime scene and the medical examiner’s office, search warrants and affidavits, prosecutors said in a recent court filing. The defense was also given paperwork from the Suffolk County Police Department and its crime lab, as well as outside laboratory documentation, prosecutors said.

Heuermann has been held without bail since his July 13 arrest.

Prosecutors have said Heuermann had hundreds of contacts with sex workers in the years before he was arrested. He was connected to the crime primarily through cell site data, burner phone records and DNA evidence linking him to the women and the location where the bodies were found, prosecutors have said.

Heuermann used seven burner phones over a 14-month period to do approximately 200 searches 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 has said.

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