Crime-scene investigators search the Massapequa Park home of Rex A. Heuermann. He is charged with three counts each of first- and second-degree murder in the deaths of Megan Waterman, Melissa Barthelemy and Amber Lynn Costello. Credit: John Roca

The Gilgo Beach serial murder case went unsolved for more than 12 years, but it finally saw a breakthrough this month. Authorities arrested Rex A. Heuermann, a married architect from Massapequa Park, who worked in Manhattan and allegedly killed sex workers on Long Island. Here are some key questions and answers about the case.

WHAT IS HEUERMANN CHARGED WITH?

Heuermann, 59, is charged with three counts each of first- and second-degree murder in the deaths of Megan Waterman, Melissa Barthelemy and Amber Lynn Costello. All were sex workers whose bodies were found by police in deep brush on a desolate stretch of Ocean Parkway near Gilgo Beach. The victims were left relatively close together and wrapped in camouflage burlap. They had gone missing in 2009 and 2010 and were found by police in December 2010. After a 12-year investigation, Heuermann was arrested July 13 near his office in Manhattan. He pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead the next day.

WHAT WERE THE KEY CLUES TO HEUERMANN'S ARREST?

Police said they traced burner phones used to contact the victims, triangulating cell site data. That led them to locate two “boxes” in Massapequa Park and Manhattan, from where a serial killer made the calls. Witnesses told authorities they had seen one of Costello’s customers in a pickup truck at her house in West Babylon the day before she was killed. A major break came in March 2022 when a New York State investigator linked a 2002 dark green Chevrolet Avalanche — the type of pickup seen at Costello’s house — to Heuermann.

A search warrant conducted on an AOL account revealed “selfie” photographs...

A search warrant conducted on an AOL account revealed “selfie” photographs that appeared to have been taken by Rex Heuermann. Credit: Suffolk County Court

Police also used DNA to implicate Heuermann. A single female hair found on Maureen Brainard-Barnes — another victim discovered in the same area as the other three but whose death Heuermann has not been charged with — and two each on Waterman and Costello were determined to be from his wife. Authorities concluded that after retrieving 11 bottles from a garbage can outside the couple’s home.

Authorities also determined, after retrieving DNA from a discarded pizza crust pulled from a garbage can in Manhattan, that a male hair found in burlap around Waterman’s remains belonged to Heuermann, according to court papers. Investigators tracked his Google searches, too, discovering what they called an obsessive preoccupation with the Gilgo Beach case and chilling searches with phrases like “pretty girl with bruised face porn,” “nude slave girls,” and “crying teen porn,” according to court papers.

WHAT HAVE INVESTIGATORS FOUND IN HEUERMANN'S HOME AND STORAGE FACILITIES?

Police said they have found more than 200 guns in his home and also took away a rug, mirrors, a guitar, a desktop computer, a large doll in a glass case, a large portrait of a woman with a bruised face, and many household items. They also have searched storage facilities he used in Amityville, taking away furniture, large pieces of wood, and other items. Experts say police may be looking for “trophies” Heuermann kept there of his alleged victims — personal items such as jewelry or diaries.

WHAT DO SOUTH CAROLINA, LAS VEGAS AND ATLANTIC CITY HAVE TO DO WITH THE HEUERMANN CASE?

Heuermann owns a condo in Las Vegas and 23 acres of undeveloped land in South Carolina. His Chevrolet Avalanche was seized in South Carolina by the FBI and transported to Long Island. Police in Las Vegas said they are reviewing their unsolved cases to see if there is any connection to Heuermann. Property records in Las Vegas show he has owned a 980-square-foot condo in Club De Soleil on West Tropicana Avenue just off the strip since 2005.

In South Carolina, his secluded, wooded property is across the street from a house owned by his younger brother, Craig, who a Google Maps image shows has signs posted on a fence blocking his driveway that read “keep out, no trespassing” and “no warrant, no entry.” Both signs feature silhouettes of a skull and crossbones.

In Atlantic City, four women sex workers were killed in a case known as the 2006 Black Horse Pike Homicides. Suffolk police have said previously they have probed for any possible links with the Gilgo murders, without reaching a conclusion. Prosecutors in Atlantic City said last week the case remains open.

WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER UNSOLVED GILGO BEACH KILLINGS?

Six other victims were found in Gilgo Beach after the discovery of Waterman, Barthelemy, Costello and Brainard-Barnes, but authorities have not tied Heuermann to those killings. Some law enforcement sources and serial killer experts believe there was more than one killer, for several reasons. The bodies of victims they linked to Heuermann, for instance, were left relatively close together and wrapped in camouflage burlap. The bodies of the six found later were dismembered and disposed of in a haphazard fashion over a wider range of territory, sources familiar with the investigation said.

WHERE IS GILGO BEACH? HOW DID THIS STORY BEGIN AND EVOLVE OVER THE YEARS?

Gilgo Beach is located on a thin barrier island east of Jones Beach State Park in the Town of Babylon. Cars must ride over several bridges and down Ocean Parkway to get there from mainland Long Island.

In 2010 and 2011, police searching for a missing woman in the area discovered 10 other sets of human remains scattered along the barrier island near Gilgo Beach. The dead included eight women, one man and a young child. Authorities concluded it was unlikely one person killed all of those victims, but that several of the bodies found in the same quarter-mile appeared to have been the likely work of a serial killer.

The Gilgo investigation stalled for years, though, as a scandal within Suffolk County law enforcement made international headlines and derailed the probe. Police Chief James Burke was sentenced to prison in 2016 for covering up his beating of a man who stole a duffel bag with sex toys and pornography from his car. Five years later, his mentor, former District Attorney Thomas Spota, and his friend, top Spota deputy Christopher McPartland, were sentenced to 5 years in prison for assisting in the cover-up.

Timothy Sini became district attorney in 2018 after serving as Suffolk police commissioner. He announced with fanfare that he would ramp up the Gilgo Beach investigation, though no arrests were made. He ran for reelection in 2021 and lost to Raymond Tierney. 

Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney at a July 14...

Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney at a July 14 news conference on the Gilgo Beach case. Credit: John Roca

When Tierney took office in January 2022, he formed a task force that met secretly, and just six weeks later an investigator made the breakthrough connection identifying Heuermann’s vehicle. Investigators also were helped by advances in DNA testing. Hairs found on the victims in 2010 had degraded, and DNA testing technology at the time couldn’t yield the results investigators hoped for. It wasn’t until more than a decade later that improved technology offered answers.

WHAT ABOUT THE SHANNAN GILBERT CASE?

A search for another missing sex worker, Shannan Gilbert, led to the accidental discovery of the Gilgo Beach remains in December 2010, though investigators have concluded her death wasn't related to the others. Gilbert herself was found dead in a nearby marsh in December 2011. Suffolk police concluded that she had accidentally drowned — a finding her family has not accepted, believing she also was killed.

WHAT'S NEXT?

A court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 1. Heuermann's trial is not likely to begin for a year or two. 

NewsdayTV goes behind the scenes of the Gilgo Beach investigation, revealing the shocking findings in the year since the arrest of Rex Heuermann. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports.

Unearthing a suspect: The Gilgo Beach killings NewsdayTV goes behind the scenes of the Gilgo Beach investigation, revealing the shocking findings in the year since the arrest of Rex Heuermann. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports.

NewsdayTV goes behind the scenes of the Gilgo Beach investigation, revealing the shocking findings in the year since the arrest of Rex Heuermann. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports.

Unearthing a suspect: The Gilgo Beach killings NewsdayTV goes behind the scenes of the Gilgo Beach investigation, revealing the shocking findings in the year since the arrest of Rex Heuermann. NewsdayTV's Ken Buffa reports.

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