Rex Heuermann, 59, is accused of killing at least three women in connection with the Gilgo Beach case. Neighbors share their experiences dealing with the Massapequa Park man. NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland reports. Credit: Newsday/Staff

This article was reported by Mark Harrington, Sandra Peddie and Craig Schneider. It was written by Harrington.

If the charges against him and the word of clients and neighbors prove true, Rex A. Heuermann, the accused Gilgo Beach killer, had a phenomenal ability to compartmentalize, according to the paradoxical portraits drawn by people who have crossed his path over the past two decades.

Prosecutors say Heuermann, of Massapequa Park, killed three women, describing him as a man with a disturbing sadistic streak who searched for abusive pornography websites and even harassed the sister of one victim. He has pleaded not guilty to three counts each of first- and second-degree murder. 

Heuermann, 59, is accused of killing sex workers Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello, whose remains were found in December 2010 in a wooded area of Gilgo Beach. He's also considered a "prime suspect” in the killing of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, whose body also was found in the Gilgo Beach area. 

“Honestly, it’s disgusting — that he was near anybody in my neighborhood,” said Nicholas Ferchaw, one of Heuermann's neighbors. “It’s a very close neighborhood, with a lot of kids. I think it’s good that he’s off the street.”

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Rex A. Heuermann remains incarcerated at the Riverhead Correctional Facility without bail.
  • Heuermann is accused in the deaths of sex workers Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello, whose remains were found in December 2010 in a wooded area of Gilgo Beach.
  • In addition to here, authorities also are probing possible connections between the suspect and unsolved homicides in Las Vegas, South Carolina and New Jersey.

Police have been on the trail of the Gilgo Beach killer, or killers, for more than a decade, but only the concerted work of a task force created in 2022 was able to gather both the sophisticated and elemental evidence — DNA, cellphone records, a vehicle match — that allegedly linked Heuermann to the slayings.

Evidence collected by law enforcement suggests Heuermann had been leading a double life, but even some who have been following the case said his profile is in stark contrast to the allegations against him. 

Heuermann was respected as an architect, owned properties in other states and had no prior police record. Yet perhaps the most chilling portrait of him may come from court documents and law enforcement officials, who have been sifting through the physical evidence of his life, both professional and private, uncovering elements that neither colleagues nor neighbors have seen.

Rex Heuermann is a demon that walks among us, a predator that ruined families.

—Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison

Credit: Steve Pfost

“Rex Heuermann is a demon that walks among us, a predator that ruined families,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison said July 14, the day after he was arrested.

Some of those who knew Heuermann at work — at the architectural firm he owns two blocks from the Empire State Building — said he had a reputation for expediting specialized complex building code requirements.

"He was an extremely good architect and good at what he did,” said Gary Huggins, senior property manager at Advanced Management Services in Oceanside, who has worked with Heuermann for the past 17 years to retrofit and upgrade buildings within the city's building codes. “He’s done a lot of work for me and our company.”

His Massapequa Park neighbors said that while his unkempt red house on First Avenue stood out on a block of tidy suburban homes, Heuermann was nevertheless a skilled woodworker with a garage full of specialized tools who would even use wooden pegs instead of nails. But they also said he wasn't the friendliest of neighbors.

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

Investigators work in the backyard of Rex A. Heuermann's home at 105 First St. in Massapequa Park on July 14. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Heuermann grew up in Massapequa Park, in the home formerly owned by his father, Theodore, who died in 1975, when Rex was 12. His mother, Dolores Heuermann, 93, lives in upstate Chenango Falls. Theodore Heuermann was an aerospace engineer who built satellites while also working as a cabinet maker, Rex Heuermann once said in a video interview.

Property records show Rex Heuermann bought his parents’ home in 1994 for $195,000. Records show he owns at least two other out-of-state properties, including a condo in Las Vegas.

Neighbors were 'fed up with his house'

Etienne de Villiers speaks about his Massapequa Park neighbor Rex A....

Etienne de Villiers speaks about his Massapequa Park neighbor Rex A. Heuermann. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Actor Billy Baldwin posted this picture of Rex A. Heuermann from the 1981 Berner High School yearbook and said they were classmates. Credit: Berner High School

Heuermann graduated from Berner High School in Massapequa in 1981 and went on to college at New York Institute of Technology in Westbury, where he earned a degree in architectural technology. He started work as an intern at Greer Construction Corp. in Freeport, according to the 1990 announcement of his first marriage, to Elizabeth Ryan of North Brunswick, New Jersey.

In an online video, Heuermann said he started work in Manhattan in 1987 and described himself as an "architectural consultant. I’m a troubleshooter. Born and raised on Long Island." In 1994, he founded and registered his architectural firm and its affiliates, RH Consultants & Associates.

As with many who knew Heuermann, Huggins said the picture from media reports is so different from the man Huggins knows that “I still have a hard time accepting what’s being said.”

“There’s nothing in his demeanor that would indicate he was anything but a good architect who did a good job for you,” Huggins said. 

There’s nothing in his demeanor that would indicate he was anything but a good architect who did a good job for you.

— Gary Huggins, senior property manager at Advanced Management Services in Oceanside 

But Heuermann's self-proclaimed philosophy of architecture — “the ability to shape space and light into an ecosystem which, when properly executed, forges a positive relationship between the environment and the people that inhabit it” — appears not to have applied to his Massapequa Park home, a squat, red, three-bedroom ranch with a yard neighbors said often was strewn with cut trees and a broken lawn mower. 

“We were pretty much fed up with his house,” said Etienne de Villiers, 68, who lives next door to the Heuermanns and was among the few who regularly interacted with the man and his family. “He was always going to do this or that, put on extensions. I’d take it with a grain of salt.”

Etienne de Villiers, center, a next-door neighbor, speaks to authorities...

Etienne de Villiers, center, a next-door neighbor, speaks to authorities working outside as police search the home of suspect Rex A. Heuermann. Police carted off boxes of potential evidence. Credit: AP/John Minchillo

A few years ago, de Villiers recalled, Heuermann had leaks in his roof. “Instead of fixing the roof, he put this big metal plate up there. And we were looking at this and just shaking our heads.”

But while home repairs lingered, Heuermann splurged in other ways. Investigators found a cache of weapons in the home: more than 200 guns, some protected by a custom vault. Authorities said he had gun permits allowing him to posses 92 firearms.

Guns were Heuermann’s “passion,” de Villiers said. “He talked about guns often.” The arsenal of guns is among the reasons police said they arrested Heuermann earlier than planned, outside his Manhattan office rather than at his home, on July 13. 

Ferchaw said Heuermann's house “looked like it was beaten up, something out of a horror movie.”

“It had a big TV on the front porch,” Ferchaw said. He added, “I never knew he had a family. He was always chopping wood in his garage, and watching TV on his porch.” Heuermann's wife and two grown children were occasionally seen by neighbors, but interactions with the family were rare. 

When Ferchaw first moved to the area, he said he was walking his dog around the streets, just getting to know the neighbors, when he saw Heuermann chopping wood. Ferchaw said hello.

"He just stopped and stared at me. ... Didn't even say hello back," he said.

From then on, Ferchaw said that when he passed the house, he walked across the street so as not to get too close.

He was just a weird guy.

—Nicholas Ferchaw, one of Heuermann's neighbors

“He was just a weird guy,” he said. “There was always a mess of logs on the lawn, and random stuff, garbage, thrown all over the place.”

The home was in such disrepair, including the porch looking unstable, that “people would say, ‘What’s going on in that house?’ ” neighbor Frankie Musto said.

Once, Musto’s husband had a run-in with Heuermann over Musto’s yard maintenance. Her husband was taking down a tree on his property when Heuermann approached him in an angry voice to ask whether he had a permit to do the work. Heuermann then threatened to report him to the police, she said.

“I think he was a big bully,” she said. “My husband is 6-2, and he told him to go back into his hut.”

It wasn’t a happy conversation ... but he backed off and he never did it again, and he was pleasant to be around ... he never bothered me.

—Etienne de Villiers, Heuermann's next-door neighbor

Credit: Howard Schnapp

De Villiers also had a run-in with Heuermann, though he viewed him as a “goofy big guy who was just a nerd.” He may have been one of the few neighbors who actually spoke to Heuermann regularly. “I never felt intimidated,” de Villiers said.

De Villiers recalled that Heuermann at one point developed the habit of looking over his 6-foot fence into his yard to where his wife was occasionally sunbathing. “Every time she was going out on a recliner and trying to get a little sun, he’d pop his head up and start trying to have a conversation,” said de Villiers, a retired New York City firefighter.

De Villiers said he confronted Heuermann.

“It wasn’t a happy conversation, but he backed off immediately, and this guy’s enormous,” de Villiers said. “And I’m not a big guy. I was waiting for the worst, but he backed off and he never did it again, and he was pleasant to be around. I mean, he never bothered me.”

De Villiers said he is 5-foot-6 and 165 pounds. Heuermann is listed as 6-4 and 240 pounds in court documents.

Police believe case is solid

Police believe they have a solid case against Heuermann, including DNA lifted from pizza crust in a box he allegedly discarded that authorities say links him to one of the victims, along with cellular phone site data that linked his whereabouts to the victims at key times. He had been under surveillance by the FBI, authorities said.

Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in the case came in March 2022, when a New York State Police investigator assigned to the Gilgo Beach Task Force learned that a green first-generation Chevrolet Avalanche, similar to a vehicle described by a witness after Costello disappeared, was linked to Heuermann. The vehicle was seized in South Carolina by the FBI and transported back to Long Island on Wednesday.

An image from Google Maps shows a Chevy Avalanche parked in front of Rex A. Heuermann's house at 105 First Ave. in Massapequa Park in 2011. A Chevy Avalanche belonging to Heuermann was at the Suffolk County Crime Lab in Hauppauge on Wednesday after it was transported from South Carolina. Credit: James Carbone

Heuermann's attorney, Michael J. Brown of Central Islip, said his client tearfully told him he didn't commit the crimes. “He is a college graduate and is a hardworking licensed architect who has his own NYC firm,” Brown said. “He is a loving husband to his wife of over 25 years and an involved and dedicated father to his daughter and stepson.”

Heuermann's wife, Asa Ellerup, filed for divorce on Wednesday. Police say they do not believe the wife and children were aware of Heuermann's alleged crimes. 

Ellerup and her family have not been able to return to the home. Since July 14, both ends of First Avenue have been closed to general traffic, and at the corner of de Villiers’ home, it’s entirely closed off with crime-scene tape, including access to de Villiers’ front yard.

A large crime-scene trailer with a satellite dish has been sitting in the street in front of Heuermann's house, where investigators, some in hazmat suits, have shuttled in and out of the home.

A crowd gathers on First Avenue in Massapequa Park, where Suffolk County police were collecting evidence relating to the Gilgo Beach murders. Credit: Joseph Sperber

People have gathered at the corner of First and Michigan avenues to see what little they can from the open street. Most have been neighbors, but some have come from far away to gawk.

"It's become the Amityville horror," said Paul Richards, 60, of St. James, who was in Heuermann’s high school graduating class. His sister still lives two blocks from the accused killer’s home.

This has hit this community like an earthquake ... It rattles everyone.

—Paul Richards, who was in Heuermann’s high school graduating class

“This has hit this community like an earthquake. It's a seismic event. It rattles everyone,” Richards said.

Records show at least three other people have lived at the home: Heuermann's wife; a daughter, Victoria, who until recently had been listed as working at Heuermann’s Manhattan architect firm; and a stepson, Christopher Sheridan, whose Facebook page says he is a worker at a nearby Burlington clothing store. Records suggest Sheridan is the son of Ellerup and her former husband, Dennis Sheridan, of Staten Island. None could be reached for comment.

Ellerup, who grew up in Farmingdale, and Heuermann have been married for 27 years, according to documents. Neighbors described her as brusque.

“She had that demeanor about her that when you looked at her and talked to her, you wanted to turn around and walk away,” de Villiers said of the woman police say was often away when her husband committed his alleged crimes. “And I think that’s how she wanted it, too, to tell you the truth. I think she presented herself in a way, like, leave me alone.”

Once de Villiers went over to warn Ellerup to keep her garage locked because he’d just had a bicycle stolen from his shed. He was concerned Heuermann’s expensive woodworking tools would be the next target.

“She acted taken aback, like I was hitting on her,” de Villiers said. “She said, 'My husband isn’t home,' and she shook her head and walked away.”

Daughter Victoria Heuermann was “very introverted, polite, she always said hi and smiled,” de Villiers said. “ … Chris is a sweetheart, a nice kid. They had him mowing the lawn, pushing one of those 1950s mowers, and snowplowing.”

In addition to his Massapequa home, property records show Heuermann owns 23 acres in Chester, South Carolina, which is also the home of his younger brother, Craig Heuermann, 57. In 1988, Craig Heuermann was driving drunk and struck and killed a city Housing Authority police captain on the Southern State Parkway just west of Hicksville Road. Craig Heuermann, who was charged with drunken driving, served time in prison for criminally negligent homicide.

Craig Heuermann's property in Chester, S.C., features a tall wooden gate with three sets of skull and crossbones and a Keep Out sign. Credit: Tracey Smith Photography

Craig Heuermann's property in Chester, across the street from his brother's, features a tall wooden gate with signs saying "Keep Out" and “No Warrant, No Entry." Both signs feature silhouettes of a skull and crossbones.

Property records show Rex Heuermann paid $154,351 in 2021 for more than 220,000 square feet of wooded property in Chester on Mirror Lake. In addition to the parcel, records show he owns a time share at the De Soleil Las Vegas resort. Representatives from the resort didn’t return phone calls, nor did any of Heuermann’s family members.

Suspect filed four personal injury suits

Gilgo murder suspect Rex A. Heuermann is walked out of...

Gilgo murder suspect Rex A. Heuermann is walked out of the Seventh Precinct in Suffolk County on July 14. Credit: John Roca

Until his arrest, Rex Heuermann, a registered Republican, had no criminal record, according to public records. Court records show the only court cases he was involved with were the result of Heuermann himself filing lawsuits against drivers for allegedly causing him injury in traffic accidents.

Heuermann filed four personal injury lawsuits from 2014 through 2022. In each one, he claimed “severe and permanent personal injuries.”

The same law firm handled the lawsuits. Attorneys Jonathan Shahabian and Paul Edelman, whose names are listed in court papers, did not return calls for comment.

In the first lawsuit, filed in September 2014, Heuermann claimed he had been walking near the intersection of Sixth Avenue and West 36th Street in Manhattan on Oct. 31, 2013, when taxi driver Gurwinder Singh hit him. After 22 months of back and forth over demands for evidence of injury, the case was discontinued. It’s unclear whether any settlement money was paid.

In April 2017, Heuermann filed a suit claiming again that he had been hit by a car. He sued Barbara O’Sullivan, saying she hit him as he was walking home from the train station near the intersection of Front Street and Second Avenue in Massapequa Park at 10:15 p.m. on Jan. 11, 2017. She testified that she had been driving slowly, about 5 to 10 mph because it was raining hard, and that he “walked right out in front of me,” court papers said.

While that case was pending, he filed another lawsuit. This time, he said a 2016 Chevrolet driven by Cynthia Darlene Martin hit his car while driving along the Capital Beltway in Maryland. Martin filed an affidavit saying she had never owned a 2016 Chevrolet with the license plate cited in court papers. On Feb. 6, 2019, Nassau Supreme Court Judge Roy Mahon dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction and for failing to properly serve Martin the complaint.

In an interview, Martin said she had not been served any court papers in the case and did not own cars. The lawsuit against O’Sullivan was discontinued in September 2019. She did not return a call for comment.

In June 2022, Heuermann filed suit against Lindsay and C.D. Fenimore, alleging their car hit his car while he was driving in Brooklyn. The Fenimores and their lawyer did not return calls for comment. That case is pending.

Heuermann and his wife owed $425,000 in taxes from 2005 to 2021, according to Suffolk records. They paid off about $215,078 of that but still owe $81,500 in personal income taxes to New York State.

Meanwhile, Internal Revenue Service liens have piled up over the years against Heuermann and his wife. They owed a total of $425,000 in taxes from 2005 through 2021, according to Suffolk County tax records. They paid off about $215,078 of that debt.

According to tax records, they still owe $81,500 in personal income taxes to New York State.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Heuermann filed for Paycheck Protection Program loans for his company, RH Consultants & Associates. His company was approved for two of them, totaling $148,950. He did not have to pay back those loans, according to records. Under the terms of the Small Business Administration, PPP loans are forgiven if at least 60% of the loans are spent on payroll.

Heuermann remains incarcerated at the Riverhead Correctional Facility without bail. A court hearing is scheduled for Aug. 1, and Heuermann's trial is not likely to begin for a year or two. Authorities also are probing possible connections between the suspect and unsolved homicides in Las Vegas, South Carolina and New Jersey.

Just thinking that there are people among us, and you just think of them as a regular human being ... you don’t think about what they do behind the scenes.

—Paola Conprears, who works near Heuermann’s Manhattan office

People in his community, those who worked near him, and so many others remain shaken and bewildered by the nature of the charges against him.

“Just thinking that there are people among us, and you just think of them as a regular human being,” said Paola Conprears, 34, who works in the Vitamin Shoppe two doors down from Heuermann’s Manhattan office. “You don’t think about what they do behind the scenes. It’s scary. It puts you on edge.”

With Michael O'Keeffe

Correction: An earlier version of this story did not accurately address Rex Heuermann's history of traffic violations.

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