Image source, Reuters
Image caption, Victims Megan Waterman (L), Amber Costello (centre) and Melissa Barthelemy (R)
By Bernd Debusmann Jr
An architect has been charged with murder in the deaths of three out of up to 11 victims in New York state.
Rex Heuermann, 59, is charged with killing Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Costello. He is suspected in a fourth woman’s death.
On Friday the married father pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Detectives investigating the Gilgo Beach murders say they matched DNA from pizza the suspect ate to genetic material found on the women’s remains.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison told a news conference on Friday: “Rex Heuermann is a demon that walks among us – a predator that ruined families.”
The suspect, who was arrested at his home on Thursday night, is facing three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of second-degree murder in the three women’s deaths.
After a plea was entered on his behalf in court, Mr Heuermann reportedly broke down in tears, telling his attorney: “I didn’t do this.”
Ms Barthelemy, Ms Waterman and Ms Costello were found dead in 2010 near a fourth victim, Maureen Brainard-Barnes.
The women have been dubbed the Gilgo Beach Four. All four were sex workers, according to prosecutors.
Image source, RH Consultants and Associates
Image caption, Rex Heuermann is an architect who has worked in Manhattan since 1987
US District Attorney Ray Tierney told Friday’s news conference that “each of the four victims were found similarly positioned, bound in a similar fashion by either belts or tape, with three of the victims found wrapped in a burlap-type material”.
The local prosecutor said the case against Mr Heuermann was built on mobile phone records linking him to the victims, as well as to a pick-up truck that was seen near one of the victim’s homes. He allegedly communicated with the victims using “burner” phones, which he later disposed of.
Phone records also allowed investigators to determine that the deaths had taken place when Mr Heuermann’s wife and children were out of town.
Hair found on a piece of burlap used to wrap one of the victims was linked to Mr Heuermann via a sample from a pizza box he discarded in a rubbish bin in Manhattan in January 2023.
Investigators say he was also snared by taunting calls that a person claiming to be the murderer made to one of Ms Barthelemy’s family members using her mobile phone.
Ms Barthelemy was abducted in 2009. Ms Waterman and Ms Costello both went missing in 2010.
Mr Heuermann is also a prime suspect in the death of Ms Brainard-Barnes, who was abducted in 2007, although he has so far not been charged with her death.
In 2010, police were searching for one missing woman, Shannan Gilbert, when they discovered the remains of four others.
Altogether, 11 sets of human remains were found on the same stretch of Gilgo Beach between 2010-11, linked to nine women, one man and a toddler. The identities of four, including the toddler, her mother and the man, remain unidentified.
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Eleven sets of human remains were found on Gilgo Beach in 2010 and 2011
Gilbert’s remains were eventually found, and an official post-mortem examination was inconclusive. Her family believes she may have been murdered – a theory supported by an independent autopsy that they commissioned.
A new task force to investigate the Gilgo Beach murders was formed in February 2022. Mr Heuermann became the focus of the investigation within a month, Mr Tierney said. More than 300 subpoenas and search warrants were issued by investigators on the case.
Since the task force was formed, Mr Heuermann allegedly also used a burner phone to conduct more than 200 searches about topics related to serial killers and the Long Island investigation.
This included a search for “why hasn’t the Long Island serial killer been caught” and “mapping the Long Island murder victims”, court documents show.
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Investigators at suspect’s home
Mr Tierney added that “torture porn” and “depictions of women being abused and being killed” were found on Mr Heuermann’s computer.
The investigation into the other victims is ongoing.
Mr Heuermann is the owner of RH Consultants and Associates, a Manhattan architecture firm that describes itself as “New York City’s premier architectural firm”.
The Associated Press has reported that he has a daughter and a stepson. A neighbour described the suspect going to work every morning, dressed in a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase.
In a YouTube interview for a real estate-focused channel last year, he said he had been working in the heart of New York City since 1987, describing himself as a “trouble shooter”.
People who lived near his home in Long Island’s Massapequa Park expressed surprise at his arrest.
“The guy’s been quiet, never really bothers anybody,” neighbour Etienne DeVilliers told CBS, the BBC’s US partner.
“We’re shocked. Because this is a very, very quiet neighbourhood. Everybody knows each other, all of our neighbours, we’re all friendly.”