Following the Chilling Trail of the Gilgo Beach Murders
In 2010, Authorities Found The First Remains in the Gilgo Beach Murders
The Gilgo Beach murders stand as one of Long Island's most significant criminal investigations, according to the police. What began as a search for Shannan Gilbert, a missing sex worker, led to a grim discovery—10 bodies on a stretch of beach along the South Shore of the island. This discovery unfolded nearly 13 years after the initial victim was found. Recently, a suspect has been apprehended in connection with the case. Rex Heuermann, a 59-year-old New York City architect and a married father of two, has been charged with the murders of Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Costello. These three victims were discovered in December 2010, their bodies wrapped in burlap, as per court records.
Heuermann, who is also considered the prime suspect in the death of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, the fourth victim found in the same month, has not yet faced charges for her murder, as indicated in court documents. The four victims have collectively come to be known as the "Gilgo Four." Classified as Craigslist escorts, their bodies were found approximately 500 feet apart along the beach, each having met a violent demise, as confirmed by officials.
Join us in delving deeper into this haunting case and discovering the relentless pursuit of justice that has unfolded over the years.
While searching for the missing 23-year-old Shannan Gilbert from Jersey City, New Jersey, who hadn't been seen since May 2010, the police stumbled upon the first set of female remains. These were found hidden in bushes on an isolated waterfront area along Gilgo Beach.
The search took a chilling turn when the remains of 24-year-old Melissa Barthelemy were uncovered on December 11, 2010. Suffolk County officials report that these were the initial findings in this case. Just two days later, investigators made an even more unsettling revelation. The remains of three more victims—Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Amber Costello, and Megan Waterman—were discovered scattered across a half-mile stretch of Gilgo Beach.
Four Women Tie This Gruesome Case Together
The four women, whose bodies were found wrapped in camouflaged burlap, shared a similar profession as escorts who advertised their services on Craigslist. They were last seen between July 2007 and September 2010, as confirmed by officials.
Following Melissa Barthelemy's disappearance, her family was subjected to distressing taunting calls. Among these calls, one particularly ominous admission was made by the suspected individual, confessing to the killing and sexual assault of Ms. Barthelemy. This disturbing revelation is highlighted in a bail application submitted by the Suffolk County district attorney after the arrest of Rex Heuermann.
Police Tried To Trace The Killer's Calls But He Stayed One Step Ahead Of Them
In January 2011, the police shared that calls originating from Barthelemy's cell phone were tracked to midtown Manhattan. The last two calls were made near Madison Square Garden and Times Square. However, the caller ended the calls too swiftly, making it challenging for authorities to precisely pinpoint the exact places of the calls.
Moving forward, on March 29, 2011, several miles to the east of where the bodies of the "Gilgo Four" were found, the partial skeletal remains of another woman were uncovered.
New Identifications and Further Discoveries in the Gilgo Beach Case
The recently found remains were initially designated as Jane Doe #5. However, investigators later confirmed her identity as Jessica Taylor, an escort whose partial remains had been found in Manorville in 2003.
In the subsequent month, on April 4, 2011, three additional sets of remains were located near the beach along a section of Ocean Parkway in Suffolk County. These remains included a young female toddler, an Asian male who remains unidentified, and a woman initially labeled as Jane Doe #6, as reported by investigators.
Expanding the Investigation: More Remains Found and Connections Made
Just a week following the uncovering of Jane Doe #5's remains, two more sets of human remains were discovered in Nassau County, situated approximately 40 miles to the east of New York City. Among them, one was identified as the mother of the previously found toddler, thanks to DNA analysis. Officials noted that the mother's partial remains had been initially located in 1997.
The other set of remains was found to have a "genetic match" with remains that had been discovered on Fire Island back in 1996. This connection significantly widened both the timeline and the geographic scope of the ongoing investigation, as stated by officials.
The Disappearance of Melissa Barthelemy
At the age of 24, Melissa Barthelemy, originally from Erie County, New York, vanished on July 12, 2009. She had been residing in the Bronx and worked as an escort through Craigslist. On the evening she disappeared, she met with a client, put $900 in her bank account, and attempted to reach out to an ex-boyfriend, though her call went unanswered.
A week later, a distressing phase began for her teenage sister Amanda. For a period of five weeks, Amanda received a series of offensive, scornful, and degrading calls from an individual who might have been the perpetrator. These calls came from Melissa Barthelemy's cell phone, adding a disturbing dimension to the case.
A Chilling Phone Call From The Killer
According to Steve Cohen, an attorney for Barthelemy’s mother, in 2009 she received an eerie phone call from someone claiming to be her daughter's killer. In his short phone call the male caller allegedly said:
Do you think you’ll ever see her again? You won’t. I killed her.
In July 2009, another set of phone calls came from Barthelemy’s cell phone that described in gruesome detail what had happened to the missing woman.
Megan Waterman, aged 22 and from South Portland, Maine, vanished on June 6, 2010. She had posted ads on Craigslist offering escort services. On the day prior to her disappearance, she informed her 20-year-old boyfriend that she was going out and would call him later. She was staying at a motel in Hauppauge, New York, located 15 miles northeast of Gilgo Beach when she went missing. Sadly, her body was found in December 2010.
Megan Waterman, a mother of one, had fallen victim to sex trafficking. She was 5 feet 5 inches tall. Tragically, she had been strangled, adding to the grim circumstances surrounding her case.
Amber Costello, aged 27, hailed from West Babylon, New York, a small town situated ten miles north of Gilgo Beach. She was a sex worker and also struggled with heroin use. On September 2, 2010, she went missing. On that night, she had reportedly planned to meet an unknown person who had been calling her frequently and offered her $1,500 for her services.
Originally born in Charlotte and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, Costello was residing in West Babylon, New York at the time of her disappearance. Oddly, her family believed she was in a residential drug rehabilitation center, which led to a delay in reporting her as missing when she ceased responding to messages and calls.
In 2010 The Suffolk County Police Department Declared That They Were Chasing A Serial Killer
While speaking at a news conference in 2010, Richard Dormer, the commissioner of the Suffolk County Police Department stated:
[It's not] a coincidence that four bodies turned up in the same location. It appears as though somebody targeted these individuals and dumped them... The bodies would indicate they were dumped [in the bushes] by the same person or persons.
The Remains Of An Asian Male Were Recovered In 2011
On April 4, 2011, the skeletal remains of an Asian male were found along Ocean Parkway. The estimated age of the male when he died falls between 17 and 23 years old. He stood about 5 feet 6 inches tall and his dental records showed that he had some issues. Authorities believe he passed away around five to 10 years before his remains were discovered, it's unclear if how this unnamed man fits into the profile of the Gilgo Beach killer.
Gilbert Was Seen By Bystanders The Night Of Her Disappearance
On December 13, 2011, the police revealed that they had located the remains of Shannan Gilbert in a marsh, approximately half a mile away from where she had initially disappeared. Just a week earlier, some of her clothing and belongings were found in the same vicinity. Shannan had last been spotted urgently knocking on a resident's door and shouting for help before disappearing into the darkness. She had even made an emergency 9-1-1 call that night, expressing her fear for her life.
The Discovery Of Shannen Gilbert's Remains Was A Curveball For The Case
When Shannan Gilbert's body was found in the wooded marshes of Oak Beach, it was initially believed that she was a part of the Gilgo Beach slayings, after all this beach is approximately 9 miles away from the spot where the 10 other sets of human remains were discovered. It makes sense that she would be lumped in with the rest of the victims, however it's likely that she was the victim of another killer.
Some Believe That Shannan Gilbert's Death Is Not Related To The Gilgo Beach Slayings
Authorities have stated that Shannan Gilbert's death, which marked the beginning of the search leading to the discovery of the initial set of bodies, is not linked to the Long Island serial killer case. Despite this, Shannan's mother, Mari Gilbert, who has since passed away, persistently advocated for the theory that her daughter had fallen victim to a serial killer.
Cell Phone Towers Helped Narrow Down The Investigation Area
In 2012, F.B.I. agents had pinpointed an area in Massapequa Park where four cell towers' coverage overlapped. By around mid-2016, the agents had obtained a court order for "tower dumps," which provided information about every phone linked to those specific towers within a certain time frame.
Advancements in technology and software improved the investigation process. Eventually, the team narrowed their focus to a designated area known as the "polygon." This left them with a few hundred homes around First Avenue in Massapequa Park, according to law enforcement officials.
A significant observation emerged from the disposable phones used to communicate with the victims: During the evening, nighttime, and early morning hours, some of these phones were located within a compact section of Massapequa Park. This area was also where the phone of one victim, Megan Waterman, had last connected at 3:11 a.m. on June 6, 2010, just before her disappearance as indicated by court documents.
Conversely, during the daytime, the phones were traced to activity in Midtown Manhattan.
The Media Brought The Case Into The Mainstream In The 2010s
Filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Rachel Mills crafted an eight-episode series named The Killing Season. This series delves not only into deaths at Gilgo Beach but also in other places like New Jersey, Florida, and New Mexico. It's important to note that this isn't the first media exploration of these incidents. A&E aired "The Long Island Serial Killer" in 2011, and in 2016, Investigation Discovery launched a series called "People Magazine Investigates," which had a two-hour episode dedicated to the case.
Additionally, Netflix joined in with a 2020 film called Lost Girls. This movie drew from Robert Kolker's book Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery and specifically focused on the Gilgo Beach case. Clearly, the media has engaged with this case through various avenues, contributing to a wider understanding and awareness of the situation.
Seeking Clues and Public Help in the Gilgo Beach Case
In January 2020, the Suffolk County police shared pictures of an item they believed could be vital evidence: a black leather belt with letters "WH" or "HM" embossed on it. Alongside this, they introduced a website designed to gather fresh tips and information from the public, aimed at aiding the ongoing investigation into the Gilgo Beach case. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said:
We believe the belt was handled by the suspect and did not belong to any of the victims.
Identifying a Long-Lost Victim: The Valerie Mack Breakthrough
In May 28, 2020, the Suffolk County Police Department in New York confirmed the identity of "Jane Doe #6" as Valerie Mack. She was a 24-year-old mother from Philadelphia who had been missing for twenty years.
The FBI played a crucial role in this identification process by utilizing advanced forensic DNA technology. Through samples taken from her remains, Suffolk County investigators employed genetic genealogy to locate Valerie Mack's biological relatives. This breakthrough eventually led them to her adoptive family and her son, as shared by Hart during a press briefing.
In 2022, A Task Force Kicked The Case Into Gear
As of February 2022, Rodney Harrison, who serves as Suffolk County's Police Commissioner, established a task force involving several agencies to delve into the Gilgo Beach killings.
This collaborative team comprises the Suffolk County Police Department, the Suffolk County Sheriff's Office, the New York State Police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). They have combined their resources and expertise to work together in investigating the complex case.
Rex Heuermann Emerged As A Suspect Emerges in the Gilgo Beach Case In 2022
On March 14, 2022, Rex Heuermann became a potential suspect in the Gilgo Beach murder investigation, as he was identified in a database by a New York state investigator. This revelation was shared by Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney.
Following this discovery, investigators began monitoring Heuermann and his family. They gathered DNA samples by collecting items of trash, including even discarded pizza crusts, in their efforts to gather evidence and build a case against him.
Nearing the Suspect: Investigative Steps in the Gilgo Beach Case
As authorities narrowed their focus on Rex Heuermann, they employed cell tower records to whittle down a list of thousands of potential individuals. This list was gradually reduced to a few hundred, and then to a handful of people. To refine their search further, investigators concentrated on residents who not only matched a physical description provided by a witness who had encountered the suspected killer but also had connections to a green pickup truck the witness had seen.
A Green Truck Led The Authorities To Rex Heuermann
Subsequently, law enforcement sources familiar with the case revealed that authorities honed in on individuals linked to a green pickup truck, which a witness had observed the suspect driving. This information came to light as they discovered that Heuermann was the owner of a green pickup truck registered under his brother's name, as reported by CNN.
Building the Case Against Heuermann in the Gilgo Beach Investigation
Evidence began to align around Heuermann as investigators noted several important factors. He physically matched a description provided by a witness, lived in proximity to a cell site on Long Island, and his workplace was near cell sites in New York City where other relevant calls were recorded.
Through personal records of cell phone use and credit card transactions, it was discovered that Heuermann had been present in locations that corresponded with the general areas of burner phone activity. Authorities suspected that he possessed these burner phones during the time of the killings. Furthermore, Heuermann allegedly utilized these phones to make calls to the three victims. Additionally, Suffolk County prosecutors claim that he accessed:
Brainard-Barnes and Barthelemy's cellphones to check voicemail and make taunting calls after the women had disappeared.
Heuermann's Internet Searches Helped Bring Him Down
Authorities uncovered significant online activity on Heuermann's computer. He had conducted more than 200 internet searches to gather information about the progress of the investigation, as disclosed by Tierney. Additionally, Heuermann's searches included looking for pictures of the victims and their family members, alongside attempts to locate these relatives, according to the district attorney.
In late 2022, detectives managed to retrieve a cup believed to have been discarded by Heuermann. However, despite their efforts, they were unable to obtain a usable DNA sample from it.
Pizza Crust Provided A Huge DNA Breakthrough
In January 2023, a significant breakthrough emerged as investigators secured a complete sample of Rex Heuermann's DNA. This DNA sample was obtained from crusts of leftover pizza found in a discarded pizza box that Heuermann had thrown away.
During the initial examination of one victim's skeletal remains and materials discovered in the grave, the Suffolk County Crime Laboratory located a male hair at the "bottom of the burlap" that the killer had used to wrap her body. Prosecutors revealed that upon analyzing the DNA present on the victim's remains and comparing it with the DNA from the pizza crusts thrown away by Heuermann, the samples were found to be a match. This convergence of DNA evidence marked a pivotal moment in the case.
Heuermann's Wife's DNA Helped Bring Him Down
In a significant development, prosecutors contend that DNA testing has revealed a potential link between Rex Heuermann's wife and the murder victims. Specifically, they allege that hair believed to belong to Heuermann's wife was discovered on or near three of the victims. The source of this DNA evidence was traced back to 11 bottles located within a garbage can positioned outside the Heuermann residence. This information, detailed in the bail application, bolsters the existing DNA evidence in the case and adds another layer to the ongoing investigation.
In 2023 An Arrest Was Finally Made In The Case
On July 13, 2023, a significant step was taken in the Gilgo Beach murder case as a suspect tied to some of the murders was apprehended in New York City. This marked the initial arrest in the investigation, confirmed by Police Commissioner Harrison. The suspect was then transported to Suffolk County Police headquarters in Yaphank, situated on Long Island.
Within the following day, the authorities publicly identified the suspect as Rex Heuermann. Heuermann is a registered architect who has been the owner of RH Consultants & Associates, an architecture and consulting firm based in New York City, since 1994, as indicated on his company's official website.
Building the Case Against Heuermann: A Two-Year Effort
Over a span of two years, a comprehensive case was constructed against Heuermann. This extensive effort marked the revival of the investigation, which utilized the "power of the grand jury," involving the issuance of over 300 subpoenas and search warrants. The aim was to gather substantial evidence and establish a conclusive link between Heuermann and the murders, as stated by Tierney during a press conference.
The Case All Boils Down To DNA
Judge Timothy Mazzei wrote:
The Court finds that contrary to the defendant’s contentions, there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed the crimes charged and, therefore, a basis to compel the buccal swab. The Court finds that a comparison of the defendant’s sample with the evidence obtained... the DNA found on the pizza crust and napkin, will yield probative material evidence, whether it is inculpatory or not.
The order allows the prosecution to proceed with the motion to collect the oral swab DNA sample. Importantly, the judge's order specifies that buccal swabs had been previously taken from Heuermann's wife and two children with their consent, for additional DNA analysis.
With Heuermann In Custody, Authorities Believe That There Are More Charges To Come
Authorities have indicated that additional charges might be forthcoming. In court documents, it was revealed that Heuermann is linked to at least one other instance—a woman's disappearance, specifically that of Brainard-Barnes. Subsequently, Brainard-Barnes was found deceased. These insinuations highlight the possibility of more developments and charges in the ongoing investigation.