More than a decade after 11 bodies were found on Long Island and a year after he came onto officials' radar as a potential suspect, a New York architect was charged in the Gilgo Beach murders, a series of killings of mostly young women.
"Rex Heuermann is a demon that walks amongst us, a predator that ruined families,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said Friday after the suspect pleaded not guilty to three first-degree murder charges.
Heuermann, 59, was arrested Thursday evening at his Manhattan office and arraigned Friday in the deaths of three women. He is also suspected in the disappearance and death of a fourth woman, officials said.
The grisly discoveries were made after a sex worker went missing in 2010. As officials searched for that woman, they discovered the remains of 11 other people.
During a news conference Friday afternoon, Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney, who was joined by members of the victims’ families, said solving the cases has been a priority for him and area law enforcement since he took office in January 2022.
Heuermann came to be known to a Gilgo Beach task force in March 2022, Tierney said. From there, a secret grand jury was utilized to secure more than 300 subpoenas and search warrants.
“We were playing before a party of one because we knew the person responsible for these murders would be looking at us," Tierney said. "So we were very careful how we handled the investigation. We maintained the integrity of the investigation. Most importantly of all, we maintain the secrecy of that investigation.”
The 'Gilgo Four'
Heuermann is charged with the slayings of Melissa Barthelemy, 24; Megan Waterman, 22; and Amber Lynn Costello 27.
The investigation into the death of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25, is ongoing, Tierney said. Heuermann is considered the “prime suspect” in her disappearance and death, and there is “substantial evidence” of his involvement, according to a bail application obtained by NBC News.
The remains of the women, known as the "Gilgo Four," were discovered December 2010 in Gilgo Beach on Long Island's South Shore.
The victims had similarities: They were sex workers who were petite, Tierney said.
Tierney also said the crime scenes also had commonalities, noting the victims were bound at the head, midsection and legs by camouflage burlap.
Heuermann contacted his victims using burner phones, which he would discard shortly after they were killed, Tierney said.
The burner phones were tracked to Massapequa, which placed the user of the phones in that area during the time of the slayings, Tierney said.
Heuermann, who lives in Massapequa Park, was also linked to the homicides using hair that was recovered, investigators said.
Hair belonging to a female was found on or near three of the victims, prosecutors said in the bail application. It was later determined to belong to Heuermann’s wife, who was out of the state during the time the three women disappeared, it said.
"As such, it is likely that the burlap, tape, vehicle(s) or other instrumentalities utilized in furtherance of these murders came from Defendant Heuermann’s residence, where his wife also resides, or was transferred from his clothing," the application said.
The Gilgo Beach murders
- What we know about Rex Heuermann, identified as the Gilgo Beach murders suspect
- Gilgo Beach serial killings: A complete timeline of events
- Long Island police ID another victim of the unsolved Gilgo Beach killings
- 911 tapes released after 12 years in case of missing woman that led to finding 10 other bodies on Long Island
In a Long Island courtroom Friday, Heurmann broke down emotionally.
Dressed in causal business attire, he was formally told of the murder charges filed against him.
Heuermann pleaded not guilty to three counts of murder in the first degree and three counts of murder in the second degree, and was ordered held without bail.
Defense lawyer Michael Brown said he just met his client.
“We just got appointed on this case. There’s not much I can tell you folks at this point in time,” Brown told reporters outside the court. “I will say to you folks that it’s extremely circumstantial in nature. In terms of speaking to my client, the only thing I can tell you that he did say, as he was in tears, was ‘I didn’t do this.’”
The sister of Shannan Gilbert, whose missing case set off the search that led to the victims' remains, said she was "relieved that they finally caught him."
"It’s been a long time coming & I never gave up hope that one day justice would be served," Sherre Gilbert said in an email to NBC News. "I’m just happy it happened sooner rather than later. The suspect (Rex) deserves to rot in prison for the rest of his life. He destroyed many lives so while it won’t bring our loved ones back, it does help that one less monster is off the streets and he can’t ever hurt anyone else!”
“The focus for me, members of our team, has been on bringing justice for these victims and closure to these families who have suffered," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at a news conference. "Today’s developments take us a major step forward in doing exactly that."
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul agreed.
“We’ll all be sleeping a lot easier tonight,” Hochul said.
Friends of the suspect expressed shock at his arrest. They said he owns a Manhattan architecture firm and belonged to a New York City-based networking group known as The Dream Team.
"I knew him as a friend and a colleague,” a woman who asked not to be identified told NBC News in a telephone interview. “And I am completely surprised...I did not see this coming.”
Actor Billy Baldwin said he graduated with Heuermann in 1981 from Berner High School in Massapequa. He said his former classmate was married and had two children.
“Woke up this morning to learn that the Gilgo Beach serial killer suspect was my high school classmate Rex Heuermann,” the actor tweeted. "“Mind-boggling… Massapequa is in shock."
11 bodies found across one stretch of highway
Eleven sets of human remains were found on a stretch of highway in Suffolk County after police began searching along Ocean Parkway for Gilbert, a 24-year-old sex worker from New Jersey who vanished in 2010 after leaving a client’s house in Oak Beach.
During the search, Barthelemy's remains were found Dec. 11, 2010. Two days later, three more bodies were discovered — Waterman, Costello, and Brainard-Barnes.
In March 2011, Suffolk police found the partial remains of Jessica Taylor along Ocean Parkway. Eight years earlier, remains also belonging to Taylor were found in Manorville, police said in 2020.
In April 2011, police uncovered three additional sets of remains: 24-year-old Valerie Mack, a female toddler and a man. Mack was not identified until 2020.
The shocking discoveries continued when two additional bodies were found in neighboring Nassau County, where Heuermann lives.
Gilbert’s remains were eventually discovered by police on Oak Beach in December 2011.
In May 2022, Suffolk County police released 911 audio related to Gilbert’s disappearance. She initially called 911 from inside the home of a client, Joseph Brewer, in Oak Beach shortly before 5 a.m. in 2010.
“There is somebody after me,” she told the dispatcher multiple times. “Somebody’s after me — please,” she said.
Gilbert didn’t specify where she was but said she was on Long Island.
At times during the 911 call, Brewer and her driver and security, Michael Pak, were heard speaking, trying to get her out of Brewer’s home.
“Come on, let’s go. We’ll all go outside,” Brewer was heard saying.
Gilbert said, “Please, get me out of here, Mike.”