The suspect charged Friday in connection with a string of long-unsolved slayings of women on Long Island, New York, lived in a cozy South Shore suburb not far from the beach highway where human remains were first found more than a decade ago.
The suspect was identified in court documents as Rex Heuermann, 59, of Massapequa Park, a village in Nassau County. His arrest sent shock waves through his quiet bedroom community as neighbors described a well-dressed man who would commute to work in Manhattan as an architect, with no reason to believe he could be involved in a series of killings that have stumped investigators and drawn national attention.
If he is found guilty, "he was living a double life," said Rosemarie Kafka, 56, a former neighbor who had lived near the Heuermann family before moving last year. "You know, the regular guy who goes to work, has kids in the local school and in a good neighborhood, but he's killing people on the side."
Heuermann was arrested in midtown Manhattan on Thursday night and transported to Suffolk County. He was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of three women. He is also suspected in the disappearance and death of a fourth woman, but that investigation remains ongoing, according to a bail application. A judge remanded him without bail.
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During a news conference Friday afternoon, local prosecutors and police praised a multiagency task force brought together early last year for identifying Heuermann as their main suspect and ultimately using cellphone evidence and DNA taken from a pizza crust to build their case.
"Fresh eyes in this case and the resiliency of our investigators allowed us to identify Rex Heuermann," Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said. "Rex Heuermann is a demon who walks among us."
But Heuermann's attorney, Michael J. Brown, told reporters that the accusations against his client are "extremely circumstantial in nature," and he said Heuermann has denied any involvement.
"The only thing he did say, as he was in tears, was 'I didn’t do this,'" Brown said. "He's distraught. He's clearly distraught about the charges here."
The case dogged investigators for years after the discovery of human remains in 2010 near Gilgo Beach led to as many as 16 victims being found, many of them who were known sex workers. Police do not believe all of those deaths are linked to the same person, but that Heuermann is involved in four slayings in which the women were found in similar positions and bound with either belts or tape, according to court documents. The bodies of three of those women were also wrapped in burlap-type material.
Who is Rex Heuermann?
Authorities blocked off Heuermann's Massapequa Park home Friday. Officials in hazmat suits could be seen entering the modest single-story house, located on a block of larger well-kept residences. Investigators were searching the property in addition to Heuermann's office in midtown Manhattan.
Some neighbors said that they had short interactions with Heuermann and his family over the years, but that they typically kept to themselves.
Heuermann stood out as a "tall, big, big guy. Always well dressed," said Patrica Maressa, 64, who has lived next door to his house for more than two decades.
"I'm still shocked that this is going on," she said, adding, "It's a very quiet neighborhood. At night, you could hear a pin drop."
Heuermann's home is also listed in connection with his business, RH Consultants & Associates. He received his architecture license in 1996, and New York state records show he does not have any enforcement actions listed.
Among his clients have been Catholic Charities, New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, American Airlines and other major tenants at John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to an online biography.
In an interview from his Manhattan office posted on YouTube by Bonjour Realty in early 2022, Heuermann said he was an architectural consultant and "troubleshooter," born and raised on Long Island and working in Manhattan since 1987. He spoke about the nuts and bolts of his profession and how he educated city entities about local architectural codes.
When asked about what qualities someone in his job would need, he said, "I don't like to use the word tolerance, but sometimes you have to. And it's not just with the city. It's also with the client, because most clients, they don't understand what I have to do, why I have to do it, and what it takes to get done."
Heuermann also spoke about learning to construct furniture from his father, whom he described as an aerospace engineer who built satellites.
"I build furniture at home and I still build it in the same exact workshop," he said. "I have one tool that's pretty much used in almost every job, and it's actually a cabinet maker's hammer. It is persuasive enough when I need to persuade something."
"Not someone?" the interviewer asked.
"Something," Heuermann said, "and it always yields excellent results."
At least one person who knows Heuermann said his arrest is at odds with the man she has come to know through weekly networking meetings.
"I knew him as a friend and a colleague. And I am completely surprised," the woman said, adding that she last spoke with him Tuesday via Zoom.
"He was very organized. He was very friendly," she said. "I did not see this coming."
How did police allegedly connect Heuermann?
In December 2010, a Suffolk County police officer conducting a training exercise with his K-9 partner discovered a first set of human remains along Ocean Parkway in Gilgo Beach, according to court documents.
The remains were later identified as Melissa Barthelemy, a 24-year-old who had been reported missing in 2009 after she was last seen at her basement apartment in the Bronx.
Police would go on to find three additional sets of remains, later identified as Maureen Brainard-Barnes, a 25-year-old who went missing in 2007; Megan Waterman, a 22-year-old who went missing in 2010; and Amber Costello, a 27-year-old who also was reported missing in 2010. The women were all believed to be sex workers who advertised on online sites, according to police.
After years of an investigation that had gone cold, a joint law enforcement review jumpstarted in 2022, which included local and state police and the FBI, brought attention to a Chevrolet Avalanche registered to Heuermann. Such a vehicle had been on investigators' radar during Costello's disappearance from a witness' tip.
An investigation into Heuermann led to the discovery of cellphone billing records corresponding to cell site locations for burner phones used to arrange meetings with three of the four victims, as well as a phone used to make "taunting calls" to a sister of Barthelemy. Heuermann is also believed to have used Brainard-Barnes' and Barthelemy's cellphones after their deaths, police said.
"A review of these records, as well as Heuermann's American Express records, showed numerous instances where Heuermann was located in the same general locations as the burner cellphones used to contact victims Barthelemy, Waterman, and Costello, as well as the use of Brainard-Barnes and Barthelemy's cellphones when they were used to check voicemail and make taunting phone calls after the women disappeared," Suffolk County prosecutors said in court documents. "Significantly, investigators could find no instance where Heuermann was in a separate location from these other cellphones when such a communication event occurred."
Investigators said they also linked Heuermann's use of his cellphone to an AOL account, which was also accessed by a burner phone. The phone was linked to midtown Manhattan and Massapequa Park by cell sites, and investigators said they found additional burner phones were "used to conduct thousands of searches related to sex workers, sadistic, torture-related pornography and child pornography." The phones were also linked to an email involved in more than 200 online searches specifically naming the victims and updates in the "Long Island serial killer" case.
In addition, hairs found on the victims were tested and determined to be from another female. DNA was taken off of bottles left out for trash collection in front of Heuermann's home in July 2022. When investigators tested the hair found on Waterman, it matched DNA believed to belong to Heuermann's wife, court documents said.
The police investigation determined Heuermann's wife was out of town during the various killings.
"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," prosecutors said.
A male hair was also found on the burlap used to wrap Waterman, according to investigators. Police collected a discarded pizza thrown by Heuermann and swabbed a pizza crust for DNA.
Based on lab results in June, investigators said "it is significant that Defendant Heuermann cannot be excluded from the male hair recovered near the 'bottom of the burlap' utilized to restrain and transport Megan Waterman's naked and deceased body."
Heuermann was charged in the deaths of Barthelemy, Waterman and Costello. Prosecutors said in court documents that he remains the prime suspect in Brainard-Barnes' death, but there are no charges as the investigation "is continuing and is expected to be resolved soon."
Authorities on Friday asked the public for further help in solving the cases of other human remains found in Gilgo Beach in recent decades but not believed to be linked to Heuermann.