Whether or not law enforcement shocked Rex Heuermann when they arrested the architect outside his midtown Manhattan office for murdering the “Gilgo Four”, Suffolk County prosecutors’ application to keep the alleged “Long Island Serial Killer” behind bars without bail tells a damning and compelling narrative of the beachside homicides. Called the “Manorville Butcher” and “Craigslist Ripper” in the media, a Suffolk County Grand Jury indicted Heuermann, a resident of Massapequa, on three counts of both First and Second Degree Murder for the deaths of Melissa Barthelemy on or about July 10, 2009, Megan Waterman on or about June 6, 2010, and Amber Costello on or about September 2, 2010. Although Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney has not charged Heuermann with the murder of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, or other murders some believe are tied to Heuermann, his application to have Heuermann remanded, or held without bail, made it clear that their investigation into Brainard-Barne’s death “is continuing and is expected to be resolved soon.”
The following is a brief examination of the joint investigation by county, state, and federal law enforcement, the evidence and techniques pursued to secure it, and the crimes and penalty Heuermann faces. As we learn more and find out what, if anything, search warrants at Heuermann’s home reveal, there may be many more questions asked, but hopefully more answered as well.
The Investigation: Identifying a Suspect & Catching a Target
According to the bail application, in January 2022, Suffolk County prosecutors teamed up with the Suffolk County Police and Sherriff’s Office, New York State Police, and the FBI to identify and apprehend the “Gilgo Four” killer after years of no success. Upon examining the evidence they had to date, including the burlap wraps and duct tape used on the women, along with the issuance and review of over 300 subpoenas, search warrants, eyewitness accounts, and other evidence, law enforcement apprehended the man they believe committed atrocities against innocent women and preyed on residents of Long Island.
First-Generation Chevrolet Avalanche: A Place to Start
Based on a witness report of a Chevrolet Avalanche believed to have been driven by the person who abducted Costello, law enforcement attempted to identify who might own such a vehicle. Though not scientific, this critical piece of evidence set the stage for much more to come. With this information in hand, on March 14, 2022, law enforcement learned that Heuermann had a first-generation Avalanche registered to him at the time of the murders.
Cell Site Information & Mobile Phone Billing Records
Though not able to directly tie cell phone calls and texts between the victims and Heuermann to the now jailed defendant, the information retrieved during this stage in the investigation was tremendously valuable in circumstantially tying Heuermann to the crimes before securing the DNA evidence that will no doubt be the center piece of prosecutors’ case. More specifically, cell phone call and text history, as well as cell site location information, or CSLI, helped law enforcement identify locations and times calls were made to and from the parties to help corroborate their leads and open new investigatory avenues. As reflected in this case and investigation, the value of CSLI cannot be understated. Though not identifying a fairly exact coordinate of a phone’s usage such as with GPS, CSLI can give an approximate location of when and where a cell phone was used by triangulating the data with multiple towers.
Here, of critical import, cell site information circumstantially ties phones’ usages near Heuermann’s office in Manhattan and his home on Long Island, along with the victim’s phones.
Brainard-Barnes: Cell Phone Evidence
In the days leading to her disappearance, there were sixteen interactions between Heuermann’s burner phone and Brainard-Barne’s cell, the last of which was in Manhattan near the 59th Street Bridge. Days after her disappearance, two outbound calls were made from her phone to check voice mail from a cell site near the Long Island Expressway in Islandia.
Barthelemy: Cell Phone Evidence
In the days leading up to and including July 10, 2009 when Barthelemy was last seen, a burner phone contacted her at least four times. Cell site records reflected that this phone went from Massapequa Park, near where Heuermann lived, and Midtown Manhattan before returning to Massapequa. Starting the following day, additional calls were made from Massqpequa, Freeport, and Babylon. On multiple occasions days later, taunting calls and admissions to sexually assaulting and killing Barthelemy were made from her phone to family members. Based on cell site information, these calls were made from Midtown Manhattan.
Waterman: Cell Phone Evidence
On June 5, 2010, and the next day when Waterman was last seen alive at a Holiday Inn in Hauppauge, a burner phone, activated that day, contacted her cellphone. Waterman was captured on video leaving the hotel around the same time the burner phone made contact. Though the burner phone had no more activity after this call, cell site information revealed that Waterman’s phone traveled to Massapequa Park in the vicinity of Heuermann’s home.
Costello: Cell Phone Evidence
On the day before and when Costello was last seen alive, a burner phone made contact with her phone. Cell site information indicated that the towers that connected with the burner phone were in West Amityville and Massapequa Park. The cell phone proceeded to move to the vicinity of Costello’s residence in West Babylon.
According to a witness, on or about September 1st or 2nd, a prostitution client, or “John”, went to her home and a friend, pretending to be Costello’s boyfriend, acted as if he was enraged in this surprise visit by a man for sex in an effort to get money from the “John” before scaring him away. Witnesses described this person as 6’4” to 6’6”, mid 40s, and with dark bushy hair – all consistent with Heuermann’s appearance. Additionally, this person parked a first-generation Chevrolet Avalanche in her driveway. After leaving, the burner phone sent a message to Costello in substance saying what happened was not nice and he wanted a credit. This message was sent from Massapequa Park.
The following day on September 2, 2010, the burner cell reached out from Midtown Manhattan before travelling again to Massapequa Park, near Costello’s home in West Babylon. Though she left the cell phone behind, a witnesses observed a dark colored truck pass the home coming from where Costello walked.
Heuermann’s Wife: Cell Phone Evidence
Based on either cell phone and/or travel records, at the time of Barthelemy, Waterman, and Costello’s disappearances, Heuermann’s wife was either out of the country or out of the state.
This evidence corroborates that Heuermann had the opportunity to perpetrate his alleged crimes.
Heuermann: Cell Phone Evidence
Though cell site records do not exist for all law enforcement’s queries, billing records, along with American Express statements, indicate that Heuermann was in the same general locations as the burner phones used to contact Barthelemy, Waterman, and Costello, along with both Barthelemy and Brainard-Barnes’ cellphones at the time and place they were used to access their respective voicemail and make the purported tormenting calls. The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office bail application illustrated numerous examples corroborating these times and locations.
Heuermann: Post-Disappearance Cell Phone, Email & Online Evidence
Similar to the burner phones used years earlier, cell site information for phones associated with Heuermann’s burner phones, fake email accounts, and a Tinder profile from 2022 indicated usage in the Midtown Manhattan and Massapequa Park areas. More specifically, the cellphones routinely utilized the cellular towers near his home and New York City Office.
Further investigation revealed that a particular email account made thousands of searches related to sex workers, child pornography, and torture. Some of these queries included, “pretty girl bruised face porn”, “tied up and raped porn”, “Girl with face beat up”, “Chubby 10 year old girl crying” and other objectively disturbing searches. Arguably more damning, between March 2022 and June 2023, this email made over two-hundred searches related to each of the women including, “why could law enforcement not trace the calls made by the long island serial killer”, “why hasn’t the long island serial killer been caught”, and the names of some of the women and their relatives. Heuermann allegedly even searched for information on the task force investigating him. Additionally, law enforcement obtained footage from May of 2023 of Heuermann purchasing additional minutes for one of the phones.
Armed with this information, law enforcement also obtained he IP information for the email account that ultimately led back to Heuermann’s home as well as the IP accessing GilgoNews.Com, a Suffolk County Police Department’s website that posted information about the investigation.
Strands of Hair & DNA: Heuermann’s Wife
Although not suitable for DNA testing at the time a potential suspect’s hair was recovered on Barnes, Waterman, and Costello, sometime after July 22, forensic analysis revealed that some of these hairs belonged to a female in mitochondrial haplogroup K1c2. Equally important, the hairs did not belong to any of the victims.
In an effort to identify or match the DNA, detectives retrieved eleven bottles from Heuermann’s trash outside his home. The DNA profile generated from swabs from these bottles revealed that a person who drank from them belonged to mitochondrial haplogroup K1c2 – the same as the hairs recovered from the victims. This finding was confirmed by a second forensic laboratory. The second examination determined that the DNA recovered from the bottles and that of the hair on the victims was the same mitochondrial DNA profiles “at all compared positions common to and between samples” excluding 99.69% to 99.98% of the North American population.
Because Heuermann’s wife was away during the murders, it was theorized that the instruments used to commit or cover up the crimes – burlap sack and tape – came from Heuermann’s home.
Additional Hair & DNA: Heuermann & Pizza
In addition to the female hair, law enforcement also collected hair tangled in the burlap wrap used to cover Waterman. When sent out for further analysis, it was determined that the hair belonged to a male in mitochondrial haplogroup V7a. In an attempt to match the DNA to Heuermann, law enforcement surveilled him and retrieved a pizza box from the garbage outside his office. Armed with a swab from the pizza crust, the forensic lab determined that the hair recovered from the burlap had the same mitochondrial DNA profile as Heuermann and could exclude 99.96% of the North American population.
While all the evidence above is generally circumstantial even if some of it is scientific and quite strong, prosecutors now had what they needed – direct and overwhelming evidence trying Heuermann to the murders of at least three of the “Gilgo Four”.
The Crimes: First & Second Degree Murder
Although there are various subsections of each crime, the Suffolk County Grand Jury indicted Heuermann for violating Penal Law 125.27(1)(a)(xi), First Degree Murder, and Penal Law 125.25(1), Second Degree Murder. Though a Grand Jury is not tasked with finding proof beyond a reasonable doubt, they must find that there is reasonable cause to believe that an accused committed a particular felony. It is only a trial where prosecutors must establish this higher burden of proof.
New York Penal Law 125.27(1)(a)(xi)
In order for a jury to find Heuermann guilty of Murder in the First Degree, the District Attorney’s Office must prove that Heuermann intended to cause the death of each of the women and in fact caused their deaths. Additionally, this subsection requires that he caused the death of two or more additional people withing New York State in separate events or transactions within a time frame of two years and did so pursuant to a common scheme or plan.
In the event a jury finds that each of the elements were not met, for example, only finding that the prosecution proved one murder beyond a reasonable doubt or that there was not a common scheme or plan, prosecutors could still secure a conviction for Murder in the Second Degree.
New York Penal Law 125.25(1)
A far easier crime to prove without the needed proof of additional murders or a common scheme or plan, a jury must only find that Heuermann intended to kill or cause the death of one of the women and in fact took at least one of their lives.
Both class A-1 violent felonies, just as the statutes have somewhat different elements, their potential punishment also differ. While the law mandates a mandatory minimum of fifteen years incarceration and up to twenty-five years to life for Second Degree Murder, First Degree Murder allows for life without parole. In other words, a person convicted of the former offense could one day be paroled, while the latter crime does not allow a parole board to weigh this possibility. That said, though New York State does not have the death penalty, even if Heuermann is acquitted of Murder in the First Degree, a judge could “stack” the convictions with consecutive sentences thereby giving Heuermann the functional equivalent of life without parole.
What Comes Next
With Heuermann back in court on August 1, 2023, and prosecutors reviewing evidence retrieved from Heuermann home after detectives executed a search warrant at his home, the case is far from over. Will the indictment be superseded to add Brainard-Barne or other possible victims? From District Attorney Tierney’s comments, it seems quite possible. Will Heuermann take a plea or exercise his right to a trial knowing that a conviction for any one of these charges could mean life in prison due to his age?
Whatever happens, there is little doubt there are families and communities that hope this arrest, and possible conviction, will provide some deserved closure even if it does not answer questions about other unsolved murders that have washed up upon on Long Island’s shores that Heuermann may, or may not, have perpetrated.
Jeremy Saland is a New York criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan prosecutor.