Suffolk County Police arrested a man in Massapequa, New York in connection with three murders attributed to the long-unsolved Long Island Serial Killer (LISK), a case that long perplexed authorities and became the focus of countless true crime offerings.
The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement to Rolling Stone that “Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney, Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison, Suffolk County Sheriff Errol D. Toulon, Jr., as well as representatives from the New York State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation will hold a [4 p.m. EST] press conference to announce a significant development in the investigation by the Gilgo Beach Homicide Investigation Task Force.”
The suspect was subsequently identified as 59-year-old Rex Heuermann, the founder of the architectural firm Rex Heuermann Consultants & Associates based in New York City; NBC News reports that Heuermann was arrested in New York City Thursday night, while a large police presence was seen outside his Massapequa home.
At least 10 bodies were recovered from the desolate stretch of Gilgo Beach along Long Island’s southern coast beginning in Dec. 2010, but the investigation has largely focused on the four women since dubbed “The Gilgo Four,” as the similarities between their murders suggest they were all killed by the same person.
The remains of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Costello, all four of whom were sex workers who advertised their services online at the time of their death, were each found wrapped in burlap in close proximity to one another.
According to Heuermann’s bail application, obtained by Rolling Stone, he was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and second-degree murder in the deaths of Barthelemy, Waterman and Costello. (Heuermann remains a “prime suspect” in Brainard-Barnes’ death, prosecutors said, adding that investigation was still ongoing.) At his hearing Friday, Heuermann pleaded not guilty, with his defense attorney telling reporters afterwards that Heuermann told him, “I didn’t do this.”
The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office also laid out the evidence that led investigators to Heuermann, including computer forensics and cellphone data, as well as the discovery of DNA (woman’s hair) found on two of the victims that forensic scientists ultimately matched that to Heuermann’s wife.
Additionally, a male hair found in the burlap sack that contained Waterman’s remains was later found to be a “99.96%” mitochondrial match to Heuermann’s hair; investigators culled Heuermann’s DNA “from the pizza crust abandoned” by the suspect that investigators saw him discard in a garbage can outside his Manhattan office in January 2023; the lab results were confirmed in June 2023.
The town of Massapequa had long been a focus of the investigation as LISK reportedly harassed the family of Melissa Barthelemy following her 2009 disappearance, calling and texting them using Bathelemy’s phone. According to the New York Post in 2011, police ultimately triangulated the killer’s calls to her family, with the cellphone pinging in both Manhattan (in the vicinity of Times Square and Madison Square Garden) and Massapequa; over a decade later, this evidence proved crucial, as proven by the bail application.
Prosecutors sought that Heuermann be held with bail. “Based on the serious, heinous nature of these serial murders, the planning and forethought that went into these crimes, the strength of the People’s case, the length of incarceration the defendant faces upon conviction, the extended period of time that this Defendant was able to avoid apprehension, his recent searches for sadistic materials, child pornography, images of the victims and their relatives, counter-surveillance, conducted online as to the criminal investigation, his use of fictitious names, burner email and cellphone accounts, and his access to and history of possessing firearms, the only means to ensure Defendant Rex A. Heuermann’s return to courts to remand him without bail,” prosecutors wrote.
Actor Billy Baldwin, whose family grew up in Massapequa, tweeted Friday that he went to high school with the suspect:
Despite working in architecture and real estate, Heuermann’s Massapequa home was described by neighbors as “dilapidated” and rundown. “You’d think he’d have a better house, for an architect,” neighbor Mike Cafiero told the New York Times. Another neighbor, Cheryl Lombardi, told CBS News, “Every time we would walk past the house, we would say why aren’t we fixing this house up? It’s the only one in the neighborhood that looks like that. And there were never any answers.”
“We’re happy to see that they’re finally active, the police, in accomplishing something. Let’s wait and see what it all leads to,” John Ray, the attorney for the families of Jessica Taylor and Shannan Gilbert, whose disappearance in the Gilgo Beach area ultimately resulted in the discovery of the other bodies, told the Associated Press; Gilbert herself is not believed to be a LISK victim.
“I am overwhelmed but relieved that they finally caught him. It’s been a long time coming and I never gave up hope that one day justice would be served,” Sherre Gilbert, the sister of Shannan Gilbert, said in a statement to NBC News. “The suspect (Rex) deserves to rot in prison for the rest of his life,” she continued. “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 arrest comes over a year after Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney K. Harrison publicly shared “previously unreleased information” regarding the case. “We believe now is the right time to disseminate this previously unreleased information in hopes of eliciting tips from the public and providing greater transparency about the victims,” Harrison said in April 2022.
In recent years, there have been significant developments in the investigation, although none have brought police closer to catching the killer: In Jan. 2020, Suffolk police released photos of a portion of a belt found at the crime scene that investigators believe belonged to the suspect. Four months later, the remains of a “Jane Doe” recovered at the Gilgo site were identified as Valerie Mack, a 24-year-old woman who went missing in 2000. Suffolk police also launched a then-new website, gilgonews.com, as a catchall for information pertaining to the case.
The arrest also comes a day after police in Suffolk County uncovered human remains off the Southern State Parkway in West Islip, at a spot almost directly north of the Gilgo Beach site. It remains unclear if those remains are connected to the LISK case.
“The day has finally come,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday following news of the arrest. “Hopefully after further news is unveiled today the answer will be yes, yes, the day has finally come when someone so deprived, depraved of heart, would kill individuals, innocent individuals in the prime of their young lives, is finally brought to justice.”