It was a string of grisly, unsolved murders that captured the public’s attention, putting residents of Long Island, New York, on edge.
Now, on Friday, authorities in the United States have announced they have charged a suspect in at least three of the deaths, providing possible answers to a longstanding mystery.
Investigators have accused Nassau County architect Rex Heuermann, 59, in the killings of Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Costello.
He remains a person of interest in a fourth murder, that of Maureen Brainard-Barnes. She was found bound and hidden in the brush in 2010 next to a beach highway.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Rex Heuermann is a demon that walks among us — a predator that ruined families,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said. “If not for the members of this task force, he would still be out on the streets today.”
Defence lawyer Michael Brown, however, said Heuermann told him, “I didn’t do this.” Heuermann, through his lawyer, has entered a plea of not guilty.
Given the “extreme depravity” of the case, Suffolk County Judge Richard Ambro ordered Heuermann to be held in jail without bail.
The investigation began over a decade ago, in May 2010, when 24-year-old Shannan Gilbert disappeared after making a panicked call to emergency services.
“There’s somebody after me,” she said in the recording, as she left a house on Oak Beach, Long Island, where she had been hired for sex work.
Her disappearance prompted a police search, which stretched on for months. But in December of that year, on an isolated beach along Long Island’s south shore, an officer came across a set of remains: Barthelemy’s.
Over the next few days, more bodies were discovered, belonging to Costello, Brainard-Barnes and Waterman. The women were all young — in their 20s — and all had been employed in sex work. Their remains were found wrapped in camouflage burlap-style fabric.
As the search continued into 2011, the body count would rise to 11, with an additional four women, one man and a toddler found. Police have said that they believe multiple people to be responsible.
According to investigators, Heuermann lived across the bay from the Gilgo Beach crime scene, in an area called Massapequa Park.
Detectives began to focus on him as a suspect in March 2022, when they discovered he had owned a Chevrolet Avalanche pick-up truck, similar to the model a witness had identified around the time of the disappearances.
A surveillance team later that month trailed Heuermann as he threw away some leftover pizza crust while in Manhattan. Detectives then collected the crust and swabbed it for DNA, which linked him to hair recovered among the victims’ bodies.
Police arrested Heuermann late on Thursday, and by Friday morning, investigators were sweeping his small red house in Long Island.
Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney told reporters on Friday that Heuermann had “searched obsessively” for information online about the Gilgo Beach killings.
Until his arrest, Tierney said the architect used burner phones to contact sex workers. He also noted that Heuermann allegedly had permits for 92 guns.
“This case is not over,” Tierney said at Friday’s press conference. “It’s only beginning.”
The Gilgo Beach murders have drawn widespread public attention in recent years, in the wake of the Netflix series Lost Girls and true-crime podcasts dissecting the case.
As she visited Long Island on Friday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul said she hoped the arrest would help bring closure to the victims’ loved ones.
“This is a day that is a long time in coming and hopefully a day that will bring peace to this community and to the families — peace that has been long overdue,” she said.