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July 14, 2023

Suspect indicted in Long Island serial killings, which left a Philly woman dead

New York authorities arrested Rex Heuermann on Thursday. He has been indicted for three of the slayings, but not Valerie Mack's death

Prosecutors in New York announced a major break Friday in the case of the Gilgo Beach homicides, arresting a man accused of killing at least three of the 10 people whose remains were found on Long Island more than a decade ago.

Suffolk County authorities identified the suspect as Rex Heuermann, a 59-year-old man from neighboring Nassau County. Heuermann, described as a lifelong Massapequa resident, is the owner of an architectural consulting firm and has professional ties to Manhattan dating back to the late 1980s. He had been on the radar of police since 2022 and was under surveillance prior to his arrest on Thursday night. 

Heuerrmann has been indicted for the murders of three of the women known as the "Gilgo Four," whose remains were the first to be found by authorities in late 2010, Suffolk County officials announced Friday.  The remains were wrapped in burlap along a stretch of Ocean Parkway, where investigators spent months uncovering more bodies. 

Suffolk County D.A. Raymond Tierney said Heuerrmann was found through a combination of cell phone records, DNA evidence and a physical description. Back in 2012, the FBI identified two areas of interest near Massapequa Park, where Heuerrmann lives, and in midtown Manhattan, where he works, based on cell phone communication between the victims and their presumed assailant. 

Investigators later discovered overlap between these records and Heuerrmann's personal cell phone. His description also matched one given for a man who met with one of the victims the day before her disappearance. Hair recovered from the victims' bodies was matched to DNA from Heuerrmann, whom law enforcement officials followed for a sample, Tierney said. According to ABC7, that sample was a discarded pizza crust.

In a 14-month period, Tierney said, Heuerrmann queried more than 200 Google searches on the Gilgo murders investigation. His search history also revealed "torture porn" and compulsive queries for the victims and their family members.

Among the 10 people killed — eight women, a man and a toddler — was 24-year-old sex worker Valerie Mack, who grew up in Egg Harbor, New Jersey and had been living in Philadelphia around the time of her disappearance in 2000. Some of Mack's then-unidentified remains had been found around that time, years before authorities learned of the disturbing pattern of killings involving escorts in New York. Followers of the case sometimes referred to the killer as the "Craigslist Ripper," since many of the victims had solicited sex using online personal ads.  

It's not clear whether police suspect Heuermann was behind Mack's death. Prosecutors did not comment on his potential connection to the other homicides. 

The search for a suspect has frustrated police and haunted the public since December 2010, when authorities found the bodies of the Gilgo Four. Police had been looking for 24-year-old Shannon Gilbert, a sex worker from New Jersey who had gone missing after she left a client's home in Oak Beach. Before Gilbert's disappearance, she had frantically called 911 from Long Island to report that someone was after her.

During the search for Gilbert, police found a cluster of bodies in the area of Gilgo Beach. These women were Melissa Barthelemy, 24; Megan Waterman, 22; Amber Lynn Costello, 27; and Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25. Heuermann has been indicted for the deaths of the first three and is considered the prime suspect in Brainard-Barnes' death, the investigation of which is ongoing.

Over the next year, authorities found more human remains scattered along the coastal highway. And as the investigation unfolded, authorities determined the dismembered remains of several people, including Mack, had been found years earlier in different locations.

In March 2011, the partial remains of 20-year-old Jessica Taylor were found near Gilgo Beach. Some of Taylor's remains had been located eight years earlier in Manorville, New York, more than 40 miles away.

Also in March 2011, investigators discovered the partial remains of a woman later identified as Mack. Her torso had been found in Manorville in 2000, but authorities could not confirm her identity until 2020, when Suffolk County police revealed the findings of genetic genealogy testing.

Near Mack's remains was the body of a toddler believed to be the daughter of yet another woman, who has not been identified. Some of that woman's remains also had been found in Hempstead Lake State Park in 1997. Investigators called her "Peaches" because of a tattoo found on her torso. The rest of her remains were found along Ocean Parkway in the spring of 2011, along with the skull of another unidentified woman who was linked to other remains discovered on Fire Island in 1996.

Investigators also found the skeletal remains of an unidentified Asian man, possibly a transgender woman, who had been dressed in women's clothing at the time the body was found.

The remains of Shannon Gilbert, whose disappearance started the investigation, were not found until December 2011. They were in a marsh near Oak Beach, within a mile of where she had last been seen.

Little is known about Valerie Mack. Her family last had contact with her in the area of Port Republic, New Jersey, during the spring of 2000. She was an escort with a last known address in Philadelphia, where she had sometimes used the name Melissa Taylor, police said. She was never reported missing, although investigators said her friends and family had been searching for answers. The genetic testing was done with the help of relatives who were interviewed by police and agreed to give DNA samples.

Over the years, investigators have considered numerous suspects and maintained the theory that more than one person may have been involved in the killings, whether acting separately or together. 

The killings became the subject of Robert Kolker's book, "Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery," which was published in 2013 and inspired the Netflix movie "Lost Girls."