Skip to main content

The hunt for the Long Island Serial Killer

A graphic showing the famous Long Island pier sign
Image Credit: | Above: A graphic showing the famous Long Island pier sign

The murders dogged the Suffolk County Police Department for 13 years and the FBI for eight. While never giving up on tracking down the elusive killer, investigators were quietly beginning to lose hope. Until earlier this year, when they finally had a significant breakthrough in the search for The Long Island Serial Killer (aka ‘LISK’).

The murders, also referred to as ‘The Gilgo Beach Serial Killings’, have struck a chord with the online amateur detective subculture, with theories and ideas exchanged on forums for years.

In July of this year, Rex Heuermann was charged with three counts of murder, with more charges expected to follow soon. Heuermann, a 59-year-old architect, denies all charges.

The background

On 11th December 2010, a grim discovery was made on the sandy flats of Gilgo Beach, on the south shore of Long Island in New York. The body of Melissa Barthelemy was found by police who were out looking for the missing Shannan Gilbert. Police cadaver dogs also discovered the remains of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello during the same search. All had been dumped in the same area and became known as ‘The Gilgo Beach Four’.

Shannan Gilbert’s body was later found relatively near to the other four, but almost a year later. Investigators have since declared that they do not believe she was killed by The Long Island Serial Killer.

Soon, more bodies were found dumped on the shoreline. In total, police think the serial killer has murdered and dumped the bodies of at least 11 women on Gilgo Beach. However, several more bodies have been found in other locations, meaning that ‘LISK’ could have claimed up to - or even more than - 18 victims.

Police worked tirelessly on the case, as did the FBI when they were brought in. Despite this, neither made any significant headway in the case until very recently. At one point, the working theory was that there were three separate serial killers at work.

The victims

Many of the victims were sex workers from New York City who advertised their services on Craigslist. The first victim was Melissa Barthelemy, a 24-year-old New Jersey sex worker who went missing after visiting a customer. The bodies of three additional victims - Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello - were also discovered nearby two days later.

During the hunt for Shannan, escort Jessica Taylor's remains were also discovered. This time in a wooded location in Manorville in July 2011.

Another sex worker, Valerie Mack, vanished in Philadelphia in 2000. Her remains were discovered 11 years later in two Suffolk County locations, Manorville and Oak Beach. It wasn't until 2020 that police could positively identify Valerie’s body.

In April 2011, the remains of a young Asian male were discovered along Ocean Parkway. He is thought to have been killed a decade earlier. The body of a female toddler was found on the same day. Later, it was discovered that she was the daughter of another victim, known only as ‘Peaches’, an unnamed female whose bones were found in Nassau County.

There are several other victims whose identities are unknown.

The investigation

After analysing the murders, Suffolk County Police publicly declared in November 2011 that they were all the work of a single serial killer. By this time, they’d already offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Despite their best efforts, the trail went cold. Four years on and the police were no closer to identifying the killer. The FBI were brought in to re-examine the evidence. Local police chief James Burke had resisted federal involvement, but when he was indicted for unrelated civil rights violations, Burke’s replacement asked for external help immediately.

Again, the police and FBI worked the case tirelessly, but to no avail. Their break finally came when the investigations uncovered a male’s hair in the hessian sack that Megan Waterman’s body was found in. That DNA evidence, along with mobile phone data and witness descriptions, led them to one suspect.

The suspect

Rex Heuermann had been on the police and FBI’s radars since early 2022. Since then, they had watched him closely, steadily building a case and amassing DNA evidence that could be pivotal when the case is heard in court.

A Long Island native, an old school friend described Heuermann as ‘very quiet, dark, kept to himself and extremely intelligent, very smart.’

YouTuber Antoine Amira interviewed Heuermann for his real estate channel in 2022 and said this of him: ‘Intimidating? No. Imposing? Yes. Very, very imposing… He’s a head above me, a very large person. I still remember his handshake when we met. Very strong. Very strong handshake. It’s like you were shaking a very big piece of marble. That’s how strong his hand was.’

In a disturbing statement, 34-year-old Nicole Brass, told a US news network that she briefly dated Heuermann and that he frequently spoke of the murders. He would appear 'really excited' to discuss them, she said. ‘It piqued his interest. He was very detailed and it didn't seem like somebody who was just a true crime fan, either. It seemed like somebody who, as they talked about it, was reliving it in their head.’

Heuermann has spent his entire life on Long Island. The alleged murderer has two children from previous marriages, including a daughter who is 26 and a stepson with special needs. His current wife filed for divorce not long after news broke of his arrest.