Jasmine Robinson sat in a Suffolk County courtroom Friday, listening intently as prosecutors explained how they tracked down a man they suspected of killing and burying at least three women on Long Island’s South Shore. She heard how they used DNA painstakingly harvested from his pizza crusts, triangulated his cellphone signals and spent hours on old-school, shoe-leather pickets.
She has not heard who may have killed her cousin, whose head and hands were also found near remote Gilgo Beach.
Massapequa Park architect Rex Heuermann pleaded not guilty last week after he was charged with three murders of women whose bodies were found on the barrier island. Authorities said he is the prime suspect in a fourth. But a total of 11 bodies were discovered.
For Ms. Robinson, the hearing and the aggressive investigative techniques were a sign that the police might finally solve the killing of her cousin, Jessica Taylor. Days after Ms. Taylor disappeared in New York in July 2003, a woman walking her dog found the victim’s torso in the woods in Manorville, about 45 miles east of Gilgo Beach, but nearly eight years passed before the rest of her remains were found. discovered at Gilgo.
The hearing boosted her confidence, Ms Robinson said.
“I’ve had hope forever, and every morning I wake up, it’s like, ‘Maybe this is the day,'” Ms. Robinson said in an interview Saturday. “Hearing everything yesterday, it proves that they are working, and they are working hard. I’m excited to see what comes next.”
Since the police announced an arrest in the 12-year investigation on Friday, the focus has been on the cases of the four women that investigators have so far linked to Mr. Heuermann. For the relatives of the other victims found along the beach, the news was a stark reminder that they are still waiting for answers.
The families watched for more than a decade as the investigation was hampered by dysfunction and mired in corruption. Then, last year, investigators teamed up with state and federal agencies to reexamine the case.
“The task force is continuing the investigation into the other deaths,” was all the Suffolk County Police Department would say Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office said it would not discuss an ongoing investigation.
For some of the victims’ families, last week’s arrest was a reason to keep the faith. For others, it simply heightened their frustration.
Investigators began focusing on Gilgo Beach in 2010, when Shannan Gilbert, who responded to an escort call in the area, disappeared. Investigators soon discovered the first four buried bodies. Mrs. Gilbert’s remains were found a year later, in Oak Beach marshes about six miles from Gilgo Beach. Although the police have suggested that her death was not a homicide, her family disagrees and knows little about how and why she died.
“I’m so happy for the four who are able to get those answers,” said Sherre Gilbert, her sister, adding, “I feel like they could have done this years ago if they brought the right people.”
The investigation began in earnest in December 2010 when Suffolk County Officer John Malia and his K9 partner, Blue, searched a stretch of Ocean Parkway near where authorities believed Ms. Gilbert had disappeared, according to prosecutors. Blue discovered human remains.
The police later determined that they did not belong to Ms. Gilbert, but to Melissa Barthelemy, a 24-year-old woman from the Bronx who worked as a prostitute until she disappeared in July 2009. When the police returned two days later, they found the remains of three other women – Amber Lynn Costello, Megan Waterman and Maureen Brainard-Barnes.
All four were petite, in their 20s and worked as prostitutes. They were all also found bound at the feet or ankles and wrapped in burlap along a stretch of sand about a quarter of a mile long.
Seven other bodies would be found in the following months, including Mrs. Gilbert, four other women, a man who was never identified and a 2-year-old girl. The bodies, two of which were only partial remains, were not bound and wrapped as those in the first group were.
Many killers sometimes disposed of bodies in a single location — parts of Brooklyn and New Jersey swamps, said Fred Klein, an attorney and the former Nassau County district attorney who prosecuted serial killer Joel Rifkin. But that dumping, he said, was generally the work of an organized crime group or gang.
“The unusual part would be random people using the same place,” said Mr. Klein, who is now an assistant professor of law at Hofstra University. “It almost stretches the imagination to believe that more than one different person, completely separated from each other, just randomly dumped dead sex workers in the same place.”
But the search area eventually stretched for miles, and Joseph Giacalone, an associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who ran the Bronx Police Department’s cold case squad, said a broad search can turn up unexpected discoveries: “When you have these vast forest areas areas. , it depends on how far the police department wants to go and how many bodies they want to find.”
When investigators launched the task force last year, they focused on the first four women found, District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.“
“Those murders: The patterns are very similar,” he told the host. “That’s what this grand jury investigation was all about. We will deal with this case, and then we will continue to investigate all those other bodies as well.”
Mr. Heuermann’s arrest could also be important in helping investigators solve the cases of the other victims, Mr. Klein said. In the past, witnesses’ memories were jogged after seeing a news segment or reading about an arrest, he said.
Beginning Friday, officials in Suffolk County executed warrants, seizing evidence from Mr. Heuermann’s home and storage unit, including more than 200 guns.
But as officials continue their investigations, Ms Gilbert said the task of solving her sister’s death now rests primarily with her and her lawyer.
Last year, police concluded her sister’s cause of death was undetermined but likely accidental, with drug addiction and mental illness possibly playing roles, she said. The family disagrees.
“Even if police say this case is closed, we will not stop getting justice,” Ms Gilbert said. “We’re going to be as loud as possible.”