In his office near the Empire State Building, Rex Heuermann was master of the meticulous: a veteran architectural consultant and self-proclaimed expert at navigating the intricacies of New York’s building code. He impressed some clients and drove others crazy with his dental directives.

At home in Massapequa Park on Long Island, while some neighbors saw Mr. Heuermann as just another commuter in a suit, others found him a figure of menace. He amused neighbors by brandishing an ax in the front yard of a low-rise, dilapidated house that parents warned their children to avoid on Halloween. He was kicked out of Whole Foods for stealing fruit.

“We would cross the street,” said Nicholas Ferchaw, 24, a neighbor. “He was someone you don’t want to come in contact with.”

On Friday, Suffolk County prosecutors said Massapequa Park residents had a a serial killer living in them. They accused Mr. Heuermann, 59, of leaving a quarter-mile trail of young women’s bodies on Long Island’s South Shore in what became known as the Gilgo Beach Killings. Yet he was so careful to cover his tracks, they said it took them nearly 15 years to arrest him.

Mr. Heuermann’s friends and clients in the real estate business were surprised.

His neighbor Mr. Ferchaw said, “I wasn’t surprised at all – because of all the scaremongering.”

Yearbook photo of Mr. Heuermann from Berner High School in Massapequa.Credit…The New York Times

Mr. Heuermann, who was arrested in Midtown Thursday night, was charged Friday with three counts of first-degree murder and ordered held without bail during a brief appearance at a court in Suffolk County. His lawyer said outside court that Mr. Heuermann denied committing the killings.

If convicted of these crimes, Mr. Heuermann would join the ranks of serial killers who led double lives, the other quite mundane. John Wayne Gacy was a construction contractor in Illinois. Richard Cottingham, known as the Torso Killer, was a computer operator for a New Jersey insurance company.

In video interview posted on YouTube last year and taken to his completely unremarkable-looking office on Fifth Avenue, Mr. Heuermann – tall and heavyset, sporting a toupee-like 1970s hairdo and a blue dress shirt with a pen peeking out of the pocket – emerges as a recognizable character: the scrappy. , streetwise Noo Yawker, the I-have-man.

“When a job that should be routine suddenly becomes non-routine,” he tells the interviewer, Antoine Amira, “I get the phone call.”

According to his resume and his company’s website, RH Consultants & Associates, Mr. Heuermann’s clients included American Airlines, Catholic Charities, and the city’s own Department of Environmental Protection. He has represented clients before the Landmark Preservation Commission numerous times and claimed credit for hundreds of successful applications before city agencies.

Steve Kramberg, a property manager in Brooklyn who has worked with Mr. Heuermann for about 30 years, called him “a gem to deal with, very knowledgeable.” Mr. Heuermann was a “big goofy guy, a little on the nerdy side,” who worked long hours and was available day and night, Mr. Kramberg said. But he was also devoted to his wife, who Mr. Kramberg said had health problems, and to his elderly mother.

In Massapequa Park, a tightly gridded village of neat homes with manicured lawns, Mr. Heuermann, the son of an aerospace engineer, lived in the house he grew up in and made furniture in his father’s old workshop. A man who went to high school with him said he was bullied as a teenager but sometimes fought back. In 1990, he married an executive at an office supply company. He has a daughter who works at his company.

Mr. Ferchaw recounted several meetings with his neighbor, none of them pleasant. There was the time he greeted Mr. Heuermann while he was cutting wood and Mr. Heuermann answered silently looking back between slices of his splitting stain. Other times he sat next to his stacked wood on the porch watching an old television.

Mike Schmidt, who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, has a friend who lives behind Mr. Heuermann. Sometimes Mr. Schmidt visited his friend, drank a few beers in the backyard, looked out at the deteriorating Heuermann house, “and said ‘He’s probably got bodies in there.'”

Last Halloween, Mr. Schmidt and his friend decided to take their kids trick-or-treating at Mr. Heuermann’s house, just to look inside. They were surprised when Mr. Heuermann himself answered the door and gave each child a small plastic pumpkin overflowing with candy.

When Mr. Schmidt’s wife found out where the candy came from, she made him throw it out.

At work, Mr. Heuermann’s punctual approach rubbed some people the wrong way. Kelly Parisi, a former president of the co-op board at a Brooklyn Heights building that hired Mr. Heuermann to oversee renovations, said he was “against everyone” and so “over-zealous” that the board eventually fired him.

Paul Teitelbaum, another former president of the building’s board, described him as “really kind of a cold and distant person, kind of scary.” He added, “There was bragging rights – ‘I’m the expert, you’re lucky to have me.'”

But one man’s arrogant demands were another’s eye for detail. “He’s very good at shepherding things,” Mr. Kramberg said.

According to the timeline released by prosecutors and to Buildings Department and court records, Mr. Heuermann continued his busy work schedule even as victims disappeared.

In 2009, prosecutors said, after killing Melissa Barthelemy, a 24-year-old who worked as an escort, Mr. Heuermann made a series of taunting calls to her family, during lunch and after hours, from locations near his office.

In June 2010, about two weeks after Megan Waterman, a 22-year-old from Maine, was last seen alive, Mr. Heuermann filed an application to install a new fire escape at a building in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. In August of that year, he filed an application to repair the terra cotta and repoint the bricks in a building on the Upper West Side, nine days before Amber Lynn Costello, 27, disappeared near her home a few miles from Mr. Heuermann.

On March 9, 2022, as the web of inquiry tightened, Mr. Heuermann wrote a typically detailed letter to a lawyer about a project on West 71st Street:

“It appears from my walk though, the drain line is above the interior floor slab and if the trench drain is placed below this level, it would not be able to drain by gravity,” he wrote. “I would strongly recommend an investigation into the use of negative side waterproofing at this site.”

Five days after that, investigators found that Mr. Heuermann owned the same model pickup that a witness said Ms. Costello’s killer drove. Two weeks later, prosecutors said, Mr. Heuermann Googled “Long Island serial killer” and viewed an article titled “New Task Force Aims to Solve Long Island Serial Killer Case.”

It was late last summer that Mr. Heuermann, sweaty and wearing a dirty T-shirt and pants, was spotted at the Massapequa Park Whole Foods stealing clementines from a bowl set out for children.

“He took three and put them in his pocket, then he took more,” said Tara Alonzo, a clerk at the store. After a few more rounds she called him. “I said, ‘Sir, those are for the kids,'” she recalled. She said Mr. Heuermann yelled back and became so agitated that her manager escorted him outside. She did not see his face again until it appeared on television on Friday.

“My co-worker said, ‘That’s the orange guy!'”

Mr. Kramberg said he spoke with Mr. Heuermann by phone Thursday evening. He was his usual chatty self, cracking jokes.

“That must have been right before he left the office and they arrested him,” Mr. Kramberg said.

Ginny Bellafante, Corey Kilgannon and Michael Wilson contributed reporting. Jack Begg contributed research.

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