In December 2010, officer John Malia and his police dog, Blue, were combing Gilgo Beach, a remote stretch of sand on the South Shore of Long Island, when they found human remains.
The police would later discover that they belonged to Melissa Barthelemy, a petite 24-year-old from the Bronx who worked as a prostitute and was last seen in July 2009 when she told a friend that she was going to meet a client. Two days later, the police found the remains of three other women – Amber Lynn Costello, Megan Waterman and Maureen Brainard-Barnes. Like Madame Barthelemy, they were petite, in their 20s and worked as escorts.
The discovery of their bodies, bound at the feet or ankles and wrapped in burlap, horrified Long Island residents, devastated the victims’ families and led to a 12-year investigation marked by dysfunction and disorder. Six other bodies, including four women, a man who has never been identified and a 2-year-old girl, were discovered in the following weeks.
On Friday, the police finally announced an arrest. Rex Heuermann, 59, was charged with first- and second-degree murder in the deaths of Ms. Costello, Ms. Waterman and Ms. Barthelemy. He is considered the prime suspect in the death of Ms. Brainard-Barnes, who disappeared in 2007.
Here’s what we know about the case so far.
For years, the Gilgo Beach investigation was hampered by dysfunction and even corruption. James Burke, a Suffolk police commissioner who at one point led the investigation, refused to work with the FBI, and years later the public learned that he was being investigated by federal authorities for obstruction of justice in an unrelated case.
In February 2022, authorities announced the creation of the Gilgo Beach Homicide Investigation Task Force, bringing together local, state, and federal investigators.
The task force focused on cellphone records. All the women were contacted by different hotlines, and investigators, using mapping technology, learned that the calls came from two key locations they would later link to Mr. Heuermann: near his home on First Avenue in Massapequa Park and near his office at Fifth Avenue and 36th Street in Manhattan.
A break came in March 2022 when investigators discovered that Mr. Heuermann owned a Chevrolet Avalanche truck at the time of the killings. It was the same type of truck a witness saw parked in victim’s driveway shortly before she disappeared.
In July 2022, a detective retrieved 11 bottles from a trash can outside Mr. Heuermann’s house. Investigators compared DNA from the bottles with DNA extracted from hairs found on some of the bodies.
Last month, the Suffolk County crime lab matched DNA from a hair found on Ms. Waterman’s body with DNA from discarded crusts recovered from a pizza box that Mr. Heuermann threw out.
On Thursday, he was taken into custody in Midtown. The next day, he was ordered held without bail during a brief appearance at a Suffolk County courthouse. His lawyer said outside court that Mr. Heuermann denied committing the killings.
Who is Rex Heuermann?
Mr. Heuermann, conscientious in his Manhattan work as an architect and architectural consultant, is married with a daughter and was born and raised on Long Island, where he lived in his family home, a dilapidated one-story house with fading red paint and an unkempt yard.
He was respected by some in his field for his experience as a veteran architectural consultant and his deep knowledge of the intricacies of New York’s building code, which made him effective at getting projects approved. Other customers found him too fastidious and belligerent.
In Massapequa Park, where he lived, neighbors considered him unpleasant, even threatening.
They said he would respond with silent glances when they greeted. Once, he was kicked out of Whole Foods for stealing clementines meant for children.
On Friday, Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond A. Tierney laid out the evidence the authorities said linked Mr. Heuermann to the crimes. He had licenses for 92 firearms and created a fake email account that he used to search for violent pornography that showed women and children being sexually assaulted, authorities said.
Who were the victims?
In the weeks after Ms. Barthelemy, Ms. Waterman, Ms. Brainard-Barnes and Ms. Costello were found, the details that emerged about their lives centered around their work as escorts. They were described as vulnerable women whose profession put them on the path of a serial killer.
Their families fought to say they were more than escorts and victims. Ms. Brainard-Barnes’ sister described her as an artistic, daring free spirit who worked as a blackjack dealer, then as a clerk at ShopRite. She was a mother of a young girl and a boy and worked as an escort six months ago she disappeared in July 2007.
Two years later, Ms. Barthelemy, a hairdresser who had moved to New York from Buffalo, disappeared after she left her basement apartment in the Bronx and told a friend she was going to see a man. Soon after, her family received a series of calls from a man who admitted to killing her. He used Ms Barthelemy’s phone to make the “taunting” calls, police said.
Ms. Waterman was 22 and living in Scarborough, Maine, when she went disappeared June 6, 2010. She boarded a New York-bound Concord Trailways bus to meet a client. She was reported missing two days later, after she failed to call to check on her 3-year-old daughter.
Ms. Costello was the last of what authorities called the “Gilgo Four” to go missing. She was addicted to heroin but attended a 28-day rehabilitation program in Clearwater, Fla., before she moved to New York, where she relapsed, according to the Suffolk County sheriff’s department.
She developed a ruse with her two male roommates: Mrs. Costello would meet a client at her home, and after the client paid, one of the men would come in and claim he was Mrs. Costello’s boyfriend, forcing the client to flee. before any sex took place.
Ms. Costello tried that trick on Mr. Heuermann around Sept. 2, 2010, prosecutors said. A witness saw a Chevrolet Avalanche parked in the driveway where Ms. Costello lived in West Babylon, N.Y. The witness said a tall man with “dark bushy hair” who looked like an “ogre” came out of the house and said he was going to . call Ms. Costello later, prosecutors said in a court filing.
On the night of September 2, Mrs. Costello received a call from the same customer and left her house. Soon after, a witness saw a dark truck pass the house.