A suspect has been taken into custody in the Gilgo Beach serial killer case, which has been Long Island’s most notable investigation since police found multiple victims’ remains over a decade ago.
A large police presence was seen Friday morning near the home of the suspect, Rex Heuermann, an architect from Massapequa Park. The suspect pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of murder before Suffolk County Judge Richard Ambro, who denied bail.
Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney personally made the case to Ambro as to why prosecutors felt the suspect should be remanded. Prosecutors said authorities honed in on the suspect after witnesses identified his SUV, narrowed cellphones used to communicate with the victims to four cell towers in his neighborhood and matched him with mitochondrial DNA found in hairs on some of the victims bodies.
The suspect, who wore a gray polo shirt and khakis with his hands handcuffed in front of him during the hearing, did not say anything other than confirm his identity.
“When this case first broke a victim’s cell phone … was being used to harass the family … it pinged in Massapequa,” noted Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant and former commanding officer of the Bronx cold case squad who regularly comments on the case. “There is a connection, possibly, right there.”
Suffolk County police were searching for Shannan Gilbert, a 24-year-old New Jersey woman who was reported missing from Oak Beach, when a cadaver dog named Blue found four sets of human remains in the brush on the north side of Ocean Parkway in an unpopulated stretch of Gilgo Beach in December 2010. Police later broadened the search and found a total of 10 sets of human remains on the Jones Beach barrier island. Gilbert was later found in a marsh near Oak Beach in 2011, but investigators have suggested they are unsure if she was murdered or accidentally drowned.
Authorities have also suggested over the years that more than one killer may have used the same dumping ground, meaning Friday’s arrest may only solve a portion of the cases. Of the victims found, all of those identified were identified as having been sex workers at the time of their deaths. Four remain unidentified, including those of two women, a toddler who was the daughter of one of those women, and an Asian man in women’s clothing. Some of those victims were dismembered with remains scattered as far as Hempstead Lake State Park and Manorville.
The mystery attracted national headlines for many years and the unsolved killings were the subject of the 2020 Netflix film Lost Girls as well as a Lifetime movie, A&E docu-series and smaller independent movie fictionalizations.
Determining who killed them, and why, has vexed a slew of seasoned homicide detectives through several changes in leadership in the police department. Last year, an interagency task force was formed with investigators from the FBI, as well as state and local police departments, aimed at solving the case.
The formation of the Gilgo Beach task force represents a renewed commitment to investigating the unsolved killings of mostly young women whose skeletal remains were found along a highway on Long Island, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said.
News of a suspect being taken into custody comes a day after state police responded to a report of skeletal remains found in a wooded area off the Southern State Parkway in West Islip, although it wasn’t immediately clear that person’s identity, how long the remains were there or if they were a victim of foul play.
-With Associated Press
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