On Dec. 13, 2010: Three Victims Found On Gilgo Beach

Rex Heuermann

In December of 2010, Suffolk County police made a sobering discovery while searching for a woman who went missing on Oak Beach – there was a serial killer lurking on Long Island.

Police had been searching for Shannan Gilbert, who had been working reported missing from the gated community in early May. Gilbert had made panicked calls to 911, asserting that someone was “after her.” She disappeared before police arrived.

Gilgo Beach
Prosecutors released this map of the Ocean Parkway victims in 2011.

The ‘Gilgo Beach Four’ And Other Bodies Are Found

They first stumbled upon the remains of Melissa Barthelemy on Gilgo Beach on Dec. 11, 2010.

If there was still any doubt as to what they were dealing with after that, there was none left that a serial killer was at large when, on Dec. 13, three more bodies were found — Megan Waterman, Amber Lynn Costello, and Maureen Brainard-Barnes.

All four had been missing for some time, and all were found bound and wrapped in burlap. They would come to be known as the “Gilgo Four.”

Throughout 2011, additional bodies would be found. Jessica Taylor and Valerie Mack’s remains, both of whom had been partially found in Manorville in 2003 and 2000, respectively, were found on Gilgo Beach in the spring. Mack would not be identified until 2020. 

Also found that spring were “Fire Island Jane Doe,” who was publicly identified as Karen Vergata in August, whose partial remains had been previously found on Fire Island in 1996, an unidentified Asian man, and an unidentified toddler known as “Baby Doe.”

Several miles west in Nassau County, Baby Doe’s mother’s remains were found on Jones Beach. It was later revealed that she was “Peaches,” a woman whose partial remains had been found at Hempstead Lake State Park in 1997.

Gilbert would eventually be found in a marsh near Oak Beach in December of 2011. Her cause of death was inconclusive, but her family has asserted through the years that she, too, was murdered.

Accused Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex A. Heuermann appears in Judge Tim Mazzei’s courtroom at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. His lawyer, Michael J. Brown, is at left.James Carbone/Newsday via Pool

The Gilgo Beach Investigation Through The Years

The “Long Island serial killer” case would go on to be one of America’s most notorious cold cases. It was marred by Suffolk Police Chief James Burke, who spent jail time for violating a suspect’s civil rights and was arrested again in August, and years without clear suspects or leads. Burke has been accused of blocking an FBI investigation into the Gilgo murders during his time as police chief.

It appeared promising in 2017, when Manorville carpenter John Bittrolff was charged with the murders of two sex workers on Long Island in the early 1990s, but no apparent connection was ever found between Bittrolff and the serial killer’s victims.

This year, police arrested Rex Heuermann of Massapequa Park, and charged him with the murders of Barthelemy, Waterman, and Costello. He remains a prime suspect in the murder of Brainard-Barnes. Prosecutors revealed that Heuermann had looked up Bittrolff on the Internet.

The tip that led police to Heuermann came from Dave Schaller, Costello’s roommate. He reported seeing a green Chevrolet Avalanche, and identified the man he believed to be Costello’s murderer as an “ogre.”

The debate about whether or not all of the victims were murdered by the same person has raged on Long Island for many years.

Many point to the location of Gilgo Beach and their being sex workers at the time of their death as reason to believe it’s all the work of one individual — Rex Heuermann, allegedly.

Others point to a clear difference in modus operandi, with some victims bound and others dismembered, as evidence there is more than one serial killer on the island.

A potential second serial killer has been dubbed “the Butcher of Manorville.”

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney, who is personally prosecuting Rex Heuermann, has largely remained silent on the victims outside of the Gilgo Four. He has stated they are investigating the other murders.

However, outgoing Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison recently held a press conference with attorney John Ray, citing sworn affidavits allegedly linking Heuermann to both Karen Vergata and Shannan Gilbert. Tierney criticized this press conference.

Heuermann is due back in court Feb. 6.

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Related Story: Jessica Taylor, First Gilgo Beach Serial Killer Victim To Be Identified, Was Found 20 Years Ago Wednesday

Suspected Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex Heuermann’s Massapequa Park home.Michael Malaszczyk/Long Island Press