Rex Heuermann: New Evidence Turned Over, Defense Questions Former Police Chief James Burke’s Role In Gilgo Case

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Alleged Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex A. Heuermann appears in Judge Tim Mazzei’s courtroom next to his attorney Michael Brown at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.
James Carbone/Newsday via Pool

Suspected Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex Heuermann was back in court Wednesday.

It was Heuermann’s first appearance in court since Feb. 6. His estranged wife, Asa Ellerup, attended the appearance alongside her attorney, Robert Macedonio, but neither gave statements. Heuermann wore a suit and was handcuffed behind his back.

The additional evidence turned over to the defense included 422 electronic devices and 388 leads on Heuermann. Michael Brown, Heuermann’s defense attorney, announced he is seeking information from the FBI’s investigation into the Gilgo case, which Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said Brown would have to take up with the FBI.

“The only thing that I can control is the documents in my possession, which we will certainly provide to the defense,” Tierney told reporters after the court appearance.

Did Former Police Chief James Burke Play A Role? Heuermann’s Defense Team Won’t Rule It Out

Brown clarified to reporters that he was not seeking FBI leads in the Gilgo case, but rather FBI information about former Suffolk Police Chief James Burke’s involvement – and alleged lack of participation with the FBI – in the investigation.

“The Suffolk County Police Department, especially with Chief James Burke in charge, and the FBI were butting heads,” Brown said. “And, to some extent, I think Chief Burke was suppressing the investigation and wouldn’t allow the FBI to participate in it with their expertise.”

Asked if he viewed Burke as a suspect in this case, Brown added that Burke has a “checkered history” with regards to sex workers, and referenced Burke’s jail time for beating suspect Christopher Loeb as well as his recent arrest for soliciting a sex worker at a Suffolk County park.

“It seems contrary to common sense that Chief Burke would not let the FBI into this investigation,” Brown added. “We received almost 3,000 leads on this case. From the leads, there were numerous leads that came into the Suffolk County Police Department suggesting that Chief Burke was involved in this.”

Brown indicated he may call Burke to the witness stand during the trial.

Defense Claims There Was Another Suspect

Brown also claimed that he filed a Brady letter to receive information on another suspect – who lived in Massapequa Park – a former police officer with the initials “W.H.,” the initials that were found on a belt bounding victim Maureen Brainard-Barnes, whose murder Heuermann is charged with.

Rex Heuermann’s grandfather’s name was William Heuermann.

“Gus Garcia [Roberts] had written a beautiful article about this inner-fighting with the Suffolk County Police Department and the district attorney’s office under then-D.A. [Timothy] Sini,” Brown said. “It’s our belief that they had this other suspect with the initials ‘W.H.'”

Brown said they received more information on that suspect Wednesday morning, and added the defense is “very anxious” to look at that documentation.

Despite the defense’s claims, the evidence against Heuermann includes a DNA link – a male hair was found on victim Megan Waterman that was matched to Heuermann. Other evidence against Heuermann includes the use of burner phones and emails as well as a search history indicating an obsession with the Gilgo Beach case, specifically the four murders Heuermann is charged with.

Judge Timothy Mazzei, who is presiding over the case, said he would like to see a trial begin as soon as July, but acknowledged the defense has much evidence to go through. Heuermann will be back in court June 18 for another hearing.

Rex Heuermann
James Burke, former Suffolk County Police Chief, appears in court on Sept. 11. Michael Brown, Rex Heuermann’s defense attorney, is seeking information from the FBI on Burke’s involvement in the case when he was police chief.Dennis A. Clark via Pool

Rex Heuermann’s Case: From Then Until Now

Rex Heuermann was identified as a suspect by the Gilgo Beach Task Force in 2022, and was arrested in July 2023. He was immediately charged with the murders of Amber Lynn Costello, Melissa Barthelemy, and Megan Waterman, and named a suspect in the murder of Maureen Brainard-Barnes. These four women have been called “The Gilgo Four.”

Heuermann pleaded not guilty to all three. On Nov. 15, Heuermann’s estranged wife, Asa Ellerup, attended his court appearance – shortly before it was revealed she had a $1 million documentary deal with Peacock. Ellerup filed for divorce shortly after Heuermann’s arrest, but appeared to smile at him in court that day, and has since said she does not believe Heuermann was capable of the murders.

Heuermann was charged with Brainard-Barnes’s murder on Jan. 16, and pleaded not guilty to that as well. His ex-wife as well as his daughter Victoria Heuermann attended that court appearance. Several family members of victims, represented by attorney Gloria Allred, also attended and gave statements afterwards.

Michael Brown, Heuermann’s defense attorney, has made several statements to the media attempting to cast doubt on the DNA evidence allegedly linking Heuermann to the Gilgo Four.

Rex Heuermann
Prosecutors released this map of the Ocean Parkway victims in 2011.

Other Developments in the Case

There are up to six other victims – possibly more – linked to the Gilgo Beach murders. Valerie Mack and Jessica Taylor’s dismembered, partial remains were found in Manorville in 2000 and 2003, respectively, and were then both found in 2011 on Gilgo Beach. Also found in 2011 on Gilgo Beach were an unidentified Asian male known as “Asian Doe,” and an unidentified toddler.

The toddler was revealed to be the daughter of “Peaches,” an unidentified female whose dismembered, partial remains were found at Hempstead Lake State Park in 1997, and on Jones Beach in 2011. She was nicknamed Peaches due to a distinctive tattoo of a bitten peach on her remains. As recently as 2022, the FBI was seeking relatives of an Elijah Howard, or Howell, of Mobile, Alabama in connection to Peaches’ identity – but there have been no developments since then.

The dismembered, partial remains of “Fire Island Jane Doe” were found on Fire Island in 1996 and on Tobay Beach in 2011. Fire Island Jane Doe was revealed to be Long Island native Karen Vergata in August, roughly two weeks after Heuermann’s arrest.

Miller Place-based attorney John Ray has a sworn affidavit where a witness claims Karen Vergata had been last seen at Rex Heuermann’s Massapequa Park residence.

Heuermann has not been charged with any of the murders outside of the Gilgo Four. Due to a clear difference in modus operandi – the Gilgo Four were all bound and wrapped in burlap, and the others were dismembered – many have speculated through the years if Long Island has more than one serial killer.

However, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney has said that the same grand jury that indicted Heuermann for the Gilgo Four is investigating the other murders on Gilgo Beach. He has not specifically named any of the victims, nor has Heuermann been officially named a suspect.

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Rex Heuermann