Young mothers, a recovering addict – and tragic disappearances: What we know about Gilgo Beach murder victims

New York architect Rex Heuermann has pleaded not guilty after being charged with killing of three women found dead near Long Island seafront a decade ago, writes Joe Sommerlad

Thursday 20 July 2023 12:02 BST
Clockwise from top left: Melissa Barthelemy, Amber Lynn Costello, Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Megan Waterman
Clockwise from top left: Melissa Barthelemy, Amber Lynn Costello, Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Megan Waterman (AP)

Rex Heuermann, a New York City architect and “family man”, was dramatically arrested outside of his office in Midtown Manhattan on Thursday 13 July and charged with the murders of three women whose remains were found on Gilgo Beach, Long Island, a decade ago.

The 59-year-old was formally accused of killing Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello, all of whom were working as sex workers, and is also the prime suspect in the homicide of a fourth woman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, with Suffolk County district attorney Ray Tierney saying on Monday he is “confident” Mr Heuermann will be charged with her murder too.

While the suspect has pleaded not guilty and broke down in tears while protesting his innocence, investigators have painted him as a warped individual who systematically preyed on his victims, obsessively following police efforts to catch him online and potentially posing a threat of striking again.

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Suffolk County Police commissioner Rodney Harrison said that the net began to close in on Mr Heuermann last year when they connected him to a pickup truck seen by a witness at the scene from which Costello disappeared.

Court records show that he was further linked to the mystery through DNA obtained from a discarded pizza box, the records relating to a trove of burner phones he allegedly used to contact the murdered women and his wife’s hair being found on one of the victim’s bodies.

Investigators also looked into Mr Heuermann’s internet search history and allege that he repeatedly searched for child sex abuse images, sadistic content and information about the Gilgo Beach victims.

The searches included, “Why could law enforcement not trace the calls made by long island serial killer”, “Why hasn’t the long island serial killer been caught” and “FBI active serial killers.”

Since his arrest, investigators have raided both Mr Heuermann’s Massapequa Park residence and a nearby storage unit in Amityville, seizing his Chevrolet Avalanche and an extensive collection of firearms among other personal items.

Rex Heuermann
Rex Heuermann (AP)

In all, 11 sets of human remains were found dumped along the four-lane Ocean Parkway route running alongside the Atlantic-facing beachfront between 2010 and 2011, nine of which belonged to women, one to a man and one to a toddler. Some have still not been identified.

This is what we know about the four victims Mr Heuermann has been connected to by investigators.

Melissa Barthelemy

Melissa Barthelemy
Melissa Barthelemy (Suffolk County Police Department/AP)

Originally from Erie County, New York, Barthelemy was 24, living in the Bronx and advertising her services as an escort on Craigslist when she disappeared on 12 July 2009.

She is known to have met with a client, deposited $900 in her bank account and attempted to call her boyfriend on the night she went missing.

Around a week after her disappearance, her teenage sister Amanda began to receive a sequence of taunting phone calls from a man who may have been Melissa’s killer and who made “disparaging” remarks about the missing woman, according to the family’s lawyer.

Her body was found strangled on 11 December 2010, two days before those of Waterman, Costello and Brainard-Barnes.

Megan Waterman

Megan Waterman
Megan Waterman (Suffolk County Police Department/AP)

Waterman, 22, a young mother from Scarborough, Maine, also promoted herself as an escort on Craigslist and Backpage and disappeared almost a year after Barthelemy on 6 June 2010.

She had been living in a Holiday Inn Express motel in Hauppauge, 15 miles northeast of Gilgo, when she went missing.

When her body was found later that year, it emerged that she too had been strangled.

A human hair recovered by investigators from a burlap sack that had been used to cover her would later enable them to tie Mr Heuermann to the scene after its DNA was matched to that swabbed from a pizza crust retrieved from a garbage can outside his office.

Amber Lynn Costello

Amber Lynn Costello
Amber Lynn Costello (Suffolk County Police Department/AP)

Two months after Waterman vanished, Amber Costello, a 27-year-old sex worker and heroin addict from North Carolina living in West Babylon, New York, disappeared on 2 September 2010 having reportedly set out that night to meet a stranger who had promised her $1,500 for her services.

“She never thought anything would happen to her. She thought she was indestructible,” her friend and roommate Dave Schaller subsequently told Newsweek, saying that Amber took risks but was always careful about hooking up with unfamiliar clients.

Because her family believed that Costello was in a drug rehab clinic at the time, she was not immediately reported missing despite her family’s concern over their calls and texts going unanswered.

She had previously lived and worked as a waitress in Clearlake, Florida, married to a second husband, but had become caught up in addiction as a teenager after being sexually assaulted by a neighbour as a child, according to Mr Schaller.

Like Barthelemy and Waterman, she too proved to have been strangled.

Maureen Brainard-Barnes

Maureen Brainard-Barnes
Maureen Brainard-Barnes (Suffolk County Police Department/AP)

Brainard-Barnes, 25, was originally from Norwich, Connecticut, a mother-of-two who had first turned to paid escort work to pay off her mortgage, only to then leave the profession before being forced to return to it once she received an eviction notice.

She was working at a Super 8 motel in Manhattan when she disappeared on 9 July 2007, last heard from telling a friend she was going out to meet a client.

In the wake of her disappearance, her friend Sara Karnes received a strange phone call from a man – just as Amber Barthelemy would – who claimed to know where she was, only for him to ring off and never call back.

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