The Gilgo Beach murders were terrible crimes, and a great tragedies for those who lost loved ones. The surrounding community itself was outraged that the killer was on the loose for so long, able to wreak so much havoc on the town and its surrounding areas. The killer operated for over a decade, from 1996-2011, and is thought to be associated with 11 known victims. While many looked to law enforcement for answers, not much information was initially forthcoming. A new Hulu documentary, however, called Gilgo Beach Serial Murders: Missed Warning Signs, dives deep to see whether these horrific crimes could have been prevented, and what they found is shocking.
The Gilgo Beach murders took the nation by storm when bodies were discovered discarded on its pristine beaches. In 2010, the “Gilgo Four,” as the first discovered became known, were discovered all within the same stretch of beach, launching an investigation that would turn up 11 victims in total. It didn’t take long for many of the young women to be identified, as they had been reported missing by friends and family. While the young women came from different backgrounds, homes, and families, they did have one thing in common. Most of the women were or had at one time been sex workers. This commonality is what many believed was the cause for law enforcement to take the cases less seriously.
Where is Gilgo Beach?
Gilgo Beach is located on the south shore of Long Island, New York, and is known to be a close-knit community with a population of 14,121. It is about an hour’s drive from New York City but is known for its small-town feel. The average age of the community members is 45, with lots of families looking to escape the hustle and grind of the city yet still be close enough to commute. Most importantly to many, there was rarely any crime. So how could a serial killer roam free for decades without anyone noticing or knowing who he was?
Who is Rex Heuermann?
It turns out some people did know who he was! According to the new Hulu documentary, TMZ reports that a male friend and roommate of one of the murdered women, Amber Costello, not only had met suspected killer Rex Heuermann, but had had an altercation with him. This roommate reported that Amber had reached out to him when Heuermann, who had come over to their home in response to Amber’s Craigslist ad for services, refused to leave and became aggressive. The roommate raced back home just in time to find the 6’5, 270 lb Heuermann standing in the middle of his living room. After a short altercation that got physical, Heuermann left.
When only a few short months later Amber disappeared, Heuermann was the first suspect on Amber’s roommate’s list. He phoned law enforcement, and let them know everything he knew about the mysterious man, including his approximate height and weight, and even what car he drove! The truck, a Chevrolet Avalanche, was only one of a few registered in the area — in fact, when Heuermann’s home address, which was on the registration for the truck, was typed into Google Maps, there it was in the photo, sitting right on the street in front of his house. With very little police work, this man could have been caught years prior. The authorities had a complete physical description, and even the make and model of the truck he drove. So why wasn’t he caught?
It may have been because Rex Heuermann would hardly have been a stereotypical prime suspect, as the married father of two, and pillar of the community. He had been married to the same woman for 27 years, and was a successful Manhattan architect, with an office near the Empire State Building. While some of the people he worked with described him as “creepy,” no official complaints about him were known to be filed. While considered a little odd and often over the top, many felt it was just his manner of doing business.
However, within the sex worker community, Heuermann’s “creepiness” apparently often translated into violence. One woman interviewed in the Hulu documentary, a former sex worker named Nikkie Brass, revealed her close brush with death following a dinner date she had with Heuermann. She revealed that while on a date with him, he became overly excited and engaged while talking about the Gilgo Beach murders, and something inside her felt that something with him was very off. They finished dinner, but she declined to go home with him. She revealed he became noticeably agitated at her refusal, but luckily, she had a friend waiting for her in the parking lot, and was able to escape without incident. She claimed that even then, she knew she had just had dinner with the Gilgo Beach killer.
Gilgo Beach police corruption
Law enforcement had plenty of reasons to suspect him. Yet they didn’t. One answer may lie with the former Police Chief himself.
It turns out Gilgo Beach’s former law enforcement leader, Suffolk County Police Chief James Burke, was not exactly a stand-up guy. It was reported that he himself would frequent known hubs for sex workers, and he was eventually arrested on charges of sexual misconduct and solicitation. It’s possible that he turned a blind eye to the murders, due to his own tie with the sex worker community — or, some have speculated, ties with Heuermann himself. The Gilgo Beach case was reportedly not the only one Burke dropped the ball on, and current law enforcement personnel share their experiences of corruption in the documentary. The chief was also charged with obstruction and assault along with other officers, which eventually led to a federal conviction, according to ABC.
Upon reinvestigation of the open case, it was revealed that Burke had chosen to halt cooperation with the FBI around the Gilgo Beach case, effectively putting an end to the investigation. He was highly criticized for this decision. After Heuermann’s identity was revealed, it wasn’t long before the fact that he could have been arrested years prior, was also made known.
So unfortunately, the answer to the question of “Could the Gilgo beach killer have been caught sooner?” is a resounding yes. Law enforcement had all the information they needed to find and pursue Heuermann; but for reasons known only to the former Police Chief himself, they chose not to. Heuermann, now 59, is being held in the Suffolk County Facility in Riverhead, charged — thus far — with killing Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Lynn Costello.