Burner Phones, DNA, and ‘Ogre’ Description Led Investigators to Long Island Serial Killer

Lifestyle

The Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office has revealed the mountain of evidence it had gathered against Long Island Serial Killer (LISK) suspect Rex Heuermann, who was arrested and formally charged with three counts of both first- and second-degree murder in connection to three of four women whose remains were found along Gilgo Beach over a decade ago.

In a 32-page document detailing the case against Heuermann and arguing for why he should be held without bail, prosecutors shared that computer forensic evidence and cellphone data, as well as the discovery of DNA found on three of the victims that was ultimately matched that to either Heuermann or his wife led to his arrest.

“Based on the serious, heinous nature of these serial murders, the planning and forethought that went into these crimes, the strength of the People’s case, the length of incarceration the defendant faces upon conviction, the extended period of time that this Defendant was able to avoid apprehension, his recent searches for sadistic materials, child pornography, images of the victims and their relatives, counter-surveillance, conducted online as to the criminal investigation, his use of fictitious names, burner email and cellphone accounts, and his access to and history of possessing firearms, the only means to ensure Defendant Rex A. Heuermann’s return to courts to remand him without bail,” prosecutors wrote in the documents obtained by Rolling Stone.

At least 10 bodies were recovered from the desolate stretch of Gilgo Beach along Long Island’s southern coast beginning in Dec. 2010, but the investigation has largely focused on the four women since dubbed “The Gilgo Four,” as the similarities between their murders have long suggested they were all killed by the same person. 

The remains of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman, and Amber Costello, all four of whom were sex workers who advertised their services online at the time of their death, were each found wrapped in camouflage-style burlap near one another.

“The investigations into these deaths were linked as, in addition to other factors, the victims each appeared to have been placed in close proximity to one another, 22 to 33 feet from the edge of the parkway, all were petite females approximately 22 to 27 years old, believed to be working as sex workers, all had missing clothing and personal possessions, all had been killed by homicide, all had contact shortly before their disappearances with a person using ‘Burner’ cellphones, and the cellphones of two of the four victims, Brainard-Barnes and Barthelemy, were used by the killer after their deaths,” prosecutors said. “In addition, each of the four victims were found similarly positioned, bound in a similar fashion by either belts or tape, with three of the victims found wrapped in a burlap-type material.”

Heuermann was a longtime resident of Massapequa, Long Island, which had long been the focus of the LISK investigation: LISK reportedly harassed the family of victim Melissa Barthelemy following her 2009 disappearance, calling and texting them using Barthelemy’s phone. According to the New York Post in 2011, police ultimately triangulated the killer’s calls to her family, with the cellphone pinging in both Manhattan (in the vicinity of Times Square and Madison Square Garden) and Massapequa.

According to the prosecutor, this evidence proved crucial as investigators honed in on the area: Cellphone data from at least one other victim also revealed that she was in the Massapequa area prior to her disappearance. “Cell site records show that the Waterman Phone traveled to Massapequa Park with the last cell site location being in Massapequa Park at approximately 3:11 a.m. in the vicinity of the residence of Defendant Heuermann,” prosecutors said.

Additionally, “On August 10, 2009, based upon subpoenaed travel documents, Heuermann departed for Iceland and all phone activity for the Barthelemy Phone stopped. On August 18, 2009, Heuermann returned from Iceland and phone activity for the Barthelemy Phone resumed the next day.”

The “burner” phone used to contact the victims was later linked to Heuermann using his American Express activity at the time of the phone’s purchase, as well as the cellphone’s usage in proximity to Heuermann’s then-New York City office.

The “burner” phones were also connected to a series of “burner” emails that Heuermann created to contact sex workers over the internet; in perhaps a lapse of judgment, Heuermann used his personal cellphone to check the inbox of one of the “burner” emails. One of the burner emails, referred to in the documents as the “Thawk Email Account,” provided investigators with a treasure trove of evidence: “Thousands of searches related to sex workers, sadistic, torture-related pornography and child pornography.”

From March 2022 to June 2023, the “Thawk Email Account” also did over 200 searches related to LISK, from Googling about the victims to stories about the unsolved murders, the docs state. “The Thawk Email Account was also used to search for a number of podcasts and/or documentaries regarding this investigation, as well as repeatedly viewing hundreds of images depicting the murdered victims and members of their immediate families,” prosecutors added. “Significantly, Defendant Heuermann also searched for and viewed articles concerning the very Task Force that was investigating him.”

Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

“When analyzing the usage of all devices and accounts used by Defendant Heuermann, there appears to be a clear pattern wherein Heuermann used ‘burner’ phones and ‘burner’ junk email addresses to 1) contact sex workers and sex partners, to conduct extensive searches related to sex and prostitution, violent, sadistic and child pornography and 3) seek online information about the authorities investigating his crimes,” prosecutors stated. “These burner cellphones and email accounts with fictitious identities were used in an effort to conceal Heuermann’s true identity, conceal his criminal activity, unlawfully proposition sex workers, and attempt to monitor the investigation of his crimes.” (Heuermann continued to contact sex workers and massage parlors in recent years, investigators said.)

Another key piece of evidence came from a witness who knew Costello: A day before Costello’s Sept. 2, 2010 disappearance, “a ruse was executed on the client whereby a person pretended to be the outraged boyfriend of Amber Costello and the client left from the residence, while Amber Costello retained the money the client had brought to pay for her services.”

According to prosecutors, the client was Heuermann, who contacted Costello the following day using one of his burner phones. “Amber told us that he wanted to see her again, but he didn’t want to come back to the house because of her boyfriend,” the witness told police following Costello’s disappearance.

According to the witness, the client was “a large, white male, approximately 6’4″ to 6’6” in height, in his mid-forties, with ‘dark bushy hair,’” and was described as looking — cruelly — like an “ogre.” Equally important, the witness said the client drove “a first-generation Chevrolet Avalanche.”

When Suffolk County renewed efforts to solve the LISK case, investigators found that Heuermann was once the owner of a Chevrolet Avalanche.

Finally, prosecutors revealed the DNA evidence that ultimately and unequivocally tied Heuermann to LISK: A male hair found in the burlap sack that contained Waterman’s remains was later found to be a “99.96%” mitochondrial match to Heuermann’s hair; investigators culled Heuermann’s DNA “from the pizza crust abandoned” by the suspect that investigators saw him discard in a garbage can outside his Manhattan office in January 2023; the lab results were confirmed in June 2023.

Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office

Additionally, the discovery of DNA (woman’s hair) found on two of the victims that forensic scientists ultimately matched to Heuermann’s wife, who investigators found was either out of town or out of the country when the “Gilgo 4” murders took place.

“On or about the evening of July 13, 2023, Defendant Rex A. Heuermann was arrested by Suffolk County Police Officers. Searches of his residence, as well as other locations are currently ongoing,” prosecutors added. “At the time of his arrest, Defendant Heuermann had on his person the burner cellphone 347-304-2671 which was linked to the Thawk Email Account used to conduct the online searches.”

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At Friday’s press conference, officials said Heuermann first became their main subject on March 14, 2022, and that they quietly spent the past year building their grand jury case, filing over 30 subpoenas in order to accrue evidence in the case.

“The charges show that we can overcome the most difficult challenges when federal, state and local law enforcement work together on the one task force,” FBI Special Agent Michael Rodak said a joint press conference Friday. “While nothing can fill the void caused by the loss of a loved one, through today’s announcement we are hopeful that the families of the victims begin to experience a sense of peace, closure and justice and that the general public feel safer knowing that an alleged killer is no longer roaming free.”

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