Rex Heuermann appeared before the judge for the first time since his arraignment for the murders of three women found on Gilgo Beach. His left wrist had a visible ligature mark from the handcuffs—a padlock pointed up from between his hands.
At 6 feet 7 inches, he towered over the courtroom in his dark blazer, blue button-up shirt, and slacks. His hair was as disheveled as it was at his arraignment.
I studied his hands. Despite the evidence laid out so far by the District Attorney’s office, there is still a presumption of innocence. So, his hands could very well be those of an innocent man. It’s easy to look back at what we know of his life now and apply the depraved crimes of which he’s accused. It’s important to remember that collecting details for a suspected serial killer could be used to confirm our biases now that we can attach a face to the murders. The press has been wrong before. In my opinion, though, if everything we’ve read about so far is true, it seems likely that Heuermann is the man responsible for the victims found at Gilgo Beach.
The following is how his hands appeared a year ago—when they were free during his L’INTERVIEW appearance where the host, Antoine, interviewed Heuermann about his work as an NYC architect. There is a slight curve to Heuermann’s right-hand index finger—which could be something he’s had since birth, or it could be from an old injury. The curve of this finger creates what appears to be an abnormal gap between the right hand’s index and middle fingers. (I worked at a hardware store for four years, so it’s not uncommon for a man who works with his hands to build, as Heuermann claimed in this interview, to have gnarled fingers.) If he is the killer, however, I think about these hands as instruments of death. The tools that murdered, wrapped bodies in tape and burlap, and laid them along the beach.
Recently, Antoine said that shaking hands with Heuermann was like shaking hands with “very thick marble.”
In L’INTERVIEW, Antoine asked him to describe his favorite tool. Heuermann took a brief pause, then said, “One of the things I learned from my father was furniture building. He was an aerospace engineer and built satellites … and built furniture at home. And I still build it in the same exact workshop. I have one tool that’s pretty much used on every job. It’s actually a cabinetmaker’s hammer. It is persuasive enough when I need to persuade something…”
“Not someone?” Antoine asked, laughing. (It’s only in retrospect, now that the charges have been levied against Heuermann, that this joke has taken on a new dark quality.)
“Something,” Heuermann corrected Antoine. His hands clasped on his desk. “And it always yields excellent results…”
In the courtroom, there was a moment where Heuermann’s attorney, Michael Brown, hunched over the table to read a document, and Heuermann, without tilting his head down much, glanced at this document. It was regarding the eight terabytes of evidence the District Attorney, Ray Tierney, was handing over to the defense as part of the discovery process.
According to the DA, this evidence includes Heuermann’s alleged internet searches for torture porn, his interest in the Long Island Serial Killer case, burner phones, autopsies of his alleged victims, and what police found in his house and digging through his yard. (They shredded his mattresses and smashed open the bathtub in the one-bedroom house.)
Earlier, when I drove past the Riverhead Correctional Facility on my way into the equally brutalist Cromarty Criminal Court where Heuermann would appear before Judge Timothy Mazzei, I realized the last time I’d been on these roads was when I pulled off to the side about fifteen minutes away and walked into the forest to view the location where a woman’s mutilated torso was once posed by John Bittrolff, the Manorville serial killer currently in prison for the murder of two women and the suspect in the death of a third. I wanted to see how close to the road the remains were set—and also get a feel for what the drive might be like from Manorville to Gilgo Beach. I was interested in these locations because they were both within walking distance from a road where a killer might feel comfortable enough to park and leave a body. The remains in Manorville were left along a trail that was more accessible than the remains that were discovered on Gilgo Beach past the bramble where it isn’t as trafficked.
Long Island has had a high number of serial killers operating in its brand of suburbs, forests, strip malls, and beach towns. There’s Bittrolff, Rifkin, and now, allegedly, Heuermann.
The connection I made between Bittrolff’s victims in Manorville and the victims at Gilgo Beach wasn’t arbitrary. The torso of the woman that Bittrolff murdered was one of the early details I couldn’t shake when it comes to thinking about his victims and the victims discovered on Gilgo Beach. And this is why: the mutilated torso was found in Manorville. There were no hands, and there was no head. And then the first remains were found on Gilgo Beach in the winter of 2010. These remains were, as far as we know, intact. What shook me was that the authorities found a pair of hands on Gilgo Beach—and they matched the torso found in Manorville.
Nearly 100 reporters and some of the victims’ families waited in Judge Mazzei’s courtroom on the fourth floor. The rest of the press lined up outside on the courthouse steps—replacing the four Jehovah Witnesses who were standing there earlier that morning with salvation pamphlets.
About eight armed officers kept an eye on the room.
One of the reporters to my left leaned over and asked if the cops were here for us or for Heuermann.
The large window behind us made me think of Ted Bundy jumping out from the second-floor library window of the courthouse in Colorado.
Before anyone got a glimpse of Heuermann in the courtroom, after about thirty minutes of waiting, two young women, both petite reporters with blonde hair, seated directly to my left started to whisper-chant, “We wanna see Rex Heuermann.”
The whole thing had become some kind of deranged pornographic spectacle for some of these reporters who looked like they still had their baby teeth. We were waiting to see a man who’s been accused of killing at least three women and is the main suspect in the death of a fourth. But there are perhaps more. These young women couldn’t wait to get on their webcams and perform this reciprocal bloodlust disguised as the patient, objective press.
When Heuermann finally entered the courtroom, it got as quiet as it did when the judge entered. A guard walked closely behind him—both his arms outstretched to either side of Heuermann should he attempt anything.
There was a local man seated behind me. He drove fifteen minutes and waited in line for a few hours just to see Heuermann in the flesh. As Heuermann faced the judge, the local man muttered, “Imagine being alone all week just to enter this room with all of us…”
The local man happened to be seated next to a TV News Anchor. When the TV News Anchor heard the local man, he leaned over and said, “Oh, no, [Heuermann] loves it.” Then he referenced how Heuermann supposedly asked about all the media being there for him at his arraignment—and the TV man’s interpretation was that he fetishized the media attention.
The TV News Anchor began to court the local man to do an on-air interview after the hearing—but the local man kept saying he’d be too nervous.
“You’ll be great,” the TV News Anchor said in a deep confident tone, nudging the man with his elbow.
“I’m too nervous,” the local man repeated. He went silent as if to make sure the TV News Anchor would stop insisting.
The whole room observed Heuermann. It was a brief pre-trial. The evidence was handed over, and a trial date was determined. The judge made a joke by saying good morning to the jury—there had been no jury—only overflow seating for reporters who needed a chair.
Before Heuermann was ushered out of the courtroom, he stopped, turned his head, and looked at us. It seemed like he somehow made eye contact with everyone in the room at the same time. There was an audible gasp from some of the people seated below him.
It seemed like he could’ve been looking for someone. Perhaps his daughter or stepson. Perhaps his wife who recently filed for divorce. Maybe he wanted to get a glimpse out the big window behind us. Or perhaps he simply wanted to look at everyone looking at him. It wasn’t necessarily a mean look or one of grief or one of trying to illicit sympathy.
It felt like we were in an aquarium. He was watching us; we were watching him.
Given what the DA has said about the suspect’s interest in reading up on the Long Island Serial Killer investigation, it’s likely that he’s read at least some of the work by reporters in this room. (He also, allegedly, Googled John Bittrolff.)
His nose seemed to come to a sharper point than it had in the L’INTERVIEW video.
I thought of a story a woman told me about her supposed encounter with Ted Bundy. She was hitchhiking in the Sonoma Valley in the seventies and a man in a Volkswagen Beetle pulled over and picked her up. She climbed into the backseat. She said the passenger seat was missing. At a certain point on the drive, he pulled over and crawled into the backseat. It seemed like the missing passenger seat might’ve made this easier to accomplish. She said his eyes mutated when he approached her. They got dark, rabid-like. She said she believes he was about to murder her. But, according to her, she believes he stopped because it was as if Bundy could smell that she wasn’t virginal. He went back to driving, she got out, and thought it was a horrific encounter. She didn’t realize it was Ted Bundy until years later when she saw him on the news.
I suppose I wanted to see if Heuermann’s eyes would mutate. I can’t say that they did. His eyes certainly appeared hardened—but that could be from a few weeks in jail and being the main suspect in the Gilgo Beach murders. It’s also possible that that mutation of the eyes, as the woman put it, only happens when the killer is about to strike.
Rex Heuermann’s name was not on anyone’s list of possible suspects for the Long Island Serial Killer. But his particular profile type was on my list. It seemed probable that the suspect was a man of prominence who was also connected in some way to the construction world.
I believed the killer would be a man of prominence to have gone so long undetected—meaning he was probably able to blend into his community very well. I tend to think of killers like Ted Bundy in cases such as LISK because when they go on for so long, it unfortunately means the monster is operating in plain sight and from a place of authority. A lot of these killers who evade capture for so long get really good at wearing the costume of civility… It also seemed possible that the Gilgo Beach killer had connections to construction because of the burlap sacks the victims were found in. And as it turns out, Heuermann is a prominent architect and married with children.
One of the more disturbing things I came across while writing my initial investigation into LISK was the website Utopia Guide. This is a decades-old website where men from Long Island share reviews of prostitutes. I found one user in particular who went by the name “genius.” He would post extremely violent reviews of prostitutes. While I have no idea if “genius” truly did some of the disturbing things he claimed to have done, I did alert the FBI to this website and to “genius” in particular. The other users of Utopia Guide would refer to “genius'” violent reviews as “epistles.”
I will feel more confident with the suspect in custody when we get to see the trial unfold, but for now, it seems like this is the guy. He was obsessed with Googling the murders and the investigation. He searched for torture porn. And the police said he used burner phones and aliases when purchasing prostitutes. (These same methods were discussed at length on Utopia Guide as well.) I would like to know if the police have discovered whether Heuermann used the Utopia Guide website.
Heuermann’s use of aliases and burner phones reminds me of this excerpt from my story where one user I came across on Utopia Guide talked about violent interactions with women and his burner phone…
“genius” replies: I could have easily killed her if I wanted. w/o her being able to do much about it and she knew it – knife or no knife, rush hour or not – just break her neck – she was about 90 lbs. and I am 180. She looked liked she hadn’t eaten in a while and I work out in the gym and eat right.
His daily routine, according to Utopia Guide, starts when he leaves home by 3 a.m., wife still in bed, to find a streetwalker before work. He buys sex on the way home or stops at the massage parlors he can trust. He enjoys sitting in parking lots with escorts, especially with rush hour all around him, enjoying the public nature of the act as much as the act itself. He hides the burner phone he uses to call escorts in the utility box in the trunk of his car. He replaces it every three months. This way his wife won’t find it. He gives every escort his mongering name. Everything is cash. Everything is anonymous.
It does cross my mind that this person could be nothing more than a troll. And it’s entirely possible. What stands out to me is how they can all talk intimately about the same women. So, to some degree, the person should be real enough to be able to hold a conversation about sleeping with the same woman others on the site have also slept with. Genius is also one of the only people on the site that I’ve read who writes very well. The substance might be depraved. He sounds like a degenerate. But he’s smart, I guess — hence the username. His sentences are detailed and calculated, unlike most of the rest who seem like cavemen with hard-ons and burner phones.
I would like to know if Heuermann used Utopia Guide. One could say Heuermann, if he did use Utopia Guide, would be smart enough to not use his correct weight—or it’s possibly another violent person altogether.
I think it’s possible that the alleged killer, given his prominence, could have connections within the local police too. James Burke, the chief of police at the time the Gilgo victims were first discovered, seemed to deliberately hinder the investigation to, supposedly, hide his own corruption. This same chief was believed by many locals to even be the killer. Many thought this because before he was promoted to Chief, he was found with a prostitute in his patrol car. He also went to jail a few years ago for beating up a young man who stole sex toys out of his car. And I always found this detail incredibly upsetting: Burke witnessed brutal violence as a child. When he was young, he saw a group of boys murder a classmate in the woods near a school on Long Island.
It’s not atypical for a killer to be close with the police. The serial killer Ed Kemper maintained a relationship with the police before turning himself in. (He once even got a glowing report from his probation officer while there was a severed head in the trunk of his car.)
While California might have the most documented victims of serial killers, some sources claim New York has the highest rate of serial killers—as far as we know. But even the FBI admits this is hard to detect, as there might be many serial killers currently operating completely undetected.
If we are to go off these numbers though, I think New York’s high rate of serial killers has something to do with a place like Manhattan being a wilderness of people—especially in places like Long Island where there is such a high population in a very small and condensed area. Certain demographics of people can get lost in this large population. (It’s also easier for a killer to hide, I suppose.) These areas tend to attract people who live on the fringes of society such as prostitutes and addicts. And unfortunately, the authorities have a habit of not searching very hard when (if) one is reported missing… I believe some serial killers know this and exploit it.
Also, places like Long Island, and Gilgo Beach in particular, have extremely desolate places. Long Island is known for having a fluctuating population density due to it being a seasonal/tourist area. This desolation might allow some serial killers to operate easier in the shadows. For the killer, it might afford them the ability to victimize the population that lives on the fringes of society while also having the desolation to dispose of bodies. LISK, as far as we understand, would have the time, patience, and confidence to park on the side of a long stretch of highway while laying his victims down along the beach. Though there are theories now that he could’ve traveled to the beach by boat as well. We don’t know this for certain yet—but there are many who claim that Heuermann was an avid duck hunter. The suspect lived just across the sound—and about a twenty-minute drive from Gilgo Beach.
Cameras and microphones and reporters made a semi-circle at the top of the courthouse steps to listen to the Suffolk County District Attorney, Ray Tierney, speak.
“We have a great deal of information, evidence, photographs…” he said. “This is the first step in proving [the] allegations.”
Before Tierney was done answering questions, the anchor from Inside Edition began to film his segment loudly—right beside the DA, just out of view.
Inside Edition couldn’t have the patience to wait for Michael Brown, Heuermann’s attorney—who came out after Tierney admonishing the press. He said the press has already convicted his client.
It’s certainly going to be difficult to find an impartial jury now that the media has extensively reported that Heuermann is “a demon that walks among us.”
With the brutalist courthouse behind him, Brown held his leather briefcase with the 8 terabytes of evidence. Thirteen years of an investigation were in that briefcase.
“Do you believe everything the government says?” Brown asked a reporter who had asked him about the incriminating evidence. “I don’t believe everything the government says. So, I’m gonna wait… I’m going to look at the evidence. We’re going to examine the evidence…”
“So, you believe the government is plotting against your client?” the same reporter asked.
“I didn’t say that,” Brown said. “I’ve been doing this for thirty years. The government makes allegations all the time. Sometimes the allegations are true. Sometimes they’re not true. Sometimes when they accuse somebody of committing a crime, that person is guilty. Sometimes… that person is innocent.”
Brown said it will take at least two months to comb through everything the DA handed him.
Heuermann is due back in court on September 27th.