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Architect charged with killing three women in Long Island deaths probe

A Long Island architect has been charged with the murder of three of the 11 victims in a long-unsolved string of killings known as the Gilgo Beach murders.

Rex Heuermann, 59, has lived for decades across a bay from where the remains were found. He is charged with first and second degree murder in connection with the deaths of three victims, Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Costello.

Authorities say the father of two is also the “prime suspect” in another killing.

Suffolk County prosecutors asked that Heuermann be held without bail, citing the “heinous nature of these serial murders”, as well as recent searches he made for sadistic materials, including sexually exploitive images of children and photos of the victims and their relatives.

He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment on Friday and was ordered to be held in custody without bail.

Heuermann’s lawyer, Michael Brown, told reporters after the arraignment that Heuermann told him: “I didn’t do this.”

A Suffolk County police officer and dog search for human remains in the Gilgo Beach area (Jim Staubitser/Newsday/AP)

Heuermann was arrested late on Thursday in Massapequa amid a renewed investigation that connected him to a pick-up truck a witness reported seeing when one of the victims disappeared in 2010.

In March, detectives tailing Heuermann recovered his DNA from pizza crust in a box that he had discarded in a Manhattan rubbish bin matched it to genetic material recovered from the bodies, which were bound up and hidden in thick underbrush along a remote beach highway.

In recent months, authorities said, Heuermann sought to keep tabs on the probe, conducting hundreds of internet searches for the names of women he is accused of killing, as well as podcasts and documentaries about the case.

After linking Heuermann to the pick-up truck, prosecutors said investigators were able to connect him to other evidence, including the burner cellphones used to arrange meetings with the dead women, and taunting calls that a person claiming to be the killer made to one of Ms Barthelemy’s relatives using her cellphone after she disappeared in 2009.

The case has long drawn public attention after skeletal human remains were found along a New York state beach highway more than a decade ago.

Crime laboratory officers at the house where suspect Rex Heuermann was taken into custody on New York’s Long Island (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP/PA)

The mystery attracted national headlines for years and the unsolved killings were the subject of the 2020 Netflix film Lost Girls.

Heuermann, 59, was taken into custody in Massapequa late on Thursday, an official said.

Investigators, some in protective suits, searched his home on Friday.

Heuermann is scheduled to appear in state court in Riverhead on Friday afternoon. Officials have scheduled a press conference to discuss the charges.

The Associated Press has sought comment from Heuermann’s lawyer and from Heuermann’s Manhattan office.

The deaths of 11 people whose remains were found in 2010 and 2011 have long stumped investigators. Most of the victims were young women who had been sex workers, and several of the bodies were found near the town of Gilgo Beach.

Determining who killed them and why has vexed a series of homicide detectives through several changes in leadership in the police department.

Last year, an inter-agency taskforce was formed with investigators from the FBI as well as state and local police departments, representing a renewed commitment to investigating the killings.

The disappearance of Shannan Gilbert in 2010 triggered the hunt that exposed the larger mystery.

Ms Gilbert, a 24-year-old sex worker, vanished after leaving a client’s house on foot in the seafront community of Oak Beach, disappearing into the marsh.

Months later, a police officer and his dog were looking for her body in undergrowth along nearby Ocean Parkway when they happened on the remains of a different woman.

Crime laboratory officers arrive at the house where the suspect was taken into custody (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP)

Within days, three other bodies had been found within a short walk of one another.

By spring 2011, that number had climbed to 10 sets of human remains: eight women, one man and one toddler.

Some were later linked to dismembered body parts found elsewhere on Long Island, making for a puzzling crime scene that stretched from a park near the New York City limits to a resort community on Fire Island and out to far eastern Long Island.

Ms Gilbert’s body was found in December 2011, about three miles east of where the other 10 sets were discovered.

Investigators have said several times over the years it is unlikely one person killed all the victims.

News of a suspect being taken into custody comes a day after state police responded to a report of skeletal remains found in a wooded area off the Southern State Parkway in Islip.

It was not immediately clear if those remains were linked to the Gilgo Beach case.

Law enforcement personnel had converged on the small red house that had been raided early on Friday in the suburb about 64km (40 miles) east of midtown Manhattan.

Dozens of residents mingled alongside police and media, watching as a half-dozen investigators in protective suits conferred outside the front porch, which was in disrepair.

The home belonged to a family that had long kept to themselves, neighbours said.

Heuermann, married with two children, is a licensed architect with a small Manhattan-based firm.

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