In July, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney (R) cracked a cold case wide open in the charging of a defendant for three of the four murders known as “The Gilgo Four,” a case that rocked Long Island and the country. Heuermann was charged in the murders of sex workers Melissa Barthelemny, 24, Amber Costello, 27, and Megan Waterman, 22.  

Now, families can find a shred of closure in the fact that the defendant, Rex Heuermann, 59,  of Massapequa Park, has been charged in the murder of the fourth victim, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, who was 25 years old at the time of her disappearance.  

“The grand jury investigation of the so-called Gilgo Four is over, it has been concluded,” said Tierney. “But there should be no mistake: the work of the grand jury is continuing.” 

Tierney said that while “The Gilgo Four” have been linked to a defendant, the investigations into the remains of several other victims will continue. 

Heuermann’s attorney, Michael Brown, pleaded not guilty on behalf of his client in front of the Honorable Timothy Mazzei at the Suffolk County Courthouse in Riverhead on Tuesday morning. Heuermann, an architect with no prior criminal record, has been held without bail since his arrest in July and was remanded back to the county jail after the Tuesday hearing. 

Heuermann’s ex-wife Asa Ellerup and their daughter Victoria attended the hearing, a first for them, but they did not respond to reporters.

Heuermann’s wife and daughter after the hearing

 

Their inclusion in the hearing regarding Brainard-Barnes stems from the investigation’s obtaining of DNA linked to Ellerup found on the remains of Brainard-Barnes. 

Tierney reported that by using nuclear DNA testing, they can determine that the hair found on a belt buckle used to secure Brainard-Barnes’ body is “7.9 trillion times more likely to have come from a person genetically identical to Asa Ellerup’s SNP Genotype file than from an unrelated individual.” 

However, cell phone billing records and credit card statements show that Heuermann’s wife and daughter were out of state during the disappearance of Brainard-Barnes. The pair checked into the Flagship Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on July 6, 2007, while Brainard-Barnes’ disappearance is said to have occurred on or about July 9, 2007. Heuermann then joined his wife and daughter in Atlantic City on July 13 by checking the family into a different hotel, the Club Wyndham Skyline Tower.  

According to the bail letter, the timing of the Atlantic City trip allowed Heuermann “unfettered time to execute his plans for each victim without any fear that his family would uncover or learn of his involvement in these crimes.” 

However, more shocking than the family’s close proximity to the crimes is that of Heuermann’s text message logs with sex workers, as well as his Internet search history leading up to his arrest. 

Not only were disturbing searches made, with many examples falling under the umbrella of “torture porn,” and a verbatim search of “stories of rape audio.” Heuermann used a fake alias and fake email addresses to conduct these searches, as well as numerous searches of escort advertisements. The email account is said to have made these searches thousands of times since April 2021. 

In addition, Heuermann made hundreds of searches regarding the Gilgo Beach investigation, cell site analysis, and “how cell phone tracking is increasingly being used to solve crimes,” among other search queries.  

Finally, investigators uncovered Heuermann’s use of file shredding software, possibly to cover up his searches for Melissa Barthelemy’s prostitution advertisement. 

Victoria Heuermann’s DNA was obtained by an undercover agent who tracked her on an LIRR train heading to Massapequa Park. The agent obtained Heuermann’s discarded energy drink can at the station and the DNA was later compared to the DNA found on Brainard-Barnes.  

Heuermann has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Maureen Brainard-Barnes and continues to maintain his innocence. 

“He has maintained his innocence since day one,” Heuermann’s attorney Michael Brown told reporters after the hearing. “He’s looking forward to fighting these charges. All along, we have been told that the evidence is unsuitable for nuclear DNA testing. This morning was the first time in more than thirteen years that, miraculously, nuclear DNA testing results have come forward.” 

Brown asserted that the results of the nuclear DNA testing and mitochondrial DNA testing were “not very convincing,” claiming that the DNA testing places his client in a pool of “thousands and thousands” of possible donors of the hair. 

District Attorney Tierney remains confident in the results of the testing. 

“Nuclear DNA existed in the hair since they were first recovered in 2010 and now the science has caught up,” Tierney said. “I would say that’s a good break for justice, a good break for the investigation.” Tierney added that the technology is “cutting edge” and “scientifically accepted in both the medical and forensic communities.” 

The defendant’s DNA had been obtained from discarded pizza crusts and were compared to strands of male hair found on the victims. 

A press conference in the District Attorney’s library followed the press conference with Brown. Joined with Tierney was Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon (D), attorney Gloria Allred, who has taken on high-profile and controversial cases, including, but not limited, to those defending prostitutes, and family members of Maureen Brainard-Barnes. 

“Maureen was an intellectual, a writer, an artistic person, and she cared very deeply about the people she loved,” said Tierney. “She was a devoted sister, mother, and daughter, and she’s sorely missed by those who loved her. I know I speak for the entire task force when I say it’s been an honor and a privilege to work these cases and to provide that small measure of closure for the family members.” 

Maureen Brainard-Barnes and her daughter Nikki – age 4 (Courtesy of family of Maureen Brainard-Barnes)

Tierney said that the charges continue to be allegations, and that he “looks forward to proving the allegations in court,” but he stated that “this case is about the victims, I just ask that you all keep that in mind.” 

Attorney Gloria Allred is representing Brainard-Barnes family as a victims’ right attorney. She said she is “honored to support them.” 

Allred outlined her career in defending sex workers, saying that judges in the past have not afforded them protections from rape or other forms of assault because of their status as sex workers. 

“The courthouse door should never be shut to any woman who is victimized by gender violence,” said Allred. “Failing to afford sex workers access to justice sends a message to men who victimize them that the victimizers may never face consequences for their wrongful and criminal acts.” 

“It is long overdue to provide justice for vulnerable women who are missing and murdered,” Allred added. “It will be for the jury to decide if this defendant will be found guilty of the murder of Maureen and the murder of other women for whom the defendant has been indicted. We look forward to a fair trial for the defendant — and justice for Maureen.” 

Maureen’s daughter, Nicolette, now twenty-four, spoke fondly of her mother. 

“Her loss drastically changed the trajectory of my life,” she said. “There are countless times I needed her and she was not there. I remember she read to me every night, and now I can no longer remember the sound of her voice. I wish she was here today — but she was taken from us. I owe so much to my mom, and I know that she would want me to speak out for her in this process and let everyone know who she really was.” 

Maureen’s sister, Melissa Cann, 39, emotionally reflected on her sister’s legacy, speaking of Maureen’s value as a sister, a mother, and a daughter. 

Melissa Cann, sister of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, speaks of her sister

“My life shattered with the confirmation of Maureen’s death,” she said. “Today is another important chapter in the long pursuit of justice for Maureen. It has been sixteen years since the last time I saw my sister and sixteen years since I heard her voice because, sixteen years ago, she was silenced. Losing Maureen became a wound that never truly heals.” 

She added that her “amazing children” will “forever be without their mother.” She also discussed how Maureen was inspired to be a writer and “had her whole life ahead of her.” 

“She was only twenty-five years old,” she said. “Maureen would never get the chance to show the world how talented she was. My family will never get the chance to know who Maureen would have been because her life was tragically taken.” 

The prosecution into Rex Heuermann will continue, as will the probe into the remaining victims of the Gilgo Beach murders. 

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Matt Meduri serves as the Editor in Chief of the Messenger Papers and writer of America the Beautiful and This Week Today columns. As a graduate of St. Joseph's University, Matt has been working in the political journalism field for over 5 years. He is a multi-instrumentalist, enjoys cooking and writing his own recipes, and traveling throughout the United States including Guam.