The writer is an award-winning journalist for the New York Times.
At his office near the Empire State Building, Rex Heuermann was a master of the meticulous: a veteran architectural consultant and a self-styled expert at navigating the intricacies of New York City’s building code. He impressed some clients and drove others crazy with his fine-toothed directives.
At home in Massapequa Park on Long Island, while some neighbors saw Heuermann as just another commuter in a suit, others found him a figure of menace. He glowered at neighbors while swinging an ax in the front yard of a low-slung, dilapidated house that parents cautioned their children to avoid on Halloween. He was kicked out of a Whole Foods for stealing fruit.
“We would cross the street,” said Nicholas Ferchaw, 24, a neighbor. “He was somebody you don’t want to approach.”
On Friday, Suffolk County prosecutors said that residents of Massapequa Park had a serial killer living in their midst. They accused Heuermann, 59, of leaving a quarter-mile trail of young women’s bodies on the South Shore of Long Island in what came to be known as the Gilgo Beach Killings. Yet he was so careful in covering his tracks, they said, that it took them nearly 15 years to arrest him.
Heuermann’s friends and clients in the real estate business were flabbergasted.
His neighbor Ferchaw said, “I wasn’t surprised at all — because of all the creepiness.”
Heuermann, who was arrested in midtown Manhattan on Thursday night, was charged Friday with three counts of first-degree murder and ordered held without bail during a brief appearance at a courthouse in Suffolk County. His lawyer said outside the courthouse that Heuermann denied committing the killings.
According to his resume and the website of his company, RH Consultants & Associates, Heuermann’s customers included American Airlines, Catholic Charities, and the city’s own Department of Environmental Protection. He represented clients before the Landmark Preservation Commission many times and claimed credit for hundreds of successful applications before city agencies.
Steve Kramberg, a property manager in Brooklyn who worked with Heuermann for about 30 years, called him “a gem to deal with, highly knowledgeable.” Heuermann was “a big goofy guy, a little bit on the nerdy side” who worked long hours and was available day and night, Kramberg said. But he was also devoted to his wife, who Kramberg said had health problems, and to his elderly mother.
In Massapequa Park, a tightly gridded village of neat homes with manicured lawns, Heuermann, the son of an aerospace engineer, lived in the house that he grew up in and tinkered with furniture in his father’s old workshop. A man who went to high school with him said he was bullied as a teenager but sometimes fought back. In 1990, he married an executive at an office supply company. He has a daughter who works at his firm.
Ferchaw recounted several run-ins with his neighbor, none pleasant. There was the time he said hello to Heuermann as he was cutting wood and Heuermann responded by silently glaring back between chops of his splitting maul. Other times he would be seated beside his stacked wood on the porch watching an old television.
Mike Schmidt, who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, has a friend who lives behind Heuermann. Sometimes Schmidt would visit his buddy, have a few beers in the backyard, look out at the sagging Heuermann house, “and say ‘He probably has bodies there.’”
According to the timeline released by prosecutors and to Buildings Department and court records, Heuermann kept up his busy work schedule even as victims were vanishing.
“It appears that from my walk though, the drain line is above the interior floor slab and if the trench drain is placed below this level, it would not be able to drain by gravity,” he wrote. “I would strongly recommend an investigation into the use of negative side waterproofing at this site.”
Five days after that, investigators figured out that Heuermann had owned the same model pickup truck that a witness said Costello’s killer had driven. Two weeks later, prosecutors said, Heuermann Googled “Long Island serial killer” and viewed an article headlined “New Task Force Aims to Solve Long Island Serial Killer Case.’”