Just when it seems all is quiet on the Gilgo Beach Serial Murders case, something new grabs the headlines. This one was a real doozy. For those readers who have not been following the case either through my columns or in the news, included are links to my first three columns as well as to newsworthy interviews or other video coverage.
Now, let's look at the blockbuster news.
Gilgo Beach Serial Murders Case
(October 18, 2023. Press Conference held by Attorney John Ray and attended by Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison)
MILLER PLACE, N.Y. (PIX11) — In a jaw-dropping claim that took the Suffolk County district attorney by surprise, lawyer John Ray appeared with Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison at a Wednesday press conference and said he had four witnesses that tied Rex Heuermann to two other victims in the Gilgo Beach investigation.
“He was a serial user of sex workers,” John Ray said of Heuermann. “They would sometimes come to his house, sometimes two at a time.”
Ray said the first witness made a claim that Heuermann belonged to a “swingers club,” Le Trapeze, which was based in Midtown Manhattan, not far from where Heuermann worked as an architect. The witness said Heuermann had posted on a wall at Le Trapeze 27 years ago, asking for a sexual encounter at his Massapequa Park home.
The woman said her boyfriend in 1996 was an NYPD detective, referred to in a sworn affidavit as R.W.
“In February 1996, R.W. picked up a woman I believe to be Karen Vergata in New York City, on the way to the Heuermann house,” the alleged witness said. “She was hungry and homeless.”
Thus began the jaw dropping, news breaking, surprise Press Conference called by eccentric, dogged, long time attorney John Ray who has represented the family of Shannan Gilbert since she went missing in May of 2010. (He also now represents the family of another victim whose partial remains were found on Gilgo Beach, Jessica Taylor.)
The fact of a news conference being called by John Ray was not the tantalizing shocker that caused news outlets around the nation to sit up and take notice. Through the years since Mari Gilbert, Shannan's mother, engaged Ray to stir action in her daughter's missing person case (that was being purposefully ignored by then-in-charge and since dishonored James Burke), Attorney Ray has held numerous press conferences. No, it was the presence of Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison that jarred everyone's amazed interest.
SCPC Harrison needs no introduction to any of us whose interest in this case extends back to the news of Shannan Gilbert's terrified dash through the exclusive conclave of Oak Beach back in 2010. The baffling unsuccessful search for Gilbert is what ultimately led to the discovery of first one, then three, then four and finally ten sets of remains comprised of both decomposing rather fresh corpses to scant skeletal parts of long ago dismembered victims.
It was the appointment of Rodney Harrison as Suffolk County's Police Commissioner that really moved the stalled case along. Harrison came into office having stated unequivocally he planned to make the Gilgo Beach mystery his to solve. He began by assembling a highly effective interagency team of professionals dedicated to the Gilgo Beach Serial Murders case. . Appointed in December of 2021, by January of 2022 Harrison had assembled a top notch team. The dedicated task force included investigators, prosecutors, and analysts initially. In light of the expanding investigation into potential additional victims, two seasoned homicide detectives have been assigned to the team. Their focus will be on the Gilgo Beach victims and any new evidence linking Heuermann to other potential victims of the serial murder suspect.
By February of 2022, the task force had uncovered key information buried among the voluminous historical evidentiary materials that turned their focus to in-depth investigation of Heuermann. Aided by the FBI's specialized utilization of cell phone data drilling, the task force was able to compile extensive damning evidence linking Heuermann to 1) burner phones he used to solicit the Gilgo Four victims, 2) to their personal cell phones (which he used to taunt their family members after dispatching the young women), and 3) to email accounts tied back to the burner phones and to his solicitation of the women for sex. Their work resulted in an indictment by the secret grand jury (a strategy employed to maintain confidentiality as to the task force's activities once they discovered by scrutiny of his internet search activity that Heuermann was continually tracking the team's efforts.) Heuermann was arrested 13 July 2023 as he walked from his office to the commuter train he typically took to his home in Massapequa Park. It is believed surveillance of his burner phone(s) and Internet activity alerted the task force to the possibility of his having a new intended victim in his crosshairs.
SCPC Harrison comments during 18 Oct 2023 Press Conference and immediate reaction by DA Ray Tierney
The Suffolk County police commissioner said new witnesses have connected the suspect in the Long Island serial killer investigation to two more victims that were discovered along Ocean Parkway.
Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said he’s investigating claims from the witnesses who link suspect Rex Heuermann to Karen Vergata, previously known as Fire Island Jane Doe, and to Shannan Gilbert, the sex worker whose disappearance led to the discovery of at least 10 sets of remains more than a decade ago.
“It's something that we need to take a closer look at, and we need to make sure we're investigating it," Harrison said, adding that he personally interviewed one of the witnesses. "And that's why the task force will stay in place. That's why we added more manpower to it.”
Heuermann has pleaded not guilty to murder charges in the cases of Melissa Barthelemy, Amber Costello and Megan Waterman.
Two women gave sworn statements to John Ray, an attorney who represents some of the victims' families.
The first witness claims she worked as a taxi driver in 2009 and believes she encountered Rex Heuermann and Shannan Gilbert at the Sayville Motor Lodge. She said she called the police tip line twice after Heuermann's arrest this summer but never heard back.
The second witness said she is a former swinger. She claims that she, her boyfriend and Karen Vergata (formerly known as Fire Island Jane Doe and Jane Doe Number 7) traveled from New York City to Heuermann's home in Massapequa Park in 1996 for a sex party.
Ray detailed the claims in the two witness statements alongside Harrison at a news conference on Wednesday. Ray said the witnesses contacted him directly.
Harrison said the investigation is ongoing. "If people have a reluctancy to come forward to law enforcement and they want to go to John Ray, then it's important that we take this information and then we follow forward with furthering the investigation," Harrison said.
The comments took Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney by surprise. In a statement, Tierney said there are no private attorneys on the task force and urged tipsters to contact his office.
District Attorney Ray Tierney issues statement
Not everyone was pleased with the press conference jointly attended by Attorney John Ray and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison. Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney promptly issued a bulletin type statement that practically screamed his outrage. The full text of that statement appears below:
* * * * *
Suffolk DA Ray Tierney effectively denounces the LISK-related press conference John Ray just held with police commissioner Rodney Harrison, saying that the case's task force was not informed beforehand - and that witnesses should speak with them, not a private attorney:
SUFFOLK COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY RAYMOND A. TIERNEY'S STATEMENT REGARDING GILGO BEACH INVESTIGATION AND PROSECUTION
Without providing any advance notice to the prosecutors pursuing this case in court or the Gilgo Beach Homicide Task Force members investigating these murders day in and day out, we watched today's press conference not knowing what was going to be reported. We will continue to investigate this case through the Grand Jury process and not through press conferences. No private attorneys are or have ever been members or agents of the Task Force.
Any citizen who believes that they have relevant evidence regarding the Gilgo Beach investigation should report it to the investigative agencies that comprise the Task Force. Those agencies are the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, the Suffolk County Police Department's Homicide Bureau, Suffolk County Sheriff's Office, New York State Police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Any attorneys representing victims or their families, by definition have a conflict of interest and should not be a part of the investigation. Accordingly, private attorneys are not part of the Task Force and potential witnesses should not be reaching out to a private attorney with an interest in the outcome of the case.
The "Fallout" so indelicately handled by DA Ray Tierney expressing his dismay and outrage at the hastily assembled press conference at Attorney John Ray's office set off alarm bells that another internal scuffle (if not outright battle) might, once again, result in the Gilgo Beach case being put on a back burner. The public, so long denied an honest and professional investigation into this serial murder case, feared the worst. To counter those fears, SCPC Harrison agreed to a publicized interview to discuss the task force's continued focus and to quiet rumors of an internal political squabble between DA Tierney and himself.
That interview may be seen utilizing this link:
“I saw Rex on T.V. recently and a picture of Karen Vergata,” the Aug. 31 affidavit released by Ray on Wednesday read. ”I recognized her as the woman who [my former boyfriend] and I brought to Heuermann’s home. I was shocked, and deeply sorrowful for having left her behind at Heuermann’s house. I told John Ray of these things because I needed to speak with him so that Karen would not be left behind again.”
The full text of the two Affidavits signed and sworn by the two witnesses (who are not known to one another and who contacted John Ray separately some time prior to August 2023 when he first spoke publicly about their information) can be read in their entirety, in redacted form, by utilizing the links at the end of this column.
This was Karen's last high school picture as colorized and enhanced by Lauren Lee Malloy @LaurenLee_915 who explained "One more for Karen Vergata. Found the oldest photo I could of her, as close in age as she would’ve been in 1996. Enhanced…then age-progressed to see what she might’ve looked like as an older woman. She deserved to have those smile lines. Rest easy, Karen"
It shows how lovely she was with that gorgeous smile. The age enhanced version of this added the wrinkles one might expect at 34.
Her father, Dominic Vergata, said in court papers that the last time he spoke to his daughter was on his birthday in February 1996, shortly before she disappeared. He hired a private investigator to try to find her and turned over DNA samples to authorities but was never able to locate her. That birthday was Valentine's Day 1996
SCPC Harrison statement re Affidavit from alleged Swinger witness
Commissioner Harrison acknowledged he had two detectives attend and participate in the deposition of this witness.
Further, he answered the question as to whether the NYPD detective, identified by the girlfriend/swinger partner as R. W., had been located. Yes. He said. That officer has been contacted.
Allegations of involvement of Asa Ellerup, estranged wife of Rex Heuermann
The Affidavit from the "swinger" witness implicated Rex Heuermann's wife, Asa Ellerup, as an active participant in his sexual escapades. Two other witnesses (who gave statements to Attorney John Ray but did not submit sworn affidavits) also indicated Asa was present when she, a sex worker, serviced Rex Heuermann downstairs while Asa went upstairs.
These claims are being investigated. Asa Ellerup's attorney has disputed these claims in their entirety. No charges have been filed or mentioned as an outcome of these witnesses providing their statements. It is understood any criminal involvement discovered in the course of investigation would be dealt with as appropriate.
Shannan Gilbert SCPC Harrison statement re Affidavit from alleged witness Cab driver
Commissioner Harrison validated Attorney John Ray's statement that he had participated in that witness's deposition. He said her claims will be investigated. If found to be verifiable and accurate, a deeper investigation would be warranted. Should this uncover facts that might implicate Rex Heuermann in her death, that would result in an in-depth investigation with every effort made to find evidentiary materials that could be presented in court. "No stone will be left unturned" as the purpose of the task force is to find justice for the Gilgo Beach victims and provide closure to their families and loved ones.
Link to Affidavits
(9 pages in total for the two sworn, signed, redacted documents)
Scant additional information related to the progress of the case and ongoing investigatory findings is being closely held at this point in time. Very brief comments by District Attorney Raymond Tierney or Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison indicate the following:
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison stated in his interview with Joe Giaccalone (retired NY Police Detective who now hosts an Internet podcast) that he expects major news to link the murder of Maureen Brainard-Barnes to Heuermann. Further, he indicated that will occur due to completion of the DNA examination linking her death to Heuermann. (See link above.)
SCPC Harrison acknowledged he sought out Attorney John Ray soon after coming on board as Commissioner and forming the task force. He stated DA Tierney was absolutely correct in wanting potential witnesses or complainants to go directly to the task force or the Crime Stoppers tip line; with the proviso that it be understood as a former working detective he values information from the public. If someone is more comfortable confiding in a valued community leader (clergy, medical practitioner, pillar within the community such as an organizer or activist, or to an attorney such as John Ray), he will investigate the tip and ensure the information is not ignored.
Commissioner Harrison announced the task force has added two experienced investigators whose job will be to work exclusively on leads such as those provided by the witnesses who were deposed and signed official Affidavits. He further stated if the information linking Heuermann to the murder of Shannan Gilbert proved authentic and verifiable, he would absolutely cause a change to the manner of death from "accidental" to "homicide".
Peaches' suspected identification and, by association, that of her toddler currently referred to as "Toddler Doe", is possibly imminent.
The Asian male cross dresser's identity is still being investigated.
Next day in Court for Rex Heuermann is scheduled for November 15, 2023.
Note:[See prior columns providing more comprehensive coverage/background:
- (Get to know SCPC Rodney Harrison: