Friday, December 1, 2023

Armchair Genealogy

By Melinda Cohenour

Gilgo Beach Serial Murderer

Intro: Another update on the investigation of the mysterious and hair-raising Gilgo Beach Serial Murder Case. DNA has played a huge role in the identification and arrest of one person inextricably tied to, at minimum, three of the victims and, almost certainly, a fourth. Ongoing DNA tests may bring charges related to even more of the eleven victims discovered thus far on or near Gilgo Beach but the search continues around the nation for potential additional victims of this monster.

The end of the year 2023 nears. More than a decade since the search for Shannan Gilbert resulted in the discovery of ten sets of remains near Shannan's last known location. The shocking discovery of four similarly bound bodies back in 2010 prompted an investigation - one initially thwarted by corruption within Suffolk County's Police department. That internal rot knocked the investigation onto a back burner leaving residents of Long Island uneasy, fearful, and frustrated. Another decade passed with no progress.

Enter Rodney Harrison, end of year 2021. A highly skilled, politically adept, seasoned and respected career criminal investigator with a proven track record and experience directing one of the largest police forces in the nation, possibly the world's largest. Selected to serve as Suffolk County's Police Commissioner in December 2021, Harrison vowed to make solving the Gilgo Beach Serial Murders his top priority. He immediately set about forming a Task Force dedicated solely to the purpose of identifying and bringing to justice the person or persons responsible for discarding the ten victims whose remains had been uncovered on or immediately adjacent to Gilgo Beach.

By February of 2022, the Task Force had identified a strong suspect based upon evidence buried within the decades old mass of materials. It became necessary to conduct the review of new evidence through the venue of a secretly convened Grand Jury, focused solely upon the case. By July, it became clear the suspect appeared to have launched upon a pattern the evidence showed had resulted in tragedy in the past. It was critical the suspect be taken into custody to prevent another brutal killing.

Prior columns cover the case from the initial catalyst (the search for Shannan Gilbert), to the discovery of the victims known as the Gilgo Four, and the additional six sets of remains, to the arrest of Rex Heuermann.

Last month's column highlighted the latest bombshell allegations of witnesses whose statements claimed Heuermann's wife was a knowing participant in some of his sexually perverted escapades and linked him to two additional victims.

This headline-grabbing news was made public by a hastily called Press Conference by victims advocate and lawyer, John Ray. Ray has devoted years of personal time and money to the investigation into the Shannan Gilbert case on behalf of her family, as well as the Jessica Taylor case. He has drawn the ire and the castigation of the Suffolk County DA and law enforcement through the years. Not a surprising outcome as he has fought tirelessly to force focus upon solving Shannan's death (deemed by police to be a "regrettable accident") and that of Jessica Taylor's as well. Ray has made no hesitation in pointing out the stench of police corruption in these intervening years, making himself a target of ridicule by the police and DA along the way. Imagine, therefore, the shock and anger when that press conference occurred with none other than Suffolk County's Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison standing alongside Attorney John Ray and lending credence to the statements of four new witnesses. Witnesses, by the way, who declined to go directly to the established police hot line opting instead to seek out John Ray.

As reported in last month's column, District Attorney Raymond Tierney issued an immediate public statement lambasting (without mentioning him by name) Rodney Harrison. Although both Tierney and Harrison indicated the "team" was intact, it was readily apparent that was not the case.

From the start, Tierney had positioned himself as a politically driven figure, claiming credit for the Task Force creation (a claim more believably proffered by Harrison), putting himself forward in press conferences, even making longtime police investigators (now retired and airing podcasts) speak out about their concerns he was airing TMI in the effort to aggrandize his own contributions.


More politics. After twelve years as County Executive, Steve Bellone (who had named Rodney Harrison back in 2021) had attained the term limit to his position. Unable to run again for the position, his replacement would be voted in during midterm elections and any new Country Executive would be expected to bring in his "own people" to staff key appointed positions - including that of Police Commissioner.

Harrison announced his resignation ahead of the election, citing a desire to spend more time with his family, having previously responded to inquiries about his status as "dependent upon his family's counsel" and wishes as to that decision.

It appears Harrison is "of counsel" to the Task Force through the end of the year.

Enter new Republican County Executive as announced by NBC New York:


'Suffolk County voters selected a new county executive -- Republican Ed Romaine.

'Romaine is the Brookhaven town supervisor and has been in county government for 38 years.

"I have the experience, the ability to do this job from day one," Romaine told NBC New York ahead of the election.

'Romaine defeated Democratic challenger Dave Calone, a political newcomer and self-described political outsider.'


In direct opposition to the nationwide trend to "go Democrat", Long Island New York went RED.



'Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said he welcomes Romaine into GOP leadership.

"Ed and I are going to do some great things together here on Long Island on a lot of regional issues," Blakeman said.

'They mention taxes, immigration, public safety. (with new County Executive Romaine making the following statement):

"...The Gilgo case is a perfect example of that. So I am going to be guided and give the DA, as well as the police, the tools they need, and our medical examiner, to do the job to keep us safe," Romaine said.

Romaine will appoint Suffolk's new police commissioner.


On November 15, Rex Heuermann appeared for his latest court hearing. A procedural matter, mostly concerned with scheduling and the delivery of more evidentiary materials by prosecutors to defense, the surprise appearance of Asa Ellerup brought out flocks of news personnel: reporters, cameramen, and women, amidst a sea of wires and microphones and satellite dishes.

Asa Ellerup arrived in the back seat of a Mercedes, looking slimmer and more well-dressed, and was flanked by a retinue of lawyers and press as she made her way into the courtroom. She is rumored to have contracted for an exclusive documentary, reporting every appearance throughout the course of Heuermann's trial. The rumor mill says Asa (on behalf of herself and her children) is scheduled to receive $1 million for the documentary.

As would be imagined, the victims' families and victim advocacy groups are enraged.

Much was made of two things: Asa's tentative slight smile as Rex Heuermann looked her way and the statement issued by defense attorney Michael Brown that she would be attending every court hearing to see the evidence for herself as "she does not believe" her husband capable of these killings.

Also discovered, Rex Heuermann signed over ownership of the family home in which he was born and lived his entire life to Asa. Documents securing that transaction appear to have been finalized in September 2023.


This case never fails to introduce WEIRD into the mix. It has recently been made public that Rex Heuermann has a pen pal. Seems he actually responded to an overture by convicted serial killer Keith Hunter Jesperson, known as the Happy Face Killer.



'A truck driver who got the nickname the 'Happy Face Killer' after murdering eight women has become pen pals with accused Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex Heuermann.

'Keith Jesperson, now 68, was given multiple life sentences in 1995, and from his Oregon cell now writes to others behind bars.

'Jesperson wrote to Heuermann, 59, in his Long Island jail, and on August 31 Heuermann, awaiting trial for the murder of three sex workers, wrote back.

'Jesperson recommended Heuermann confess to avoid giving prosecutors the chance to 'gloat' about finding evidence, and to avoid the spectacle of a trial.

'He told podcast host Keith Rovere that Heuermann moaned about conditions in jail - from dry bread to a gloomy exercise yard.

'Rovere, who specializes in interviewing serial killers from prison, told he was not seeking to glamorize or justify their actions.

'He said he wants to explain them as people and rarely discusses the detail of their crimes.

'He said he had known Jesperson for many years and since he launched his podcast 'The Lighter Side of Serial Killers' had spoken to him several times.

'Jesperson sent Rovere the letter, which Heuermann had sent him. Heuermann, in his response to Jesperson, thanked him for his 'letters and advise.'

'They have been a help and comfort to me,' said Heuermann, who was arrested in July. 'I do understand what you have said and taken it to heart.'


Copies of the letter Rex Heuermann wrote in response to Jesperson are provided here, along with a copy of the envelope in which Heuermann's letter was transmitted.


What stood out to your author is the fact Heuermann made no effort in his reply to deny culpability.

It was also very fascinating to learn of this newly formed relationship. During the extensive week and a half search of Heuermann's home and yard by law enforcement, I watched, fascinated, as a helicopter transmitted live video of the backyard being scanned, then sections being explored by extraction of the ground in various locations. During this filming, the photographer took note of an unusual feature on the rear of the home. The camera zoomed in closer, and closer, highlighting a shingle that had been marked ... with a Happy Face 's features.

It may be that Heuermann decided to choose this correspondent to provide a reply because Jesperson's daughter is the one who contacted Asa in the immediate aftermath of the arrest, search warrant issuance and activation. News of the plight of Asa and her children tugged at her heartstrings. She launched a GoFundMe on Asa's behalf. Thus, Heuermann's "thank you" to Jesperson in his reply.


The next court date scheduled for Rex Heuermann is February 6, 2024.

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