NEW YORK — Accused Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex Heuermann was charged Tuesday with a fourth murder — the killing of Maureen Brainard-Barnes, who was last seen alive on July 9, 2007.
On a morning when Heuermann, 60, stood in a Riverhead courtroom as new charges brought by the Suffolk County District Attorney were formally laid out against him, Brainard-Barnes’ daughter remembered her as a sweet woman who read to her every night before bed.
“I was only 7 years old when my mother was murdered,” Nicolette Brainard-Barnes, 24, said at a news conference with family lawyer Gloria Allred by her side.
“There are countless times I needed her, and she was not there,” Brainard-Barnes said. “I wish she was here today, but she was taken from us.”
Nicolette Brainard-Barnes said she has trouble remembering her mother’s voice. Maureen Brainard-Barnes, who will be remembered by others as one of the “Gilgo Four” murder victims, was 25 years old when she died 13 years ago.
Heuermann, a Manhattan architect, was earlier already accused of killing three young sex workers on Long Island — Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Lynn Costello — when Brainard-Barnes’ death was formally added to the list.
Heuermann murdered the Connecticut mom while his wife and children were vacationing in Atlantic City, said a newly filed superseding bail application.
His wife, Asa Ellerup, 59, and their kids checked into the Flagship Hotel in Atlantic City on July 6, 2007, while he stayed behind in Manhattan, prosecutors said.
After Brainard-Barnes’ disappearance, Heuermann joined his family on their Atlantic City vacation a week later, on July 13, checking into the Club Wyndham Skyline Tower, prosecutors said.
“The murders of all four victims occurred at times when Defendant Heuermann’s wife and children were traveling out of state, which allowed Defendant 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,” says the bail application filed by the district attorney’s office.
The court document also reveals that investigators uncovered hundreds of contacts with sex workers from 2020 to 2023 on two burner phones — one found on Heuermann’s person, the other in his office desk drawer in Manhattan.
Several text messages from the desk drawer phone responded to an online ad for a sex worker offering “Big booty BDSM all fetishes welcome” in Massapequa, prosecutors said.
“HI, I SAW YOUR AD AND WANTED TO SEE IF WE COULD SET SOMETHING UP LATER. ANDY,” one text message from March 1, 2020, reads. Prosecutors believe “Andy” is an alias based off Heuermann’s middle name, Andrew.
Another text on one of the phones mentioned an e-mail address, and a subpoena revealed that e-mail was tied to thousands of internet searches “related to pornography, rape, torture, and sex workers” — including “autopsy photos of female,” “medieval torture of women” and “how I was raped audio,” prosecutors wrote.
Heuermann said nothing during Tuesday’s court hearing, letting his attorney Michael Brown enter a not guilty plea on his behalf.
Ellerup arrived in court in dark sunglasses and sat quietly in the gallery with her daughter Victoria. It was the first time Heuermann’s daughter had shown up at a court proceeding.
Authorities found the Gilgo Four victims within a one-mile radius while searching for Shannan Gilbert, another young sex worker who disappeared in the area in December 2010.
After the murders, Heuermann took a number of steps to cover up his tracks — some of which involved using Shredder X and similar software to scrub his computer and other digital devices of evidence that would implicate him, Tierney said.
“He used (the software) to destroy evidence in this case,” Tierney said. “Notably on one laptop that was recovered from the house there was an attempt to shred evidence shortly before the defendant met with and murdered Melissa Barthelemy,” said Tierney.
“Another laptop recovered in the house accessed Amber Costello’s Backpage ad on September 1, 2010, at approximately 9:03 p.m. and that is just hours before the ruse occurred around midnight on September 2nd.”
After more than a decade without answers, Nicolette Brainard-Barnes said Tuesday’s indictment has given her and her family some hope. Her mom was more than a sex worker and a victim, she said.
“I want her to be remembered as the loving mother that she was,” she said. “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.”
Brainard-Barnes’ sister Melissa Cann said the loss of her sibling became “a wound that never truly heals.”
“Maureen was inspired to be a writer and she loved reading books,” Cann, 39, said. “She had her whole life ahead of her. Maureen would never get the chance to show the world how talented she was.
“Throughout these 13 years my family has painstakingly endured Maureen being judged and marginalized,” she said. “Maureen was more than how she has been portrayed.”
Cann said the agony over her sister’s disappearance and murder left her with post traumatic stress disorder. She said the manner of her sister’s death has ever since left her looking over her shoulder in fear.
“I would overthink every situation I deemed a threat, because the worst possible thing in my life has happened,” she said. “I became guarded. I overprotected the ones I love around me because I knew first-hand that evil exists in this world.”
Judge Timothy P. Mazzei again ordered Heuermann held without bail.
Brown repeated what he said were Heuermann’s words about the new indictment: “I’m not guilty of these charges.”
“He has maintained his innocence from day one,” Brown said.
In 2010 and 2011, the bodies of 11 people were found on and near Gilgo Beach. Heuermann has not been linked to the other seven victims.
The case confounded investigators for more than a decade but in 2022 a tip from a Long Island pimp proved a “turning point” in the investigation. Police used DNA evidence to tie Heuermann to the murders, matching DNA from his cheek and his discarded pizza crust to DNA found on the victims’ remains.
The case has gained strength since Heuermann’s arrest, Tierney said. While earlier detectives tied Heuermann to the slayings with mitochondrial DNA evidence, prosecutors now have “neuclear DNA” matches, which are even more discriminate, the DA said.
“From the very beginning we spoke about the five hairs of significance that were recovered from three of the four burial sites of the women,” Tierney said. “We now have nuclear DNA results for all five of the hairs.”
One of the hairs was found on Brainard-Barnes’ remains, Tierney said.
“That was found on the buckle of the belt that secured her lower body,” he said.
The hair was linked to Ellerup, who is not considered a suspect. Prosecutors say the hair puts Brainard-Barnes with Heuermann at the time of her death.
The DNA match shows the hair on the belt buckle “was 7.9 trillion times more likely to come from someone with the identical genetic profile as Asa Ellerup,” Tierney said.
Heuermann is charged with second-degree murder in Brainard-Barnes’ death. A first-degree murder charge would have required her murder to have taken place within 24 months of other victims in the case, Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney said.
Brainard-Barnes is believed to have been Heuermann’s first victim, and it was more than 24 months before he is alleged to have killed anyone else, the DA explained — noting the other three homicides charged in the indictment occurred in 2009 and 2010.
Second-degree murder in New York carries a possible sentence of 25 years to life in prison. The murders of Barthelemy, Waterman and Costello are charged as first-degree murder, which can carry a maximum sentence of life without parole.