Column: In a sense, the forgotten women of the long-running Gilgo Beach murder case are a metaphor for the cruel misogyny in a male-dominated world that too often results in violence.


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In a sense, the forgotten women of the long-running Gilgo Beach murder case are a metaphor for the cruel misogyny in a male-dominated world that too often results in violence.  

The recent arrest of accused serial killer Rex Heuermann for the death of three female victims — he also was named as a “prime suspect” in a fourth woman’s murder — only emphasizes how this is so. Based on police accounts, Heuermann, who has pleaded not guilty, seems like a classic Hitchcockian psycho — married Massapequa architect by day, ruthless killer of women by night. 

A decade ago, his alleged victims — Melissa Barthelemy, Megan Waterman and Amber Costello, all in their twenties — went missing for months before their bodies were found amid the underbrush and disposable trash scattered along Ocean Parkway.  

Despite ample clues, the disappearance and deaths of these women, like other Gilgo victims, remained unsolved for years. Police and some media seemed to dismiss them as “sex workers,” putting the focus on a derided occupation rather than their individual fates as vulnerable women selling their bodies to strangers to survive. 

The search for their murderer was hampered by two headstrong men — former Suffolk County Chief of Police James Burke and former District Attorney Tom Spota — who refused the help of the FBI, far more experienced in hunting down serial killers. The Suffolk approach was like the old joke about the male driver lost in your neighborhood — why ask for directions when you can keep on wandering around?  

Given this past, it’s not a surprise now — in the rush by male politicians and law-enforcement figures jockeying to claim credit for Heuermann’s arrest — that a key woman in the investigation’s success has been forgotten, too.  

Geraldine Hart, who became Suffolk’s first female police commissioner in 2018, made a crucial decision that helped steer the wayward murder probe toward Heuermann. A former agent in the FBI’s Long Island office, Hart dropped the old macho stance of going it alone and asked federal investigators for help. 

“Coming in from the outside as the first female commissioner was a difficult thing,” recalled former Suffolk chief of department Stuart Cameron, now village police chief in Old Westbury, “but she was always very professional and dedicated to law enforcement.” 

In 2020, Hart set up a Gilgo-related website and released the image of a belt buckle previously found by police, a bold attempt to reinvigorate the stalled investigation. Under Hart, a cutting-edge DNA technique called genetic genealogy helped confirm one of the unidentified victims, Valerie Mack, considered a major breakthrough. 

Hart made sure the Suffolk police’s attitude toward the female victims was far different from that of a senior detective who declared in 2011 that it was a “consolation” to the public that they were only prostitutes. Eventually in 2021, Hart left Suffolk to become Hofstra University’s director of public safety.

Since then, numerous other top Suffolk law-enforcement officials have followed through with Hart’s initiatives, leading to Heuermann’s remarkable capture last month. She has declined to speak about it publicly. 

As often in such a complex, highly publicized probe, many are taking a bow, including those who should be properly credited like Suffolk Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison and DA Ray Tierney, as well as FBI and New York State police investigators.  

But in the recounting of how this murder mystery was solved, leading to Heuermann’s arrest, Hart should not be forgotten. 

Columnist Thomas Maier's opinions are his own.