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Oversights, Distraction May Have Delayed Gilgo Murders Arrest

The arrest and charging of Rex Heuermann in the case of three of the Gilgo Beach murders on New York's Long Island has relieved some families of the victims. However, there are concerns that the investigation could have concluded earlier, the New York Times reports. The case had been investigated for more than a decade. Then, a new police commissioner and his task force took just six weeks to uncover a crucial clue that had been in the case file for years. A witness reported that a dark, first-generation Chevrolet Avalanche was in the driveway of one of the victims' homes, a fact that came into focus only in March 2022.

Were law enforcement officials distracted by other matters? The police chief who had been in charge of the department since 2012, James Burke, was arrested in 2015 and later convicted on federal civil rights and obstruction of justice charges. The subsequent cover-up ensnared the district attorney at the time, Thomas J. Spota, who also landed in prison. The federal investigation into Burke and Spota spanned years during the Gilgo Beach case, a period during which both declined help from the FBI. The new Suffolk County Police Chief relied on newer technology and cell phone tower data to narrow the area where the investigation should focus. Then, an investigator found the description of the Chevrolet Avalanche, and using technology was able to find an Avalanche linked to Heuermann in 2010, the year one of the victims went missing. Forensic science advances allowed for hairs found on the victims or stuck to the burlap or duct tape wrapped around them to be matched to .04% of the population, and Heuermann could not be excluded. On July 13, detectives arrested Heuermann outside of his office building.


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