LONG ISLAND, New York (WABC) — The Gilgo Beach story began with a single live shot — plagued with technical difficulties — from a barren and frozen beach off Long Island’s South Shore.

Little did anyone know how important that report would be. No one could have predicted the international spectacle that would follow.

Our first report was on an impossibly cold December night in 2011. They had found bodies on a remote Long Island beach. And soon, more bones turned up in the sand.

Related: Watch the ‘Eyewitness to Gilgo Beach’ Trailer

It was a serial killer’s graveyard by the sea.

The story of the Gilgo Beach murders – and the hunt for the suspect — is as convoluted as it is creepy, and Eyewitness News tells it like nobody else.

Related: Complete timeline of events leading up to Rex Heuermann’s arrest

From the first gruesome discoveries to an arrest more than 12 years later, our reporters describe the twists and turns of covering a true crime mystery in real-time.

Watch the new true crime series ‘Eyewitness to Gilgo Beach’ above or wherever you stream ABC 7 New York.

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CHAPTER 1: BODIES FOUND ON GILGO BEACH

It was a regular garden variety day in December, when Eyewitness News reporter Josh Einiger and his photographer, Tony Saturno, were shooting in Suffolk County.

“We were on our way back and we got a call from the desk – saying ‘there’s a crime scene, there’s a maybe body discovered’, way down south on Ocean Parkway. Go check it out,” Einiger recalled.

When they arrived at the scene, it was cold and pitch black. There were four crime scenes along the beach and spotlights set up.

“It was clear at that point that it was something,” recalled Einiger.

Watch Chapter 1 Now

Go behind the scenes with New York’s number one news team as Eyewitness News tells the convoluted and downright creepy story of the search for a serial killer near Gilgo Beach.

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CHAPTER 2: WE HAVE A SERIAL KILLER

Shannan Gilbert’s disappearance in 2010 sparked the discovery of 11 bodies on and near Gilgo Beach on Long Island.

“One of the most significant things I’ve ever heard at any kind of public official say, I think it was the first full day after that first report that we did,” recalled Einiger. “There was a press conference with the man who was then the police commissioner. And he said something that to this day, I remember everything about what he said and how he said it.”

“We’re looking at that. We’re looking at that. That we could have a serial killer,” said Richard Dormer, the Suffolk County Police Commissioner.

“To this day, so many years later, it symbolized the moment that it was clear that this was something enormous,” Einiger recalled.

“There was a lot of speculation, because it’s still a remote area, maybe more than one person use this as a dumping ground because it was that isolated the weather conditions were that extreme out there,” recalled Eyewitness News reporter, Darla Miles, who was also there reporting the next morning after the bodies were first discovered.

“The tragedy of this story is how incompetently managed this investigation was from the beginning,” said Einiger.

Watch Chapter 2 Now

Go behind the scenes with New York’s number one news team as Eyewitness News tells the convoluted and downright creepy story of the search for a serial killer near Gilgo Beach.

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CHAPTER 3: BODY COUNT RISES

“2011 was the most active period of this investigation. That’s when it seems like every few months, more remains is being found,” recalled Eyewitness News investigative reporter, Kristin Thorne, who took over Gilgo coverage when she was stationed on Long Island.

Investigators continued to find more bodies, but the remains differed from those of the “Gilgo Four”.

Police found three more victims in the area between Oak Beach and Gilgo Beach, bringing the total count of victims to eight.

Investigators identified the victims as Jane Doe Number 6, a baby girl and an Asian man.

Investigators then say they believe they are looking for three, if not four, killers. One killer who they believe is responsible for the “Gilgo Four,” one responsible for Jane Doe 5 and Jane Doe 6, and one or two separate killers responsible for the four other bodies found.

“This is around the time that it got complicated to tell this story,” Einiger recalled.

Watch Chapter 3 Now

Go behind the scenes with New York’s number one news team as Eyewitness News tells the convoluted and downright creepy story of the search for a serial killer near Gilgo Beach.

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CHAPTER 4: INVESTIGATORS STUMPED

Investigators have found 10 bodies and identified five of them, but they are still searching for Gilbert.

“This investigation started because Shannan Gilbert disappeared,” said Kristin Thorne. “These sex workers that were later found had disappeared, before that. Their families had been looking for them. Their families had been going to the police, and it wasn’t until Shannan Gilbert disappeared that her family started to hold police accountable and say — you have to get out there and try to find Shannan Gilbert.”

Investigators find a cell phone, lip gloss, shoes, and a pocketbook they say belonged to Shannan Gilbert on Gilgo Beach.

They said do not believe her death is related to the 10 bodies they found in the area over the last several months.

Watch Chapter 4 Now

Go behind the scenes with New York’s number one news team as Eyewitness News tells the convoluted and downright creepy story of the search for a serial killer near Gilgo Beach.

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CHAPTER 5: FINDING SHANNAN

After a year and a half of searching, investigators find Shannan Gilbert.

Nineteen months after she vanished, Suffolk County Police found the skeletal remains of Shannan Gilbert on Gilgo Beach.

“What was the ultimate stunner in all of this is that they believed — and still do believe — that Shannan Gilbert was not murdered. That Shannan Gilbert died in an accidental drowning,” recalled Einiger.

“Shannan’s death is controversial in this entire story. The police department stands firmly behind the fact that they have done all of their investigative work and that they believe she died of an accidental drowning. And they are going to maintain that,” said Kristin Thorne.

A few years later, Shannan Gilbert’s mother, Mari Gilbert, who is credited for the discovery of the Gilgo bodies because of how she pushed for her daughter’s search, is found stabbed to death in her apartment.

Mari Gilbert was 52 years old. Her daughter, Sarra Elizabeth Gilbert, was charged with her death.

Watch Chapter 5 Now

Go behind the scenes with New York’s number one news team as Eyewitness News tells the convoluted and downright creepy story of the search for a serial killer near Gilgo Beach.

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CHAPTER 6: FBI JOINS THE INVESTIGATION

In December 2015, the FBI joined the investigation.

“The FBI has a lot more experience, nationwide, investigating serial killer cases than we do, so you know as we look through the evidence with them, maybe just bouncing things off each other will be useful,” said Suffolk County Chief of Department Stuart Cameron. “I’m excited about the new partnership with them.”

Why did that collaboration not happen for so many years?

“It didn’t happen because of politics. We had a police chief in Suffolk County, as well as a DA, that did not seem open to FBI involvement,” recalled Kristin Thorne.

Then, on January 16, 2020, police released photos of a belt imprinted with the letters “H-M” or “M-H” to the public.

The belt was found at one of the crime scenes near Gilgo Beach. Police say they believe the belt was handled by the suspect.

Then on February 15, 2022 — after less than a year on the job — Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison announced a new task force to investigate the Gilgo Beach murders, bringing investigators from the state, county, and FBI together for the first time, the Gilgo Beach Task Force.

Watch Chapter 6 Now

Go behind the scenes with New York’s number one news team as Eyewitness News tells the convoluted and downright creepy story of the search for a serial killer near Gilgo Beach.

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CHAPTER 7: 911 CALLS RELEASED

Within two months of the Gilgo Beach Task Force being established, Eyewitness News got an alert that Suffolk County police were going to release surveillance video of Megan Waterman leaving a hotel in Hauppauge — the last place she was seen.

“As reporters were thinking, again, why do this now?” recalled Kristin Thorne. “They’ve had this video for so many years — why now? And they said they want to keep the case going.”

Then on May 9, 2022, Suffolk County Police released a 22-minute 911 phone call from Shannan Gilbert the night she disappeared in 2010.

“The 911 tape was sort of as advertised,” said Einiger. “It was Shannan Gilbert sounding terrified running for her life.”

Watch Chapter 7 Now

Go behind the scenes with New York’s number one news team as Eyewitness News tells the convoluted and downright creepy story of the search for a serial killer near Gilgo Beach.

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CHAPTER 8: FINALLY, AN ARREST

Two months later, on July 13th, 2023, police finally made an arrest.

“This was an earthquake in Massapequa Park. This was a storm like they had never expected this,” recalled Eyewitness News reporter Stacey Sager.

Rex Heuermann was arrested in Midtown, Manhattan. He was initially charged in the deaths of Megan Waterman, Amber Lynn Costello, and Melissa Barthelemy.

Investigators also named him as the prime suspect in the death of Maureen Brainard-Barnes.

“My mission that day was finding the surveillance video when I found the only surveillance video that exists of his arrest,” recalled Darla Miles. “It was just that moment. It was that moment that happened as a journalist, that doesn’t happen. That only happens on TV because it does not happen in real life.”

Watch Chapter 8 Now

Go behind the scenes with New York’s number one news team as Eyewitness News tells the convoluted and downright creepy story of the search for a serial killer near Gilgo Beach.

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CHAPTER 9: WHO IS REX HEUERMANN?

“Rex Heuermann is everything we’ve been led to believe would be the guy,” said Einiger. “He’s kind of a loner. He’s kind of antisocial. His house is different from every other house on that block. It’s sort of a mess. He works in the city. He has a job, where he’s very technical, where he’s an architect and engineer.”

Heuermann lived at 105 First Ave. in Massapequa Park and is an architect and a married father of two adult children.

Heuermann used one of his burner phones “to conduct thousands of searches related to sex workers, sadistic, torture-related pornography and child pornography,” court records said.

DNA from a pizza crust thrown out by Heuermann was linked to a male hair found on one of the victims. The analysis found that “mitochondrial DNA profile(s) are the same” between both samples.

On January 16, 2024, Rex Heuermann was additionally charged with the murder of Maureen Brainard-Barnes.

Heuermann has pleaded not guilty.

The six other Gilgo Beach cases remain unsolved.

Watch Chapter 9 Now

Go behind the scenes with New York’s number one news team as Eyewitness News tells the convoluted and downright creepy story of the search for a serial killer near Gilgo Beach.

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For a better viewing experience, you can stream the series on-demand on our ABC7NY app on Roku, FireTV, Apple TV, and Android TV.

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