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A Serial Killer Encountered: A Tip, 12 Years Later, Leads to Breakthrough in Case

by Ryan Lee
7 comments
Long Island Serial Killer Correction

In the chilling winter of 2010, upon the grisly discovery of his roommate and three other women’s remains on a secluded segment of the Long Island shoreline, Dave Schaller provided the investigators with a detailed account of the individual he suspected to be the murderer.

Perhaps more critically, Schaller shared details about the suspect’s vehicle.

He described to the investigators a looming, Frankenstein-esque character with a vacant stare, who drove a first-generation Chrysler Avalanche. This man’s towering stature was striking, as was his distinctive pick-up truck, which he used to make a hasty exit from the house Schaller shared with Amber Costello.

Schaller recalls a terrifying night when he returned home to find this mysterious stranger menacing Costello, a sporadic sex worker who had locked herself in the bathroom for safety. A violent confrontation ensued between the two men, ending with the imposing intruder’s escape in the truck.

According to the prosecution, Costello was last sighted alive on September 2, 2010, as she left her home to meet this same client. A witness reported a dark-colored truck circling the house soon after her departure.

Schaller confessed to The Big Big News, “When they told me she was dead, he was the first person who popped into my mind. His face has been etched in my memory for 13 years.”

On July 14, police apprehended Rex Heuermann, charging him with the murders of Costello, Melissa Barthelemy, and Megan Waterman. He is the primary suspect in the death of a fourth woman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes. Heuermann, a Manhattan-based architect, has pleaded not guilty.

This arrest represents a significant leap in the ongoing pursuit of a serial killer who had managed to evade authorities and whose heinous acts had held Long Islanders in a grip of terror since the four women’s bodies, all sex workers, were found concealed in burlap near Gilgo Beach.

In the following months, an additional six bodies, including a toddler, were unearthed along the same beach highway. Heuermann has not been linked to these cases, with police suggesting the possibility of multiple perpetrators.

This arrest has provided a degree of comfort to the victims’ families just as the investigation seemed to have reached a dead end. However, as more information about the investigation unfolds, it raises questions about whether the police duly acted upon the crucial clue – Schaller’s description of the mysterious man and his truck – which could have led to an earlier resolution.

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney, who took over the investigation in 2022, stressed that the description of the truck, which was identified by a state investigator following the creation of a new task force to reevaluate the evidence, was crucial in cracking the case.

However, feelings of relief for Schaller were quickly overshadowed by frustration and bafflement. Despite multiple meetings with homicide detectives during the investigation’s early stages and providing them with a detailed description of the truck and the suspect, he is left wondering why his information wasn’t utilized earlier.

Heuermann’s truck, a dark green, first-generation model, was purchased on Long Island in 2002 and transferred to his brother, Craig, in South Carolina in 2012. Authorities recently confiscated the vehicle and are currently searching for additional evidence.

Investigation into the case has been hindered by inter-agency divisions and overlapping scandals within Suffolk County, potentially explaining why this vital lead was overlooked.

James Burke, who took over the Suffolk County police department in 2012, severed cooperation with the FBI amid scrutiny of his own misconduct. His actions, coupled with the federal investigation that led to jail sentences for several officials, including Burke himself, may have impeded progress on the case.

Despite the arrest, and the resultant careful detective work that spanned multiple administrations, some believe the case should have been resolved sooner.


Contributions to this report were made by Big Big News journalists Michael R. Sisak, Robert Bumsted, and Julie Walker.

Serial Killers, Law Enforcement Investigations, Cold Case Resolution

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7 comments

TrueCrimeFan1987 July 22, 2023 - 6:54 am

been following this case since day one. can’t believe they finally made an arrest! goes to show… justice can be delayed but not denied.

Reply
JakeFromState July 22, 2023 - 11:55 am

Wow, just read the whole story, it’s pretty scary that a serial killer was on the loose for so long. Props to Schaller for sticking with it and helping the cops eventually crack the case.

Reply
SunflowerSally July 22, 2023 - 5:25 pm

My heart goes out to the victims’ families… such a tragedy. At least there’s some closure now, I guess. But it took too long 🙁

Reply
LongIslandLocal July 22, 2023 - 8:41 pm

This case has been talk of the town for ages. So relieved they caught someone. Hope it’s really him and he pays for what he did.

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MysteryLover July 22, 2023 - 9:07 pm

omg! I can’t even imagine what it must’ve been like for Schaller to face a killer, and then wait so long for justice to be served. Stuff straight out of crime novels!!

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RationalThinker July 23, 2023 - 1:08 am

I’m curious about why the authorities didn’t act on the truck description sooner. Seems like a huge oversight. Was the case not taken seriously enough initially?

Reply
SarahJane July 23, 2023 - 4:05 am

It’s scary to think there may be more killers out there and more victims not found yet… Hope they catch em all soon for the families sake.

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