Two weeks after announcing the arrest of the suspected Gilgo Beach serial killer, authorities in New York on Friday revealed the identity of a woman whose remains were among those found during the course of the investigation over a decade ago.
Karen Vergata, a 34-year-old escort from Manhattan who went missing on Valentine’s Day in 1996, is the murder victim known as “Fire Island Jane Doe,” Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said at a news conference.
Tierney did not link alleged killer Rex Heuermann to Vergata’s death in his announcement. He didn’t comment on any potential suspects either, saying it is a “confidential investigation.”
There are “no charges at this time” and investigators will continue to work on the case, Tierney said.
“I think it’s important that we remember and honor not only Ms. Vergata but all the victims on Gilgo Beach,” he said.
Vergata’s remains were among nearly a dozen sets of human remains found along Ocean Parkway on the South Shore of Long Island between 2010 and 2011, including four women who became known as the “Gilgo Four.”
No missing persons complaint was filed when Vergata went missing, Tierney said.
The long-running murder mystery on suburban Long Island remained unsolved for over a decade until a break in the case came last month, after investigators recovered DNA from a pizza crust that was thrown away – linking it to the alleged killer of the Gilgo Four – Heuermann, a New York City architect.
Heuermann, 59, was first identified as a potential suspect in early 2022, shortly after a multiagency task force was formed to examine the cold cases.
Heuermann is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Melissa Barthelemy in 2009 and Megan Waterman and Amber Costello in 2010, according to Suffolk County prosecutors.
He is also the prime suspect in the 2007 disappearance and death of a fourth woman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, according to a court document from prosecutors, but he hasn’t been charged in connection with that fourth homicide.
Through his attorney, Heuermann has refuted the charges against him.
“I did not do this,” Heuermann said after his arrest, according to his court-appointed attorney, Michael Brown.
Initially, Vergata’s remains — feet and legs — were found on April 20, 1996, on the bay shore of Fire Island, to the east of Gilgo Beach, Tierney said.
Almost 15 years later, on April 11, 2011, additional remains — a skull — were discovered along Ocean Parkway in Nassau County during the Gilgo Beach investigation. In 2011, through DNA analysis, authorities determined that the legs and the skull were from the same body.
In August 2022, a DNA profile suitable for genealogical comparison was developed from the remains, and in September 2022, the FBI identified Vergata through genealogy review. A year later, authorities were able to use a relative’s DNA via a cheek swab to identify Vergata as the victim.
Investigators believe the killings of the Gilgo Four, who also worked as escorts, might have happened in the suspect’s home in Massapequa Park, New York – Heuermann lived less than 6 miles from where remains were found.
The case, featured in a bestselling nonfiction book and a Netflix drama, started with the search for another missing woman in 2010, leading to the discovery of multiple sets of human remains. By the time the remains of the missing woman, Shannan Gilbert, were found one year later, 10 sets of human remains had been recovered across two counties. All but three of the 10 homicide victims – a man, a woman and a toddler – have been identified.
Authorities believe the death of Gilbert may have been accidental and not related to the other killings.
The crucial break in the Gilgo Four case came in January when investigators took a swab from the leftover pizza crust Heuermann discarded in the trash outside his Manhattan office, according to the bail application. DNA evidence linked him to a hair found on the burlap sack where Waterman’s remains were found.
Prosecutors have asked for a swab of DNA from Heuermann, a spokesperson from the office said Thursday. CNN is working to obtain a copy of the document requesting a DNA sample.
CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia and Mark Morales contributed to this report.