Deborah Norville, the longtime anchor of TV’s Inside Edition, has seen a lot. But even she was stunned in recent weeks by the developments that have happened in the investigation into the so-called Long Island or Gilgo Beach serial killings.
On July 13, Rex Heuermann, a 59-year-old architect who lives on Long Island, was arrested and then charged with murder in three of the killings and named the prime suspect in a fourth.
“When the arrest was made, you could have knocked all of us over with a feather, like, ‘are you kidding me?,'” Norville tells Yahoo Entertainment. “Because this wasn’t a cold case. This case was frozen. This case was an iceberg, in part because of just the length of time, in part because there had been so much dysfunction in the Suffolk County Police Department. If you can imagine this, they never had a task force.”
Norville was especially educated on the case, which she’d covered since the 11 bodies were discovered in 2010 in Massapequa Park, a village in New York’s Nassau County. In 2021, she had executive produced the TV movie about the story, from the perspective of Mari Gilbert, the mother of one of the killer’s victims, Shannan Gilbert, for Lifetime. It had been called The Long Island Serial Killer: A Mother’s Hunt for Justice, and it starred Kim Delaney, an alum of Army Wives and NYPD Blue.
Eventually, a new regime in law enforcement took on the case.
“[Before that] no one was really looking for them,” Norville says of the missing women. “It wasn’t like there were a lot of Mari Gilberts out there saying find my daughter. Most of them didn’t have people who were advocating for them. And yet the Suffolk County Police Department either didn’t care [because] they were sex workers — that was the point of view of Mari Gilbert, as you’ll see when you watch the movie — or they just couldn’t be bothered with it. So when there were new people elected and new people put into the positions in Suffolk County, beginning in February of 2022, one of the first acts they did was create a task force that brought together state police, local police and the FBI. And within six weeks, they had actionable information on which they could move forward.”
Heuermann was fingered as the suspect.
Norville and others behind the movie rushed to action. They updated the end of it with the latest information on the case, including new footage and video from press conferences. They’re calling the refreshed version, The Gilgo Beach Killer, and it debuts on Lifetime on Sunday — days after Heuermann, who’s pleaded not guilty, made his first appearance in court.
Norville said the new title is one they had considered for the original version of the movie, but they decided to keep the focus on Mari Gilbert. Her relentlessness in the search for her daughter — who disappeared in 2010 and, like the other victims, happened to be an escort — is what resulted in authorities discovering the first bodies.
“She’s really the hero of this story. None of these murders would have been discovered if not for her determination and her persistence,” Norville says of Gilbert, who, sadly, was killed by another of her daughters in 2016.
The new film also reveals what went into Heuermann’s arrest, which is mostly new DNA technology.
“It’s really rare that we get a chance to do something like this,” Norville says, “so we were really delighted at the opportunity… that events fell into place as they have.”
The Gilgo Beach Killer airs Sunday, Aug. 6 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.