In the summer of 2009, a 15-year-old girl from Buffalo received a disturbing phone call from a man making fun of her missing sister.
What was particularly terrifying about the call was that the caller was using a mobile phone that belonged to the missing woman, Melissa M. Barthelemy, 24.
At one point, the caller boasted that he had sexually assaulted and then killed Barthelemy, police said.
These phone calls, addressed to Amanda Funderberg and the Buffalo family, are now being cited as key evidence in the murder of Manhattan architect and Long Island serial killer Rex A. Heuerman.
On July 13, Suffolk County police indicted Houermann, 59, for murdering Barthelemy and two other young women, all of whom were listed as sex workers in court documents. Prosecutors have also named Houermann the “prime suspect” in the murder of a fourth female sex worker.
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Houermann has denied the murder charges.
The victim’s body was found wrapped in linen and buried on Long Island’s Gilgo Beach, not far from the suspect’s home. A large-scale investigation continues into the deaths of five other people found buried at Gilgo Beach, including one man, three women and an infant.
Potentially, the serial murder case could develop further.
“Now that we have his DNA, we are checking with cities across the country to see if there are any links to other unsolved murders,” said Deputy Superintendent Steven A. Nigleri. Deputy Superintendent Steven A. Nigleri of the state police is helping to arrest Mr. Houermann as part of a special commission investigating the murder. “The task force is investigating unsolved murders in all the places Mr Heuermann has traveled over the years.”
Barthelemy, a former Buffalo resident, was living in New York City when she disappeared in July 2009.
Houermann’s alleged provocative phone calls to Barthelemy’s family in Buffalo in July and August 2009 were mentioned numerous times in court documents filed by the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office related to the arrest.
Court documents show that calls on Barthélemy’s cell phone were routed to cell towers in an area near Heuermann’s Manhattan office and Long Island home.
According to court documents, the murder suspect also used Barthelemy’s phone to check her voice messages on July 11 and July 12, 2009.
“On July 17, July 23, August 5, August 19 and August 26, 2009, Ms. Barthelemy’s phone calls made taunting calls to Ms. Barthelemy’s family, in part of which a conversation took place between the male caller and relatives of Ms. Melissa Barthelemy, in which the male caller admitted to the murder and sexual assault of Ms. Barthelemy,” the court documents read.
the sheriff remembers the incident
News reports about Heuerman’s arrest brought back memories of former Erie County Deputy Sheriff Richard T. Donovan and his former administrative assistant Marilyn Calhoun Allen.
In an interview with the Buffalo News, the pair recalled a distressing phone call from Lynn Barthelemy, the missing woman’s mother, after her daughter disappeared in 2009.
Donovan recalled that Lynn Barthelemy was “very upset and very frustrated” and believed something terrible had happened to her daughter, but police were skeptical because her daughter was working as a prostitute.
“She called the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies, but they told me no one was taking her seriously. No one would even take a missing person report,” Calhoun Allen said. “I told her her boss was out for her lunch and I would call her when she got back. She said, ‘No, he won’t.'” No one called me back. I told her, “He will.” “
Barthelemy’s mother was “crying and sobbing. It was really heartbreaking to hear that,” Calhoun-Allen said. “I’m her mother too, but she could only imagine what she was going through,” she said.
Cohen, the attorney who represented the Barthelmy family, said in 2011 that the New York City Police Department had a 10-day no missing person search policy at the time and that no detective would be assigned to the case because Mr. Barthelemy was working as a “prostitute.”
Desperate about the policy, Lynn Barthelemy called the Erie County Sheriff’s Office and begged for help.
Donovan remembers talking to Barthelemy’s mother and quickly realizing her fears were real. “I was a liaison with the NYPD and had some friends in the intelligence department,” the former deputy sheriff said. “I called them and, to their credit, they took it very seriously and contacted her mother immediately.”
NYPD investigators were particularly concerned because the mocking call was from the missing woman’s mobile phone, Donovan said.
He and Calhoun-Allen said they were proud to have played a small part in the early stages of the investigation that led to the arrest of the suspected serial killer. Both men said they have been following the development of the case over the past 14 years.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison said a major rift in the investigation came when state police investigators recently determined Heuermann owned the same Chevrolet Avalanche truck that was found in the area where one of the sex workers disappeared in 2010.
That information about the truck drew Gilgo Beach task force’s attention to Mr. Houermann, and police began investigating the architect’s travels, computer searches and phone records, police said.
Houermann is accused of burying victims along a remote beach on Long Island’s south coast. Prosecutors said Barthélemy’s body was first discovered on December 11, 2010 by a police officer who was in grades kindergarten through ninth grade while training with the dog.
Two days later, the bodies of three other women were exhumed. Over the next few months, police will recover a total of nine bodies.
The four women, all of small stature, were “placed in a similar position and bound with belts or tape in a similar manner, and three of the victims were found wrapped in a burlap-like material,” according to court documents filed by the prosecution.
The court documents did not specify how the perpetrators killed the women, only referring to “homicidal violence.” Authorities say they have other evidence besides the phone call, including DNA linking Mr Heuermann to the murder.
Barthélemy’s parents told the Buffalo News in 2011, shortly after the daughter’s body was definitively identified by police. At the time, they didn’t go into details about what was said on the phone with Barthelemy’s sister, except that it was “horrible.”
Barthelemy graduated from South Park High School in 2003 and then the Continental School of Beauty, according to her family. After working at a haircut shop in Buffalo, she moved to New York City with dreams of one day running a beauty salon.
The family also said they knew she had worked as an exotic dancer in New York City. She speculates it was to earn rent and other living expenses.
After his disappearance, his family said his sister told him that Barthelemy had become a bodyguard.
Her family told News in 2011 that her last contact with her was a text sent to her teenage sister late on the night of July 9, 2009.
Prosecutors said Barthelemy was last seen alive the next day.
Aside from making several comments to the New York City area news outlet after the alleged serial killer’s arrest, the family has said little publicly since their arrest.
Her sister, Amanda Funderberg, said a mysterious caller using her phone disrespected and disparaged Barthélemy’s profession and suggested that one day she might tell her whereabouts.
“He had sex with Melissa and then killed her,” Amanda Funderberg told New York City’s PIX11-TV after Houermann’s arrest. “On her last phone call, he said he killed her.”
Barthelemy’s mother told an NBC News reporter in New York City that she wanted Houermann to suffer in prison.
“I want him to suffer at the hands of other inmates. Let him receive what the girls received,” Lynn Barthelemy said.
“We knew from the start that this call was key,” the mother added, referring to police’s taunting calls to Houermann.
Barthelemy’s family declined to be interviewed by The News this week, but issued a statement through Cohen on Thursday.
They thanked law enforcement for continuing the investigation that led to the arrest. They said they hoped the police would catch the right person.
“The Barthélemy family has stood firm for many years and hopes that the perpetrators will indeed be caught,” the family said.
Buffalo native Nigleri and former sheriff’s deputy Donovan said they hoped the arrest would bring some kind of end to their family’s suffering after 14 years.
“Their information was important to the investigation,” Donovan said. “I was really grateful when I heard the news of the arrest. It always feels good to take someone like that out of the city. Criminals who do things like that don’t stop.”