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Gilgo Beach serial killer documentary sparks push for crackdown on Son of Sam law

Gilgo Beach serial killer documentary sparks push for crackdown on Son of Sam law

Lawmakers in New York are pushing to change a decades-old state law to ban family members of convicted criminals from profiting from their crimes.

It comes amid outrage that Asa Ellerup, the estranged wife of alleged Gilgo Beach serial killer Rex Heuermann, is reportedly being paid $1m for a Peacock TV docuseries.

Ms Ellerup, who filed for divorce six days after Mr Heuermann’s July arrest for the murders of three sex workers, attended his most recent court appearance with a camera crew following her.

The “Son of Sam” law, which was named after David Berkowitz, a convicted serial killer who terrorised New York City in the 1970s, keeps convicts from making money off their crimes.

It’s been a law in New York since 1977, but the US Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional in 1991. The law was then amended in 2001 with the revision that victims’ families will be notified by the Office of Victim Services to ensure they can sue their offenders for any proceeds more than $10,000, the Long Island Press reported.

Now, New York state Senator Kevin Thomas and New York state Assembly member Fred Thiele want to expand the law to also ban spouses, ex-spouses and other family members of convicted criminals from making profits.

Rex Heuermann appears in Suffolk County Supreme Court in November (AP)
Rex Heuermann appears in Suffolk County Supreme Court in November (AP)

“With the alarming reality of media companies exploiting tragedy for profit, my hope is that victims are given the opportunity to receive the justice and compensation they deserve,” Mr Thomas told the Long Island Press.

“New York has a long history of blocking people convicted of a crime from benefiting from their illegal activity. My legislation aims to take it a step further to ensure that media deals surrounding a crime are subject to the same transparency and accountability as the perpetrator themselves. No one should be profiting off a crime.”

However, Ms Ellerup’s attorney argued that the bill was a publicity stunt.

Asa Ellerup, and her two adult children, Victoria Heuermann and Christopher Sheridan have reportedly sold their life rights for the documentary (GoFundMe)
Asa Ellerup, and her two adult children, Victoria Heuermann and Christopher Sheridan have reportedly sold their life rights for the documentary (GoFundMe)

“It’s a sad day in America when people are willing to trample on the constitution to get press coverage,” Bob Macedonio said. “The next thing they will attempt is to control media coverage.”

The proposed legislation is expected to come up for debate in early 2024. If passed, the bill would take effect immediately.

It’s a move applauded by attorney John Ray, who represents victims’ families.

“[Ellerup] is a ghoul and she’s feeding on the dead by using their memory and the circumstances that her husband caused and she may have a part in,” he said.

A Peacock spokesperson told CBS New York that Ms Ellerup “was not paid for her participation, but was paid a licensing fee for use of her archive materials,” which cannot go to Mr Heuermann or his defence.

‘Son of Sam’ killer, David Berkowitz  terrorized New York City in the 1970s (Getty)
‘Son of Sam’ killer, David Berkowitz terrorized New York City in the 1970s (Getty)

Mr Heuermann is accused of murdering Amber Lynn Costello, 27, Melissa Barthelemy, 24, and Megan Waterman, 22, whose remains were found at Gilgo Beach in Long Island, New York between 2010 and 2011. He has pleaded not guilty.

He has also been named the prime suspect in the murder of Maureen Brainard-Barnes – who was last seen alive in early June 2007 in New York City. He is due back in court on 6 February.

The four victims, together known as the “Gilgo Four”, all worked as sex workers and disappeared after going to meet a client.

Their bodies were found in December 2010 within one-quarter mile of each other, bound by belts or tape and some wrapped in burlap – all dumped along Gilgo Beach.

In total, the remains of 11 victims were found along the shores of Long Island in 2010 and 2011, sparking fears of one or more serial killers.

The case began back in May 2010 when Shannan Gilbert, a young woman working as a sex worker, vanished after leaving a client’s house on foot near Gilgo Beach. She called 911 for help saying she feared for her life and was never seen alive again.

During a search for Gilbert in a dense thicket close to the beach, police discovered human remains. Within days, four victims had been found.

By spring 2011, the number of victims rose to 10.

Clockwise from top left: Melissa Barthelemy, Amber Lynn Costello, Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Megan Waterman ((AP))
Clockwise from top left: Melissa Barthelemy, Amber Lynn Costello, Maureen Brainard-Barnes and Megan Waterman ((AP))

Gilbert’s body was then found in December 2011. Her cause of death is widely contested with authorities long claiming that it is not connected to the serial killer or killers but that she died from accidental drowning as she fled from the client’s home.

However, an independent autopsy commissioned by her family ruled that she died by strangulation and her family continues to believe she was murdered.

No charges have been brought in connection to the other victims also found along the shores.

Court records show that Mr Heuermann was linked to the “Gilgo Four” murders through a tip about his pickup truck, a stash of burner phones, “sadistic” online searches and phone calls taunting victims’ families.

His DNA was also found on one of the victims, while his wife’s hair was found on three of the four women he is connected to, according to prosecutors.

Investigators are continuing to work to determine if Mr Heuermann is also linked to any of the other victims – while law enforcement officials across the country are probing cold case murders for any potential ties.