Hi, everybody. This is Josh Mankowitz, and we're talking date line. Today's guest is...
Andrea Canning, also talking date line.
Nice to see you.
We're here to talk about your episode, The Hunt for the Gilgo Beach Killer. Now, if you have not, you and the audience have not seen this or heard the podcast version, it is the podcast right below this on the list of podcasts that you chose this episode for. So go there, listen to it, or watch it on TV, and then come back here. Andrea, I want to congratulate you and Mario Garcia, who produced this epic episode. You spoke with a lot of people.
This might be a new record for my date lines for a number of interviews. I think the reason we had so many was obviously this case is very expansive, but it was that we started. Sometimes when you don't get those bookings right away, and so you do other bookings and you're like, What can we get? What can we get? Then it's snowballs, and then those bookings start coming through that you were really trying to get. So then you end up with a lot of interviews.
Then you discovered that some of the people that you booked because you thought you couldn't get those first group of people that you wanted, sometimes that second group of people turns out they're great and you want to make sure they're in there. Here's something I want to talk about right off the top. Usually, date-line stories are about things that are not known to the audience, like they don't know these people. We're introducing them to the audience for the first time. What is it like and what's different when you're covering a story like this one, like Gilgo Beach, which is being covered widely by our competition and by newspapers and by television stations and networks everywhere, and where a lot of people in your audience, in the country, already know where the story stands. That's different from what we usually do.
When these cases get this big, when they rise to the level of The Gilgo Beach story, we will put them on the air sooner because there is such an appetite for it. I think also we need to do better than those other shows. We need to find more people. We need to put on a better program. I think in this episode, we really did that. We gave you so many people and so many different insights that I believe people hadn't heard before. And also, we put it into a package for you, A to Z. This might be the most comprehensive version of this out there now. I think it probably is.
I think that's right. I think it's unusual for us to do a story when there's only an arrest. But on the other hand, there's so much story that just leads up to that arrest, which you tell in this.
What was incredible to me was how much information the prosecutor, the police released when they arrested Rex Hureman. You don't usually get, A, that much information, B, the key people talking before there's been a trial.
Usually it's an ongoing investigation, and until the trial, we're not going to say anything. Because usually when we're doing date line hours or two hours, the cops and the prosecutors will not talk to you until there's been a conviction. Exactly. In this case, you got both of them.
We got both of them. Yeah, they're talking. People from the past are talking as well. The former commissioner and other people involved, a lot of times those people won't talk either because they'll go and talk to the prosecutor and the prosecutor will say, Please wait. Even those side players or the past players usually don't talk to you. In this case, it's interesting how everyone just really opened up, which made our job a lot easier.
It must have also been unusual for you, Andrea, to cover a story at its end, or at least near to its end, that you had also covered at the beginning, all those years ago before you were on Dayline.
Yes, I covered the story extensively when the bodies were found. When I heard there was an arrest, to be honest, I'd forgotten about the story because it had been so many years and I went, Wait, what? So it was a shock to me too, to hear that it was Lex Huberman is the person arrested, is the person suspected. Because back then there were so many theories floating around. Oh, it has to be a police officer. It's a doctor. It's a lobsterman. Robert Colker, the author in the story, he said it best. He said, With Serial Killers, Uncaught Serial Killers, it becomes like a parlor game. Who did it? Everyone has their own theory as to who did it. So for it to finally come out that the accused was an architect working in Manhattan, that was strange to me. I was not expecting that.
One of the great things that I thought you did in this story visually was you made the beach and the shoreline, which is a beautiful place, I certainly think, in almost all places where there is shoreline, it's gorgeous. But you made it seem, in this story scary and forbidding and ominous because this is where the bodies were found. It's also where the first person you talk about Shannon Gilbert, where she disappeared. Tell me a little bit about what the mood was back then when the bodies were found in what was a pretty nice area.
Yeah, I think it was just a lot of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of is this person amongst us? Because the thought was that this person knows this area, especially to have so many bodies dumped there. Of course, is it the same person? Are there multiple killers? They didn't know, but they definitely felt like the person or the people responsible knew this area.
If you live around there, you might know him. Exactly. You might cross paths with him all the time. Might be somebody you see in your daily routine who you don't feel afraid of at all.
Right. Because they did not feel like this was someone driving from somewhere far away who really doesn't know the area but keeps dumping bodies there. That was not what anyone thought. So that was the prevailing thought was that this is one of us. This is someone we know. This could be a neighbor. And so I think that there's that element of we live in this beautiful community. We live on the beach. In the summer, it is so busy there. People are everywhere. It's a really popular place to go. Jones Beach is right near there. Now, in the winter, it has a different vibe. There's no people around. It becomes very desolate. It's cold. There's two sides to that area. The spookier side, I would say, is that winter side. In the summer, it's just very vibrant. You don't really think about that thing happening. For the people who live there, it's just shattered their world because this is their idyllic, slice of heaven that they live in along the Atlantic.
One of the problems that you talked about in this story is how law enforcement was accused early on of not taking murders of women in sex business as seriously as others. That's also a problem in journalism. I thought that you did a great job making it clear how all of the women in your story were loved and missed, regardless of the work that they were doing at the time. Because sometimes it's hard to get families to talk about that because they're embarrassed or they want to fix the dead person's image after they're gone. I thought the families that you interviewed were very clear about, I didn't love that she was doing this, but this is who she was and she was doing it. We loved her and we didn't stop loving her because of the business she was in.
It was amazing how honest they were. For me, it was really important, the tone of the story to make sure that we got that across that these were mothers, they were sisters, they were daughters, they were all loved. None of these women were just abandoned by their families and didn't want anything to do with them. They had families back home. They just unfortunately got into this cycle because they needed money. One of them needed money for her child. One of them wanted to make it on Broadway. And of course, it's very difficult. So here she is in New York City with no money. So unfortunately, whether it was their choice or their boyfriend dragged them into it or whatever it was, they did end up in this life that they never set out to be in, and suddenly they were in it. And so I admired the families for being open about that?
Sometimes family and friends don't want to talk, in part because people want to judge. They're afraid of getting on television and saying, This was my sister, or This was my daughter.
I always say if this was a soccer mom from Westport, Connecticut, who goes missing, two completely different responses to different worlds. Because we know that if a mom goes from Westport, it's going to be on every news cycle, every morning show. There's going to be press conferences from the lawn. It's going to be a just a much different scenario.
There's going to be a police task force.
Yeah, immediately. That's what's sad, is how people, I think, blame them. Well, you got yourself into this life. There are people who see it that way.
Clearly, one of the things that changed was that both the DA and the police commissioner there are relatively new. This marked just not new blood in the Suffolk PD, but also really a new attitude. They made this a priority. Clearly, they felt it had languished too long and they worked really hard on it. And look what happened. One of the things that can happen in a big case is that with a lot of info coming in, which certainly in the early days you don't necessarily know what's important and what isn't, things can fall between the cracks, and it feels like that's what happened here. Thea tip that came from one of Amber Costello's roommates.
Yeah, and I had actually interviewed one of the roommates back in the day when I covered this story. By scouring through these old witness accounts, these old reports, there's a little nugget in there, a little diamond amongst all this information. They said it was a man that she had been with who was Ogarish looking, really tall, and drove a Chevy Avalanche.
A green Chevy Avalanche.
Green. They gave the color and it ended up being a first edition or something. They struck gold. I'm sorry, I keep using diamonds and gold, but this was the gold. This was the diamonds. This was everything, right? This was the motherload. This was the motherload of this story was taking that tip seriously, finally. It cracked the case wide open. It was huge. It opened the floodgates. It led to, Who owns this vehicle in this area? Then we have Rex Heurman, an architect who commutes between Massapiqua Park in Manhattan, which is where these phones were triangulating.
Cops sometimes talk about how cold cases are solved by changes in circumstance, which is somebody like says, I'm not going to lie for you anymore. I gave you an alibi 20 years ago, but you're not my boyfriend or girlfriend anymore, and I'm not going to have anything to do with you, and I'm changing my story. I'm going to say what really happened, or changes in technology, which is things like touch DNA and cell phone triangulation and the ability of a police department to figure out, Oh, no, these phones are active in two places. This is a guy who commutes, which fits with what the profiler said, which is this is going to be somebody who just slithers among us that we don't even think about, somebody who just seems completely normal. Well, once you get to know Rex Humerman, some people are going to say he's completely normal, and some people who you interviewed are going to say something else. I mean, there really were two sides to this guy.
Yeah, there were. Even the side that people didn't like, I don't know that even for them that rose to the level of alleged serial killer. No. Like maybe he was annoying at work or he made offhanded comments that people didn't like. But I don't think anyone was thinking, I don't like him. He's a serial killer.
No, I love that you booked his coworker and that woman who said, In a million years, I never would have thought this was possible. Because that's exactly the person that doesn't want to talk after somebody's arrested and when they realize, Oh, I was actually wrong about this person.
One of the parts of her interview that didn't make the show was when she talks about him taking her to her apartment after she slipped and fell on the ice and he took her to the hospital and he went to the pharmacy for her and he went up to her apartment. I said to her, I almost cringed saying it, but I said, Would you call him? Was he like a gentle giant? And she cringed saying it back, Yes. Because it's like you don't want to say that about someone who's accused of such heinous crimes. You don't want to call them a gentle giant. But that's how she felt in the moment.
But the guy she knew was.
Yeah. That was a powerful moment in that interview for me. I was like, Wow. But you know what she said, though, that was so poignant? She said, because she was about the age of the victims at that point, and she said, But there's two kinds of people for him. She wasn't that escort. She was a coworker. She was in a different bucket. She was very likely never in danger. It didn't seem like to anyone that he would go after someone like her. Allegedly, he had a type.
This is something we were discussing a little bit earlier. It wasbut this is a story where there's a lot of competition for interviews. Let's talk a little bit about what we do and what we don't do when we are competing with other people for a story. For example, somebody in this story, we don't have to say who, but somebody in this story who was someone we would have loved to have spoken with, wanted money and we don't pay anybody. You have to let that go. I've had that happen in other stories in which somebody says, I'll do it, but I'm going to need to get paid. In the say, Then we can't do it.
That's really common these days, especially as true crime just seems to keep exploding. Everyone's covering true crime now, and some of those outlets pay. They will pay money. We are a news organization. We are BBC News. We do not pay. Sometimes you're booking these people with one arm tied behind your back, and you have to use just old fashioned like, Look, we will do you right.
I think that people are almost always happy with the way they're portrayed on Dayline, unless they happen to have to be the actual murderer. When people are reticent, when they're uncomfortable with talking, I always say to them, Look, don't take my word for it. Call somebody else. Call another family that's been on date line and see what they thought. Pick anybody. We'll put you in touch with them. Our best recommendation is our resume.
Oops, who's that? Did you hear that? There's a catfight. I'm going to break it up with a Reese's peanut butter cup. Hold on. Go away. Leftover Halloween candy breaking up a catfight in my room.
Sorry. No, this is the date line behind the scenes moment that our viewers and listeners love.
I have two female cats that do not get along. One's a kitten, one has been here for a while. She didn't like the kitten taking over her turf. Now we have this.
Getting back to what we were talking about, I think we do pay very careful attention to what families want to talk about. Frequently they are nervous going into interviews because they think like, This is it. I'm telling the story not just to you, but in front of the whole country.
Yeah. They're not doing it for us. They're doing it for themselves. They're doing it so people can learn about their loved one. It's important to me that we honor that because otherwise, what is the point of doing it? Because most people don't want to be on TV. They're not, especially after what they've been through, Oh, this is going to get me on TV. No, that is not what is going through their minds. Not at all. I want my loved one to be honored, and I want my story to be heard.
One of the things that I experience again and again with Dateline is how you end up going through this whole process with the family, because you're originally making contact with them frequently before any arrest has been made. The crime has happened. The person's either missing or they've been found dead, but there's no resolution to it at all. Then you're with them over those weeks, months, sometimes years before there's an answer, you've been interacting with that family at all levels, from the first shock and the first grief and the hope that maybe they're going to be found alive to the belief that they won't be, and then the news that they actually have been found. And you live that with them all the way through, if they're lucky, arrest, trial, conviction. So you see the families at all these different stages.
Yeah, and you feel a connection with them, too. Sure you.
You finish the interview and you're like, Think about what we just went through. We just went through the whole story from beginning to end of their child or their sister or friend, especially if it's a child. It's like we go back to the beginning. What child was she or he? And all the way up to sentencing. You've essentially covered an entire span of someone's life in this three-hour interview, and you feel really connected to the person you're talking to at the end because they've shared such personal information with you.
What's the thinking now among law enforcement? I mean, if it is Rex, because we haven't had the trial, if it is Rex, Eurman, did he have help? Or are there two killers? Two killers who just happen to coincidentally dump their bodies in the same area? Or more. They don't know each other?
Yeah. It could be more.
That's a little hard to believe, but there's nothing pointing to anybody else involved.
Yeah. I mean, he's accused of killing three of the women, and he's the prime suspect in a fourth. Is he responsible for more? We know there's many more bodies. No one knows right now. This investigation is far from over.
He's accused in three, a prime suspect, and a fourth. But he's not accused in the case of Shannon Gilbert- No. -which was the case that started all of this and led to the bodies being discovered because police don't officially believe that hers was a murder. No. I will say she does sound like she could be disoriented or on something in that 911 call, but the family is convinced that she did meet some foul play, even though police are convinced that she did not, that that was accidental.
Foul play or maybe she was given drugs and it made her even more disoriented. But remember, she's running saying, They're trying to kill me, on her 911 call. So who's trying to kill her? But remember, John Ray, the family attorney, has now, in our story, he has brought more witnesses to the table. John Ray does not believe that Shannon died of natural causes, and nor does her sister. John Ray is definitely more in the camp of that she was potentially murdered.
John Ray hired.
By the family. Right. He worked with Mary, the mother who tragically died. She died without really, truly knowing what happened to Shannon.
And without seeing any arrest in the case, that would have been before this.
No. She didn't know, obviously, about the arrests in the cases of the other women. She died very unsettled with what had happened to her daughter.
Now, I think we're going to talk about... Let's talk about Commissioner Harrison. One of the things I loved about your interviews was that the DA talks like a cop, and the cop talks like a DA. Like, Rodney Harrison, he's like a politician. He's very great on camera and choosing his words carefully. The DA is like-.
He was letting it flow.
He sounds like a police officer. That's great.
Then Commissioner Harrison was saying, I hope he didn't say too much, which I feel like usually it's the other way around. The DA is more concerned about the police saying too much so they don't mess up their case. So they definitely both had very different personalities. And you know what I respect so much about Rodney Harrison is the fact that he really recognized how much the families were ignored. And he's working so hard to change that. And when John Ray had that press conference about the new witnesses, Commissioner Harrison went and he told me, I interviewed him after just as a quick follow up. He said, Why would I not be there? Why would I not be open to anything anyone has to say at this point? We have unsolved murders. We need people to come forward. I need to show the public that I am open to anything and anyone. And district attorney, Tierney as well, really also wanted to get those answers for the family. So my hat's off to both of them for this hard work that they've done and for caring as much as they do and making a great team.
This stint in Suffolk County came after the end of a lengthy career in New York City for- Chief of detectives.
-chief of detectives.
He's got a big family of police officers himself. He's like the real-life Blue Bloods.
Well, that's what I said because he has children who are police officers. His wife was a police officer. Oh, my gosh. It went on and on how many police officers. I said, You're like Blue Bloods. He said, Well, we're the black version of Blue Bloods. He laughed. I'll tell you one funny thing he said. We were doing the follow-up interview after the John Ray Press conference, and we were on that stretch of Gilgo, and it was very noisy. Also our producer, Mario, was afraid to cross the street. He's going to kill me for a second. He was like, I don't know that we should cross the street. The commissioner made fun of Mario about crossing the street. It was all in just, I promise you. Anyway, we crossed and we started doing the interview. It was super loud. Commissioner Harrison said, he's like, Well, I can shut this down if you want. Do you want me to shut it down just quickly? He's like, I know some people. I was like, No, you know what? I just, in good faith can't do that to people commuting.
Can't make Long Island traffic any worse.
It is one of those stretch of roads that isn't like... It wouldn't cause a major meltdown, but I was like, I can't. Because if it was me and I had to turn around or wait, I would be like, No.
Thirty-five years ago, I did a series for channel Two in New York about how terrible the traffic was on Long Island. It's that. I can tell you- It's probably worse. -i'm only.
Oh, my gosh, having to drive out there so many times this summer this fall. I was like, Oh, my gosh. You start, you stop, you start, you stop. You don't know what the problem is. Anyway, I declined the offer and I told him that was very nice, but we would wait for gaps in traffic to do our interviews. So we got a good chuckle out of that.
The drivers of Suffolk County appreciate you, Andrea. It feels like this is a story that you and Mario, your producer, are almost certainly going to return to. Oh, yeah. Because there's going to be a trial. There might be other arrests. There might be other suspects. Nobody really knows what lies ahead, except that there's a lot that we do not know. There's also the case, which you mentioned, of the woman in South Carolina about which very little is known.
I don't know a lot about it. Just we know that a lead was provided because Lex Hureman owned property in South Carolina, and that a lead was provided that there could be a connection there. I know that the task force is investigating, don't know much more about it other than that this is something they're now looking into that she could be another victim. There could end up being even a separate date line with another case that does not involve Lex Herman, but involves Gilgo Beach.
What an unbelievable coincidence that would be if it turns out there's a second killer, unconnected to or whoever is responsible for the murders that he's going to go on trial for. It's hard to believe, but that could happen. This was something that I don't see in a lot of date line stories. I love that there was footage of the arrest. That frequently is not something that we're lucky enough to get a video of, but we did in this case. Frequently, when we do get it, it's because the trial is already over and there was a conviction. In this case, you had it and there hasn't even been a trial yet, which I just thought was great.
It's like there has been a trial with all the information that's out there, even though we know there has not been a trial. But it feels like there's been a trial with the information that we've been provided, which just shows how transparent they're being with the public. It's just unusual that you can provide this much information this early on in a case. So it's not over. We're going to see a lot more. We're going to learn a lot more information. And you know, they're busy, busy, busy working on these other bodies. So it will be very, very interesting to see what they find out.
Andrea, thank you for talking to 8line.