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Gary Michael HEIDNIK





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Cannibalism - Kidnapping - Torture - Serial rapist
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: 1986 - 1987
Date of arrest: March 24, 1987
Date of birth: November 22, 1943
Victims profile: Deborah Dudley, 23, and Sandra Lindsay, 24
Method of murder: Starvation, excess torture / Electrocution
Location: Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Pennsylvania on July 6, 1999
photo gallery

Gary Michael Heidnik (November 22, 1943 – July 6, 1999) was an American criminal who kidnapped women and kept them prisoner in his Philadelphia, Pennsylvania basement.

He is often referred to as a serial killer, although having committed only two murders, he would not fit the standard FBI definition of a serial killer as the FBI standard dictates "three or more murders" to classify as serial killer.


Early life

Born to Michael and Ellen Heidnik in Eastlake, Ohio, and raised in the Cleveland suburb, Heidnik dropped out of public high school in the ninth grade and attended Staunton Military Academy for two years, leaving before graduation. After another period in school, he dropped out and joined the Army.

Heidnik served as a medic in the Army for 14 months (1961-62) before being honorably discharged with a medical disability. His official diagnosis was "schizoid personality disorder".

When he was 27, his mother Ellen committed suicide.

Heidnik used a matrimonial service to meet his future wife, with whom he corresponded by mail for two years before proposing to her. Betty arrived from the Philippines in September 1985 and married Heidnik in Maryland on October 3, 1985.

The marriage rapidly deteriorated and she found Heidnik in bed with three other women and he forced her to have sex with them. He beat and raped her until she left him three months later.

Unknown to Heidnik until his ex-wife requested child support payments some time after the divorce, he did impregnate Betty during their short marriage. Heidnik was never known to have had any kind of relationship with his son.

Criminal career

1976: First legal charges

In 1976, Heidnik was charged with aggravated assault and carrying an unlicensed pistol after shooting the tenant of a house he offered for rent, grazing his face.

1978: First imprisonment

Heidnik signed his girlfriend's cognitively disabled sister out of a mental institution on day leave and kept her prisoner in a locked storage room in his basement in 1978. After she was found and returned to the hospital, examination revealed that she had been raped and sodomized.

Heidnik was arrested and charged with kidnapping, rape, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, and interfering with the custody of a committed person.

The case went to trial in November 1978; he was found guilty and sentenced to three to seven years in jail. The original sentence was overturned on appeal and Heidnik spent three years of his incarceration in mental institutions prior to being released in April 1983 under the supervision of a state sanctioned mental health program.

1986: Spousal rape, charges dismissed

After his wife Betty left him in 1986, Heidnik was arrested yet again and charged with assault, indecent assault, spousal rape and involuntary deviant sexual intercourse. The charges were later dismissed when Betty failed to appear for the preliminary hearing.

1986-1987: Serial rape, imprisonment and murder

Beginning in November 1986, Heidnik abducted six women and held them in the basement of his house in Philadelphia that he shared with his longtime friend David Stec.

The captives were sexually abused, beaten, and tortured in front of each other. One of the women died of a combination of starvation, excess torture, and an untreated fever. Heidnik dismembered her body, ground it in a food processor and mixed it with dog food, which he then fed to the surviving victims.

He had a problem dealing with the arms and legs, so he put them in a freezer and marked them "dog food". He cooked her ribs in an oven and boiled her head in a pot on the stove.

He used electric shock as a form of torture; one victim was electrocuted when she was bound in chains, thrown into a hole that had been dug in the floor (usually reserved as a form of isolation punishment).

Heidnik ordered Josefina Rivera "Nicole" to start filling the hole with water and then forced her to apply the electrical current from the house to the other woman's chains. Heidnik would torture and sexually abuse the women individually or in groups.

He dug a four-foot-deep pit that he would throw the women in at night. The pit would then be covered with plywood and heavy weights. The victims were also encouraged to inform on each other in return for better conditions.

Arrest and trial

Josefina Rivera escaped on March 24, 1987. She had convinced Heidnik to let her go out, promising to bring back another captive for him, but instead she went straight to the authorities who secured a search warrant. Heidnik was arrested. At his arraignment, Heidnik claimed that the women were already in the house when he moved in.

Intelligently, he took his Army disability check and invested the money very carefully. In an account he set up with $1500 dollars in the name of “United Church of the Ministers of God,” to avoid taxes.

At the time of his final arrest he had over $550,000 dollars in his bank and brokerage accounts, a point that would be used at his trial to disprove that he was insane. Testimony from his Merrill Lynch financial advisor, Robert Kirkpatrick, was used to prove competence. Robert Kirkpatrick: "an astute investor who knew exactly what he was doing."

During his trial, Heidnik repeatedly denied all allegations of mistreatment of his captives, and claimed that Sandra Lindsay was killed by the other captives for being a lesbian. Before his execution, Heidnik reportedly claimed that he wanted to be executed because the execution of an innocent man would stop the death penalty in America.

Convicted of two counts of murder in 1988, Heidnik was sentenced to death and incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh. In January 1999, he attempted suicide with an overdose of prescribed thorazine. Heidnik was executed by lethal injection on July 6, 1999.

In popular culture

  • Heidnik's method of keeping his captives in a deep hole in his basement was emulated by the character "Buffalo Bill" in Thomas Harris' novel The Silence of the Lambs, which was later adapted into a motion picture.

  • The U.S. metal band Macabre recorded a song about Gary M. Heidnik, titled "Morbid Minister"; it can be found on the Murder Metal album.

Further reading

  • A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers by Harold Schechter and David Everitt, Pocket, 1997, softcover, 368 pages, ISBN 0-671-02074-9

  • Cellar of Horror by Ken Englade, 1989, softcover, 288 pages, ISBN 0-312-92929-3


Gary Michael Heidnik, 55, 99-07-06, Pennsylvania

Gary Michael Heidnik, the "House of Horrors" killer convicted of torturing and murdering 2 women in the basement of his Philadelphia home a decade ago, was put to death by lethal injection Tuesday night.

The execution was carried out after the rejection of last-minute appeals to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia and the U.S. Supreme Court by Heidnik's daughter, who fought for years to save Heidnik despite his willingness to die.

Heidnik was pronounced dead around 10:30 p.m. at the State Correctional Institution at Rockview. The scheduled 10 p.m. execution had been delayed because it was shortly before 10 when the Supreme Court said it would not intervene in the case.

Heidnik spent part of his last day listening to country music.

He was the 1st Pennsylvania prisoner executed since 1995, when Keith Zettlemoyer and Leon Moser were put to death. Theirs were the 1st executions in the state since 1962.

The bearded, dark-haired, cold-eyed Heidnik, whose countenance to many matched the horror of his crimes, was a former nurse, an Army veteran and the self-professed leader of his own church whose deftness in playing the stock market made him financially secure.

In 1988, a jury convicted Heidnik of the 1st-degree murders of Deborah Dudley, 23, and Sandra Lindsay, 24, 2 of 6 women he kept as sex slaves in his North Philadelphia basement. Heidnik was arrested in 1987 when one of the women escaped and hailed police.

At Heidnik's trial, survivors testified that when Lindsay died, Heidnik dismembered her with an electric saw, cooked parts of her body and mixed her remains with dog food, which he then fed to the other women.

Heidnik did not fight his execution, but his 21-year-old daughter did - arguing that her father lacked the mental competence to make his own legal decisions.

Maxine Davidson White's efforts 2 years ago succeeded in blocking Heidnik's execution. But last night, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in a 2-1 vote, declined to halt the execution.

White, a Temple University pharmacy student, then asked the full Third Circuit Court to consider the case. When the court refused to do so, White immediately filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court notified the governor's office shortly before 10 p.m. that it would not intervene.

As White pleaded for his life, Heidnik, 55, was transferred from his solitary-confinement cell in Pittsburgh to Rockview, near State College, where 352 others have been executed since 1915.

Placed in a holding cell, Heidnik was cooperative, according to state Department of Corrections spokesman Michael Lukens. "He spent most of the afternoon quiet - he's either lying in bed or pacing."

Given the option of watching television or listening to the radio, Heidnik chose the latter.

At 4:45 p.m., Heidnik was taken to a visiting area, where he spent an hour with his daughter.

Afterward, he had his final meal.

Among the witnesses scheduled to observe Heidnik's execution were 4 of his victims. They were not identified, and were to observe from a separate room not visible to the other witnesses.

His lawyer, A. Charles Peruto Jr., said Heidnik still insisted that he was innocent but that he wanted to be executed, saying that killing an innocent man might end the death penalty. Peruto said he had followed his client's wishes and had done nothing to block the execution.

But working with the Defender Association of Philadelphia - a group that opposes the death penalty - White, who was reared by foster parents and who did not know Heidnik was her father until just before he was arrested, tried repeatedly to gain standing in the case.

After arguments before the Third Circuit 3-judge panel yesterday, an unsigned 4-page majority opinion by Judges Richard L. Nygaard and Samuel A. Alito Jr. quickly dispatched the Heidnik case's long, complex appellate history, which was before the Third Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court in 1997.

The judges wrote that Heidnik's mental competency examinations and hearings earlier this year put the appeal "on a different record and in a different procedural posture."

They wrote that "the factual findings regarding Heidnik's competency are adequately supported by the record." Because Heidnik was deemed competent to waive his appeal rights, the majority held, Heidnik's daughter did not have the legal standing to appeal over her father's objections.

U.S. Circuit Judge Theodore A. McKee dissented because of the "hurried manner in which we have had to decide this incredibly intricate inquiry."

McKee wrote that even lawyers for the commonwealth had conceded that Heidnik's mental condition was not different from 1997, when an earlier Third Circuit panel determined he was mentally incompetent.

McKee added that Heidnik's decision to waive his appeal of his death sentence can be considered rational only if one accepts his "delusional perception" that he is innocent and that allowing the state to kill an innocent man will "end capital punishment once and for all."

"It may well be that today we are writing the final chapter of the terror that was Heidnik," McKee wrote. "However, I share the thoughts so poignantly echoed by [John P. Flaherty Jr.], the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, when he recently wrote . . . that Gary Heidnik . . . `in my view is insane [and] I cannot stand by and say nothing while an insane person is put to death by the state contrary to the mores of civilized society.'"

The Third Circuit made its decision after hearing oral arguments from Deputy Philadelphia District Attorney Ronald Eisenberg and Billy H. Nolas, a public defender specializing in death-penalty cases, who represented White.

Yesterday, as the appeals process continued, state officials prepared for the execution. At the prison, a massive countryside compound of barbed wire and guard towers, extra guards were brought in to deal with protesters and a media center was set up.

Across the street from the prison and down a small hill, police set up 2 protest areas: one for those supporting the execution and one for those opposed to it.

By early evening, only one person had arrived to take advantage of the protest space. A young man who identified himself only as a Pennsylvania State University student held a sign that said, "Stop Hypocrisy."

"I don't think this is an appropriate response to criminal activity," he said. "I in no way support the actions that Gary took and I might even be tempted to say that I could never forgive him if he had done it to my family, but I see this as hypocrisy." Later in the evening, 2 more protesters appeared.

Though no large protests were expected, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference released a statement yesterday calling the death penalty unnecessary and inappropriate.

The Heidnik case has been shocking and controversial from the very first.

In 1987, when investigators went to Heidnik's house, they were stunned to find 3 women naked or partially clothed chained in the basement. The survivors later testified that Heidnik not only kept them restrained in holes filled with water, but that he also periodically shocked them by dropping live electrical wires into the water.

Prosecutors presented even more hideous testimony and evidence at the trial. Heidnik, they said, used a screwdriver to gouge the women's ears and played loud music to prevent them from knowing when he was in the house.

The survivors said Heidnik killed Dudley by touching the live wires to her while she was in a water-filled pit. The jury was told Lindsay died while her arm was attached to a rafter in the basement. Police discovered Lindsay's limbs in Heidnik's freezer.

Heidnik was just hours away from being put to death in 1997 when the state Supreme Court issued a stay, pending a competency hearing. Since then, various appeals court judges at the state and federal levels have said Heidnik was competent to make his own decisions.

Gov. Ridge signed a death warrant for Heidnik on May 12 - one of 163 he has signed since taking office in 1995. Almost all of them have been blocked as the condemned prisoners have pursued various appeals. There are now 227 others on death row in Pennsylvania.

Heidnik becomes the 1st condemned prisoner to be put to death this year in Pennsylvania and the 3rd overall since the state resumed capital punishment in 1995.

(sources: Philadelphia Inquirer and Rick Halperin)


Inside the House of Heidnik

Two decades ago, Philadelphia was introduced to its most notorious criminal — an eccentric who gruesomely tortured six women in his basement. On the 20th anniversary, the question still lingers: Was Gary Heidnik insane … or just evil?

By Victor Fiorillo

Philadelphia magazine, July 2007

Philadelphia was still reeling from 1985’s MOVE disaster when 43-year-old Gary Heidnik became our Ted Bundy, with his own brand of horror that included rape, torture, and rumors of cannibalism. His neighbors and friends thought Heidnik — whose IQ was 148 — was an eccentric oddball, but certainly didn’t consider him capable of the gruesome evil that played out for months in his North Philadelphia cellar. When the case came to trial before then-Judge Lynne Abraham, a young, publicity-hungry Chuck Peruto tried to convince a jury — and the country — that Heidnik was insane and therefore not responsible for his crimes. On the 20th anniversary of the case, questions about Heidnik’s sanity and even his intent remain. Based on interviews, police reports and court transcripts, this is the story of Gary Heidnik, in the words of the victims, the lawyers, the friends and neighbors — the people who knew him best.


Shannon Heidnik, daughter of Heidnik’s brother Terry: We came from Ohio. We’re Pennsylvania Dutch, Irish, and something else. German, I think. The whole family was screwed up and weird. My mom told me how their dad beat Gary real bad with a toy wooden airplane because he peed his pants. His dad was an alcoholic, and his mom took poison. They found her in the basement. She was tired of the abuse. They were really sick parents, and they gave their kids some serious problems. Gary and my dad left Ohio at some point, and I’m not exactly sure how we wound up in Pennsylvania.

Charlie Gallagher, prosecutor, Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office: In the ’60s, he went in the Army and he wanted to get a certain kind of training, but they ended up training him as a medic. Then they sent him to Germany, and I think he didn’t like the assignment, didn’t like being in Germany. So he started thinking, “How can I beat this?” He just stopped obeying orders. He finally got them to give him a medical discharge. Eventually he wound up with 100 percent disability, because he was able to convince the doctors that he was crazy. He’s been faking all his life.

Jack Apsche, forensic psychologist who examined Heidnik: There had been something like 22 hospitalizations. There was a clear history of him being a schizophrenic.

John Cassidy, Heidnik’s best friend in Philadelphia: I met Gary in ’74 or ’75 in Philly. He claimed the Army gave him LSD while he was in Germany. Sometime over there, he had a nervous breakdown. A legitimate, real nervous breakdown. And then he said he got this brilliant idea. He said, when he came out of it, why the hell should I come out of it if I can get disability?

He formed his own religion after he left the Army. I believe it was originally just a tax scam, but towards the end he was believing that stuff. I asked him, “Don’t you think if there’s a God, he’ll be upset with what you’re doing to religion?” He said no, God would be amused. God has a sense of humor.

Charlie Gallagher: There was a sign on his house, United Church of the Ministers of God. He had an ID card as Bishop Heidnik, in a Roman collar. With the checks he was getting from the Army and Social Security, he started investing the money in his church’s name. The first thing he invested in was Playboy … and later he lost a lot of money on Crazy Eddie. Eventually, he changed $1,500 in investment money into three-quarters of a million dollars.

Gary Heidnik, in a letter to his stockbroker, dated May 5, 1983: Dear Mr. Kirkpatrick … I would prefer you send church mail to the United Church of the Ministers of God, care of Bishop Gary M. Heidnik. … I saw that Tastykake hit eleven yesterday. I hope we got our two thousand shares that I previously ordered. Thank you. Respectfully, Bishop Gary Heidnik.

John Cassidy: He had a lot of money. He had a Rolls-Royce, a Cadillac. But at one point, he was driving around in a trailer and sleeping on the street in it in Southwest Philly.

Doris Zibulka, Heidnik’s next-door neighbor in North Philly: He held these church services on Sundays. A lot of people came, and they were usually mentally retarded.

John Cassidy: In the ’70s, he had this girlfriend, she was black and retarded. He has an IQ of 148, but all his girlfriends were black and retarded. He said the blacks treated him better than the whites ever did. He also said he sexually preferred blacks, that they expected less. His girlfriend was Anjeanette — I think they eventually had a daughter. And Anjeanette’s sister was severely retarded, and he took her out of the institution and brought her home, and they said he kidnapped her.

Josefina Rivera, former prostitute: He told me that he had a girlfriend named Anjeanette, and that Anjeanette’s sister was in a mental institution, and that they had went to visit her one weekend and ended up bringing Anjeanette’s sister home with them. Later the mental institution came around to the house and took Anjeanette’s sister back, and he was subsequently charged with raping Anjeanette’s sister.

Charlie Gallagher: He kept the sister locked up in a storage bin in his basement. He went to prison. He should have been convicted of rape in that case, but he was convicted on other charges because she couldn’t testify. He was sent off to Graterford, which was hard time.

Chuck Peruto, criminal defense attorney: He comes up for parole on that prior assault. These are the people with the power to grant your release. And they ask him a question at the parole board hearing. And he doesn’t answer them. He writes on a piece of paper: “The devil put a cookie in my throat.” Are you gonna release him on society?

Josefina Rivera: When he got out, he couldn’t find Anjeanette, and he felt society owed him a wife and family.

John Cassidy: After he got out of jail, he got this mail-order bride from the Philippines named Betty. He thought he was getting hooked up with a nice subservient Oriental, but she wasn’t. He brought her up to the Franklin Diner a couple of times with me. He started getting much more reclusive around that time, though.

Doris Zibulka: For a while there, him and his wife started fighting a lot. I talked to his wife outside sometimes. She was pregnant with “Little Gary,” and she told me, “He’s hitting me.” I said, “Honey, you’re pregnant. If you can’t stop him from hitting you, leave.” And she did. After the wife left, there was a lot of girls, in and out all the time. They looked like hookers. One night we were sitting on the front porch, and a girl comes flying out the door — she was thrown out — she was half naked. She’s screaming and banging on the door. The cops came, he gave her back the clothes.

John Cassidy: For all the years I knew him, he would do weird things. You know, like wear a leather coat with sheepskin lining in the middle of August. Or there was this time when he lived in West Philly. There was this car with some kind of machine gun and Afro emblem on it, and he said it was one of them violent people. It was always parked in front of his house. So first he shot out some of the windows with a BB gun, and the car would still come and park there. Then he would pour sugar down the gas tank. But the car just kept driving. And he put more in, and it still ran. He put like 20 pounds of sugar in, and the car never stopped running. It drove him nuts. He was always crazy, but I thought he was a garden-variety Kensington kind of crazy. But then after his wife left, he started getting paranoid. This was I guess in the mid-’80s.


Josefina Rivera: On November 25, 1986, I was hustling on the corner of 3rd and Girard at about 11 p.m. A 1987 Caddy, a Coupe de Ville, pulled up. The driver of the car and I discussed price. We came to an agreement of $20. He drove me to 3520 North Marshall Street, and we went into the house. He identified himself to me as Gary Heidnik. We went up to the second-floor front bedroom, and he gave me a $20 bill. Then we took off our clothes and we had sex on his water bed.

We got off the bed, and I was walking over to where my clothing was, and he came up behind me and grabbed me by my neck. I wasn’t able to breathe, and then I went unconscious. When I regained consciousness, he had me on the bed. He had a handcuff on my right wrist. He kept telling me to shut up or he was going to choke me. I told him, “All right, I’ll do anything you say but don’t hurt me.” When we got into the basement, I saw this big hole in the floor, and plastic bags full of dirt were stacked in the corner. He shackled my legs to a chain, he used clamps that are used to hold mufflers on around my ankles, and he secured them with nuts. Then he put Krazy Glue on the nuts so that I couldn’t turn them.

He told me that he was going to get me pregnant and I would have his children and he would raise them.

He put me in a hole in the basement floor. He kept trying to put a board over top of me, but it wouldn’t fit because the hole wasn’t deep enough. He finally forced the board down over me, and after I was in there a while I had trouble breathing and I was screaming. He took the board off and pulled me out of the hole by my hair, and then he picked up a stick and started to beat me with it. Then he put me back in the hole and left me there for a long time. It seemed like it was a full day or more. Then I heard his voice and a girl’s voice coming down into the basement. I could hear him saying, “Be quiet. Shut up, Sandy, you know that I am not going to hurt you.”

Tracey Lomax, sister of Sandra Lindsay: Sandy was a retarded adult. All she wanted to do was be like you and me — normal, to fit in. And she did pretty much blend in. Sandy had told us before that this guy named Gary was a bishop of a church, and that he was gonna take Sandy and her friends to Great Adventure. And he was always buying them dinner at McDonald’s.

The day after Thanksgiving, Sandy was having menstrual cramps. She wanted to go to the store to get some meds. It was around three o’clock on Friday. And so she went out. And she didn’t come home.

Josefina Rivera: He was saying that he had known Sandy for four years and that she told him that she would have his baby, but that she kept backing out of it. He would come down at different times and give us water and crackers. If he thought we were being bad or if someone was coming over to the house, he would stick us both in the hole and cover it with the board.

Tracey Lomax: By Monday, my mom was really sad, so we called the police. And we wound up with Detective Julius Armstrong, which was a nightmare. One of the first questions he asked my mom was, “Why are you worried about your daughter? She’s 25.” And we realized he wasn’t going to do anything.

Julius Armstrong, former detective: I found out she was a person who worked, I think she was very functional, so I think she had enough intelligence, enough pride to be on her own.

Tracey Lomax: So my mom says, “We ain’t heard from [Sandy’s friend] Tony as long as we ain’t heard from Sandy, so we gotta find Tony.” And what better place than McDonald’s? So we sat out there and we waited, and sure enough, he walked down the street. We got him to give us Gary’s number.

My sister called and said, “Gary, where’s Sandy?” He just says no, she’s not here, and hangs up. We went to the house, but no one was home. But we showed the neighbor a picture of Sandy, and she said, “Yeah, I’ve seen her recently.”

Julius Armstrong: I knocked on the door. I didn’t receive any answer. I left a message for anyone known as Gary to contact West Detectives.

Josefina Rivera: Gary came down with a box of Christmas cards, and he made Sandy write in the cards. He made her write, “Dear Mom, I am all right, don’t worry, Love Sandy.” Then he put on gloves, gave her a $20 bill, and he had her put it in the card. He wouldn’t touch it himself.

Charlie Gallagher: He drove to New York to mail the card. A lot of times the police investigate to ascertain if people are really missing or if they fled on their own because they didn’t like the situation they were living in. The card was mailed to put the police off and to stop the family from coming around to the house again.

Tracey Lomax: It was out of character for her to send a card and not call. So we went back to Detective Armstrong and we asked him to have a handwriting analyst look at it. But he was content that she was okay. That’s when he basically ceased the investigation.

Julius Armstrong: In my mind, this person was missing voluntarily.


Josefina Rivera: A few days before Christmas, we were in the hole and we heard Gary coming down the stairs with another girl. When he let us out of the hole, we found out her name was Lisa Thomas. She said that he had picked her up around 6th and Lycoming.

Lisa Thomas: He took me to City Line Avenue to TGI Friday’s, and he had a martini and I had a cheeseburger and french fries. Then he took me to Sears and Roebucks and he told me to spend up to $50 … then he took me to his house on Marshall Street and gave me a beer. We was watching a movie, then we went upstairs, and then we had sex. Afterwards he got up and strangled me. I couldn’t hardly breathe. And I told him that he could do whatever he want, and that’s when he got the handcuffs and took me down to the basement.

He had the chains and clamps, the car clamps. He put them on my ankle, and he had to count the links so, you know, the amount to open my legs wide to have sex.

Josefina Rivera: In the first month, there was sex every day, and when Lisa came, about every other day. Sometimes he would start with one and kept going until he finally came with the last girl.

On Christmas Day, he came to the basement with a Chinese menu and told us because it was Christmas, we could order anything we wanted from the menu. Then the day after, he went back to giving us Pop-Tarts in the morning and a plate of rice and hot dogs at night.

Chuck Peruto: He kept them alive barely with store-brand dog food, cat food. He didn’t spend $5 for food for them per month.

Josefina Rivera: On New Year’s Day, we were out of the hole and Gary brought down another girl into the basement. Her name was Debbie.

Charlie Gallagher: She really wasn’t going to be missed. I don’t want to sound callous, but she had led a pretty tortured life. She had been on the streets for years.

Josefina Rivera: After he put the shackles on Debbie, he put her in the hole. Debbie kept hollering all night long and he came down and beat her a couple of times with the stick. Gary used two sticks — one had nails in the end and it would leave sores on their ass. Debbie refused to cooperate.

Lisa Thomas: And then Jacquelyn Askins was brought down.

Jacquelyn Askins, former prostitute: He told me he would give me money to go with him for a half-hour. When we got to his house, we was playing this video game called Mr. Do. And like a half-hour or 45 minutes later, he grabbed me in a headlock with his arm around my neck choking me. … He took me to the basement, and I met [Josefina], Lisa, Debbie, Sandy.

Josefina Rivera: The next date I was aware of was January the 18th. My birthday was on the 19th, and he said we could celebrate it. Gary told us he was going to go out and get me a birthday cake. Later on, we heard tussling upstairs, and then he brought Donna [Jacquelyn’s alias] down. After Donna arrived, Gary would make us beat each other if one of us was bad. At different times, I beat all of the other girls. Gary was handling us like we were in the military. At this time, all of the girls were back-biting each other trying to get in charge, because he would treat whoever was in charge better than the other girls.

Chuck Peruto: Josefina was definitely in on it as a survival mechanism. She was beating the other girls. She was feeding a sick mind so he would eventually trust her.

John Cassidy: I later realized that when he had those girls in the basement, he came to South Philly to talk to me about putting a big fence up around his house. He had [Josefina] with him. Gary and I had to run an errand in my truck, and I said that I didn’t have room for her. He said, she’ll stay here at the gas station. Meanwhile, there were two police cars sitting there. She was supposed to be a captive. Well, she didn’t seem like a captive. I know later they were talking about Stockholm syndrome or something. But she didn’t appear to be a captive to me at all.

Josefina Rivera: He would gag their mouths and take a screwdriver to their ears. At first he used a little screwdriver, and then he moved up to bigger screwdrivers. When he did this to them, I could see tears coming from their eyes, and they were trying to scream but the gag muffled their sounds.

Lisa Thomas: In February, Sandy did something to upset him, and he told me to beat her constantly because she was eating bread and water — she was eating it slow and he kept hitting her to hurry up to eat the bread. He hung her on a loop, and she was up there for three days, standing. Then it looked like she was just hanging down, sleeping. I went over to smack her face, and Gary came back downstairs saying she was playing … but she was dead.

Charlie Gallagher: Sandy, it was horrible the way he killed her; he had her hanging. She used to have problems with her mouth and her jaw. She couldn’t eat food that quickly, and that was part of reason she died; she was held up by her wrists, and she fell asleep.

Chuck Peruto: She basically suffocated, because when you pass out from fatigue and you’re being held up by your arms, you cut the oxygen off. He didn’t want to kill her. He was punishing her so that the others would see what happened if you got out of line.

Josefina Rivera: Gary took her chain off, and he carried her body upstairs. I could see that Gary was upset. We were all upset, because we didn’t know what he was going to do. I was afraid that he would panic and take it out on all of us. Later on, we could hear a sound like an electric saw. Then we started to smell a terrible odor for like three or four days.


Doris Zibulka: My father lived down the street from us. He said it smelt like a dead body. I kept calling the city. There was one day I asked Gary about the smell. He said, “I haven’t smelled anything. I’ve been cooking. Maybe you just don’t like my cooking.”

Josefina Rivera: The smell was the worst thing I have ever smelled. When he would come down to have sex with everybody, we could smell the odor all over him.

Doris Zibulka: I called the cops and said there was a smell like burning flesh. An elderly cop came out and he smelled it, couldn’t figure out what it was.

Julio Aponte, former police officer: I proceeded to knock on the door for approximately 10 or 15 minutes. I then proceeded to the rear of the premises where I did some more knocking, looked through the rear window. I could see a large pot. Something was overboiling, and the smell was twice as strong in the back of the house. I was about to call for a supervisor.

Doris Zibulka: All of a sudden, door opens, Gary walks out. I said, “Gary, what is that god-awful smell, what is that burning?” “I’m cooking a roast. I fell asleep and it burnt,” he said. And the cop left.

Chuck Peruto: Heidnik was cooking the girl’s head, and was getting ready to get rid of certain body parts, because he didn’t want anybody to be identified. It was his 148 IQ kicking in. Heidnik was not putting them all in one spot; he was burying them all over the place.

Josefina Rivera: Debbie was still acting up, she was hollering and screaming. Gary took her upstairs, and I asked her later what Gary did to her. Finally, she told me that Gary had Sandy’s head in a pot on the stove and he was cooking it. He had Sandy’s ribs and, like, a hip bone in other pots in the oven. She also said that he had Sandy’s arms and legs in the freezer in the kitchen.

Charlie Gallagher: When Aponte came to the house, I think he was boiling Sandra Lindsay’s head at that point. And getting the teeth so there could be no — they didn’t find any hands or fingers. It’s so sad.

Josefina Rivera: On March 18th, Gary went out, and when he came back, the girls were making noise. Gary told me to hook the hose up to the sink so he could fill the hole with water. While the water was filling the hole, Gary went over to the electrical extension and he started to touch their chains with the hot wire. The girls were screaming and hollering, begging him to stop. Gary said he would stop if everybody got quiet, but Debbie refused to get quiet. Gary gave me the wire and told me to hold it on Debbie’s chain. Debbie was still hollering, and then he took the wire from me and held it on Debbie’s chain for a few minutes. Then everything went quiet.

Jack Apsche: He wasn’t really intending to kill anybody. He drew diagrams for me of how he had Debbie, how the electric was just there to get her to do what is right. He showed me how he applied the electricity, how she was chained and how she was grounded so she shouldn’t have died.

Tracey Lomax: He killed Deborah on purpose, because she was a fighter. She was strong. And she would’ve killed him. At some point, he might have killed all of those women.

Josefina Rivera: He told me to write this letter that says, “Gary Heidnik and Josefina Rivera electrocuted Deborah Dudley in the basement of 3520 North Marshall Street.” And then he signed it and I signed it and Donna witnessed it at the bottom. He said now he could trust me because he had this letter. Then he said he was going to go out and try to find a place to dump Debbie’s body.

Gary had a New Jersey map. And we went out and stopped at the Burlington Flea Market. From there we pulled into a little place, like a little driveway, and Gary said, “This is it. This is where I am going to place Deborah’s body at.” He walked a good ways into the park, because he didn’t want anybody to find it that was just like strolling through the park or something.


Josefina Rivera: On March 24th, Gary put the girls down in the hole and we went out looking for girls. While we were on Girard, we passed by a girl I know, Agnes. Gary told me that if I helped him pick her up, after he finished with her, he would let me contact my family. After they finished having sex, he took her down to the basement. And then he asks me if there is another girl I could get. I told him I had proved myself to him and that I had to get the girl by myself. I told him to wait at the gas station at 6th and Girard, that this girl lived a couple of blocks away and I had to walk up to her house myself. He agreed to this, and I left him in the car at 6th and Girard. I walked away and I ran to my house, and my boyfriend opened the door and asked where I had been. I tried to tell him what had happened and he told me I was crazy. Then I went to the phone booth on the corner.

David Savidge, former police officer: We responded to a female, Josefina Rivera, and we met her at 6th and Oxford. She told a bizarre tale of being held captive and chained up and people that were in the basement.

John Cannon, former police officer: She said he’s up the corner, at 6th and Girard. I said, well, let’s see if Mr. Gary’s up there … and sure enough, there was a Cadillac, just like she described. We got out, approached, ordered him out of his car. The girl came down and said, “Yeah, that’s him, that’s him. He raped me and killed these two other girls, and he had me eating her bones. He cut up this girl and put her in a pot and made us eat her.” She said other girls were still in there, down in the cellar in a hole. I said, “Wow.”

James Hansen, former police lieutenant: When I got there, the house was sort of intimidating. It had metal doors on it, and all the windows had bars, and in the bars was a crucifix.

John Cannon: The television was up, playing real loud. We went to the cellar door, down to the cellar, in the back, and sure enough, laying on the floor were these half-naked girls, and they were screaming, “We’re saved, we’re saved.”

James Hansen: I went right to the freezer in the kitchen. Josefina had said he had body parts in there. So I open the freezer, and I went to enough autopsies to know they were body parts. Then I proceed down to the basement, and the girls are sitting on a mattress, they were in shock, naked. They were chained to a soil pipe, padlocked. We had to go to the firehouse and get bolt cutters.


Doris Zibulka: Every news media from around the world was on our block for the next two weeks. They came with their big trucks. I remember Dennis Woltering, Bill Baldini, a lot of the reporters for Channel 6. There was this one tiny little guy who had to stand on a milk crate when he was on TV. We were all laughing at him.

Larry Kane, TV newsman: We thought we were tired of the story after three weeks, but the audience just couldn’t get enough. In my career, not counting the MOVE massacre and the senseless terrorist killings, this was the most bizarre thing to ever happen.

Chuck Peruto: People were constantly talking about the case. And there were these crazy jokes. “Chuck, I heard you charged him an arm and a leg.” “Gary Heidnik debuted his own brand of clothing today: Dismembered Only.” Some were funny. Some weren’t. Eventually Gary’s story wound its way into Silence of the Lambs. If you watch that movie, you can see a lot of Heidnik in the Buffalo Bill character. The way he has the girl in the pit.

Doris Zibulka: I was on Sally Jessy Raphael with the victims. I asked them about a time when I heard this banging constantly. And I was like, what the hell is that? So I think it’s Gary or something, and I bang back, and it stops. And I asked them, why didn’t you yell and tell me you were trapped? And they said they thought it was Gary banging back, that he was in the house. I don’t know why we never heard them.

Chuck Peruto: I was trying a homicide in Lancaster, and my secretary calls me and says that a guy claiming to be Gary Heidnik was calling me from prison. It was all over the papers and airwaves. I thought it was somebody playing a joke on me at first. I go up to see him, and the first thing he does is salutes me. Then he starts telling me the story, but he’s obviously skipping major parts. So I said, “Gary, the police reports, in the newspaper at least, it shows that when they executed a search warrant, there was a head of a woman, boiling in a pot on the stove, right then and there! Were you cooking the head?” He says yeah. I said, “Well, what kind of seasoning do you use?” And he looked at me and he said, “You’re crazy.” I didn’t get that ridiculous with him after that, because I realized that this guy was either very evil, or very insane.

Doris Zibulka: We all were amazed at how Gary looked during the trial. He was always a good-looking, well-kept kind of guy. He was always clean-cut and very decent-looking. And then at the trial — before it started, I met his lawyer, he came around the house. And I said, “You’re making Gary look crazy. He never looked like that. You’re making him look like Manson.” And he says, “Isn’t it wonderful?”

Chuck Peruto: If you want to demonstrate that someone is insane, then they gotta fucking look insane. During the trial, he looked like a total whack-job. Did I do that? Yes. But doesn’t Women Organized Against Rape dress up their victims?

Charlie Gallagher: There was a belief that he was feeding the girls the body parts of Sandra Lindsay, mixed in with dog food. We examined the Cuisinarts and other things in the kitchen, but we never found any physical evidence of that. And we didn’t press it at trial, because, yes, it would have cast him in a crazier light.

Chuck Peruto: If you make your victims eat human flesh, that’s sadistic. But if you eat it yourself, that’s insane. I thought Charlie was gonna blow a blood vessel during that time in the trial when I tried to get that in. But Charlie was correct — there was no evidence of cannibalism. I started all that. I would leak it, and by week’s end, he’s a cannibal.

Charlie Gallagher: Peruto basically said because of what he did, it’s clear that he’s crazy. It would’ve been a tougher case if Peruto had a better psychiatrist than the first guy he put on, Clancy McKenzie. He came up with some theory about two siblings and the fact they were born 17 months apart and Gary struggling with having a younger brother … it didn’t make sense.

Chuck Peruto: Let’s just say he wasn’t the best witness in the world. And then the judge didn’t allow a lot of the testimony of my other expert, Jack Apsche.

Charlie Gallagher: This guy Apsche, he really didn’t have all the credentials. He said he analyzed all the records, and I knew he didn’t analyze all the records, because when I questioned him, I knew he hadn’t been through half the things.

Jack Apsche: They tortured me for quite a while on the stand. The bottom line is, he had 22 legitimate hospitalizations for mental problems. Diagnoses included paranoid schizophrenia, a ton of psychotropic medications, he had been examined by hundreds of MD and Ph.D. types over the years, and in the suicide attempt before he committed his crime, I think he took over 1,000 milliliters of Thorazine, drank a quart of vodka, and put a hose inside his car. That’s not a real suicide attempt? When he was discharged — and he did the first girl not too long after that — he said something bad is going to happen. He had paranoid delusions that he probably maintained for the rest of his life.

Chuck Peruto: I would love to have the case today. I would have more ammunition than I did then. If I had a different judge, it would have been “Not guilty by reason of insanity.” I’ve said it before, I love Lynne. But she was a tough opponent. And that’s a lawyers’ joke. If there’s a judge, they’re not supposed to be your opponent.

Ken Englade, author of Cellar of Horror, 1988 book about the case: The judge was very anti-Peruto and anti-defense. I think he had the cards stacked against him. I think Heidnik was crazy as hell. And she just ignored that. I think she wanted to run for office, wanted to be strong on crime.

Charlie Gallagher: Judge Abraham was fair and impartial. The trial record completely refutes any claim now by Peruto et al. to the contrary. No such complaint about bias was ever made in the 11 years of appeals. And the trial was reviewed and affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and all levels of the federal court, including the Supreme Court prior to Heidnik’s execution in 1999.

Marcella Lenhart, juror: Heidnik certainly seemed lucid enough, to amass a small fortune in the stock market, and he certainly was aware enough to cover his tracks to a certain extent when he got those girls. I just don’t know if he was crazy or not. I thought the defense could have done a better job. With the way everything was brought by the defense attorney, we had no choice but to arrive at what we did. I regret voting for the death penalty. But I didn’t really have a choice, the way the law was written. I have wrestled with my decision. I guess I could have held out.

Doris Zibulka: One of the local radio stations did this show, “Countdown to the Execution.” They got me on the show, and I told them, this is a wish that Gary wanted done a long time ago. He wanted to die.

Chuck Peruto: As a lawyer, it was very frustrating that Heidnik didn’t want to appeal. But he was smart enough to know he was not getting acquitted. He had a motive not to fight the death sentence. Look at the type of crime he committed, and all of his victims were black. He was getting his ass kicked every single fucking day in jail. So it was either a lifetime of getting your ass kicked — and I’m not talking about punched — or the death penalty.

Gary Heidnik, in a stay of execution hearing, April 14, 1997: You people think I committed murders that I have not committed. And I have refused to appeal my case. I still refuse — even though I can prove my innocence, right, I still refuse to appeal my case. I resent this kind of shit being done to a disabled veteran.

Tracey Lomax: I went to the execution, but it was too calm and serene for me. I’m thinking execution is something like, turn around and let me shoot you. Instead they just stuck a needle in his arm. He never looked at us. Never acknowledged us. Never said he was sorry. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look in our direction.

Charlie Gallagher: From the eve of Thanksgiving 1986, up through March 1987, this man conducted repeated sadistic and malicious acts upon six defenseless victims. He planned what he was doing, he went ahead and did it, and he did it on purpose. What kind of girls did he take? Girls that he knew he could force into submission. He got the young girl, with mental retardation, he got her, and she was in chains, he forced her to sign a note, sent it home to her mother in order to diffuse the family from trying to find that girl and save her. Is that the mind of someone who’s psychotic? Who didn’t know what he was doing?


Gary Michael Heidnik (November 22, 1943 – July 6, 1999) was an American criminal who kidnapped women and kept them prisoner in his basement. He is often referred to as a serial killer, although having committed only two murders, he would not fit the standard FBI definition of a serial killer. FBI standard dictates "three or more murders" to classify as serial killer.

Beginning in November 1986, Heidnik, a former soldier who had made a small fortune on the stock market, abducted five women and held them in the basement of his house in Philadelphia. The captives were sexually abused, beaten and tortured in front of each other. When the first one died of her mistreatment, Heidnik dismembered her body. Heidnik ground it in a food-processor mixing it with dog food, which he then fed to the surviving victims.

Heidnick had a problem dealing with the arms and legs so he put them in a freezer and marked them "dog food". Heidnik cooked her ribs in an oven and her head was boiled in a pot on the stove. A second woman bound in chains died when she was thrown in a filled bathtub and house current applied to those chains. She was electrocuted for not cooperating.

Heidnik would torture and sexually abuse the women individually or in groups. He dug a four-foot-deep pit that he would throw a "misbehaving" victim in. The pit would then be covered with plywood and heavy weights. The victims were also encouraged to inform on each other in return for better conditions.

One of the kidnapped women managed to escape on March 24, 1987. She had convinced Heidnik to let her go out, promising to bring back another captive for him, but instead she went straight to the authorities who secured a search warrant. Heidnik was arrested.

At his arraignment, Heidnik used a unique, and ultimately unintelligent, defense: he claimed that the women were already in the house when he moved in. Clearly, this argument failed to impress the judge.

Convicted of two counts of murder in 1988, Heidnik was sentenced to death. In January 1999 he attempted suicide with an overdose of prescribed thorazine. Heidnik was executed by lethal injection on July 6, 1999.

During his trial, Heidnik repeatedly denied all allegations of mistreatment of his captives, and claimed that Sandra Lindsay was killed by the other captives for being a lesbian. Before his execution, Heidnik reportedly went on a tirade, claiming that he wanted to be executed because the execution of an innocent man would stop executions in America.

Heidnik's method of keeping his captives in a deep hole in his basement was emulated by the character "Buffalo Bill" in the Thomas Harris' novel The Silence of the Lambs, which was later adapted into a motion picture.

Further reading

  • A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers by Harold Schechter and David Everitt, Pocket, 1997, softcover, 368 pages, ISBN 0671020749


Gary Heidnik: To Hell and Back

by Patrick Bellamy

Sick Trick

For Josefina Rivera, November 26, 1986 was a night that she will never forget.  Angry after a fight with her boyfriend, she left their apartment in a slum area north of Philadelphia to go to work.  For Josefina, work consisted of walking the streets in search of a willing 'john' who would be prepared to pay for her sexual favours, which usually consisted of a brief liaison in the back of a car or a sleazy motel room.  All she needed was a few quick tricks so she could buy Thanksgiving dinner for her family.

Braving rain and bitter cold, she walked back and forth looking anxiously at each passing car.  With the temperature dropping and the traffic light, Josefina had almost convinced herself to quit for the night when a car drove slowly past her and stopped.  As she moved towards it, she saw that it was a silver and white Cadillac Coupe De Ville.  She moved closer as the driver's window slid down and a bearded man asked if she was "hustling."  She told him she was and after a brief discussion concerning payment, she got into the car.

The man introduced himself as Gary and told her he had to make a stop before they got down to "business."  Josefina, giving her name as Nicole, agreed and shortly after they pulled into a nearby McDonalds.  She followed him as he went inside and bought coffee and sat with him as he drank it.  With a quick appraisal borne of experience, Josefina studied her "trick." 

He was white, his face framed by a neatly trimmed beard below cold, blue penetrating eyes.  Although he wore an expensive watch and jewellery and drove a luxury car, she noticed that his clothes were cheap and soiled.  Grasping for things to say, she again asked him his name.  "Gary Heidnik," he said sullenly.  Several minutes later, he finished his coffee and told her they were leaving.  When she asked where they were going, he told her they were going to his house.

After leaving the restaurant, Heidnik drove through the streets until he turned into North Marshall Street and pulled into the driveway of number 3520, his home.  As he pulled into the dilapidated garage, Rivera couldn't help but notice another car parked in front of them, it was a 1971 Rolls Royce.  For an unkempt man living in a seedy neighbourhood, he certainly had good taste in cars.

When they reached the door, Heidnik pulled out a strange key and pushed it into the lock.  When Rivera remarked about it, he explained that he had cut the key into two pieces, half of which stayed in the lock preventing anyone but him from entering.  The door opened into a kitchen, which was decorated by pennies that had been glued to half of its walls. 

Heidnik led her to a living room with sparse, aging furniture.  The only fittings that seemed to be in reasonable condition were a television, a VCR and a cassette tape player.  He offered to show her a movie but when she refused he led her up a narrow staircase to his bedroom. 

As she reached the door of the bedroom she couldn't believe her eyes, the hallway directly in front of it had been partially covered with one and five dollar bills.  Heidnik wasted no time in stripping his clothes off and after giving her a twenty-dollar bill he jumped into bed.  She did the same and shortly after her obligation to him was over, or so she thought.

As she was getting dressed, Heidnik stepped behind her and began choking her with his hands.  Unable to resist she begged him to stop and offered to do anything to make him do so.  He released his grip but instead of letting her go, he pulled her arms behind her and attached a set of handcuffs to her wrists. 

He then pushed her ahead of him and guided her back down the stairs to the kitchen where another door led to a basement.  The room was cold and damp and Rivera, dressed only in a blouse, began to shiver uncontrollably.  When she complained, Heidnik told her to be quiet and threatened to hit her with a piece of wood if she did not comply. 

After she had quietened down, he dragged her to a soiled mattress and attached metal clamps to her ankles and connected them to one end of a chain.  He then applied glue to the clamps and dried them with a hair dryer.  The other end he fastened around a large pipe that was attached to the ceiling. 

When he had finished, he told her to sit up and promptly laid his head in her lap and went to sleep.  Having drifted off in the night, Josefina awoke and found she was alone.  With the feeble daylight that shone through a small, boarded up window, she was able to view her surroundings.  The basement was small with concrete floor and walls.  Apart from the mattress, the only other items in the room were a chest freezer, a washer-dryer and a worn pool table.

In the centre of the room, a small area of concrete had been removed and a shallow pit had been dug into the ground underneath.  While she wondered if she would end up in such a hole, she remembered that it was Thanksgiving and became ravenously hungry. 

A short time later, Heidnik appeared and offered her an egg sandwich and a glass of juice.  She was about to take it when she began to worry that it might be drugged or even poisoned.  Fighting her pangs of hunger, she refused it.  Heidnik then took the food away and returned with digging implements and set to work to widen and deepen the hole. 

As she watched him working, he told her that all he had ever wanted was a large family and to that end had already fathered four children to four separate women but had lost contact with them for various reasons.  He told Josefina that his plan was to get ten women and make all of them pregnant to him so he could raise his family.  As Rivera contemplated what his plan entailed, Heidnik approached her and demanded sex, after which he went back upstairs. 

Left alone a second time, Josefina managed to loosen one of the ankle clamps and, after prying the covers loose from the window, stretched the chain to it's full length and lifted herself halfway out of the window.  Unable to escape fully she began to scream hoping that a neighbour or passer-by would hear her and come to her aid.  Unfortunately, that particular neighbourhood was used to screaming and her calls went unheeded by everyone except one, her captor Gary Heidnik.

Hearing her screams he managed to pull her back inside the basement and beat her with a stick until she quietened down.  Then, pushing her down into the tiny hole in the floor, he forced her head onto her chest and covered her with a piece of plywood and stacked heavy weights on top of it. 

To make sure that her screams didn't attract any outside attention, he set up a radio and tuned it to a hard rock station at maximum volume and left.  As she lay half naked and cramped up in the freezing earth, Josefina Rivera struggled to breathe and waited to die.  Listening to the radio news, she mentally ticked off each hour, wondering when he would come for her.  Twenty-seven hours later he returned but he was not alone.


From the confines of the pit, even though the radio was still on, Josefina clearly heard a woman complaining and the sounds of a chain dragging across the floor.  A short time later, Rivera's heart leapt as the board was lifted and Heidnik dragged her from the pit.  Unable to stand properly from severe cramping, she looked up and saw another young, black woman, naked except for a blouse, chained to the pipe in the ceiling in the same manner, as she had been the first night. 

She stared at the woman who seemed to be completely oblivious to what was happening to her.  Heidnik later introduced the girl as Sandy before leaving them alone.  As Sandy began to speak Josefina began to understand why the new arrival seemed so detached, she was clearly retarded. 

She told Rivera that her real name was Sandra Lindsay and she had been a friend of Heidnik's for several years since they had met at the Elwyn Institute, which was a local hospital for the mentally and physically handicapped.  She described Gary as a good friend who always looked after her.  In a voice devoid of emotion she described how she had often had sex with Gary and his friend Tony. 

Later she fell pregnant, presumably to Heidnik, but had an abortion, as she was afraid of being a mother.  When Heidnik learned what she had done, he flew into a rage and told her that she was evil and offered her a thousand dollars to have his baby. 

When she refused, Heidnik took her prisoner and brought her to the house.  As she finished her story, Sandy dissolved into tears as she began to realise her predicament.  To placate her, Rivera told her about herself, describing, how at twenty-five, she had three children that didn't live with her and had been walking the streets since she was a teenager. 

An hour later, Heidnik returned with "dinner" which consisted of dry crackers and bottled water.  He then left suggesting that they "get acquainted."  Two hours later he returned and resumed his work on enlarging the pit.  A short time later, he stopped work and had sex with both women and left again. 

The following morning, he seemed in a buoyant mood and brought them a breakfast of warm oatmeal.  While they were eating breakfast, they heard someone knocking on the front door.  Heidnik went to investigate and returned to tell Sandy that her sister and two cousins had come looking for her but had gone away assuming no one was home.  He later forced Sandy to write a note to her mother telling her that she had gone away and would call later. 

He told the women that he would post the letter from New York so her mother would think Sandy had run away.  Although Sandy didn't seem to understand the implication of the note, the street-wise Josefina was becoming painfully aware of Heidnik's real intentions, to keep them prisoner indefinitely.

As the days dragged into weeks, Heidnik's behaviour became increasingly bizarre.  He fed them sporadically and kept them semi naked so that he could indulge his sexual appetite when he felt like it, which was often.  When he was absent, they huddled together for warmth and waited in fear for his return. 

On occasion, they tried calling for help, which resulted in savage beatings, which in turn caused them to cry even louder.  Any deviation from his rules was punished by further beatings or a period of incarceration in the dreaded hole.  Another form of punishment he devised was to attach the girls to an overhead beam by one arm and leave them suspended for hours on end.

While Heidnik was developing his skills as a torturer, Sandra Lindsay's mother was actively searching for her.  The Monday after Sandra supposedly left home, she was reported missing to the police.  While making the report, Mrs Lindsey told an officer that she believed her daughter was being held against her will by a man she knew only as Gary who lived at 3520 North Marshall Street.  She gave the officer all the information she had including a phone number but was unable to furnish a last name. 

The officer tried calling the number and even went to the house, but got no response.  Later when Mrs. Lindsay showed him the letter she had received, followed by a Christmas card containing five dollars, the officer started to believe that Sandra Lindsay was just one more runaway. 

As a last resort, the officer went looking for Heidnik's friend, Tony Brown.  He eventually found him at a McDonalds restaurant in West Philadelphia that Sandy was known to frequent.  He asked the mentally challenged Tony if he knew the whereabouts of Sandra Lindsay.  "No," was the simple reply.  He then asked him for Gary's last name but Tony misspelled it as HEIDAKE, leading the officer to conduct a search for the wrong man and eventually drop the enquiry.  At the time, the officer had no way of knowing how close he had come to avoiding a tragedy.


Three days before Christmas, like many residents of Philadelphia, Gary Heidnik was out shopping, but it wasn't presents he was looking for.  Anxious to expand his harem, he cruised the streets looking for a suitable subject.  As he turned into Lehigh Street, he found her. 

A black nineteen-year-old, Lisa Thomas was on her way to a girlfriend's house when Heidnik pulled up beside her in the Cadillac.  He leaned out of the window and made a suggestive comment but she became angry and told him she wasn't a prostitute.  He quickly apologised and offered her a ride instead.  Mollified by the change in his demeanour and his impressive car she accepted.

He asked where she was going and she told him she had to go around the corner to her girlfriend's house to pick up something.  He drove her there and waited while she went inside.  When she returned, he suggested that they go somewhere to eat and when she agreed, he drove to a local restaurant. 

While they were eating, he asked her to go to Atlantic City with him the next day but she complained that she had nothing suitable to wear.  Heidnik then produced a fifty-dollar bill telling her that they would go to a nearby Sears store to buy her some clothes. 

When they had bought the clothes, Heidnik took her back to Marshal Street and gave her a glass of wine and put on a video movie.  While Lisa was watching the movie, she became drowsy from the combined affects of the wine and allergy medicine she was taking and eventually lay down on the lounge and fell asleep.  Hours later she woke to find that Heidnik had undressed her.  Before she had time to clear her head, she was taken up to his bedroom and forced to have sex. 

When he had satisfied himself, Lisa started to get dressed and asked him to take her back to her girlfriend's house.  Without a word, Heidnik grabbed her by the throat and began choking her until she complied with his demands.  He then handcuffed her and took her down to the basement telling her that he was going to introduce her to his two friends. 

As soon as they were in the basement, he removed the plywood sheet from the floor and lifted Rivera and Lindsay from the pit.  After he had made the introductions, Heidnik made sandwiches for the women but told them that they could not eat until he had "indoctrinated" Lisa by forcing her to fellate him before chaining her up like the others.  When he had gone the women ate and talked among themselves.  They found that they had just two things in common, they were all black and being held against their will by a very dangerous man.

Two More

Ten days later, Heidnik returned from one of his trips with another black woman named Deborah Dudley who at twenty-three, was not about to allow Heidnik to control her without a fight.  From the time he had chained her with the others she began to question his authority at every opportunity, which generally earned her nothing more than a savage beating.  Her arrival also created tension amongst the others, as whenever she disobeyed, Heidnik would punish them as well. 

Beatings became a regular event with Heidnik often appointing one of the girls to be in charge while he was out.  When he returned he expected that person to tell him if the others had misbehaved.  If they had, he would order the girl in charge to beat the others accordingly.  If there were no infractions to report or if the beatings weren't severe enough, he would beat them all. 

During this time, the worldly Rivera began to win his confidence by displaying a level of loyalty and obedience that convinced Heidnik that she actually enjoyed being one of his "wives." 

His sexual appetite also changed with the arrival of Dudley when, apart from having intercourse with all of them on a daily basis, he would often force them to have sex with each other while he watched.  While personal hygiene did not seem to be a priority for Heidnik, he later provided a portable toilet for his captives and "baby wipes" to wash their bodies.  Some time later he allowed the girls to have a bath after which he would force them to have sex. 

The amount and type of food that he provided seemed to change according to his mood.  Some days he would give the girls only bread and water.  The following day it would be stale hot dogs or a peanut butter sandwich.  He finally solved the problem by giving the girls canned dog food and beating them until they ate it.

On January 18, Heidnik went out again and returned with another black girl.  He had picked up Jacqueline Askins, a tiny eighteen-year-old prostitute, on the north side of the city and brought her back to the house. As before, he had sex with her and dragged her to the basement but when it came time for the chaining, he found that the shackles were too big for her tiny ankles and used handcuffs instead. 

Later that day, he bought everyone Chinese food and as an added surprise, a bottle of champagne.  The occasion was the twenty-sixth birthday of the woman that was fast becoming his favourite, Josefina Rivera.  Rivera would later reveal that Heidnik was in good spirits because he had the idea that she and Sandra Lindsay had fallen pregnant to him when this was not the case.

Cellar of Death

In early February 1987, Heidnik found reason to punish Lindsay when he caught her trying to move the plywood that covered the pit.  The punishment was severe.  She was forced to hang from a roof beam by a single handcuff attached to her wrist for several days.  During this time, her condition deteriorated and she refused to eat.   Still believing her to be pregnant, Heidnik tried to force feed her pieces of bread. 

Towards the end of the week, even though she was vomiting and running a high fever, Heidnik continued to force feed her, often jamming food into her mouth and holding her mouth shut until she swallowed.  The next day she lost consciousness. When Heidnik couldn't rouse her, he became angry and unlocked the handcuffs, dropping her to the ground.  He told the others that she was faking and kicked her into the pit and left her there while he served up ice cream for everybody and left.  When he returned, he lifted Lindsay out of the pit and checked her pulse.  She was dead. 

After telling the girls that she had probably choked, he carried Lindsay's body upstairs.  A short time later, they shuddered with horror when they heard the unmistakeable whine of a power saw.  Their horror later turned to revulsion when one of Heidnik's dogs walked into the basement carrying a long meaty bone and proceeded to devour it in front of the terrified girls.  

Investigators would later reveal that Heidnik had ground up Lindsay's flesh using a food processor that he had specially purchased for the task, and fed it to his dogs and the captives mixed with dog food.  To dispose of the remaining parts of the body, he cooked them on the stove.

In the days following Sandra's death, the girls began to notice a sickening stench that filled the entire house.  Eventually, it would become so bad that Heidnik's neighbours complained to the police.  After several such calls, a young patrolman was sent to the house to make enquiries but left after Heidnik assured him that the smell was caused by an overcooked roast dinner. 

Following Lindsay's death, Heidnik's behaviour became increasingly bizarre.  He urged the girls to inform on each other with the promise of better conditions for those who complied.  During this period, the girls devised a plan to attack Heidnik and escape but the plan never came to fruition.  Jacqueline Askins would later testify that the attack never eventuated because Rivera told Heidnik what they were planning.

Convinced that the girls were constantly plotting against him, Heidnik devised a plan of his own to prevent them from leaving.  After cuffing each girl hand and foot, he hung them from a beam and gagged them.  Then, taking several different sizes of screwdrivers, he gouged inside their ears in an attempt to deafen them.  He believed that if they could not hear, they would be unable to hear him coming.  The only one he didn't touch was Josefina Rivera.

Later when Deborah Dudley began to cause trouble, he unchained her and took her upstairs.  When they returned, Dudley was unusually quiet and solemn.  After Heidnik had left, the others asked her what had happened.  Stammering with fear, she told them that Heidnik had taken her into the kitchen and showed her a pot he had on the stove.  Inside it was Sandra Lindsay's head. 

He then opened the oven and showed her part of  Sandra's ribcage that he was roasting.  Opening the fridge, he pointed to an arm and other body parts that he had wrapped in plastic and told her that if she didn't start obeying him, she would be next.    

Within a few days, Dudley had recovered her composure and continued to defy Heidnik's attempts to "tame" her.  As an added incentive to obey, Heidnik added a new punishment to his already cruel bag of tricks, his own version of electric shock treatment.  His method was simple.  He stripped the insulation from one end of an electrical extension cord and plugged the other into a socket.  Then, turning on the power, he would hold the bare wires against each of the girl's chains and watch with detached amusement as they wriggled and danced to escape the current.  As before, Rivera was exempt from punishment.

As the weeks passed, Heidnik began to treat Rivera as more of a partner than a captive and spent more and more time with her alone.  So much so that, on March 18, when Heidnik decided to punish the others, he enlisted Rivera to help him.  The shock treatment was again employed with one added feature, water. 

After drilling airholes in the plywood cover, Heidnik ordered Rivera to fill the pit with water.  Dudley, Askins and Thomas, still in chains, were then pushed down into it before the cover was replaced and weighted down with bags of dirt.  As they sat shivering with cold and fear, the bare wire was pushed through one of the holes until it briefly touched one of the chains sending a jolt of electricity surging through all of them. 

The wire was then pushed into the hole a second time, making direct contact with Deborah Dudley's chain.  Absorbing most of the voltage, Dudley screamed and shuddered uncontrollably before collapsing face down in the water.

Seeing their friend fall, Askins and Thomas began screaming until Heidnik removed the cover and dragged Dudley out.  After ascertaining that she was dead, Heidnik calmly made sandwiches and told the girls, "Aren't you glad it wasn't one of you."  He then left for a few minutes and returned with a pen and paper. 

Handing it to Rivera, he ordered her to write the time and date at the top of the page.  When she had done so, he made her write a statement detailing how she had assisted him to electrocute Deborah Dudley.  He then ordered her to sign it before adding his own signature.  Holding up the letter, he then told her: - "If you ever go to the cops, I can use this as evidence that you killed Debbie." 

Satisfied that he had her completely under his control, he removed Rivera's chains and told her to go upstairs and change.  It was the first time she had been completely dressed in four months.  The following day, Heidnik returned to the basement and, after wrapping Dudley's body in plastic, placed it in the freezer and left.


Following Debra Dudley's death, Josefina became Heidnik's constant companion, often accompanying him on outings to restaurants and on shopping expeditions.  On one such outing, Heidnik told Rivera that if he was ever caught, he would act as though he was insane as he knew how to manipulate the testing procedures. 

He told her that he had been fooling the authorities for years so that he could qualify for disability payments.  Heidnik also seemed to soften after Deborah died and began to provide additional comforts for his captives including mattresses, blankets, pillows and even a television set while Rivera, in a her role as trusted confidante, earned the dubious honour of sharing Heidnik's bed.

On one particular trip, they were driving in the countryside outside of New Jersey when Heidnik stopped the car near a heavily wooded area and remarked that it would be a good place to hide Dudley's body.  The following night, March 22, Heidnik and Rivera loaded Deborah Dudley's partially frozen body in one of his other vehicles, a Dodge van, and drove back to the area known as the Pine Barrens.  While Rivera waited in the vehicle, Heidnik dumped the body in a grove of trees.

The next day, Heidnik told her that he would need to find a "replacement" for Dudley and suggested that they go out "cruising" together to find one.  Later that night, the pair drove through the streets looking for a likely subject.  It wasn't long before they spied another black prostitute standing on a street corner.  Rivera knew the woman, named Agnes Adams, from when they both previously worked in the same strip club.  Curiously, Heidnik also new Agnes.  He was a previous customer of hers and had taken her back to his home on two separate occasions for sex. 

The first time he had taken her home, a car had been blocking his driveway and he had been unable to find alternate parking so he drove her back to the city and paid her ten dollars for the trouble.  The second time he took her home, had sex and paid her, after which she walked home.  Strangely, he had never tried to attack her on either occasion.

On this particular night, however, he had other plans.  After negotiating a suitable price for her services, Heidnik and Rivera drove her back to his house.  While Rivera remained in the kitchen, he took Agnes upstairs and had sex with her.  Shortly after, she found herself stripped, chained and imprisoned in the basement with the others.  To Heidnik, Rivera may have seemed like a willing participant but she had other plans and was happy to wait for the right time to implement them.

Her chance finally came on March 24 when after days of pleading and cajoling, she convinced Heidnik that if he let her go to see her family, she would bring him back a new "wife" for his collection.  Heidnik, anxious to expand his "family" agreed on the condition that after visiting her family, she would pick up the woman and meet him at a gas station near her house at midnight. 

Later that evening, Heidnik dropped her near her house and drove off.  Within seconds, Rivera was sprinting towards the apartment that she shared with her boyfriend, a black man named Vincent Nelson.

When Nelson answered the door, Rivera blurted out her incredible story.  As she related how she had been taken prisoner, sexually abused and tortured, Nelson wondered if she had lost her mind.  As he tried to quieten her down, she continued to describe scenes involving death, dog food and body parts until Nelson offered to go to Heidnik's house and confront him.  Scared that their interference would lead to the other girls being killed, Rivera convinced him to call the police.  He reluctantly agreed and made the call from a nearby payphone. 

Several minutes later, two police officers, John Cannon and David Savidge pulled up alongside them.  Again Rivera told her incredible story.  Like Nelson, Cannon and Savidge also found it hard to believe until Rivera lifted the bottoms of her jeans and showed them the scars on her ankles where the chains had been. 

They were convinced and proceeded to the gas station where Heidnik was waiting in his Cadillac.  As they took out their weapons and approached the car, Heidnik raised his hands and asked if they were there regarding child support payments.  He was told that it was a far more serious matter and placed under arrest.  After four months of unspeakable horror, Gary Heidnik's reign of terror was finally at an end.

Gruesome Evidence

Just before 5.00 a.m. on March 25 1987, a squad of police under the direction of Homicide Lieutenant James Hansen, arrived at 3520 North Marshall Street.  Unable to gain access via Heidnik's intricate lock system, Hansen gave the order to break the door down.  One of the first officers through the door was Dave Savidge, one of the men who had arrested Gary Heidnik.  Following Josefina Rivera's direction, he and his partner, officer McCloskey went straight to the basement.

When Savidge entered the small room, he saw two black women asleep on a mattress in the middle of the room.  Despite the cold conditions, their only covering was a thin, dirty blanket.  As he approached them they woke and began to scream until Savidge assured them that he was a police officer who had come to release them. 

He noticed that the women were chained to a pipe in the ceiling and wore nothing except thin blouses and socks.  They identified themselves as Jacquelyn Askins and Lisa Thomas.  When one of the officers asked if there were any more women in the house, Thomas pointed to the sheet of plywood on the floor that had plastic bags filled with soil piled on top of it.

Pushing aside the bags and the board, McCloskey saw the nude figure of Agnes Adams squatting in the bottom of the pit.  After lifting Adams out, the police removed the girl's chains and took them upstairs to a waiting ambulance.  With the girls freed, the police turned their attention to the search. 

In the kitchen, Savidge found an aluminium pot on the stove, which was badly scorched and contain a yellowish fatty substance.  On the kitchen counter was an industrial food processor, which had been recently used, possibly for raw meat. 

Inside the stove, he found an oven dish containing a charred piece of bone that resembled a human rib.  Up to that point, Savidge was still struggling to believe what had really occurred in the room, but when he opened the fridge, what he found removed all doubt.  Lying on a shelf in the freezer compartment was a human forearm.

Over several days, police searched the house and yards detailing every piece of paper and material they found.  They excavated the front and back yards but did not find any further human remains.  In the house they found a closet full of pornographic magazines all of which featured black women. 

Although the house and surrounds gave the impression that the owner had been a disturbed person existing only on a veterans pension, they later discovered that Gary Heidnik was in fact a rich man, having amassed an amazing $550,000 in a Merrill Lynch stock market investment account.  While the search was continuing, Heidnik was being questioned in custody as police attempted to unravel the life and crimes of the scruffy individual the press were already calling " a vicious madman."

Downward Spiral

Life started for Gary Michael Heidnik in November 1943 in Eastlake, a suburb of Cleveland Ohio.  Eighteen months later, Gary's brother Terry was born.  Six months later their parents, Michael and Ellen, divorced and the boys went to live with their mother and her new husband until Gary started school, after which they went to live with their father and his new wife. 

These were not happy times for the boys as they spent most of their time arguing with their stepmother or being heavily disciplined by their father.  Heidnik would later tell psychologists that his father had continually ridiculed him especially when he wet his bed, which was often.  At these times his father would hang the stained sheet out a second story window in full view of the neighbours.  

Gary was also ridiculed at school after a fall from a tree left him with a misshapen head.  His brother Terry believes the accident was the root cause of Gary's erratic behaviour.  A curious comment indeed considering Terry himself spent much of his life in mental institutions and made numerous suicide attempts.

By the time Gary had reached the eighth grade he had developed two main obsessions, making money and becoming an army officer.  So intense was the latter ambition that his father made arrangements for him to attend the prestigious Staunton Military Academy in Virginia.  Gary lasted at the academy for two years attaining excellent grades but left suddenly in his junior year and returned home to live with his father. 

Within the next year he tried two different high schools but soon became bored and left after a few weeks.  Finally, at age eighteen he joined the regular army. Heidnik later told prison psychologists that he left Staunton after visiting a psychologist but failed to indicate why he had felt he needed one or give details of his treatment.

Heidnik adapted readily to army life but made few friends.  During his training, he was graded as "excellent."  Following basic training, he applied for several specialist training positions, including the Military Police but was refused.  Finally he was sent to San Antonio, Texas to be trained as a medic. 

Again he did well and also developed a thriving business by lending money to other soldiers and charging interest on the loans.  Unfortunately for him, this enterprise came to a swift end when he was transferred to a field hospital in West Germany.  Within weeks of his new posting, Heidnik sat for a high school equivalency diploma scoring 96%.  Things seemed to be going well for him until late August 1962 when he went to the sick bay complaining of dizziness, blurred vision and nausea.  

A neurologist later determined that Heidnik was suffering from gastroenteritis and also displayed the symptoms of a mental illness.  Dr. Jack Apsche, a noted Philadelphia psychologist, later investigated Heidnik's history of mental illness and found that although the Army had not indicated if they considered him schizoid or schizophrenic, they had prescribed a heavy tranquilliser normally reserved for the treatment of serious psychotics or patients that experience hallucinations.

Within weeks, Heidnik was sent back to the states.  Three months later he was given an honourable discharge and released from the Army on medical grounds and given a 100% disability pension.  The official diagnosis was "schizoid personality disorder."  He had served only fourteen months. 

After leaving the Army, he settled in Philadelphia and qualified as a Licensed Practical Nurse and was issued with a state certificate.  He later enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania and gained credits in a variety of subjects including anthropology, history, chemistry and biology. 

Eventually, with his nursing qualifications, he was able to get a job in the University Hospital but was later fired when the standard of his work declined.  From there he enrolled at the Veterans Administration Hospital near Philadelphia to be trained as a psychiatric nurse but was asked to leave because of his bad attitude.

From then on, Heidnik's life began to decline as he spent more and more time in mental institutions.  In 1970, his mother Ellen took her own life by swallowing poison, which only served to exacerbate his already fragile state of mind. 

Numerous suicide attempts followed which ultimately resulted in more hospital time and so the vicious cycle continued.  He would often spend long periods refusing to communicate which almost bordered on catatonia.  In one of his more lucid moments, he was given a series of intelligence tests, which indicated that he was of "superior" intellect.

On one occasion, he was admitted to a mental ward after he attacked his brother Terry with a wood plane.  When he later visited while Terry was recuperating, he told Terry that if he had died from his wounds, he would have soaked his remains in a bathtub full of acid to dispose of his body.  With each admission to hospital, his behaviour became more bizarre. 

He spent most days completely mute, only communicating by writing notes.  He constantly wore a leather jacket, which he refused to take off.  His personal hygiene was almost non-existent and he developed a series of mannerisms, such as saluting and rolling up one pants leg when he didn't wish to be disturbed.

"Bishop" Heidnik

In 1971, while on a trip to California, Heidnik had the startling revelation that he should form his own church.  Returning to Philadelphia, he registered the United Church of the Ministers of God and installed himself as "Bishop" Heidnik.  At that time, the "church" had just five members, which included Terry Heidnik and Gary's retarded girlfriend. 

In 1975, Heidnik opened a Merrill Lynch account in the church's name.  Over the next twelve years, due in no small part to his childhood interest in all things financial, he succeeded in parlaying his $1500 investment into $545,000.  During these times, he was in and out of mental hospitals or "ministering" to his parishioners, which were few.

As well as being a regular at mental hospitals, Heidnik had also become well known to the police.  In 1976, he was charged with aggravated assault and carrying an unlicensed pistol.  The charges were laid after Heidnik had fired a shot at a man who rented a house from him, grazing his face.  The house was later sold and while the new owners were in the process of cleaning it, they found boxes of pornographic magazines and a hole dug in the concrete floor of the basement.

Eighteen months later he again came to the attention of the police when he signed his retarded, black girlfriend's sister out of a mental institution on day leave and kept her prisoner in his apartment.  The sister, also seriously retarded, was later recovered from a locked storage room in Heidnik's basement and returned to the home. 

On her return to the hospital, she was examined and found to have been raped, sodomised and contracted gonorrhea, both vaginally and orally.  Heidnik was later arrested and charged with kidnapping, rape, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and interfering with the custody of a committed person.

When the case went to trial in November 1978, Heidnik pleaded not guilty and took the stand in his own defence, claiming that he was innocent.  After ordering a psychological examination, which found that Heidnik was, "manipulative and psycho-sexually immature," he was found guilty and sentenced to three to seven years jail.  A later appeal overturned the original sentence, which resulted in him spending almost three years of his incarceration in various mental institutions.

He was finally released on April 12, 1983 on the condition that he remain under the supervision of a state sanctioned mental health program.  As in so many similar cases, if the state had realised the true state of Heidnik's mind, they would never have released him.

Prior to his imprisonment, Heidnik had carried on various relationships with women.  He seemed to prefer black women, some of them retarded.  During these relationships his focus seemed to be on fathering children.  His first black partner bore him a daughter but left shortly after, taking the baby with her.  The next was another black woman named Dorothy who was seriously retarded. 

According to neighbours, Heidnik treated Dorothy badly and often beat her and locked her up and refused to feed her.  Dorothy eventually wandered off and was later found living on the street in a dazed condition.

The next woman Heidnik selected was Anjeanette, the sister of the girl that Heidnik was convicted of raping.  As before, she was black and retarded.  When Heidnik returned from prison, Anjeanette was gone.  A later police investigation failed to find any trace of her, leaving police with the impression that Heidnik was responsible for her disappearance. 

For his next partner, Heidnik enlisted the aid of a matrimonial service.  His selection criteria was simple, he wanted an oriental virgin.  A few weeks later he was corresponding by mail with Betty Disto, a young Filipino woman.  For two years, she and Heidnik communicated by mail and the occasional phone call.  Eventually, Heidnik proposed marriage telling Betty that he was a minister of religion.  Betty accepted and travelled to Philadelphia in September 1985. 

After greeting her at the airport, Heidnik took her home to the North Marshall street house and showed her to her room.  She was shocked to find a retarded black woman sleeping in the bed that she was to occupy, in explanation, Heidnik told her the woman was a paying tenant.  Despite her misgivings about Heidnik and the living arrangements, she married him on October 3 in Maryland. 

For the first week, Heidnik treated her well and spoke of starting a family.  A week later, she returned from a shopping trip to find Heidnik in bed having sex with three black women.  Horrified, she demanded that he pay to send her back home.  He refused telling her that he was the boss and having multiple sex partners was normal for him. 

From that time on Heidnik was never without additional women in the house and often made Betty watch while he had sex with them.  On the occasions that she complained, he would beat her and order her to cook for him and his partner at the time.  As the days progressed, he became increasingly violent and constantly warned Betty that if she left he would find her and kill her. 

Sunday 12, 1986 was the last straw for Betty.  After she complained about the women he was bringing home, Heidnik beat her and raped her vaginally and anally and again, threatened to kill her.  Because she only knew Heidnik and his friends, Betty was forced to turn to other members of the Filipino community for help.  They convinced her that she should leave him so four days later, after pretending to go out shopping, she left and never went back. 

Two weeks later, Heidnik was picked up and charged with assault, indecent assault, spousal rape and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.  Luckily for Heidnik, the parole period for his previous sexual offences expired the day before his arrest.  His luck continued to hold when the charges were later dismissed when Betty failed to appear for the preliminary hearing. 

In 1987, Betty dragged Heidnik into court in an attempt to win financial support for her son.  During the case, the judge became aware of Heidnik's medical history and ordered him to undergo a series of tests to determine his mental competency.  By the time the tests were conducted, two of the girls he held captive in his basement "baby factory" had already died.  Ironically, when Betty Disto left Heidnik, she was pregnant with his child and later gave birth to a son.

Crazy or What?

On April 23 1987, Heidnik appeared in court for the first time since his arrest.  Beside him sat his counsel, Charles "Chuck" Peruto.  Heidnik had selected Peruto, an experienced, sharp-minded defence attorney, based on his reputation for defending sensational cases.  The reason for the appearance was to officially determine if the prosecution had the "probable cause" to hold Gary Heidnik for the crimes he had been charged with. 

For Assistant District Attorney Charles Gallagher, the preliminary hearing was a mere formality as he presented the state's case against Gary Heidnik.  Heidnik stood charged with murder, kidnapping, rape, aggravated assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent exposure, false imprisonment, unlawful restraint, simple assault, indecent assault and other associated offences.

The most damning evidence against Heidnik was the testimony of the captives themselves.  The first to be called was Lisa Thomas, who described in minute detail how Gary Heidnik had chained, beaten and raped her. 

Next to give evidence was Josefina Rivera.  In a clear and confident voice, she related her story from the time she was picked up in Heidnik's Cadillac until the time she was released.  She was particularly graphic in her description of Sandra Lindsay's death and the electrocution murder of Deborah Dudley, particularly when she admitted that it had been she who had pushed the power cord into the pit.  Peruto later cross examined Rivera and accused her of instigating many of the beatings and the electrocution of Dudley. 

When Lisa Thomas was cross examined, she too accused Rivera of being Heidnik's willing partner in his acts of death and depravity, however her evidence was refuted when Jacquelyn Askins took the stand and told the court that Rivera only did Heidnik's bidding when she was under threat of death or punishment.

The proceedings ended with Dr. Paul Hoyer of the county medical examiner's office giving evidence regarding the body parts and other human remains found in Heidnik's kitchen.  In a hushed court room Dr Hoyer read out the items found like a gruesome shopping list - two forearms, one upper arm, two knees and two segments of thigh, all cut with a saw, the tissue, muscle and skin still attached.  In all, twenty-four pounds of human remains were found carefully wrapped and stored in Gary Heidnik's refrigerator.  Although considered a foregone conclusion, Gary Heidnik was indicted and held for trial.

After the usual legal machinations and the jury selection process, the main trial began in earnest on June 20, 1988 in front of a packed courtroom.  From the outset, as Charles Gallagher outlined the prosecution's case in all it's gory detail, Chuck Peruto knew what his defence was going to be, he was going to plead his client guilty on all charges but was going to try and prove that Gary Heidnik was certifiably insane. 

If the prosecution's case had been strong at the pre-trial hearing, at the trial itself, it seemed even stronger.  With both sides opening statements having taken only a few minutes, Charles Gallagher began calling his witnesses to the stand. 

For two days, the jury of six whites and six blacks, heard testimony from the captives themselves, their families, the police and the medical examiners.  As the judge excused the last of the prosecution's witnesses, Chuck Peruto requested that the charge of first-degree murder be removed on the grounds that intent to kill had not been proven.  Judge Lynne Abraham's reply was one that Peruto would become familiar with during the trial, "overruled."

Chuck Peruto's defence was centred around two men, Heidnik's psychiatrist, Dr Clancy McKenzie and psychologist Jack Apsche.  Unfortunately for Peruto, and Heidnik, when he called his first witness to the stand, he found that McKenzie had his own agenda.  McKenzie, who had spent a total of one hundred hours with Heidnik, refused to answer direct questions, preferring instead to launch into intellectual discussion on schizophrenia and other associated mental conditions, which at times completely confused the jury.  Eventually, Peruto managed to direct McKenzie to give his opinion on the most important aspect of an insanity defence.  "At the time of the offences, did Gary Heidnik know the difference between right and wrong?" - "No, he did not."

Peruto then asked the judge to instruct the jury to consider the possibility that Josefina Rivera was actually an accomplice of Gary Heidnik's.  Judge Abraham answered that she would be prepared to do so as long as he understood that it would indicate to the jury that if Heidnik was capable of enlisting the aid of an accomplice then he was clearly not insane.  Wisely, Peruto decided not to pursue the point. 

The following day, the defence case received another setback when Judge Abraham refused to admit most of Jack Apsche's testimony on Heidnik's mental history, ruling it inadmissible. 

Peruto was caught completely off guard by the ruling as most of his insanity defence was based on the testimonies of Apsche and McKenzie but in a short time, McKenzie had undermined his own credibility and Apsche was not allowed to table the results of weeks of painstaking research into Heidnik's medical history, the details of which Peruto believed would prove that his client had been insane for most of his adult life.

Peruto then played his final card by calling Dr. Kenneth Kool, another psychiatrist.  Kool was able to give part of his professional opinion regarding Heidnik's sanity but in a closed session, Abraham ruled that his testimony was "confusing the jury" and ruled that most of it be stricken. 

Kool also had his testimony damaged in cross examination when he admitted that he had only spent twenty minutes with Heidnik and had "left in frustration," when Heidnik refused to talk to him.  When Gallagher asked what he had based his analysis on, he admitted that he had relied on Heidnik's previous medical history.

As a parting shot at the already damaged defence case, Gallagher called an additional witness, Robert Kirkpatrick, Heidnik's broker at Merrill Lynch.  Kirkpatrick gave evidence that the Gary Heidnik he knew was "an astute investor who knew exactly what he was doing."  For the next few days Peruto and Gallagher called additional witnesses to prove and disprove each other's arguments until there were no more witnesses to call and they began their final summations. 

The following day was taken up with Judge Abraham instructing the jury on the technicalities of the various degrees of murder and other legalities to help them reach a verdict.

Finally on June 30 1988, after sixteen hours of deliberation over two-and-a-half days, the jury was ready.  As Betty Ann Bennett, the jury foreperson stood to read their verdict, Chuck Peruto was confident that his client would be found guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder and thereby escape the death penalty.  His hopes were dashed, however when Bennett began reading the verdict.

"For the murder of Deborah Dudley, guilty in the first degree.  For the murder of Sandra Lindsay, guilty in the first degree."  And so the list went on.  By the time Bennett had finished, Heidnik stood convicted on eighteen charges.  Two counts of first-degree murder, five counts of rape, six counts of kidnapping, four counts of aggravated assault and one count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.

With the verdicts announced, Judge Abraham retired the jury until nine a.m. the following day when the prosecution and defence attorneys would have the chance to address the jury before the sentence was decided.  By 12:15pm the next day, the jury had made a unanimous decision; Gary Heidnik should be sentenced to death for the murders of Deborah Dudley and Sandra Lindsay.  Just as he had throughout the trial, Heidnik showed no sign of emotion when the sentence was read.


To this day, Jacquelyn Askins, Agnes Adams and Lisa Thomas have various levels of hearing impairment thanks to the damage Heidnik did with his screwdrivers.  Together with Rivera, they have instituted civil proceedings to gain access to the funds in Heidnik's Merrill Lynch account and divide them equally between them as criminal compensation.

Other parties as diverse as the Peace Corps and the IRS have also filed for access to the funds.

For eleven long years, Gary Heidnik waited in jail until the normal legal hyperbole that inevitably follows a death sentence had diminished.  During that time he made several suicide attempts and played very little part in the appeal process.  Finally on July 6 1999, at 10:29p.m., Gary Michael Heidnik was executed by lethal injection.  At the time of his death, no member of his family had made arrangements to claim his body.



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