Heidnik (November 22, 1943 –
July 6, 1999) was an American criminal who kidnapped
women and kept them prisoner in his Philadelphia,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial
Killers by Harold Schechter and David Everitt,
Pocket, 1997, softcover, 368 pages, ISBN
Cellar of Horror by Ken
Englade, 1989, softcover, 288 pages, ISBN
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
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
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
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
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
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
U.S. Circuit Judge Theodore A. McKee dissented because of the "hurried
manner in which we have had to decide this incredibly intricate
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
"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
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
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)
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?
Philadelphia magazine, July 2007
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
When he got out, he couldn’t find Anjeanette, and he felt society
owed him a wife and family.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
I knocked on the door. I didn’t receive any answer. I left a message
for anyone known as Gary to contact West Detectives.
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.
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.
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.
In my mind, this person was missing voluntarily.
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.
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.
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.
He kept them alive barely with store-brand dog food, cat food. He
didn’t spend $5 for food for them per month.
On New Year’s Day, we were out of the hole and Gary brought down
another girl into the basement. Her name was Debbie.
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
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
And then Jacquelyn Askins was brought down.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Crazy or What?
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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."
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.