Friday, August 3, 2012

Gary Heidnik-the Pied Piper of Marshall Street

Gary Heidnik (POLICE)
Gary Heidnik
The body parts, wrapped in plastic freezer bags, and marked “dog food,” in the refrigerator at 3520 North Marshall Street in suburban Franklinville, belonged to Sandra Lindsay, age, 25, 5-foot-6, with cocoa-brown skin and copprish eyes.
She had lived in Philadelphia area with her mother, sister and brother. She wore thick bifocals and was classified as mildly retarded; her speech was impaired, and she was slow-witted. She walked with a limp and dragged one foot behind her.
Despite these handicaps, Sandra had the determination of a bulldog. Notwithstanding her child-like qualities, she managed to obtain enough credits to graduate from a special-ed class in high school, and she had high hopes of obtaining a livable vocation that would enable her to be independent enough not to depend on others, the day she enrolled in the Elwyn Institute, a school for the handicapped.
It was particularly windy and cold that Friday night in November 1986, when Lindsey had a sudden attack of menstrual cramps and decided to walk to the discount Drug Store. Somewhere between McDonald’s and the Philly Cheesesteak eatery, she vanished.
When Sandra failed to return home by the following morning, a hasty search by family members and a dozen neighbors was launched. They trickled out through the neighborhood searching through backyards and passageways. For blocks around, the narrow streets with their rows of attached houses were painstakingly explored by volunteers hoping to find some clue as to the whereabouts of the missing girl.
By Monday, her family had called all of her friends without learning anything about Sandra. Satisfied that something dreadful had happened to the girl, they called the Pennsylvania Highway Patrol and the Philadelphia police asking if she might have been involved in an accident. No information on Sandra came up on the computers.
The request for information on missing young women brought in more information to the officers. James Hansen, of the Homicide Division reported another almost identical baffling disappearance.
About an hour before Thanksgiving, on November 26, Josefina Rivera, a slim, beautiful girl with cheekbones and eyes of her black mother, and bronze features of her Puerto Rican father, was hustling business on the corner of Third and Girard, like a puller-inner for a beggared second-hand clothing store. Her eyes brightened when a flake-white Cadillac Coup De Ville with the initials GMH inscribed on the door, pulled up to the curb. The driver, a white man with a neatly-trimmed beard, rolled down the window with the automatic button, and said, “You hustling honey?”
Despite the film of fog and drizzling rain, Josefina could see the expensive, diamond-studded watch sparking under the street light, and the flashy emerald ring. They were succinct and concrete in their suggestions: money.
She said Okey-Doke to twenty dollars and hopped into the passenger seat of the fresh-smelling Caddy. The driver pushed down on the accelerator and the car roared off, vanishing into the night like a hallucination. As they drove along, Josefina could see that her “John” was not the most sanitary man in the world.
Josefina, victim
Josefina, victim
Even the new-car scent, with it’s waxed interior only 2 weeks off the showroom floor, failed to hide his reeky body odor. He didn’t talk, only cursed the pot-holes that were scattered in the street like land mines, as he swerved to miss them. As they passed under the street lights, she could see that his face was a mass of brush, neatly styled. But his clothes looked like they had been slept in for a week.
They drove into the outer-fringes of town, known as “The OK Corral” because of regular shoot-outs between competing drug lords who operated in the area like the ones on television. The Caddy turned one corner after another and finally pulled into a trash-strewn yard with a tumbled-down wire fence. On that note we say au revoir to beautiful Josefina Rivera, as we knew her. Police turned up no one who could recall seeing the girl getting into a car or any struggle to suggest she had suddenly become a human sacrifice for a mentally unbalanced wacko.
His crimes were more monstrous than anyone, at the time, could imagine in their wildest dreams. There was more sensational material for newsmen on December 22nd when 19-year-old Lisa Thomas, a desirable dark-skinned brunette, failed to return home from her Christmas shopping. She became a high-school dropout shortly after she learned she was pregnant and was living with her mother on Lehigh Street and collecting welfare. As pieced together by police, Lisa stood out like a fashion plate in a smorgasbord as she sashayed unconcernedly through the squalor side of town where no one should have been after dark. A man in a white Cadillac pulled near to the curb beside her. Right off, she noticed his ritzy watch and glittering emerald ring.
“You want to see my peter?” he asked. “I’m no prostitute!” Lisa snapped back indignantly. And she stretched her long legs toward Delaware Avenue. In an instant, he apologized and asked her if he could give her a lift to wherever she was going to make up for his rudeness. At first she declined, but under his carefully applied charm, and the charm of his new-smelling Cadillac, she hopped in beside him. “Where to?” he asked. “To my girlfriend’s house, I’ll tell you where to turn,” she smiled. While she visited her girlfriend he waited in the car. When she came out he offered to take her to dinner and she agreed. He took her to TGI Friday’s, where they had hamburgers and talked about his taking her to the beach the next day. Trusting and idealistic, Lisa projected an aura of innocent vulnerability that was placed under surveillance by the driver of the white Cadillac.
When Lisa said she was on welfare and didn’t have money to buy clothes to go to the beach, he offered to take her to Sears so she could buy what she wanted on his credit card. At Sears, she was like a kid in a candy store. She bought blue jeans, blouses, a cashmere sweater and a firm-fitting bathing suit that indicated her curves without blatantly advertising them. Afterwards, they went back to his house on North Marshall Street, drank wine, and watched a VCR sex-flick. When the wine kicked in, Lisa fell asleep.
When she jolted awake, Lisa was surprised to discovered that he had undressed her while she was asleep and his black crocodile eyes were exploring her nudity.
He carried her to his bedroom where they had consensual sex. When Lisa didn’t come home her mother called the police. The detectives instantly saw that Lisa’s disappearance fit perfectly into the rash of disappearances that had been plaguing the city for two months. Public-spirited individuals joined forces with the proper authorities and the search for the missing teenager went into overdrive.
Day after exhausting day, night after exhausting night, a posse of full-blown proportions scrutinized the huge cosmopolitan metropolis while master strategists flashed a bulletin about a suspected serial killer statewide through the National Crime Information Center. They made phone calls, talked to hundreds of people, and circulated flyers with Lisa’s picture and description. But there was no Sherlock Holmes to save the day. On New Year’s Day the man in the white Cadillac went searching for additional prey. Fate contrived that his victim should be Deborah “Debbie” Johnson Dudley, a pleasing black girl with luminously intense dark eyes that burned with a steady flame. She also had the temper of a wildcat. If Debbie was abducted, her friends knew, she didn’t go easy.
As the sun rose on January 2nd, two and three-man teams of volunteers and Twenty-sixth District police were searching the lengthening shadows for the 23- year-old woman. By the third day, a larger group combed the city for Debbie as a helicopter swooped low keeping radio contact with searchers on the ground.
After an unsuccessful six day search they abjured the hunt. The police art department made illustrations of Debbie from a family photograph and distributed them to local newspapers.
Whoom! Just like that! Jacquelyn Askins, a fragile, vulnerable eighteen-year-old black prostitute with the mind of a ten-year-old, disappeared from the streets and was never seen around town again. Jacquelyn regularly hung out in front of a roach-trap hotel on the main artery praying that some horny duck would come along and offer her five or ten bucks for a quickie in a parking lot. That’s where she was when the man with the beautiful watch and nice manners picked her up in his peacock blue Dodge van and drove her to his home on North Marshall Street.
Once in the house, he dragged her to the cellar, stripped her naked, and whipped her bare buttocks with a plastic staff. This was done to impress upon her that she was his sex slave. “You’ll do as you are told, or you’ll get more of the same,” he told her.
The hole in the basement
The horrified girl looked around at his torture chamber. Chained to a beam in the basement, in complete captivity, were Josefina Rivera, Sandra Lindsay, and Lisa Thomas. Now his harem had been joined by Jacqueline Askins. They were allowed to wear panties, but no blouse or bra. She would come to know that Rivera was his fuel of choice. Their kidnapper wasn’t merely a psychopath, but a living textbook of perverted crime: a sex maniac and rapist who made them have sex with him on a daily basis, and derived sexual satisfaction from watching them have sex with one another. Sometimes he performed acts of perversion with all of them at once.
As for hygiene, in one corner was a potapottie, with no privacy. He provided tampons for that-time-of-the-month. He refused to let them bathe, nor did he bathe himself, and it was a rare day when one or more of his harem weren’t subjected to torture, rape, beatings or given the electric shock treatment for disobeying orders.
Two hounds shared the “horror chamber” with them. “Bear” was a large part-lab and Flaky was part collie. The girls were forced to eat chicken or liver flavored dog food right along with the dogs. If they refused, a screwdriver was jammed into their ears, or they were whipped until their bare buttocks bled. Dog food became a customary part of their evening meals. For snacks, he provided dog biscuits.
In his reflective moments, their “master” regaled his captives with his plans for collecting ten prisoners and fathering as man children as possible. They spent hours in the damp and dim “dungeon” picking names for their future children.
His appetite for sex never waned and he tried to father a child with one, or sometimes all of them, on a daily basis. At one time, when Rivera and Lindsay missed their periods, he thought they were pregnant. He celebrated by bringing home Chinese Food for everybody. When he discovered they were false alarms, he had the other women dole out punishment on the two girls and if he thought they weren’t administering the stinging beatings vigorously enough, he reversed their roles. He played his captives off against one another, encouraging them to inform on acts of noncompliance.
In February 1987, the barbarous treatment and dog food diet took its toll on Sandra Lindsay and she died chained to the rafters. Rivera was forced to help him cart the body upstairs and place it in the bath tub where it was cut to pieces with a chain saw. He mixed her flesh with dog food and fed it to Bear, Flaky and his captives. The rest he kept in plastic bags in the freezer.
The surviving girls shuddered when they saw Bear in a corner of the basement gnawing on what looked like…. a leg bone. Sandra’s head, hands, feet and ribs presented a problem to get rid of. Finally he cooked them in the oven. The aroma aroused curious ado among his neighbors, who called the cops.
When the cops came knocking, he told them that he had simply overcooked a roast, and they left. But the smell of the cooked corpse on his body was so prevalent that the women vomited when he came near them. He took a bath under their urging.
Shortly after that, Deborah Dudley, who constantly disobeyed orders and refused to be a cooperative “sex slave,” was placed in a tub of water and electrocuted with wires connected to her chains. On March 22, “under the threat of death,” Rivera accompanied him on the long drive to Whaton State Forest, outside of Camden, New Jersey, where Dudley’s decomposing body was discarded deep in the woods to be feasted upon by wild animals.
On March 24 Rivera made her break. She escaped from the cellar and unfolded her unbelievable story to a detective who answered the phone at the Twenty-fifth District stationhouse. After obtaining a search warrant, Sergeant Frank McCloskey, Officer David Savidge, Homicide Lieutenant Jimmy Hansen and a group of specialized task force deputies busted through the door and went directly to the foul-smelling pit in the cellar. There, cuddled in a corner, shaking like abandoned puppies, and connected together by heavy chains, they found Lisa Thomas and Jacquelyn Askins, naked and nearly dead.
The stench of death was strong — very strong – and when police went searching for the source they retrieved bits of flesh from the cellar drains. Further investigation uncovered the packaged remains of Sandra Lindsay in the freezer.
By the time the morning edition rolled off the press Gary Heidnik had been identified as a degenerate of the worst kind and was being held in lieu of $4 million bond.
It was the signal for even more alarming revelations. Angry headlines awakened people throughout the city as newspapers went berserk in telling the story of beatings and bizarre sex. Editors clamored to beat one another with a profile complied from voir dire questioning of Heidnik’s neighbors and police reports.
When Gary Heidnik was yet out of diapers his parents split the sheets. When he was four, his alcoholic mother, unable to take care of Gary and his brother, packed them off to live with their father, also a drunkard. In October 1961, Gary quit school and joined the army. He received medical training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Stationed in West Germany during the summer of 1962, he was acting strangely, so his commander had him shipped back to the States in October. A psychiatrist studying his case diagnosed him as mentally disordered and committed him to aPennsylvania institute for three months as having a borderline condition that “often precedes breakdown to full schizophrenia.” He was honorably discharged from the service with a monthly government pension of $1,355. His Social Security check amounted to some $400 a month. The terrible pattern of his life formed over the next twenty-five years and he went through the revolving doors of several mental institutions: Honesdale, Morristown and Coatesville. If doctors were looking for a miraculous transformation in the man, there were none.
He signed up for a practical nursing course in February 1964, and 12 months later received his internship at Philadelphia General Hospital. He hoarded his money seldom going out and eating sparingly. By 1967 he had saved enough to purchase a three-story house in Philadelphia, saving one floor for himself and renting the other two out.
His world outside revolved around the Elwyn Institute for the retarded, lending aid to mostly black or Hispanic female inmates who were gullible and starved for affection. To the emaciated, and fundamentally weak females he became a father-substitute and they usually ended up in his house for sex.
Gary Heidnik in Custody
Heidnik formed the “United Church of the Ministries of God,” in the winter of 1971, acquiring his eight-member congregation from the underprivileged at Elwyn Institute. When the neighbors filed complaints of a suspicious nature the police began asking pesky questions. He sold his place and moved on. The new owner found heaps of pornographic magazines, trash and garbage strewn throughout the house, and boxes of battery operated dildos and other sex toys that arouse women.
In 1977, Heidnik invested $35,000 in the Merrill Lynch stock market. His investment proved fruitful enough so that within ten years he had acquired a fortune of a half-million dollars. He purchased a fleet of luxury cars including a Rolls Royce, a Lincoln Continental and bottle-blue customized van. He was able to dodge the tax issue under the mien of a “bishop” in his phony “United Church of the Ministers of God.”
His Cadillac was his pride and joy and he spared no expense in buying the extra goodies: continental kit, gold kit, custom wheels, custom grill, and the most expensive tires. He got what he could for his trade in, an old Caddy, and paid the difference in cash, $12,240 out-the-door.
In March 1978, he took into his house a backward homeless girl who bore him a daughter. During this time he brought in other women off the streets to have sex with him, including his girlfriend’s sister. They drove up to Harrisburg to take her out to dinner on a 12-hour pass. Instead, he took the 34-year-old woman with the IQ of a baby, to his cellar where he made her his sex slave while her sister watched. When the girl failed to return to the institution, the police came and took her back. Gary was arrested on June 6 and charged with kidnapping, rape, deviate sexual intercourse with the handle of a hammer, unlawful restraint, and interfering with the custody of a illiterate and committed person.
Convicted, he was sentenced to three to seven years in prison. Four years later he was back on the streets, after three attempted suicides in prison. His closest brush with death came after he swallowed a light bulb. In April 1984, Heidnik bought his “House of Horrors” on Marshall Street in Philly and hung out a shingle announcing his “church of God.” In October, 1985, Heidnik did the unthinkable. He put an ad in the newspaper advertising for a wife.
The ad caught the eye of a refreshingly beautiful goo-goo eyed Filipina named Betty Disto and the two began corresponding almost immediately. She was a twenty-two-year-old Oriental beauty, vivacious and naive . After two years of “snookums” and “petkins” notes back and fourth, he proposed. Over the objections of her parents she boarded a plane on September 29, 1985, and he was waiting at the Philadelphia Airport when the plane landed.
On October 3, Heidnik and Betty drove to Elkton, Maryland married at a “quickie” ceremony, then drove directly back to North Marshall Street. Her happiness however, was
short-lived. They were married less than a month when she came home and found him in bed with three black women. He wanted her to join them, instead, she fled the house in tears and wound up at a battered woman’s home, complaining that evil had penetrated their sacred home.
The macabre details of their marriage didn’t come out until after she had him arrested on charges of spousal rape, indecent assault, and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. She claimed he would bring home retarded women from Elwyn or harlots he picked up on the streets and make her watch him have sex with them. Once, when she refused to cook for him and his “whores” he made her stand in a corner for eight hours. Another time, he punched and kicked her and forced her to have rectal intercourse while the other girls watched and waited their turn.
The criminal charges were dropped when Betty failed to show up in court. He didn’t know it then, but she was pregnant with his son. Betty was hassling him for his $135 a week support payments but Heidnik had more crucial things on his mind. The crime he was being accused of was so downright repulsive that even well-known and respected Philadelphia lawyer Charles Peruto, whom he chose to defend him, didn’t want anything to do with it. Peruto’s fee for a capital case was $10,000. When Heidnik approached him, Peruto told him, “My fee is $100,000,” hoping he would back off. But Heidnik fooled him, “Fine with me,” he said.
At Heidnik’s preliminary hearing in Room 675 in City Hall, before Municipal Court Judge Charles Margiotti, Lisa Thomas’ testimony exploded with shattering effect. She testified how she was picked up by Heidnik and forced to perform oral-genital sex in front of the other captives as his sex slave.
Josefina Rivera told the horror-struck courtroom that when Heidnik came downstairs and found Sandra Lindsay dead, he uncuffed her and kicked her into a hole. She said Thomas, Dudley and Askins were put into a hole in the basement floor and she was forced to take a garden hose and fill it with water. Afterwards, Rivera said, she was ordered to toss a live extension cord into the water, thus killing Dudley. Then Heidnik forced her to write a “confession” admitting she killed Dudley. She said at no time did she consider disobeying his orders.
But Thomas said as time went by, Rivera increasingly began to enjoy the grotesque ill-treatments she was ordered to carry out against the others. Thomas called her “the boss of the basement” and said she beat the bare buttocks of the others with a stick “even when Heidnik wasn’t present. She told the court that it was Rivera who suggested the electric shock punishment.
Askins corroborated Thomas’ story. She said Rivera tipped off Heidnik that they were planning to jump him when he came into the cellar with their dog-food dinner. She said Rivera was rewarded with a night out with Heidnik at a fancy restaurant and when she came back she bragged about their time together. A jury would later decide that there was no austere selfishness on Rivera’s part.
Under the circumstances, there was not much else she could do if she wanted to survive. All three captives testified that Heidnik wanted to get them pregnant so that he would have a bunch of kids playing in the basement.

Police digging in Heidnik’s basement. His female captives were horrifically tortured and sexually abused here. Heidnik eventually murdered and dismembered two victims.
Dr. Paul Hoyer’s testimony whipped through the courtroom like a crack of lightening after a raging thunderstorm. He said he located several bagged parcels of white meat in the freezer compartment of Heidnik’s refrigerator. When he opened the first bag he saw what appeared to be a human part of an upper arm.
In sum:
“…there were two forearms, one upper arm, two knees, and two segments of thigh. Each of these pieces had, ah, ..the bone end had been cut apparently with a saw. And the skin and muscle, soft tissue, was clinging to the bone.”
He said there was body parts in the oven that had been dressed up like roasts and assorted chops.

While awaiting trial, on April 6, Heidnik tried to hang himself in his jail cell.
Gruesome, pathetic details of the killings, well-publicized in Philadelphia, would present his client from receiving a fair trial, Peruto told Judge Lynne Abraham, while submitting a change of venire request. The judge agreed and set the new voir for June 13, three hundred miles down the pike in Pittsburgh.
The job of selecting an unbiased panel among Allegheny County inhabitants ended with six females and six males — all white. On June 20, 1988, Prosecutor Charles Gallagher and Defense attorney Chuck Peruto went after one another like two heavyweights at the clang of the bell.
Room 315 of the old Allegheny County Courthouse, shook to its very foundations as aghast spectators learned the specifics of the case for the first time. When Gallagher unmasked Heidnik for the lunatic that he was, Piittsburghers couldn’t believe their ears.
Among the spectators was Betty Heidnik, Gary’s mail-order bride, who brought her 10-year-old son because he wanted to see what his father looked like. He  couldn’t understand why they wanted to kill his daddy. Jurors sat as pale as cottage cheese as Gallagher painted a picture of a madman who piled his victims with food and sex, assaulted them, choked them, handcuffed them, dragged them into the basement, where he put muffler clamps on their ankles, then tortured them. He told how the defendant repeatedly had sex with his “slaves,” and forced them to perform fellatio on him as the others watched.
The entire courtroom sat transfixed as he explained how Heidnik dismembered Sandra, cooked her head, feet and hands, and fed her to the others.
In an effort to blitzkrieg Peruto’s insanity plea before it began, Gallagher said, “The evidence will show that from the eve of Thanksgiving 1986 up through defendant committed repeated sadistic and malicious acts and he did them in a methodical and systematic way, and he concealed them in a methodical and systematic way. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he knew it was wrong. He took advantage of underprivileged people.”
When it came Peruto’s turn, he told the court he had to be honest. His client was guilty of everything outlined by the prosecution in his opening statement. Except for one thing. He never intentionally killed anyone. The deaths of the two women were an accident. Besides, he said, “Any person who puts dog food and human remains in a food processor and calls it a gourmet meal and feeds it to others is out to lunch.”
Before dismissing the jury for deliberations on June 29, 1988, Judge Abraham walked over to the chalk board and scratched, PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE. “Sometimes I have to spell words for you that you’ve never heard before,” she said. Then she outlined the degrees of first-degree murder, seconddegree murder and third-degree murder. After lunch, the jury deliberated.
On July 2, the Saturday morning Inquirer bantered in thick black headlines, HEIDNIK IS CONVICTED OF MURDER! On July 3, he was sentenced to death. I’ll make a prediction, Peruto told reporters. “I predict Gary Heidnik’s going to kill himself. I predict he’ll be dead
before the first book hits the stands.”
That prediction came within a hairsbreadth of coming true. A guard found him unconscious on New Year’s morning, January 1, 1989. He had taken an overdose of Thorazine and anti-psychotic drug. Fast-acting doctors saved him for the executioner.
Years of legal balderdash kept Gary Heidnik alive on death row, but on Wednesday, July 7, 1999, at age 55, he was put to death by lethal injection in the Graterford Prison at Rockview. His $550,000 stock market fortune went to his victims, taxes and his lawyer, through a bankruptcy court.
Gary Heidnik and his Bible
(article from New Criminologist):

Gary Heidnik and His Cellar of Death

‘Any person who puts dog food and human remains in a food processor and calls it a gourmet meal and feeds it to others is out to lunch.’
A. Charles Peruto Jr – Heidnik’s defence attorney
Gary Heidnik had a final plan. He was on the slippery slope to self-destruction and required an urgent fix for his misery. By abducting women and victimising them thoroughly, he thought he might have found a solution, and he was going to make sure that he put them through as much pain and torment as he could conceive of before he imploded.

He has been described as “Philadelphia’s most dysfunctional citizen,” an edict that few who read the following will be inclined to dispute. He was also a fellow able, through his intellectual wizardry, to mastermind the acquisition of a fortune playing the US stock market. Bizarrely his manic energies even allowed him to run his own church. But it was his other, more private activities, which helped inspire Thomas Harris’ homicidal creation, Jame Gumb, aka Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, for which Heidnik will be remembered.
Only after people were already dead and the horrors perpetrated, would dwellers in the City of Brotherly Love, and by latter extension, the rest of the world, find out what Gary Heidnik had been doing in his basement.
It was 4.30 am on Wednesday 25 March 1987. A bitter wind had risen to compliment the chilly temperature as two police squad cars arrived at an address in North Philadelphia.
3520 North Marshall Street was a nondescript two storey residence, part of a long row of others just like it. Surrounded by a three feet tall chain link fence, the difference with this house was that it was set back from the street and actually had a garage. As visually unappealing as the hastily erected lean-to was, it was nonetheless a rarity in this deteriorating section of town.
By the eighties, the neighbourhood had declined to such an extent that it was now classed as a slum. It had once been inhabited by proud German immigrants who had taken as much pride in the jobs they held as the way their homes were tended, ensuring that their lawns were neatly manicured and their houses freshly painted and protected against the elements.
Those days were over. When their hard work had afforded them the opportunity to purchase new homes in the more affluent suburbs they moved on. More common now was the sight of a burned out car or a boarded up house, front yards strewn with rotting furniture and debris.
North Marshall Street, as with all the others in the area, had changed. The Europeans were mostly gone and the neighbourhood was now predominantly black and Hispanic. Many of the arriving families were poor and the efforts of the few who tried to keep community standards were soon quashed by those disinterested in maintaining their homes or keeping their streets free of crime. In very little time this part of Philadelphia’s north side had degenerated further, with muggings and burglaries soaring, as well as frequent acts of vandalism and the widespread peddling of crack and cocaine. It had even been nicknamed the “OK Corral,” after a feud between gun-toting drug dealers had once erupted in the street.
The purpose of the garage at 3250 North Marshall was simple; the owner had been the victim of crime. One time a band of young thugs had tossed a firebomb his way and after calling the police, told them that as he was very possessive about the vehicles he owned, the garage was a necessary precaution in keeping them safe. They also knew that the guy had plenty of money, though the outward appearance of his ailing abode and the neighbourhood in which he had elected to set up camp did little to convey this.
Now the officers quietly assembled in the cold, windswept street. Homicide Lieutenant James Hansen was running the show. He had earlier listened to a mercurial tale of rape, torture, death, dismemberment and even cannibalism, all allegedly occurring within the walls of the house standing before him. The poor girl recounting it had been out of her mind with fear, almost babbling, but a statement from her stunned yet more coherent boyfriend added gravitas to her claims.
It was quite a story. Apparently the man who lived here had kidnapped her and a number of other women and held them prisoner in his cellar. Over the course of a hellish four month period they had been repeatedly assaulted and raped, most enduring prolonged and horrible torture; some of the captives had died. Their kidnapper was a maniac she cried, like something out of a horror movie. Fortunately police had already arrested the man at whom these incredible charges had been levelled, just after midnight at a nearby gas station. He was safely in custody.
Attempting to gain access to the suspect’s home, the officers were temporarily thwarted by the elaborate lock system he had in place. As it was impossible for them to open the front door for themselves, despite having given been given a set of keys by the occupier, Lt. Hansen called for and was handed a crow bar, with which he busted the front door from its hinges.
One of the first inside Gary Heidnik’s house was Officer David Savidge. Savidge had arrested Heidnik several hours before. Sergeant Frank McCloskey was right behind him. The police had been told exactly where they needed to look and so headed directly for the basement.
Descending a narrow flight of steps into the small, dingy room, the officers immediately noted two women asleep on a grubby mattress in the corner. They were covered over with an abysmal excuse for a blanket and huddled together for warmth in the cold, dank chamber.
As they approached, both women snapped awake, eyes wide with terror. They began to scream. Doing his best to comfort them, convincing them that they were safe now, Savidge gently removed the blanket. The women were chained to a large pipe in the ceiling. Though they were clad in torn, dirty blouses, both were naked from the waists down. Their captor had also generously allowed them to keep their socks on.
When asked if there were any more women to be found in the house, the police officers were directed to a thin sheet of plywood laid across the stone floor, atop which were piled a number of plastic sacks filled with soil. Clearly the intention was to weight down the board. Wondering what kind of vault lay beneath the officers moved the sacks aside and kicked the board out of the way.
They peered into the gloom of the damp, makeshift pit carved into the floor. There, squatting at the bottom like a shell-shocked cave dweller was a nude woman. She was swaying from side to side, moaning softly, shivering with cold and fear. The police were surprised to find that so far everything they had been told they would find, they had. Consoling the woman in the hole, McCloskey and Savidge coaxed her into an upright position and lifted her from her prison. As well as her legs being shackled, both her hands were manacled behind her back. The cops had a handcuff key that fit but it would require bolt cutters to remove the leg irons, which were actually fashioned from muffler clamps – a metal rod bent in the shape of a U, more properly used to support car exhaust pipes.
Breaking into hysterical sobs of relief the rescued women shrilled their gratitude, smothering the officers with kisses. Once they were cut free of their bonds and taken away in an ambulance, the police turned their attentions to searching the rest of the house.
The place was littered with papers and documents, like a whirlwind in an office. The man that lived here was definitely a hoarder. He must have retained every last receipt he had ever been supplied with. Clearly a filing system was something he had not concerned himself with.
Downstairs, Hansen and McCloskey discovered a strangely juxtaposed video collection of horror and infantile comedy films. Upstairs, inside a bedroom cupboard was a large stash of pornographic magazines, all featuring black women.
The kitchen was where it was all happening though. Officer Savidge, a tough, veteran cop was still unprepared for what came next. On the grease-caked stove was a battered aluminium cooking pot. It was heavily scorched and inside was a yellowish lard-like substance, the unpleasant look of which was surpassed only by the disgusting way it smelled. Amidst the cluttered kitchen counter was an industrial food processor, which appeared to have been used recently. Shreds of what looked like raw meat were stuck to the inside. Again, the appliance stank.
The oven door hung open. Hunkering down, Savidge looked into its dark interior. There on a baking tray was a long, curved segment of bone, roasted almost black. Charred as it was, he thought it looked unmistakably like a rib, large enough to have come from a person. He opened the fridge, and quickly shut it again. Closing his eyes and leaning back against the wall, Savidge tried to get the image of the severed human forearm he had just seen inside, out of his head. He couldn’t. Dashing for the door he ejected himself from Gary Heidnik’s stinking kitchen, gulping deeply at the crisp early morning air. As a police officer of many years experience he was hardened to seeing ghastly things but still he felt his gorge rise. A number of times he came perilously close to vomiting.
When the papers got hold of the story, headlines screaming; “Man held in torture killings” and “Women Chained in Horror Dungeon,” pretty much set the tone of things to come.
It had started on the night of Wednesday, November 26 1986. Twenty-five-year-old Josefina Rivera, having argued with her boyfriend, stormed out of the apartment they shared together, to cool off. She later returned intent on apologising but the dispute flared again. This time when she walked, she did not come back. Her boyfriend would subsequently report her missing.
It was raining and bitterly cold but Josefina thought she still might ply her part-time trade as a prostitute. Confidently navigating the wet streets of North ‘Philly’ she watched as a silver and white Cadillac Coupe De Ville drove up out of the rain and slowed beside her. Josefina approached it. The driver’s window slid down and the man inside asked if she was “hustling.” She replied that she was indeed and the driver motioned for her to get in.
He introduced himself as “Gary” and after negotiating a sexual encounter at the cost of twenty dollars the pair drove to a nearby McDonalds, where the man ordered himself a coffee. In the brightly lit fast food restaurant, Josefina got her first good look at her ‘John.’ He was white, the dark beard he wore well-groomed, but this was the only thing about him that was. His wavy brown hair looked matted and unwashed and the inexpensive wardrobe he had on, consisting of grubby slacks, an open-necked shirt and tasselled “cowboy-style” suede jacket, looked as though it had been hanging off him for weeks. He appeared tired, with a sallow complexion. Apart from his long, straight nose the only feature that really stood out were his steel-blue eyes. Framed by dark circles, they rarely blinked. Around his neck was a gold chain bearing a cross, and on his wrist was a thick gold Rolex watch. The jewellery was an odd contrast to his cheap-looking, dishevelled clothing.
The man was not much of a conservationist either, she noted. Instead of bantering as most customers did, he seemed content to sip his coffee and stare at her. When he had finished he announced that they were leaving. This suited Josefina. The sooner she was through with this depressing individual with his zombie-like gaze, the better.
“Gary” then drove them to the house on North Marshall.
As they pulled into his garage, Josefina noticed a 1971 Rolls Royce parked in the shadows. A costly ride she thought. Evidently the man was not low on funds.
At the front door he produced the weirdest looking key she had ever seen. It was cut in half. As he used it in the lock she asked him what this was all about. He duly explained that the other half always stayed in the lock so unless someone else got hold of his key, they were not picking his lock and getting in.
So he was the paranoid type as well.
Entering the house via the kitchen, Josefina noticed that for some strange reason half of one wall was plastered with pennies. Leading her through the living-room, the man asked her if she wanted to watch a movie. Josefina declined, preferring to get on with what she had come here for. This obviously irritated him, and so as not to upset him further, she explained that she had to pick up her daughter soon and so could not stay out all night.
Seemingly pacified by the untruth “Gary” led her upstairs to his bedroom. As she reached the first floor landing an even more surreal money-made d├ęcor greeted her, this time in the form of a one and five dollar bill collage, stuck to the wall. It looked like he was still working on it.
After perfunctory but energetic intercourse, Josefina rose from the bed to get dressed. That is when things took a sudden nose-dive for the worst. No sooner had she put her blouse on, she felt a pair of strong hands lock around her throat. Gasping as the man behind her applied more pressure, her vision blurred and her surroundings began to dim. Just short of rendering her unconscious the man released his grip a little and instructed Josefina to place her hands behind her back. She felt cold steel on her wrists as he locked a pair of handcuffs in place. Grabbing her by the back of the neck he shoved her out of the bedroom and down the hallway. Gary Heidnik had his first “slave.”
As she was led into the small room below the house, Josefina quickly registered how frigid the air here was. She was dressed in just her blouse, the one item of clothing she had been allowed to put on before Heidnik “went nuts” and attacked her. Dragged across the room she was pushed down onto an old mattress and instructed to cooperate or face a severe beating. Handcuffed and helpless, Josefina had no choice but to go along with whatever this person had planned for her.
Metal clamps were then attached to her bare ankles and connected to one end of a length of chain. Working quickly and quietly, Heidnik proceeded to glue the clamps shut, sealing them with concentrated blasts from a hair dryer. The chain was then wrapped around a pipe attached to the ceiling and secured. With Josefina Rivera half naked and tethered to a basement wall, Heidnik lay down beside her, rested his head in her lap and went to sleep.
When he later awakened it was to go to work on something else in the room. What could only be described as a shallow pit had been dug into the earth below the cellar floor. As Josefina watched, Heidnik grabbed a pick and shovel and commenced widening and deepening it.
The whole scene was something her mind was having a hard time dealing with. The man in the pit looked up every now and again from his labour, giving her a fragmented rundown of his “master plan.” He complained about not having a family. He said he had four children with four different women but sullenly informed Josefina that the kids had been taken away from him now and it was unlikely that he would ever get a chance to raise them.
Since what he said he really wanted was to have an extended family, he would take it upon himself to secure ten “brides.” Ten was a good number he thought, and since they would not be coming to him willingly, this hole in his floor needed some serious expansion. He had to have somewhere to put his slaves in between sex sessions.
Josefina had had plenty of time so far to ascertain that this was not a well man and so his outrageous scheme did not exactly surprise her. He seemed capable of just about anything. As if to demonstrate, Heidnik climbed up out of the hole and forced himself between her legs. After the rape, Heidnik got up, smiling contentedly.
When he had gone back upstairs, Josefina had a desperate go at one of her ankle restraints. She was able to loosen it enough to ease her foot out. Not far away was a window, allowing a narrow shaft of light to filter through. The chain stretched enough for her to not only get to it, but half way through as well. This was as far as she was going on her own. Knowing that her captor could be anywhere in the house, she decided she must take the risk that he might hear and began screaming for help.
He did hear, and when he returned he was carrying a piece of wood. Josefina was dragged by her hair back into the basement and smashed to the ground with the makeshift weapon. Realising that the more she yelled the harder he hit, she sobbingly ceased. Warned not to make any further noise she was whacked again for good measure and then tumbled into the shaft in the ground. Shoving her down so that her body was bent almost double, Heidnik covered her and the hole over with a piece of plywood. Josefina could hear and feel weight coming down on top of the board. It looked as though she was going to be left here for a while.
Many times Josefina Rivera felt claustrophobia trying to take over and she did all she could to combat it. Driven almost insane by the cramped confines all she had to listen to were her own renewed screams and the sound of ‘heavy metal’ rock music blaring away upstairs. Heidnik had turned his radio up to full blast in order to drown out her cries.
There would be other women brought down into Gary Heidnik’s basement. They like Josefina would be chained half naked, periodically raped and beaten, and confined to “the hole” for indefinite periods if ever they tried to escape or attract attention. Following the arrival of Heidnik’s second captive a new element was introduced; torture.
Sandra Lindsay was mentally retarded and had known her kidnapper for some years. Up until he decided to abduct Sandra and confine her in his basement – now a dungeon used strictly for the purposes of sex and violence – Gary Heidnik had been very nice to her. He had visited her many times at the care home where she lived. He looked after her and made sure she was all right. In fact he had done such a good job at paying special attention to her that Sandra had ended up pregnant with his child.
She was soon persuaded by her family and friends that an abortion was the best recourse. Gary Heidnik, who felt otherwise, tried desperately to convince her not to go through with the operation. He failed.
It was time to get even. Like Josefina, Sandra Lindsay was black, and like Josefina, the first thing Heidnik did when he got her into his cellar was chain her to a pipe. In the coming days, Heidnik would periodically hide out in the basement, keeping his captives gagged and intimidated whenever there was a knock on his door. On a couple of occasions his visitors were relatives of “Sandy,” as Lindsay was known. They wondered if she had gone somewhere with Gary Heidnik. In the end, he forced Sandra to write a note to her concerned family saying that she had decided to leave town. Heidnik would post the letter from New York City, for authenticity, he said.
In the meantime his beatings of the pair were becoming more ferocious. Rapes were a daily occurrence, and then there was the torture. One excruciatingly painful punishment involved suspension from a ceiling beam. The unlucky recipient would be left to dangle by one handcuffed wrist, for several hours at a time.
By now both women had been held in Gary Heidnik’s cellar for a few weeks. Sometimes he would forget to feed them; permanently he would keep them semi-naked.
In December he brought a third woman, nineteen-year-old Lisa Thomas, back to 3250 North Marshall Street. After buying her dinner, with the promise of new clothes and more good times, Lisa had agreed to accompany Heidnik home. The idea was to share a bottle of wine and perhaps have sex. As soon as she passed out from the wine he had drugged, Heidnik raped her. Lisa Thomas was then placed in handcuffs and carried down to the basement to join the others. Seven more to go and Heidnik would have his dream harem.
Just over a week later he grabbed girl number four. Her name was Deborah Dudley. She was 23-years-old, and a fighter. Strongly rebelling against being chained like an animal in Heidnik’s basement, from day one she gave him as much trouble as she could. In return, he gave her as many beatings as he thought her transgressions merited. As a result Deborah was battered and bruised throughout her long ordeal, but Heidnik had not succeeded in breaking her spirit.
Since he had imprisoned her, Gary Heidnik had grown quite fond of Josefina Rivera. He demonstrated his growing respect and trust of her by having her “watch over” the other women whenever he had to leave the house. Call it Stockholm syndrome, or the pretense thereof, but Josefina certainly seemed to be coming to identify with her captor. Though a bright man, almost certainly recognizing that on some level he was being manipulated, Heidnik seemed to want to run with Josefina’s newfound loyalty to him. If he thought it was contrived, he never showed it. One of the perks of being Gary Heidnik’s favourite was being spared frequent beatings and torture sessions. Repeated rapes, exceptionally poor diets and living conditions, was something she continued to endure with the rest.
Though there were some days when Heidnik did not bother to feed his captives at all, bread and water was the norm for a while. As a rare treat he would come up with several day old hot dogs or sandwiches. In the end, for reasons only he knew, Gary Heidnik started feeding them tinned dog food.
Forcing the women to perform oral sex on him was something Heidnik had practiced from day one but clearly seeking bigger thrills he often insisted that they copulate with one another as he watched. His rapes were still a regular humiliation for them all, but the girls all thought this sordid new twist even worse.
For hygiene purposes, something Heidnik did not seem to place too much stock in, the girls were allowed to use moisturised towels to cleanse themselves as best they could. Occasionally a warm bath was allowed, though they would have to carry their chains up to the bathroom with them. No sooner were they out of the water, Heidnik would rape them. He also allowed his captives a portable toilet and some tampons. That’s where it ended.
In January, a fifth girl, named Jacquelyn Askins, found herself trapped in Heidnik’s cellar. He had picked up the petite eighteen-year-old whilst traversing his regular cruising zone on the north side of town
Like the others, Jacquelyn was chained, raped and abused. At some point Heidnik believed he had impregnated two of his captives, one of whom being his favourite, Josefina Rivera.
One day it seemed there was cause for celebration. It was Josefina’s twenty-sixth birthday. As such the girls were allowed to dine on Chinese takeaway and sip champagne Heidnik had bought. Needless to say, the malnourished prisoners wolfed down their food. Heidnik watched them as he drank from his own glass of champagne, smiling softly at his girls, the first of whom would soon be dead.
On Saturday February 7 1987, Gary Heidnik noticed that Sandra Lindsay had attempted to move the plywood and weights that covered the hole in the ground. After a brief but savage beating, he decided that an extended period of torture would be apt punishment for her. Sandra was suspended by a single handcuff from a roof beam. For two days.
When Heidnik finally let her down, she was barely conscious and had vomited. Her condition quickly worsened and she was soon running a fever. The vomiting continued. Sandra was the other woman that Heidnik thought was pregnant, and the last thing he would tolerate was for his unborn child to die. This was all about “family” after all. If Sandra Lindsay did not wish to eat voluntarily, Heidnik would soon see to it that she ate anyway. Slapping her and ranting, he would stuff pieces of dry bread into her mouth and manipulate her jaw until she chewed and swallowed.
The next morning Sandra Lindsay was dead. The other captives had tried desperately to rouse her for fear of more beatings all round but Lindsay just lay there, face down and chained. When Heidnik had checked for her pulse and found that there wasn’t one, he hauled Sandra from the pit and threw her body over his shoulder. Then he disappeared upstairs.
Heidnik’s hard rock music was not turned up to full volume that day and the women heard very clearly the sound of a power saw coming to life. They quailed. Upstairs, Gary Heidnik was dismembering Sandra Lindsay. Her head went in the big pot on the stove, her rib cage in the oven. Her hands and feet were refrigerated, the concept being to cook them later. With the parts of the body deemed unsuitable for his current purposes so consigned, Heidnik began cutting the flesh from her torso. He has never confessed to eating any of this himself, but with documented knowledge of his later deeds it must remain a strong possibility that he sampled Sandra Lindsay’s flesh. As Heidnik worked he called for his two dogs, Flaky and Bear. It was dinnertime.
In the basement, Heidnik’s “harem” was in for a shock. The sound of the dog scampering down the stairs caught their full attention. What Bear had clamped between his jaws caused them to scream. It was a bone, it looked human, and it still had scraps of bloody meat attached to it. Bear settled himself in full view of them, gnawing at it.
Upstairs in the kitchen Gary Heidnik loaded his food processor with handfuls of Sandra Lindsay’s flesh and ground it down to mush.
In the days following Sandra’s death, the girls would wince whenever their captor came near them. The stench of burning flesh had seared itself into his clothes, his skin and hair. The man himself seemed not to notice, but the neighbours did.
The next day there was a knock at Heidnik’s front door. A policeman was standing there. What was the problem with the horrible smell coming out of his place, he was asked? The neighbours thought he had died in there.
Taking a moment to turn down the Hard Rock station on his stereo, Heidnik explained that the odour was attributable to his incinerated dinner of the previous evening. The policeman decided to believe this and left Heidnik to it. In the pot on the stove, Sandra Lindsay’s head continued to simmer.
The women who were now Gary Heidnik’s slaves had to cope as best they could with the idea that their “master” had sawed up Sandra Lindsay and fed her to his dogs. What they did not know was that Heidnik had come up with another idea; he had decided to mix pieces of Sandra’s flesh with the dog food he had been feeding them. The girls ate their food, not knowing that Sandra Lindsay was part of it.
In the aftermath of the first death to occur in his basement, Heidnik experimented further, devising new psychological games for his captives. The girls were encouraged to inform on one another if ever any plans to escape were afoot. There were incentives, such as better living conditions and more generous food rations. Heidnik delighted in this further exercising of his control over them. Josefina Rivera took the lead in supplying her “information,” when she later heard the others plotting to jump Heidnik and escape. They would regret this.
One day Gary Heidnik came down into the basement with a selection of screwdrivers. Knowing something bad was brewing, the women began to tremble as he approached. Heidnik bound each of them, hand and foot, with handcuffs and ankle shackles. Then he hooked them up to a ceiling beam and suspended them. A plastic bag was stuffed into each of their mouths and electrician’s tape wound tightly around their heads. Eyes bulging with panic, they groaned into their gags as Heidnik sifted through his assortment of tools.
The screwdriver Heidnik settled on promptly ended up in the ear of the nearest immobilised captive. Gripping the handle firmly, he twisted the sharp metal deep enough to penetrate the eardrum. He followed the same routine with the other girls, whose muffled, agonized screams endured for some time. Josefina Rivera looked on as Heidnik did this. One wonders what her thoughts were.
So this was their punishment for conspiring to overthrow his sadistic regime and get the hell out; Heidnik’s demented way of maintaining loyalty. The extra advantage in deafening them was presumably that they would be unable in future to hear his measured tread on the cellar stairs.
When Gary Heidnik’s “problem child,” Deborah Dudley, continued to display her rebellion later that week, Heidnik removed her shackles and took her upstairs, for a lesson.
Marching her into the kitchen, she was shown the severed head of Sandra Lindsay, still boiling in the pot on the stove. In the oven was the smoking stack of her ribs, in the refrigerator, an arm, a pair of hands, and both her feet, wrapped in plastic. Did she want to be next, Heidnik enquired? Dudley slowly shook her head and was led back downstairs.
Heidnik’s torture routine now included electroshock attacks. Heidnik would take a length of extension wire, strip the insulation from one end of it and plug the other into the wall. Then the bare wires would be placed against the girls’ chains and Heidnik’s own brand of entertainment would begin.
Josefina Rivera watched with him, again exempt from the barbaric proceedings.
Heidnik now openly regarded Josefina as a partner rather than a captive and spent more and more time alone with her, having sex in his bedroom or watching movies. So close had they become that on 18 March, when Heidnik decided that his slaves needed punishing, he had Josefina help him. Since his penchant was for electrocution he got ready with his wires. This time he wanted to generate larger current. Taking a drill, he bore a couple of holes in the plywood cover used to seal off the pit. Josefina’s job was to fill the hole with water.
The victims, bound as ever with chains and handcuffs, were dragged over to the water-choked basin and kicked in. Once the board with its newly customised “air holes” was back in place and the girls were submerged beneath, Heidnik repositioned his sacks of dirt. With his captives thus ensnared, he seemed content. Inserting the stripped wire through the first of the holes, Heidnik knew there would be one hell of a struggle down there. He did not want any of them to avoid the action.
The first jolt of electricity galvanized the water, sending powerful shockwaves throughout the glacial darkness. Anguished screeching drifted up into the cellar, especially from Deborah Dudley. The wire had made direct contact with one of her shackles and her body thrashed around as the brunt of the voltage surged through her. When the wire was withdrawn, Deborah violently convulsed and hit the muddy water face first. She was dead.
The remaining girls, Lisa and Jacquelyn, yelled hysterically until Heidnik withdrew the board. Unperturbed by the sudden death of Deborah Dudley, Heidnik left the room, returning with dog food sandwiches for lunch. He also had a pen and paper.
As the bewildered women consumed their food, Heidnik turned to Josefina, ordering her to write the date and time at the top of the piece of paper, then a detailed statement as to what had happened. She was to include acknowledgement of her own involvement, then sign it. Apparently satisfied, Heidnik added his own signature beneath Josefina’s. They were now partners in crime and if the cops came later she would be arrested too. If he was going down, she was coming with him.
To further enhance the credibility of the document, he had the other two girls sign it as well. Heidnik left the corpse of Deborah Dudley in the basement overnight, with Lisa and Jacquelyn. Josefina was allowed out of her bondage and slept with Heidnik in his bedroom. The next morning Deborah’s body was carried upstairs, encased in plastic and stored in Gary Heidnik’s freezer.
Josefina Rivera, now Heidnik’s “girlfriend,” received more and more of his attentions, including being taken out for meals, sharing his bed, and having clothes and presents bought for her. Apparently she did not make any serious attempt to run when out with him either. One time she “went out” with Heidnik, it was to help bury Deborah Dudley’s body.
Four days after her death, under cover of darkness, Josefina helped Heidnik carry Deborah’s partially frozen corpse, wrapped in a blanket, out to the garage. Heidnik had his Dodge Dart van idling there. Loading the body into the boot, they both got in and Heidnik drove off.
Arriving at their destination, a desolate area outside of Philadelphia known as the ‘Pine Barrens,’ Heidnik dragged Deborah’s body from the vehicle and carried it into the woods. Josefina remained in the van.
The very next day Gary Heidnik decided to “increase” his slave intake and find a replacement for Deborah Dudley. Now two were dead and Rivera was more of a full time accomplice, he had another eight captives to take before his envisioned harem was realised. With Josefina Rivera beside him he again set out to cruise the streets of north Philadelphia, looking for another victim.
Her name was Agnes Adams. She was twenty-four-years-old and a prostitute. She knew Josefina from their days together working as strippers at a local club. After agreeing to accompany Josefina and her new “boyfriend,” Agnes ended her evening chained naked in the basement. Gary was very pleased. His helper said she was too.
It was not until 24 March 1987, almost four months to the day her imprisonment began, that Josefina Rivera finally got a chance to implement the plot she had been formulating. She needed a clear shot at getting away from Gary Heidnik. The man was far too dangerous to risk anything less. She did not want to go out the same way as Sandra and Deborah, so she had bided her time.
Feeling that she had earned Heidnik’s full trust, carefully nurturing his affections for her, she asked if she could visit her family, saying that if Heidnik allowed this she would bring him back a girl to add to his collection. Remarkably Heidnik agreed. He would drop Josefina off near her home and wait for her at a local gas station, then take her and the new slave she had promised home with him.
Big mistake for Heidnik, but the man’s logic was somewhat impaired at this stage. Two girls had died at his hands and yet he showed no signs of abandoning his crazy plot to create a huge mix-raced family. Though he was unravelling mentally, he clearly was not going to stop himself. That’s where Josefina planned to intervene.
As soon as she was out of Heidnik’s car and he had driven off down the block, Josefina burst into a delirious sprint for home. Fuelled by adrenalin and sheer delight at being free she dashed to the apartment she shared with her boyfriend, Vincent Nelson. He was the first to hear her frightening tale. The police were the next.
Gary Heidnik was arrested after midnight at the gas station where he fully expected Josefina Rivera to meet him. Back at the Sex Crimes Unit building, Heidnik asked casually if this was to do with overdue child support payments. His interrogators assured him that it was a good deal more serious than that.
He was born Gary Michael Heidnik on Monday 22 November 1943. His middle name was his father’s first. The family home was in the quiet suburban enclave of Eastlake, in Cleveland, Ohio. The turbulence started early for young Gary. When he was just two years old, his parents divorced. Despite the fact that his father had cited Ellen Heidnik’s descent into alcoholism as one of the prime reasons for their marriage disintegrating he allowed Gary and his infant brother, Terry, to live with their mother and her new husband. Just after Gary had started school however, both brothers were moved in with their father, a tool-and-die maker by trade, who had also remarried.
From the start the boys did not get on with Michael Heidnik’s new wife, perceiving her as the archetypal wicked stepmother. Intolerant of the frequent squabbles they would have with her, their father chastised them harshly. Matters were exacerbated when his eldest son was unable to control his bladder at night. Michael would taunt him over this, going so far as to hang his soiled bed sheets from an upstairs window, explaining that it was so all the neighbours could see what a dirty little boy Gary was.
It did not stop here. According to Heidnik himself, urine-soaked sheets were not the only thing his dad hung out the window when Gary had been “bad.” The child found himself hanging by his ankles on more than one occasion as Michael Heidnik held his legs, furiously shaking the small boy.
Things worsened after Gary fell from a tree, smashing his skull and laying unconscious for a time. The serious tumble caused cranial misshaping as well as what some believe contributed to a marked behavioural aberration in the boy. Much of this was manifested in the temper tantrums and violent quarrels he had with his brother, which led to further mauling from his aggressively disposed father.
The early years at school were hard for Gary Heidnik, despite the discovery that he was one of the brightest pupils there. He was often cruelly labelled “football head” by his peers and consequently was painfully shy and preoccupied with his appearance. Though not unattractive, the regular jibes about the shape of his head had a lasting impact. Gary Heidnik decided that in order to compensate for his perceived physical shortcomings, he would concentrate on achieving material greatness.
By the age of twelve, as he pondered on how best to achieve this, he did most things that others his age would. He joined the boy scouts and worked hard at summer jobs to earn money. He even dated a few girls, though his shyness often interfered. He sought refuge by pursuing his fantasy of wealth and power. Soon comics were abandoned in favour of the financial sections of newspapers. Young Gary had decided that he would use his sharp brain to make himself rich. The aspiring walking success story allowed this notion to obsess him, telling everybody who would listen that one day he was going to be a millionaire. That and the most decorated of soldiers.
In a rare display of support for the son he so often tormented, arrangements were made by Michael Heidnik, for Gary to attend the esteemed Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. Though happy with this, the ambitious boy longed to make it one day to the legendary West Point.
He stayed at the academy for two years. His grades were exemplary and for a time it looked as though the lad was destined for great things; the American Dream personified. Then a mysterious but obviously necessary visit with mental health professionals prompted Gary to give it all up and go back to the care of his father. After a spotty period of drifting from high school to high school, dissatisfied and desperate to be doing something more substantial with his life, Heidnik finally joined the army.
He quickly proved adept at this and became a great soldier, ready to take on any challenge and provide unfailing respect to his superiors. In short, Heidnik was able to follow orders unquestioningly. His basic training period had earned him excellent grades and he decided to apply for a position with the military police. He was refused, perhaps because of his psychological history.
San Antonio, Texas was next on the agenda. The young soldier travelled from Ohio intending to become a medic. This time he was successful. On the side, he had another idea ready to launch. Having accumulated enough capital, he operated his natural “business head” and it was not long before he had developed an efficiently organised money-lending arrangement. His clients were his fellow soldiers.
In May 1962 this booming personal financial institution was curtailed when he found himself suddenly shifted to a different country. Given the role of an orderly he was posted to the 46th Army Surgical Hospital in Landstuhl, West Germany. Heidnik was most incensed at the unexpected upheaval. He had more than $5000 left to collect on his loans, which he would most likely never see again due to this faraway new placement.
Better news came in the form of his high school equivalency results. The intellectually gifted young man scored ninety-six per cent. As with most things in the life of Gary Heidnik though his “rolls” never lasted, and the good times again took a dip when in August 1962 he wound up in the army sick bay. With striking shades of the early military life of Fritz Haarmaan, Heidnik would shortly find himself removed from the army life he so loved, due to his inability to control the problems with his brain.
He complained to doctors of blurred vision, dizziness and vomiting. He also exhibited a pronounced tic, intermittently jerking his head to the side. Neurologists later diagnosed him as suffering from gastroenteritis. As if this were not sobering enough, it was also determined that the capable young soldier was manifesting all the hallmarks of a degenerative mental illness.
The doctors seemed unable to decide whether his was a schizoid personality or whether he suffered with schizophrenia. In any event, things were only going to get worse if he didn’t receive treatment. Stelazine, a powerful tranquilizer reserved for use with extreme and delusional psychotics, was considered the best way forward.
Suddenly the future did not look so good for the young man who just wanted to be a soldier, albeit one day a wealthy one and he was sent back to the States. Three months later Gary Heidnik was honourably discharged and released from the United States Army. Due to his medical difficulties, he was granted a full disability pension. He had also been latterly diagnosed as suffering from a “schizoid personality disorder.”
Heidnik had been in the forces for just over a year.
He travelled to Philadelphia to pursue a new vocation. Despite his mental difficulties his sharp academic acumen and drive was not significantly diluted and he quickly qualified as a Licensed Practical Nurse. Subsequently enrolling at the University of Pennsylvania he went on to gain credits in such diverse subjects as history, anthropology, biology, and chemistry. Thanks to his qualifications in nursing, he managed to get a job at the University Hospital.
It did not last. His performance notably slackened until his employers had no choice but to dismiss him. He next appeared at the Veterans Administration Hospital, just outside Philadelphia, where he set himself up to train as a psychiatric nurse. Perhaps he displayed one too many psychological problems of his own, as he was deemed unfit to be supervising the mentally ill.
Gary Heidnik was out of a job again and it was just a matter of time before he began resurfacing in the same hospitals he had trained to be employed at; this time as a patient. Attempting to assuage some of his problems by reconciling differences with his family he returned to Cleveland to patch up a life’s worth of difficulties with his father and stepmother. They didn’t want to know. Chastened, Heidnik set off home to the city he was coming to know well, Philadelphia. An unpleasant event was waiting for him there.
On May 30 1970, his cancer-ravaged mother took her own life via a bottle of Mercuric Chloride. She had acquired the poison from her job as a beautician. Heidnik appears to have been most distraught by her death and it would soon be him that made an attempt on his own life, the first of many suicidal forays for Gary Heidnik. His methods ranged from hanging, munching crushed glass, overdosing on his medication prescriptions, and driving his motor cycle straight into the path of an oncoming truck. Each time he would be unsuccessful, and each time he would be hospitalised. Whilst a patient he would frequently retreat into himself, his vapid gaze and uncommunicative countenance closely resembling catatonia.
One of many tests he underwent was to gauge the measure of his intelligence. The patient was responsive to this and he was found to possess a “superior” intellect.
Around this time Gary’s younger brother, Terry, was being hospitalised for mental problems as well, so it seems there is some hereditary argument in the case of the Heidniks.
With each admission to hospital, Gary Heidnik’s behaviour worsened. He spent most of his days in complete silence, communicating solely by writing on scraps of paper. In addition, the leather jacket he so loved was now permanently welded to his torso. If asked to remove it he became aggressive. Heidnik’s desire to shower was also absent and he often had to be coerced into bathing. Odd habits such as executing military salutes and rolling up one leg of his trousers, to signal that he was not to be approached, became a regular occurrence.
The patient appeared to be making little progress, but despite his erratic behaviour he seems to have been able to temper his illness sufficiently, as senior staff at the hospital concluded that he was fit for release.
Back on the streets, Gary Heidnik paid a visit to his brother and battered him with a wood plane. Far from recalcitrant over the assault, Heidnik informed Terry of what would have occurred had he expired from his injuries. As his brother listened in disbelief, Gary calmly intoned how he would have placed Terry’s body in an acid-filled bath tub and left it there to slowly dissolve. Terry noted that Gary’s main concern seemed to be that the acid must not do any lasting damage to the drain pipes.
Females were a weakness of Heidnik’s. He rigorously pursued as many sexual relationships as possible, his preference being Afro-Caribbean women. It helped if they were retarded also. This gave Heidnik more control. Even then his objective was to father as many children as he could and as such the concept of birth control was anathema to him.
When one of his earlier girlfriends became pregnant, Heidnik was ecstatic. His joy did not hold. Upon giving birth to a daughter, she took the baby and left him.
To the retarded women he dated, he was a menace. His handicapped partners, who he should have been caring for, were treated appallingly; often sexually degraded, beaten and deliberately underfed.
Heidnik had a brush with the surreal during the spring of 1971. Not a religious man prior to an apparent “revelation” from God, Heidnik drove to Malibu Beach, California, to gaze at the sunset and “commune with the Lord.” Hospitalised yet again, it was while undergoing treatment that he set about establishing his very own church.
Back in Philadelphia, he applied for and was accepted to incorporate the United Church of the Ministers of God. There would be a five member board representing the “Church of Heidnik,” to include Gary’s equally disturbed brother, Terry, and a mentally-handicapped girl Heidnik was seeing at this time. In October of the same year he had begun referring to himself as “Bishop” Heidnik.
In 1975 Gary Heidnik opened a Merrill Lynch investment account in the church’s name. Over the next decade he would demonstrate his financial prowess by shrewdly accumulating more than half a million dollars. He had invested just fifteen hundred.
His mental problems nonetheless showed no sign of abating and he would be continually in and out of hospitals around the city, taking enough time to salt his investments and “minister” to his parishioners before being hospitalised again. His name was also becoming known to the police.
Heidnik owned a rundown property in an equally rundown neighbourhood in West Philadelphia, a stone’s throw from the University of Pennsylvania, and not unusually in the life of Gary Heidnik, the “incident” unfolded in the basement.
In the fall of 1976, he was renting the house to a young man named Robert Rogers, whose girlfriend Heidnik had had a dispute with. Retribution was to be sought against Rogers himself, so one evening Heidnik hid in the cellar, armed with a rifle and a pistol, waiting for the man to come home from work.
It was the pistol he used. Aiming at the terrified Rogers’ face, Heidnik squeezed the trigger. The bullet skimmed the man’s cheek. He had Heidnik’s dreadful aim to thank for being alive. Incredibly, he managed to calm the gunman and Heidnik agreed not to fire a second time. The police were not quite as accommodating as Heidnik had been when asked to relinquish his weapon to his intended victim. They charged him with aggravated assault and carrying an unlicensed pistol “on the public streets” and took him away. For some reason the charges were dropped one week later.
Grimly foreshadowing what was to come, the basement where the botched attack had taken place was found to have had a hole dug into its concrete floor. When asked about it Heidnik would not elaborate.
The law caught up with this increasingly disturbed man again in 1978. Upon visiting his mentally handicapped lover’s sister at the institution where she resided, Heidnik signed her out on day leave, withholding the fact that she would not be coming back at the end of it. Instead, she found herself a prisoner in Heidnik’s home. She was later discovered locked within a storage room in Heidnik’s basement. She had been raped and sodomized.
Heidnik was arrested and charged with a multitude of crimes, ranging from kidnapping and rape, to false imprisonment and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. He also faced charges of “interfering with the custody of a committed person” and reckless endangerment to that person.
It looked as though Heidnik himself had infected the poor girl with gonorrhoea as well, but when he was later tested was found not to have the disease.
Claiming he was innocent of all charges, “Bishop” Heidnik maintained this stance at trial, where he insisted on waiving his right to an attorney and defending himself. The court chose not to believe him and he was sentenced to three to seven year’s imprisonment.
A subsequent psychological examination, found Heidnik to be “psycho-sexually immature.” He was also branded manipulative and devious. Despite this last it was a hospital at which Heidnik spent most of his time serving his time, not a jail.

Consenting to remain under the supervision of a state sanctioned mental health order, psychotic and violent criminal, Gary Michael Heidnik was loosed again upon the citizens of Philadelphia. It was April 1983 and of course a terrible mistake had been made.
Shortly thereafter Anjeanette Davidson, Heidnik’s mentally impaired girlfriend, went missing. Though never admitting to having caused Davidson harm, Heidnik will always be a strong suspect in her disappearance.
Out and about again, and determined to implement his every plan, the church-owning, budding stock-market player next set his sights on acquiring an “oriental bride.” His chief requirement was that she be a virgin. Heidnik had little trouble acquiring exactly what he wanted by mail order. Her name was Betty Disto. The young Filipino woman spent some time corresponding with “Bishop” Heidnik before agreeing to travel to the US to be with him. It was understood that upon her arrival, they would be wed. Despite what would follow, this happened on 3 October 1985.
The very first time Betty Disto entered the house Heidnik was now living in at 3250 North Marshall Street, she knew that she had misjudged her husband-to-be. Fast asleep in Heidnik’s bed was a young woman.
Though he seemed to think that having another woman in his bedroom was perfectly normal, Betty did not; as with the time she came home to find him romping in their marital bed with three other women. What was the problem, asked Heidnik? When Betty told him he refused to have any of it, confirming that he was the one wearing the trousers in this set up and if she persisted he would dish out a beating to prove it.
As time went on the couple would frequently row over Heidnik’s outrageous conduct. Forcing Betty to watch as he had intercourse with multiple partners and attacking her physically if ever she objected, was becoming quite the unwholesome ritual in the Heidnik household. As with many battered women, Betty eventually found a way out of the abusive world her husband had created for her. Her friends in the Filipino community saw to it that she had all the support she needed in breaking away from Heidnik’s nutty realm.
In 1986, repeated threats against her life, in tandem with a particularly heinous sexual assault drove Betty from the house on North Marshall. She would never return.
The next thing he knew Gary Heidnik was back in court again. Fortunately for him his parole had since expired and so despite being charged with a number of sex offences, he was not in violation of the previous legal requirements. In addition, Betty Heidnik inadvertently smoothed matters for the accused by failing to show before a preliminary hearing.
Betty made a second attempt the following year, to gain financial support from him for their infant son, who had been conceived unbeknownst to Heidnik.
He was furious. Again, here was another of his children, who he had no access to, and yet was expected to pay for. The abyss was laid out before him and another step would see him careen over the edge.
He would meet Josefina Rivera while the civil case that Betty Heidnik had brought was ongoing and what nobody knew was that her estranged husband was already working on starting a new family, in his basement, with women he had kidnapped.
Heidnik’s behaviour had an escalating effect, principally stemming from his inability to control many areas of his life. His imagined physical and actual mental inferiorities and concomitant inability to self-counsel, led him to the bleak conclusion that he was helpless. He thought that by fathering many children and creating life outside of his own, that he would be able to finally have the control he so desperately sought, completely unconcerned as to whether or not this was to the detriment of the mothers involved.
His hostility and resentment toward women in general – exacerbated by those few he felt had denied him this – eventually bubbled over and Heidnik was ready to cross the line and forcefully take charge. Once crossed however, the line blurred and he achieved the total opposite of what was intended. As each day passed the more out of control he actually became. His method of combating this lay in ratcheting up the level of pain and terror he was creating for his victims in projecting his inadequacies onto them. He had to hurt them as a means of transference, at the same time purging his personal suffering.
Heidnik’s physical expression of this was inherent in his savage rapes, experimentation with torture, mutilation and cannibalism. As degenerative as it was augmented, the magnitude of his acts enveloped him. And is it possible that his astonishing acceptance of Josefina’s Rivera’s promise to actually return once she was safely out of his clutches is demonstrative of a need at some level to be put out of commission?
This is entirely possible. With each new horror perpetrated Heidnik was burning himself out. Lacking the conviction to halt the madness himself, he would subconsciously seize on an opportunity presented by Rivera. Had Heidnik not been caught, the cycle would have continued, become even more abhorrent and culminated in further massive psychological damage to him. Hatred and fury, working in tandem with his attenuating mental defects, had turned him inside out and there was nowhere left to go.
On trial for murder, amongst many other despicable things, there was always going to be speculation over such a man’s state of mind at the time the crimes were carried out. Standing accused of wilfully causing the deaths of people who were then either buried or chopped to pieces and fed to dogs and worse, forced upon unsuspecting human beings, was certainly cause to question the defendant’s sanity.
The gruesome “list” of body parts found in the man’s kitchen included two forearms, a bicep, two knees and accompanying thigh segments, complete with muscle tissue and skin. Some twenty-four pounds of human remains had been carefully stored in Heidnik’s refrigerator. He had been boiling, frying and roasting other body parts and was able to breathe in and live with the horrendous stenches this created. He had been pulverising human meat and more than likely dining on some of the proceeds himself, as well as preparing it in meals for others. Surely all this pointed straight at a damaged mind indeed?
The trial began on Monday 20 June 1988, before Judge Abraham at Philadelphia’s City Hall. Heidnik’s counsel, Charles “Chuck” Peruto Jr, chosen specifically by the defendant due to his experience in trying “sensational” cases, had the job of convincing the jury that his client was insane and as such not guilty of the crimes he had been indicted for.
Going against this though was the shattering testimony of Heidnik’s living captives. As part of the pre-trial proceedings they had painted a clear image of a man who despite orchestrating some especially heinous acts was someone who appeared in control of himself at all times. He was able to assault them arbitrarily; his rapes and torture of them were considered and clinically executed. His covering of himself by having them all sign what had effectively been Deborah Dudley’s death certificate and deliberately implicating Josefina Rivera, reinforced this.
Rivera herself came under heavy fire after a couple of the other captives pointed the finger at her, stating that she had been Heidnik’s willing accomplice. Jacquelyn Askins however refuted this, advising that Rivera had only acted under duress from Heidnik.
After much esoteric psychiatric testimony on the subject of schizophrenia and various other psychotic illnesses, the jury seemed more confused than anything else. Prosecution witnesses, among them those that had observed how astute an investor Heidnik had been with Merrill Lynch, stated that in their view his mind had been ticking along fluidly for years despite his frequent hospital stays.
The chief responsibility of the defence lay in creating the semblance of a man hopelessly a victim of his own radically warped mind. Even the prosecution were not arguing that Heidnik suffered from a personality disorder. Clearly his acts spoke for themselves. But was he so mentally ill that he was unable to appreciate the quality or quantity of his crimes? Absolutely not. Their firm position was that Heidnik was evil. A cunning predator, with a stratospheric IQ, who had rejoiced in the terrible things he had done, and took concerted steps to cover those things up.
In final arguments Peruto reiterated that Heidnik was mad rather than bad. The jury were invited to decide. On 30 June 1988, having deliberated for sixteen hours, over a two-and-a-half day period, they did.
Gary Heidnik was found guilty of two counts of first degree murder in the cases of Deborah Dudley and Sandra Lindsay. By the time the jury foreman had finished, Heidnik had been found guilty on eighteen separate charges and now faced the death penalty.
Judge Abraham delivered this sentence the next day, just after lunch. Gary Heidnik, like so many other convicted killers, showed no emotion as the judge mortally condemned him.
Heidnik was housed on Death Row for the next eleven years, while criminal compensation proceedings were launched to get at his sizable finances, with cases being brought by his victims, two of whom to this day have serious hearing impairments thanks to their attacker’s efforts with his screwdriver.
During his incarceration, Heidnik remained true to form, attempting suicide on a number of occasions.
Death finally came for him at 10.29 pm on Tuesday, 6 July 1999, in the form of a lethal injection. Gary Heidnik was executed for what he had done to Deborah and Sandra. It is doubtful that many, especially those survivors of the room beneath the house on North Marshall Street, shed a tear at his passing.
(article from PhillyMag):

Inside the House of Heidnik

Two decades ago, Philadelphia was introduced to its most notorious criminal — an eccentric who gruesomely tortured six women in his basement. On the 20th anniversary, the question still lingers: Was Gary Heidnik insane … or just evil?
Philadelphia was still reeling from 1985’s MOVE disaster when 43-year-old Gary Heidnik became our Ted Bundy, with his own brand of horror that included rape, torture, and rumors of cannibalism. His neighbors and friends thought Heidnik — whose IQ was 148 — was an eccentric oddball, but certainly didn’t consider him capable of the gruesome evil that played out for months in his North Philadelphia cellar. When the case came to trial before then-Judge Lynne Abraham, a young, publicity-hungry Chuck Peruto tried to convince a jury — and the country — that Heidnik was insane and therefore not responsible for his crimes. On the 20th anniversary of the case, questions about Heidnik’s sanity and even his intent remain. Based on interviews, police reports and court transcripts, this is the story of Gary Heidnik, in the words of the victims, the lawyers, the friends and neighbors — the people who knew him best.
Shannon Heidnik, daughter of Heidnik’s brother Terry: We came from Ohio. We’re Pennsylvania Dutch, Irish, and something else. German, I think. The whole family was screwed up and weird. My mom told me how their dad beat Gary real bad with a toy wooden airplane because he peed his pants. His dad was an alcoholic, and his mom took poison. They found her in the basement. She was tired of the abuse. They were really sick parents, and they gave their kids some serious problems. Gary and my dad left Ohio at some point, and I’m not exactly sure how we wound up in Pennsylvania.
Charlie Gallagher, prosecutor, Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office: In the ’60s, he went in the Army and he wanted to get a certain kind of training, but they ended up training him as a medic. Then they sent him to Germany, and I think he didn’t like the assignment, didn’t like being in Germany. So he started thinking, “How can I beat this?” He just stopped obeying orders. He finally got them to give him a medical discharge. Eventually he wound up with 100 percent disability, because he was able to convince the doctors that he was crazy. He’s been faking all his life.
Jack Apsche, forensic psychologist who examined Heidnik: There had been something like 22 hospitalizations. There was a clear history of him being a schizophrenic.
John Cassidy, Heidnik’s best friend in Philadelphia: I met Gary in ’74 or ’75 in Philly. He claimed the Army gave him LSD while he was in Germany. Sometime over there, he had a nervous breakdown. A legitimate, real nervous breakdown. And then he said he got this brilliant idea. He said, when he came out of it, why the hell should I come out of it if I can get disability?
He formed his own religion after he left the Army. I believe it was originally just a tax scam, but towards the end he was believing that stuff. I asked him, “Don’t you think if there’s a God, he’ll be upset with what you’re doing to religion?” He said no, God would be amused. God has a sense of humor.
Charlie Gallagher: There was a sign on his house, United Church of the Ministers of God. He had an ID card as Bishop Heidnik, in a Roman collar. With the checks he was getting from the Army and Social Security, he started investing the money in his church’s name. The first thing he invested in was Playboy … and later he lost a lot of money on Crazy Eddie. Eventually, he changed $1,500 in investment money into three-quarters of a million dollars.
Gary Heidnik, in a letter to his stockbroker, dated May 5, 1983: Dear Mr. Kirkpatrick … I would prefer you send church mail to the United Church of the Ministers of God, care of Bishop Gary M. Heidnik. … I saw that Tastykake hit eleven yesterday. I hope we got our two thousand shares that I previously ordered. Thank you. Respectfully, Bishop Gary Heidnik.
John Cassidy: He had a lot of money. He had a Rolls-Royce, a Cadillac. But at one point, he was driving around in a trailer and sleeping on the street in it in Southwest Philly.
Doris Zibulka, Heidnik’s next-door neighbor in North Philly: He held these church services on Sundays. A lot of people came, and they were usually mentally retarded.
John Cassidy: In the ’70s, he had this girlfriend, she was black and retarded. He has an IQ of 148, but all his girlfriends were black and retarded. He said the blacks treated him better than the whites ever did. He also said he sexually preferred blacks, that they expected less. His girlfriend was Anjeanette — I think they eventually had a daughter. And Anjeanette’s sister was severely retarded, and he took her out of the institution and brought her home, and they said he kidnapped her.
Josefina Rivera, former prostitute: He told me that he had a girlfriend named Anjeanette, and that Anjeanette’s sister was in a mental institution, and that they had went to visit her one weekend and ended up bringing Anjeanette’s sister home with them. Later the mental institution came around to the house and took Anjeanette’s sister back, and he was subsequently charged with raping Anjeanette’s sister.
Charlie Gallagher: He kept the sister locked up in a storage bin in his basement. He went to prison. He should have been convicted of rape in that case, but he was convicted on other charges because she couldn’t testify. He was sent off to Graterford, which was hard time.
Chuck Peruto, criminal defense attorney: He comes up for parole on that prior assault. These are the people with the power to grant your release. And they ask him a question at the parole board hearing. And he doesn’t answer them. He writes on a piece of paper: “The devil put a cookie in my throat.” Are you gonna release him on society?
Josefina Rivera: When he got out, he couldn’t find Anjeanette, and he felt society owed him a wife and family.
John Cassidy: After he got out of jail, he got this mail-order bride from the Philippines named Betty. He thought he was getting hooked up with a nice subservient Oriental, but she wasn’t. He brought her up to the Franklin Diner a couple of times with me. He started getting much more reclusive around that time, though.
Doris Zibulka: For a while there, him and his wife started fighting a lot. I talked to his wife outside sometimes. She was pregnant with “Little Gary,” and she told me, “He’s hitting me.” I said, “Honey, you’re pregnant. If you can’t stop him from hitting you, leave.” And she did. After the wife left, there was a lot of girls, in and out all the time. They looked like hookers. One night we were sitting on the front porch, and a girl comes flying out the door — she was thrown out — she was half naked. She’s screaming and banging on the door. The cops came, he gave her back the clothes.
John Cassidy: For all the years I knew him, he would do weird things. You know, like wear a leather coat with sheepskin lining in the middle of August. Or there was this time when he lived in West Philly. There was this car with some kind of machine gun and Afro emblem on it, and he said it was one of them violent people. It was always parked in front of his house. So first he shot out some of the windows with a BB gun, and the car would still come and park there. Then he would pour sugar down the gas tank. But the car just kept driving. And he put more in, and it still ran. He put like 20 pounds of sugar in, and the car never stopped running. It drove him nuts. He was always crazy, but I thought he was a garden-variety Kensington kind of crazy. But then after his wife left, he started getting paranoid. This was I guess in the mid-’80s.
Josefina Rivera: On November 25, 1986, I was hustling on the corner of 3rd and Girard at about 11 p.m. A 1987 Caddy, a Coupe de Ville, pulled up. The driver of the car and I discussed price. We came to an agreement of $20. He drove me to 3520 North Marshall Street, and we went into the house. He identified himself to me as Gary Heidnik. We went up to the second-floor front bedroom, and he gave me a $20 bill. Then we took off our clothes and we had sex on his water bed.
We got off the bed, and I was walking over to where my clothing was, and he came up behind me and grabbed me by my neck. I wasn’t able to breathe, and then I went unconscious. When I regained consciousness, he had me on the bed. He had a handcuff on my right wrist. He kept telling me to shut up or he was going to choke me. I told him, “All right, I’ll do anything you say but don’t hurt me.” When we got into the basement, I saw this big hole in the floor, and plastic bags full of dirt were stacked in the corner. He shackled my legs to a chain, he used clamps that are used to hold mufflers on around my ankles, and he secured them with nuts. Then he put Krazy Glue on the nuts so that I couldn’t turn them.
He told me that he was going to get me pregnant and I would have his children and he would raise them.
He put me in a hole in the basement floor. He kept trying to put a board over top of me, but it wouldn’t fit because the hole wasn’t deep enough. He finally forced the board down over me, and after I was in there a while I had trouble breathing and I was screaming. He took the board off and pulled me out of the hole by my hair, and then he picked up a stick and started to beat me with it. Then he put me back in the hole and left me there for a long time. It seemed like it was a full day or more. Then I heard his voice and a girl’s voice coming down into the basement. I could hear him saying, “Be quiet. Shut up, Sandy, you know that I am not going to hurt you.”
Tracey Lomax, sister of Sandra Lindsay: Sandy was a retarded adult. All she wanted to do was be like you and me — normal, to fit in. And she did pretty much blend in. Sandy had told us before that this guy named Gary was a bishop of a church, and that he was gonna take Sandy and her friends to Great Adventure. And he was always buying them dinner at McDonald’s.
The day after Thanksgiving, Sandy was having menstrual cramps. She wanted to go to the store to get some meds. It was around three o’clock on Friday. And so she went out. And she didn’t come home.
Josefina Rivera: He was saying that he had known Sandy for four years and that she told him that she would have his baby, but that she kept backing out of it. He would come down at different times and give us water and crackers. If he thought we were being bad or if someone was coming over to the house, he would stick us both in the hole and cover it with the board.
Tracey Lomax: By Monday, my mom was really sad, so we called the police. And we wound up with Detective Julius Armstrong, which was a nightmare. One of the first questions he asked my mom was, “Why are you worried about your daughter? She’s 25.” And we realized he wasn’t going to do anything.
Julius Armstrong, former detective: I found out she was a person who worked, I think she was very functional, so I think she had enough intelligence, enough pride to be on her own.
Tracey Lomax: So my mom says, “We ain’t heard from [Sandy’s friend] Tony as long as we ain’t heard from Sandy, so we gotta find Tony.” And what better place than McDonald’s? So we sat out there and we waited, and sure enough, he walked down the street. We got him to give us Gary’s number.
My sister called and said, “Gary, where’s Sandy?” He just says no, she’s not here, and hangs up. We went to the house, but no one was home. But we showed the neighbor a picture of Sandy, and she said, “Yeah, I’ve seen her recently.”
Julius Armstrong: I knocked on the door. I didn’t receive any answer. I left a message for anyone known as Gary to contact West Detectives.
Josefina Rivera: Gary came down with a box of Christmas cards, and he made Sandy write in the cards. He made her write, “Dear Mom, I am all right, don’t worry, Love Sandy.” Then he put on gloves, gave her a $20 bill, and he had her put it in the card. He wouldn’t touch it himself.
Charlie Gallagher: He drove to New York to mail the card. A lot of times the police investigate to ascertain if people are really missing or if they fled on their own because they didn’t like the situation they were living in. The card was mailed to put the police off and to stop the family from coming around to the house again.
Tracey Lomax: It was out of character for her to send a card and not call. So we went back to Detective Armstrong and we asked him to have a handwriting analyst look at it. But he was content that she was okay. That’s when he basically ceased the investigation.
Julius Armstrong: In my mind, this person was missing voluntarily.
Josefina Rivera: A few days before Christmas, we were in the hole and we heard Gary coming down the stairs with another girl. When he let us out of the hole, we found out her name was Lisa Thomas. She said that he had picked her up around 6th and Lycoming.
Lisa Thomas: He took me to City Line Avenue to TGI Friday’s, and he had a martini and I had a cheeseburger and french fries. Then he took me to Sears and Roebucks and he told me to spend up to $50 … then he took me to his house on Marshall Street and gave me a beer. We was watching a movie, then we went upstairs, and then we had sex. Afterwards he got up and strangled me. I couldn’t hardly breathe. And I told him that he could do whatever he want, and that’s when he got the handcuffs and took me down to the basement.
He had the chains and clamps, the car clamps. He put them on my ankle, and he had to count the links so, you know, the amount to open my legs wide to have sex.
Josefina Rivera: In the first month, there was sex every day, and when Lisa came, about every other day. Sometimes he would start with one and kept going until he finally came with the last girl.
On Christmas Day, he came to the basement with a Chinese menu and told us because it was Christmas, we could order anything we wanted from the menu. Then the day after, he went back to giving us Pop-Tarts in the morning and a plate of rice and hot dogs at night.
Chuck Peruto: He kept them alive barely with store-brand dog food, cat food. He didn’t spend $5 for food for them per month.
Josefina Rivera: On New Year’s Day, we were out of the hole and Gary brought down another girl into the basement. Her name was Debbie.
Charlie Gallagher: She really wasn’t going to be missed. I don’t want to sound callous, but she had led a pretty tortured life. She had been on the streets for years.
Josefina Rivera: After he put the shackles on Debbie, he put her in the hole. Debbie kept hollering all night long and he came down and beat her a couple of times with the stick. Gary used two sticks — one had nails in the end and it would leave sores on their ass. Debbie refused to cooperate.
Lisa Thomas: And then Jacquelyn Askins was brought down.
Jacquelyn Askins, former prostitute: He told me he would give me money to go with him for a half-hour. When we got to his house, we was playing this video game called Mr. Do. And like a half-hour or 45 minutes later, he grabbed me in a headlock with his arm around my neck choking me. … He took me to the basement, and I met [Josefina], Lisa, Debbie, Sandy.
Josefina Rivera: The next date I was aware of was January the 18th. My birthday was on the 19th, and he said we could celebrate it. Gary told us he was going to go out and get me a birthday cake. Later on, we heard tussling upstairs, and then he brought Donna [Jacquelyn’s alias] down. After Donna arrived, Gary would make us beat each other if one of us was bad. At different times, I beat all of the other girls. Gary was handling us like we were in the military. At this time, all of the girls were back-biting each other trying to get in charge, because he would treat whoever was in charge better than the other girls.
Chuck Peruto: Josefina was definitely in on it as a survival mechanism. She was beating the other girls. She was feeding a sick mind so he would eventually trust her.
John Cassidy: I later realized that when he had those girls in the basement, he came to South Philly to talk to me about putting a big fence up around his house. He had [Josefina] with him. Gary and I had to run an errand in my truck, and I said that I didn’t have room for her. He said, she’ll stay here at the gas station. Meanwhile, there were two police cars sitting there. She was supposed to be a captive. Well, she didn’t seem like a captive. I know later they were talking about Stockholm syndrome or something. But she didn’t appear to be a captive to me at all.
Josefina Rivera: He would gag their mouths and take a screwdriver to their ears. At first he used a little screwdriver, and then he moved up to bigger screwdrivers. When he did this to them, I could see tears coming from their eyes, and they were trying to scream but the gag muffled their sounds.
Lisa Thomas: In February, Sandy did something to upset him, and he told me to beat her constantly because she was eating bread and water — she was eating it slow and he kept hitting her to hurry up to eat the bread. He hung her on a loop, and she was up there for three days, standing. Then it looked like she was just hanging down, sleeping. I went over to smack her face, and Gary came back downstairs saying she was playing … but she was dead.
Charlie Gallagher: Sandy, it was horrible the way he killed her; he had her hanging. She used to have problems with her mouth and her jaw. She couldn’t eat food that quickly, and that was part of reason she died; she was held up by her wrists, and she fell asleep.
Chuck Peruto: She basically suffocated, because when you pass out from fatigue and you’re being held up by your arms, you cut the oxygen off. He didn’t want to kill her. He was punishing her so that the others would see what happened if you got out of line.
Josefina Rivera: Gary took her chain off, and he carried her body upstairs. I could see that Gary was upset. We were all upset, because we didn’t know what he was going to do. I was afraid that he would panic and take it out on all of us. Later on, we could hear a sound like an electric saw. Then we started to smell a terrible odor for like three or four days.
Doris Zibulka: My father lived down the street from us. He said it smelt like a dead body. I kept calling the city. There was one day I asked Gary about the smell. He said, “I haven’t smelled anything. I’ve been cooking. Maybe you just don’t like my cooking.”
Josefina Rivera: The smell was the worst thing I have ever smelled. When he would come down to have sex with everybody, we could smell the odor all over him.
Doris Zibulka: I called the cops and said there was a smell like burning flesh. An elderly cop came out and he smelled it, couldn’t figure out what it was.
Julio Aponte, former police officer: I proceeded to knock on the door for approximately 10 or 15 minutes. I then proceeded to the rear of the premises where I did some more knocking, looked through the rear window. I could see a large pot. Something was overboiling, and the smell was twice as strong in the back of the house. I was about to call for a supervisor.
Doris Zibulka: All of a sudden, door opens, Gary walks out. I said, “Gary, what is that god-awful smell, what is that burning?” “I’m cooking a roast. I fell asleep and it burnt,” he said. And the cop left.
Chuck Peruto: Heidnik was cooking the girl’s head, and was getting ready to get rid of certain body parts, because he didn’t want anybody to be identified. It was his 148 IQ kicking in. Heidnik was not putting them all in one spot; he was burying them all over the place.
Josefina Rivera: Debbie was still acting up, she was hollering and screaming. Gary took her upstairs, and I asked her later what Gary did to her. Finally, she told me that Gary had Sandy’s head in a pot on the stove and he was cooking it. He had Sandy’s ribs and, like, a hip bone in other pots in the oven. She also said that he had Sandy’s arms and legs in the freezer in the kitchen.
Charlie Gallagher: When Aponte came to the house, I think he was boiling Sandra Lindsay’s head at that point. And getting the teeth so there could be no — they didn’t find any hands or fingers. It’s so sad.
Josefina Rivera: On March 18th, Gary went out, and when he came back, the girls were making noise. Gary told me to hook the hose up to the sink so he could fill the hole with water. While the water was filling the hole, Gary went over to the electrical extension and he started to touch their chains with the hot wire. The girls were screaming and hollering, begging him to stop. Gary said he would stop if everybody got quiet, but Debbie refused to get quiet. Gary gave me the wire and told me to hold it on Debbie’s chain. Debbie was still hollering, and then he took the wire from me and held it on Debbie’s chain for a few minutes. Then everything went quiet.
Jack Apsche: He wasn’t really intending to kill anybody. He drew diagrams for me of how he had Debbie, how the electric was just there to get her to do what is right. He showed me how he applied the electricity, how she was chained and how she was grounded so she shouldn’t have died.
Tracey Lomax: He killed Deborah on purpose, because she was a fighter. She was strong. And she would’ve killed him. At some point, he might have killed all of those women.
Josefina Rivera: He told me to write this letter that says, “Gary Heidnik and Josefina Rivera electrocuted Deborah Dudley in the basement of 3520 North Marshall Street.” And then he signed it and I signed it and Donna witnessed it at the bottom. He said now he could trust me because he had this letter. Then he said he was going to go out and try to find a place to dump Debbie’s body.
Gary had a New Jersey map. And we went out and stopped at the Burlington Flea Market. From there we pulled into a little place, like a little driveway, and Gary said, “This is it. This is where I am going to place Deborah’s body at.” He walked a good ways into the park, because he didn’t want anybody to find it that was just like strolling through the park or something.
Josefina Rivera: On March 24th, Gary put the girls down in the hole and we went out looking for girls. While we were on Girard, we passed by a girl I know, Agnes. Gary told me that if I helped him pick her up, after he finished with her, he would let me contact my family. After they finished having sex, he took her down to the basement. And then he asks me if there is another girl I could get. I told him I had proved myself to him and that I had to get the girl by myself. I told him to wait at the gas station at 6th and Girard, that this girl lived a couple of blocks away and I had to walk up to her house myself. He agreed to this, and I left him in the car at 6th and Girard. I walked away and I ran to my house, and my boyfriend opened the door and asked where I had been. I tried to tell him what had happened and he told me I was crazy. Then I went to the phone booth on the corner.
David Savidge, former police officer: We responded to a female, Josefina Rivera, and we met her at 6th and Oxford. She told a bizarre tale of being held captive and chained up and people that were in the basement.
John Cannon, former police officer: She said he’s up the corner, at 6th and Girard. I said, well, let’s see if Mr. Gary’s up there … and sure enough, there was a Cadillac, just like she described. We got out, approached, ordered him out of his car. The girl came down and said, “Yeah, that’s him, that’s him. He raped me and killed these two other girls, and he had me eating her bones. He cut up this girl and put her in a pot and made us eat her.” She said other girls were still in there, down in the cellar in a hole. I said, “Wow.”
James Hansen, former police lieutenant: When I got there, the house was sort of intimidating. It had metal doors on it, and all the windows had bars, and in the bars was a crucifix.
John Cannon: The television was up, playing real loud. We went to the cellar door, down to the cellar, in the back, and sure enough, laying on the floor were these half-naked girls, and they were screaming, “We’re saved, we’re saved.”
James Hansen: I went right to the freezer in the kitchen. Josefina had said he had body parts in there. So I open the freezer, and I went to enough autopsies to know they were body parts. Then I proceed down to the basement, and the girls are sitting on a mattress, they were in shock, naked. They were chained to a soil pipe, padlocked. We had to go to the firehouse and get bolt cutters.
Doris Zibulka: Every news media from around the world was on our block for the next two weeks. They came with their big trucks. I remember Dennis Woltering, Bill Baldini, a lot of the reporters for Channel 6. There was this one tiny little guy who had to stand on a milk crate when he was on TV. We were all laughing at him.
Larry Kane, TV newsman: We thought we were tired of the story after three weeks, but the audience just couldn’t get enough. In my career, not counting the MOVE massacre and the senseless terrorist killings, this was the most bizarre thing to ever happen.
Chuck Peruto: People were constantly talking about the case. And there were these crazy jokes. “Chuck, I heard you charged him an arm and a leg.” “Gary Heidnik debuted his own brand of clothing today: Dismembered Only.” Some were funny. Some weren’t. Eventually Gary’s story wound its way into Silence of the Lambs. If you watch that movie, you can see a lot of Heidnik in the Buffalo Bill character. The way he has the girl in the pit.
Doris Zibulka: I was on Sally Jessy Raphael with the victims. I asked them about a time when I heard this banging constantly. And I was like, what the hell is that? So I think it’s Gary or something, and I bang back, and it stops. And I asked them, why didn’t you yell and tell me you were trapped? And they said they thought it was Gary banging back, that he was in the house. I don’t know why we never heard them.
Chuck Peruto: I was trying a homicide in Lancaster, and my secretary calls me and says that a guy claiming to be Gary Heidnik was calling me from prison. It was all over the papers and airwaves. I thought it was somebody playing a joke on me at first. I go up to see him, and the first thing he does is salutes me. Then he starts telling me the story, but he’s obviously skipping major parts. So I said, “Gary, the police reports, in the newspaper at least, it shows that when they executed a search warrant, there was a head of a woman, boiling in a pot on the stove, right then and there! Were you cooking the head?” He says yeah. I said, “Well, what kind of seasoning do you use?” And he looked at me and he said, “You’re crazy.” I didn’t get that ridiculous with him after that, because I realized that this guy was either very evil, or very insane.
Doris Zibulka: We all were amazed at how Gary looked during the trial. He was always a good-looking, well-kept kind of guy. He was always clean-cut and very decent-looking. And then at the trial — before it started, I met his lawyer, he came around the house. And I said, “You’re making Gary look crazy. He never looked like that. You’re making him look like Manson.” And he says, “Isn’t it wonderful?”
Chuck Peruto: If you want to demonstrate that someone is insane, then they gotta fucking look insane. During the trial, he looked like a total whack-job. Did I do that? Yes. But doesn’t Women Organized Against Rape dress up their victims?
Charlie Gallagher: There was a belief that he was feeding the girls the body parts of Sandra Lindsay, mixed in with dog food. We examined the Cuisinarts and other things in the kitchen, but we never found any physical evidence of that. And we didn’t press it at trial, because, yes, it would have cast him in a crazier light.
Chuck Peruto: If you make your victims eat human flesh, that’s sadistic. But if you eat it yourself, that’s insane. I thought Charlie was gonna blow a blood vessel during that time in the trial when I tried to get that in. But Charlie was correct — there was no evidence of cannibalism. I started all that. I would leak it, and by week’s end, he’s a cannibal.
Charlie Gallagher: Peruto basically said because of what he did, it’s clear that he’s crazy. It would’ve been a tougher case if Peruto had a better psychiatrist than the first guy he put on, Clancy McKenzie. He came up with some theory about two siblings and the fact they were born 17 months apart and Gary struggling with having a younger brother … it didn’t make sense.
Chuck Peruto: Let’s just say he wasn’t the best witness in the world. And then the judge didn’t allow a lot of the testimony of my other expert, Jack Apsche.
Charlie Gallagher: This guy Apsche, he really didn’t have all the credentials. He said he analyzed all the records, and I knew he didn’t analyze all the records, because when I questioned him, I knew he hadn’t been through half the things.
Jack Apsche: They tortured me for quite a while on the stand. The bottom line is, he had 22 legitimate hospitalizations for mental problems. Diagnoses included paranoid schizophrenia, a ton of psychotropic medications, he had been examined by hundreds of MD and Ph.D. types over the years, and in the suicide attempt before he committed his crime, I think he took over 1,000 milliliters of Thorazine, drank a quart of vodka, and put a hose inside his car. That’s not a real suicide attempt? When he was discharged — and he did the first girl not too long after that — he said something bad is going to happen. He had paranoid delusions that he probably maintained for the rest of his life.
Chuck Peruto: I would love to have the case today. I would have more ammunition than I did then. If I had a different judge, it would have been “Not guilty by reason of insanity.” I’ve said it before, I love Lynne. But she was a tough opponent. And that’s a lawyers’ joke. If there’s a judge, they’re not supposed to be your opponent.
Ken Englade, author of Cellar of Horror, 1988 book about the case: The judge was very anti-Peruto and anti-defense. I think he had the cards stacked against him. I think Heidnik was crazy as hell. And she just ignored that. I think she wanted to run for office, wanted to be strong on crime.
Charlie Gallagher: Judge Abraham was fair and impartial. The trial record completely refutes any claim now by Peruto et al. to the contrary. No such complaint about bias was ever made in the 11 years of appeals. And the trial was reviewed and affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and all levels of the federal court, including the Supreme Court prior to Heidnik’s execution in 1999.
Marcella Lenhart, juror: Heidnik certainly seemed lucid enough, to amass a small fortune in the stock market, and he certainly was aware enough to cover his tracks to a certain extent when he got those girls. I just don’t know if he was crazy or not. I thought the defense could have done a better job. With the way everything was brought by the defense attorney, we had no choice but to arrive at what we did. I regret voting for the death penalty. But I didn’t really have a choice, the way the law was written. I have wrestled with my decision. I guess I could have held out.
Doris Zibulka: One of the local radio stations did this show, “Countdown to the Execution.” They got me on the show, and I told them, this is a wish that Gary wanted done a long time ago. He wanted to die.
Chuck Peruto: As a lawyer, it was very frustrating that Heidnik didn’t want to appeal. But he was smart enough to know he was not getting acquitted. He had a motive not to fight the death sentence. Look at the type of crime he committed, and all of his victims were black. He was getting his ass kicked every single fucking day in jail. So it was either a lifetime of getting your ass kicked — and I’m not talking about punched — or the death penalty.
Gary Heidnik, in a stay of execution hearing, April 14, 1997: You people think I committed murders that I have not committed. And I have refused to appeal my case. I still refuse — even though I can prove my innocence, right, I still refuse to appeal my case. I resent this kind of shit being done to a disabled veteran.
Tracey Lomax: I went to the execution, but it was too calm and serene for me. I’m thinking execution is something like, turn around and let me shoot you. Instead they just stuck a needle in his arm. He never looked at us. Never acknowledged us. Never said he was sorry. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look in our direction.
Charlie Gallagher: From the eve of Thanksgiving 1986, up through March 1987, this man conducted repeated sadistic and malicious acts upon six defenseless victims. He planned what he was doing, he went ahead and did it, and he did it on purpose. What kind of girls did he take? Girls that he knew he could force into submission. He got the young girl, with mental retardation, he got her, and she was in chains, he forced her to sign a note, sent it home to her mother in order to diffuse the family from trying to find that girl and save her. Is that the mind of someone who’s psychotic? Who didn’t know what he was doing?

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