November 26th 1986
For Josefina Rivera, November 26, 1986 was a night that she will never forget. Angry after a fight with her boyfriend, she left their apartment in a slum area north of Philadelphia to go to work. For Josefina, work consisted of walking the streets in search of a willing ‘john’ who would be prepared to pay for her sexual favors, which usually consisted of a brief liaison in the back of a car or a sleazy motel room. All she needed was a few quick tricks so she could buy Thanksgiving dinner for her family.
Braving rain and bitter cold, she walked back and forth looking anxiously at each passing car. With the temperature dropping and the traffic light, Josefina had almost convinced herself to quit for the night when a car drove slowly past her and stopped. As she moved towards it, she saw that it was a silver and white Cadillac Coupe De Ville. She moved closer as the driver’s window slid down and a bearded man asked if she was “hustling.” She told him she was and after a brief discussion concerning payment, she got into the car.
The man introduced himself only as Gary and told her he had to make a stop before they got down to “business.” Josefina, giving her name as Nicole, agreed and shortly after they pulled into a nearby McDonald’s. She followed him as he went inside and bought coffee and sat with him as he drank it. With a quick appraisal borne of experience, Josefina studied her “trick.
He was white, his face framed by a neatly trimmed beard below cold, blue penetrating eyes. Although he wore an expensive watch and jewelry and drove a luxury car, she noticed that his clothes were cheap and soiled. Grasping for things to say, she again asked him his name. “Gary Heidnik,” he said sullenly. Several minutes later, he finished his coffee and told her they were leaving. When she asked where they were going, he told her they were going to his house.
After leaving the restaurant, Gary Heidnik drove through the streets until he turned into North Marshall Street and pulled into the driveway of number 3520, his home. As he pulled into the dilapidated garage, Rivera couldn’t help but notice another car parked in front of them, it was a 1971 Rolls Royce. For an unkempt man living in a seedy neighborhood, he certainly had good taste in cars.
3520 North Marshall Street
When they reached the door, Gary Heidnik pulled out a strange key and pushed it into the lock. When Rivera remarked about it, he explained that he had cut the key into two pieces, half of which stayed in the lock preventing anyone but him from entering. The door opened into a kitchen, which was decorated by pennies that had been glued to half of its walls.
Heidnik led her to a living room with sparse, aging furniture. The only fittings that seemed to be in reasonable condition were a television, a VCR and a cassette tape player. He offered to show her a movie but when she refused he led her up a narrow staircase to his bedroom.
As she reached the door of the bedroom she couldn’t believe her eyes, the hallway directly in front of it had been partially covered with one and five dollar bills. Heidnik wasted no time in stripping his clothes off and, after giving her a twenty-dollar bill, he jumped into bed. She did the same and shortly after her obligation to him was over. Or so she thought.
As she was getting dressed, Gary Heidnik stepped behind her and began choking her with his hands. Unable to resist she begged him to stop and offered to do anything to make him do so. He released his grip but instead of letting her go, he pulled her arms behind her and attached a set of handcuffs to her wrists.
Gary then pushed her ahead of him and guided her back down the stairs to the kitchen where another door led to a basement. The room was cold and damp and Rivera, dressed only in a blouse, began to shiver uncontrollably. When she complained, Heidnik told her to be quiet and threatened to hit her with a piece of wood if she did not comply.
After she had quietened down, he dragged her to a soiled mattress and attached metal clamps to her ankles and connected them to one end of a chain. He then applied glue to the clamps and dried them with a hair dryer. The other end he fastened around a large pipe that was attached to the ceiling.
When he had finished, he told her to sit up and promptly laid his head in her lap and went to sleep. Having drifted off in the night, Josefina awoke and found she was alone. With the feeble daylight that shone through a small, boarded up window, she was able to view her surroundings. The basement was small with concrete floor and walls. Apart from the mattress, the only other items in the room were a chest freezer, a washer-dryer and a worn pool table.
In the center of the room, a small area of concrete had been removed and a shallow pit had been dug into the ground underneath. While she wondered if she would end up in such a hole, she remembered that it was Thanksgiving and became ravenously hungry.
A short time later, Gary Heidnik appeared and offered her an egg sandwich and a glass of juice. She was about to take it when she began to worry that it might be drugged or even poisoned. Fighting her pangs of hunger, she refused it. Heidnik then took the food away and returned with digging implements and set to work to widen and deepen the hole.
As she watched him working, he told her that all he had ever wanted was a large family and to that end had already fathered four children to four separate women but had lost contact with them for various reasons. He told Josefina that his plan was to get ten women and make all of them pregnant to him so he could raise his family. As Rivera contemplated what his plan entailed, Gary approached her and demanded sex, after which he went back upstairs.
Left alone a second time, Josefina managed to loosen one of the ankle clamps and, after prying the covers loose from the window, stretched the chain to it’s full length and lifted herself halfway out of the window. Unable to escape fully she began to scream hoping that a neighbor or passer-by would hear her and come to her aid. Unfortunately, that particular neighborhood was used to screaming and her calls went unheeded by everyone except one, her captor Gary Heidnik.
Hearing her screams he managed to pull her back inside the basement and beat her with a stick until she quietened down. Then, pushing her down into the tiny hole in the floor, he forced her head onto her chest and covered her with a piece of plywood and stacked heavy weights on top of it.
To make sure that her screams didn’t attract any outside attention, he set up a radio and tuned it to a hard rock station at maximum volume and left. As she lay half naked and cramped up in the freezing earth, Josefina Rivera struggled to breathe and waited to die. Listening to the radio news, she mentally ticked off each hour, wondering when he would come for her. Twenty-seven hours later he returned but this time he was not alone.
From the confines of the pit, even though the radio was still on, Josefina clearly heard a woman complaining and the sounds of a chain dragging across the floor. A short time later, Rivera’s heart leaped as the board was lifted and Gary Heidnik dragged her from the pit. Unable to stand properly from severe cramping, she looked up and saw another young, black woman, naked except for a blouse, chained to the pipe in the ceiling in the same manner, as she had been the first night.
She stared at the woman who seemed to be completely oblivious to what was happening to her. Heidnik later introduced the girl as Sandy before leaving them alone. As Sandy began to speak Josefina began to understand why the new arrival seemed so detached, she was clearly retarded.
She told Rivera that her real name was Sandra Lindsay and she had been a friend of Heidnik’s for several years since they had met at the Elwyn Institute, which was a local hospital for the mentally and physically handicapped. She described Gary as a good friend who always looked after her. In a voice devoid of emotion she described how she had often had sex with Gary and his friend Tony.
Later she fell pregnant, presumably to Gary Heidnik, but had an abortion, as she was afraid of being a mother. When Heidnik learned what she had done, he flew into a rage and told her that she was evil and offered her a thousand dollars to have his baby.
When she refused, Heidnik took her prisoner and brought her to the house. As she finished her story, Sandy dissolved into tears as she began to realize her predicament. To placate her, Rivera told her about herself, describing, how at twenty-five, she had three children that didn’t live with her and had been walking the streets since she was a teenager.
An hour later, Gary Heidnik returned with “dinner” which consisted of dry crackers and bottled water. He then left suggesting that they “get acquainted.” Two hours later he returned and resumed his work on enlarging the pit. A short time later, he stopped work and had sex with both women and left again.
The following morning, he seemed in a buoyant mood and brought them a breakfast of warm oatmeal. While they were eating breakfast, they heard someone knocking on the front door. Gary went to investigate and returned to tell Sandy that her sister and two cousins had come looking for her but had gone away assuming no one was home. He later forced Sandy to write a note to her mother telling her that she had gone away and would call later.
He told the women that he would post the letter from New York so her mother would think Sandy had run away. Although Sandy didn’t seem to understand the implication of the note, the street-wise Josefina was becoming painfully aware of Heidnik’s real intentions, to keep them prisoner indefinitely.
As the days dragged into weeks, Heidnik’s behavior became increasingly bizarre. He fed them sporadically and kept them semi naked so that he could indulge his sexual appetite when he felt like it, which was often. When he was absent, they huddled together for warmth and waited in fear for his return.
On occasion, they tried calling for help, which resulted in savage beatings, which in turn caused them to cry even louder. Any deviation from his rules was punished by further beatings or a period of incarceration in the dreaded hole. Another form of punishment he devised was to attach the girls to an overhead beam by one arm and leave them suspended for hours on end.
While Heidnik was developing his skills as a torturer, Sandra Lindsay’s mother was actively searching for her. The Monday after Sandra supposedly left home, she was reported missing to the police. While making the report, Mrs Lindsey told an officer that she believed her daughter was being held against her will by a man she knew only as Gary who lived at 3520 North Marshall Street. She gave the officer all the information she had including a phone number but was unable to furnish a last name.
The officer tried calling the number and even went to the house, but got no response. Later, when Mrs. Lindsay showed him the letter she had received, followed by a Christmas card containing five dollars, the officer started to believe that Sandra Lindsay was just one more runaway.
As a last resort, the officer went looking for Heidnik’s friend, Tony Brown. He eventually found him at a McDonald’s restaurant in West Philadelphia that Sandy was known to frequent. He asked the mentally challenged Tony if he knew the whereabouts of Sandra Lindsay. “No,” was the simple reply. He then asked him for Gary’s last name but Tony misspelled it as HEIDAKE, leading the officer to conduct a search for the wrong man and eventually drop the inquiry. At the time, the officer had no way of knowing how close he had come to avoiding a tragedy.
Three days before Christmas, like many residents of Philadelphia, Gary Heidnik was out shopping, but it wasn’t presents he was looking for. Anxious to expand his harem, he cruised the streets looking for a suitable subject. As he turned into Lehigh Street, he found her.
A black nineteen-year-old, Lisa Thomas was on her way to a girlfriend’s house when Gary Heidnik pulled up beside her in the Cadillac. He leaned out of the window and made a suggestive comment but she became angry and told him she wasn’t a prostitute. He quickly apologized and offered her a ride instead. Mollified by the change in his demeanor, and his impressive car, she accepted.
He asked where she was going and she told him she had to go around the corner to her girlfriend’s house to pick up something. He drove her there and waited while she went inside. When she returned, he suggested that they go somewhere to eat and, when she agreed, he drove to a local restaurant.
While they were eating, he asked her to go to Atlantic City with him the next day but she complained that she had nothing suitable to wear. Gary then produced a fifty-dollar bill telling her that they would go to a nearby Sears store to buy her some clothes.
One More Woman Gained
When they had bought the clothes, Gary Heidnik took her back to Marshal Street and gave her a glass of wine and put on a video movie. While Lisa was watching the movie, she became drowsy from the combined affects of the wine and allergy medicine she was taking and eventually lay down on the lounge and fell asleep. Hours later she woke to find that Heidnik had undressed her. Before she had time to clear her head, she was taken up to his bedroom and forced to have sex.
When he had satisfied himself, Lisa started to get dressed and asked him to take her back to her girlfriend’s house. Without a word, Gary Heidnik grabbed her by the throat and began choking her until she complied with his demands. He then handcuffed her and took her down to the basement telling her that he was going to introduce her to his two friends.
As soon as they were in the basement, he removed the plywood sheet from the floor and lifted Rivera and Lindsay from the pit. After he had made the introductions, Gary Heidnik made sandwiches for the women but told them that they could not eat until he had “indoctrinated” Lisa by forcing her to fellate him before chaining her up like the others. When he had gone the women ate and talked among themselves. They found that they had just two things in common, they were all black and being held against their will by a very dangerous man.
Ten days later, Gary Heidnik returned from one of his trips with another black woman named Deborah Dudley who, at twenty-three, was not about to allow Heidnik to control her without a fight. From the time he had chained her with the others she began to question his authority at every opportunity, which generally earned her nothing more than a savage beating. Her arrival also created tension among the others, as whenever she disobeyed, Heidnik would punish them as well.
Beatings became a regular event with Gary Heidnik often appointing one of the girls to be in charge while he was out. When he returned he expected that person to tell him if the others had misbehaved. If they had, he would order the girl in charge to beat the others accordingly. If there were no infractions to report or if the beatings weren’t severe enough, he would beat them all.
During this time, the worldly Rivera began to win his confidence by displaying a level of loyalty and obedience that convinced Gary Heidnik that she actually enjoyed being one of his “wives.”
His sexual appetite also changed with the arrival of Dudley when, apart from having intercourse with all of them on a daily basis, he would often force them to have sex with each other while he watched. While personal hygiene did not seem to be a priority for Gary Heidnik, he later provided a portable toilet for his captives and “baby wipes” to wash their bodies. Some time later he allowed the girls to have a bath after which he would force them to have sex.
According To Mood
The amount and type of food that he provided seemed to change according to his mood. Some days he would give the girls only bread and water. The following day it would be stale hot dogs or a peanut butter sandwich. He finally solved the problem by giving the girls canned dog food and beating them until they ate it.
On January 18, Gary Heidnik went out again and returned with another black girl. He had picked up Jacqueline Askins, a tiny eighteen-year-old prostitute, on the north side of the city and brought her back to the house. As before, he had sex with her and dragged her to the basement but when it came time for the chaining, he found that the shackles were too big for her tiny ankles and used handcuffs instead.
Later that day, he bought everyone Chinese food and as an added surprise, a bottle of champagne. The occasion was the twenty-sixth birthday of the woman that was fast becoming his favorite, Josefina Rivera. Rivera would later reveal that Gary Heidnik was in good spirits because he had the idea that she and Sandra Lindsay had fallen pregnant to him when this was not the case.
Cellar of Horror
In early February of 1987, Gary Heidnik found reason to punish Lindsay when he caught her trying to move the plywood that covered the pit. The punishment was severe. She was forced to hang from a roof beam by a single handcuff attached to her wrist for several days. During this time, her condition deteriorated and she refused to eat. Still believing her to be pregnant, Gary tried to force feed her pieces of bread.
Towards the end of the week, even though she was vomiting and running a high fever, Heidnik continued to force feed her, often jamming food into her mouth and holding her mouth shut until she swallowed. The next day she lost consciousness. When Heidnik couldn’t rouse her, he became angry and unlocked the handcuffs, dropping her to the ground. He told the others that she was faking and kicked her into the pit and left her there while he served up ice cream for everybody and left. When he returned, he lifted Lindsay out of the pit and checked her pulse. She was dead.
Eliminating The Evidence
After telling the girls that she had probably choked, he carried Lindsay’s body upstairs. A short time later, they shuddered with horror when they heard the unmistakable whine of a power saw. Their horror later turned to revulsion when one of Heidnik’s dogs walked into the basement carrying a long meaty bone and proceeded to devour it in front of the terrified girls.
Investigators would later reveal that Gary Heidnik had ground up Lindsay’s flesh using a food processor that he had specially purchased for the task, and fed it to his dogs and the captives mixed with dog food. To dispose of the remaining parts of the body, he cooked them on the stove.
In the days following Sandra’s death, the girls began to notice a sickening stench that filled the entire house. Eventually, it would become so bad that Heidnik’s neighbours complained to the police. After several such calls, a young patrolman was sent to the house to make enquiries but left after Gary Heidnik assured him that the smell was caused by an overcooked roast dinner.
Following Lindsay’s death, Heidnik’s behavior became increasingly bizarre. He urged the girls to inform on each other with the promise of better conditions for those who complied. During this period, the girls devised a plan to attack Heidnik and escape but the plan never came to fruition. Jacqueline Askins would later testify that the attack never eventuated because Rivera told Gary Heidnik what they were planning.
Convinced that the girls were constantly plotting against him, Gary Heidnik devised a plan of his own to prevent them from leaving. After cuffing each girl hand and foot, he hung them from a beam and gagged them. Then, taking several different sizes of screwdrivers, he gouged inside their ears in an attempt to deafen them. He believed that if they could not hear, they would be unable to hear him coming. The only one he didn’t touch was Josefina Rivera.
Later when Deborah Dudley began to cause trouble, he unchained her and took her upstairs. When they returned, Dudley was unusually quiet and solemn. After Heidnik had left, the others asked her what had happened. Stammering with fear, she told them that Gary Heidnik had taken her into the kitchen and showed her a pot he had on the stove. Inside it was Sandra Lindsay’s head.
He then opened the oven and showed her part of Sandra’s rib cage that he was roasting. Opening the fridge, he pointed to an arm and other body parts that he had wrapped in plastic and told her that if she didn’t start obeying him, she would be next.
Within a few days, Dudley had recovered her composure and continued to defy Heidnik’s attempts to “tame” her. As an added incentive to obey, Gary Heidnik added a new punishment to his already cruel bag of tricks, his own version of electric shock treatment. His method was simple. He stripped the insulation from one end of an electrical extension cord and plugged the other into a socket. Then, turning on the power, he would hold the bare wires against each of the girl’s chains and watch with detached amusement as they wriggled and danced to escape the current. As before, Rivera was exempt from punishment.
As the weeks passed, Gary Heidnik began to treat Rivera as more of a partner than a captive and spent more and more time with her alone. So much so that, on March 18, when Heidnik decided to punish the others, he enlisted Rivera to help him. The shock treatment was again employed with one added feature, water.
After drilling airholes in the plywood cover, Heidnik ordered Rivera to fill the pit with water. Dudley, Askins and Thomas, still in chains, were then pushed down into it before the cover was replaced and weighted down with bags of dirt. As they sat shivering with cold and fear, the bare wire was pushed through one of the holes until it briefly touched one of the chains sending a jolt of electricity surging through all of them.
A Body In The Freezer
The wire was then pushed into the hole a second time, making direct contact with Deborah Dudley’s chain. Absorbing most of the voltage, Dudley screamed and shuddered uncontrollably before collapsing face down in the water.
Seeing their friend fall, Askins and Thomas began screaming until Heidnik removed the cover and dragged Dudley out. After ascertaining that she was dead, Gary Heidnik calmly made sandwiches and told the girls, “Aren’t you glad it wasn’t one of you.” He then left for a few minutes and returned with a pen and paper.
Handing it to Rivera, he ordered her to write the time and date at the top of the page. When she had done so, he made her write a statement detailing how she had assisted him to electrocute Deborah Dudley. He then ordered her to sign it before adding his own signature. Holding up the letter, he then told her: – “If you ever go to the cops, I can use this as evidence that you killed Debbie.”
Satisfied that he had her completely under his control, he removed Rivera’s chains and told her to go upstairs and change. It was the first time she had been completely dressed in four months. The following day, Gary Heidnik returned to the basement and, after wrapping Dudley’s body in plastic, placed it in the freezer and left.
Gary Heidnik Softens
Following Debra Dudley’s death, Josefina became Heidnik’s constant companion, often accompanying him on outings to restaurants and on shopping expeditions. On one such outing, Gary Heidnik told Rivera that if he was ever caught, he would act as though he was insane as he knew how to manipulate the testing procedures.
He told her that he had been fooling the authorities for years so that he could qualify for disability payments. Heidnik also seemed to soften after Deborah died and began to provide additional comforts for his captives including mattresses, blankets, pillows and even a television set while Rivera, in a her role as trusted confidante, earned the dubious honor of sharing Heidnik’s bed.
On one particular trip, they were driving in the countryside outside of New Jersey when Gary Heidnik stopped the car near a heavily wooded area and remarked that it would be a good place to hide Dudley’s body. The following night, March 22, Heidnik and Rivera loaded Deborah Dudley’s partially frozen body in one of his other vehicles, a Dodge van, and drove back to the area known as the Pine Barrens. While Rivera waited in the vehicle, Heidnik dumped the body in a grove of trees.
Finding A Replacement For Debbie
The next day, Gary Heidnik told Rivera that he would need to find a “replacement” for Dudley and suggested that they go out “cruising” together to find one. Later that night, the pair drove through the streets looking for a likely subject. It wasn’t long before they spied another black prostitute standing on a street corner. Rivera knew the woman, named Agnes Adams, from when they both previously worked in the same strip club. Curiously, Heidnik also knew Agnes. He was a previous customer of hers and had taken her back to his home on two separate occasions for sex.
The first time he had taken her home, a car had been blocking his driveway and he had been unable to find alternate parking so he drove her back to the city and paid her ten dollars for the trouble. The second time he took her home, had sex and paid her, after which she walked home. Strangely, he had never tried to attack her on either occasion.
On this particular night, however, he had other plans. After negotiating a suitable price for her services, Heidnik and Rivera drove her back to his house. While Rivera remained in the kitchen, he took Agnes upstairs and had sex with her. Shortly after, she found herself stripped, chained and imprisoned in the basement with the others. To Heidnik, Rivera may have seemed like a willing participant but she had other plans and was happy to wait for the right time to implement them.
Her chance finally came on March 24th, when, after days of pleading and cajoling, she convinced Gary Heidnik that if he let her go to see her family, she would bring him back a new “wife” for his collection. Heidnik, anxious to expand his “family” agreed on the condition that after visiting her family, she would pick up the woman and meet him at a gas station near her house at midnight.
Later that evening, Gary Heidnik dropped her near her house and drove off. Within seconds, Rivera was sprinting towards the apartment that she shared with her boyfriend, a black man named Vincent Nelson.
When Nelson answered the door, Rivera blurted out her incredible story. As she related how she had been taken prisoner, sexually abused and tortured, Nelson wondered if she had lost her mind. As he tried to quieten her down, she continued to describe scenes involving death, dog food and body parts until Nelson offered to go to Heidnik’s house and confront him. Scared that their interference would lead to the other girls being killed, Rivera convinced him to call the police. He reluctantly agreed and made the call from a nearby payphone.
Enter Law Enforcement
Several minutes later, two police officers, John Cannon and David Savidge pulled up alongside them. Again Rivera told her incredible story. Like Nelson, Cannon and Savidge also found it hard to believe until Rivera lifted the bottoms of her jeans and showed them the scars on her ankles where the chains had been.
They were convinced and proceeded to the gas station where Gary Heidnik was waiting in his Cadillac. As they took out their weapons and approached the car, Heidnik raised his hands and asked if they were there regarding child support payments. He was told that it was a far more serious matter and placed under arrest. After four months of unspeakable horror, Gary Heidnik’s reign of terror was finally at an end.
The Gruesome Evidence
Just before 5.00 a.m. on March 25 1987, a squad of police under the direction of Homicide Lieutenant James Hansen, arrived at 3520 North Marshall Street. Unable to gain access via Heidnik’s intricate lock system, Hansen gave the order to break the door down. One of the first officers through the door was Dave Savidge, one of the men who had arrested Gary Heidnik. Following Josefina Rivera’s direction, he and his partner, officer McCloskey, went straight to the basement.
When Savidge entered the small room, he saw two black women asleep on a mattress in the middle of the room. Despite the cold conditions, their only covering was a thin, dirty blanket. As he approached them they woke and began to scream until Savidge assured them that he was a police officer who had come to release them.
He noticed that the women were chained to a pipe in the ceiling and wore nothing except thin blouses and socks. They identified themselves as Jacquelyn Askins and Lisa Thomas. When one of the officers asked if there were any more women in the house, Thomas pointed to the sheet of plywood on the floor that had plastic bags filled with soil piled on top of it.
Pushing aside the bags and the board, McCloskey saw the nude figure of Agnes Adams squatting in the bottom of the pit. After lifting Adams out, the police removed the girl’s chains and took them upstairs to a waiting ambulance. With the girls freed, the police turned their attention to the search.
Human Remains In The Frig
In the kitchen, Savidge found an aluminium pot on the stove, which was badly scorched and contain a yellowish fatty substance. On the kitchen counter was an industrial food processor, which had been recently used, possibly for raw meat.
Inside the stove, he found an oven dish containing a charred piece of bone that resembled a human rib. Up to that point, Savidge was still struggling to believe what had really occurred in the room, but when he opened the fridge, what he found removed all doubt. Lying on a shelf in the freezer compartment was a human forearm.
Over several days, police searched the house and yards detailing every piece of paper and material they found. They excavated the front and back yards but did not find any further human remains. In the house they found a closet full of pornographic magazines all of which featured black women.
Although the house and surroundings gave the impression that the owner had been a disturbed person existing only on a veterans pension, they later discovered that Gary Heidnik was in fact a rich man, having amassed an amazing $550,000 in a Merrill Lynch stock market investment account. While the search was continuing, Gary Heidnik was being questioned in custody as police attempted to unravel the life and crimes of the scruffy individual the press were already calling ” a vicious madman.”
The Downward Spiral
Life started for Gary Michael Heidnik in November 1943 in Eastlake, a suburb of Cleveland Ohio. Eighteen months later, Gary’s brother Terry was born. Six months later their parents, Michael and Ellen, divorced and the boys went to live with their mother and her new husband until Gary started school, after which they went to live with their father and his new wife.
These were not happy times for the boys as they spent most of their time arguing with their stepmother or being heavily disciplined by their father. Gary Heidnik would later tell psychologists that his father had continually ridiculed him especially when he wet his bed, which was often. At these times his father would hang the stained sheet out a second story window in full view of the neighbors.
Gary was also ridiculed at school after a fall from a tree left him with a misshapen head. His brother Terry believes the accident was the root cause of Gary’s erratic behavior. A curious comment indeed considering Terry himself spent much of his life in mental institutions and made numerous suicide attempts.
By the time Gary had reached the eighth grade he had developed two main obsessions, making money and becoming an army officer. So intense was the latter ambition that his father made arrangements for him to attend the prestigious Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. Gary lasted at the academy for two years attaining excellent grades but left suddenly in his junior year and returned home to live with his father.
Gary Heidnik Joins The Army
Within the next year he tried two different high schools but soon became bored and left after a few weeks. Finally, at age eighteen he joined the regular army. Gary Heidnik later told prison psychologists that he left Staunton after visiting a psychologist but failed to indicate why he had felt he needed one or give details of his treatment.
Heidnik adapted readily to army life but made few friends. During his training, he was graded as “excellent.” Following basic training, he applied for several specialist training positions, including the Military Police but was refused. Finally he was sent to San Antonio, Texas to be trained as a medic.
Again he did well and also developed a thriving business by lending money to other soldiers and charging interest on the loans. Unfortunately for him, this enterprise came to a swift end when he was transferred to a field hospital in West Germany. Within weeks of his new posting, Heidnik sat for a high school equivalency diploma scoring 96%. Things seemed to be going well for him until late August 1962 when he went to the sick bay complaining of dizziness, blurred vision and nausea.
A neurologist later determined that Heidnik was suffering from gastroenteritis and also displayed the symptoms of a mental illness. Dr. Jack Apsche, a noted Philadelphia psychologist, later investigated Heidnik’s history of mental illness and found that although the Army had not indicated if they considered him schizoid or schizophrenic, they had prescribed a heavy tranquilliser normally reserved for the treatment of serious psychotics or patients that experience hallucinations.
Diagnosed and Discharged
Within weeks, Gary Heidnik was sent back to the states. Three months later he was given an honorable discharge and released from the Army on medical grounds and given a 100% disability pension. The official diagnosis was “schizoid personality disorder.” He had served only fourteen months.
After leaving the Army, he settled in Philadelphia and qualified as a Licensed Practical Nurse and was issued with a state certificate. He later enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania and gained credits in a variety of subjects including anthropology, history, chemistry and biology.
Eventually, with his nursing qualifications, he was able to get a job in the University Hospital but was later fired when the standard of his work declined. From there he enrolled at the Veterans Administration Hospital near Philadelphia to be trained as a psychiatric nurse but was asked to leave because of his bad attitude.
From then on, Heidnik’s life began to decline as he spent more and more time in mental institutions. In 1970, his mother Ellen took her own life by swallowing poison, which only served to exacerbate his already fragile state of mind.
Numerous suicide attempts followed which ultimately resulted in more hospital time and so the vicious cycle continued. He would often spend long periods refusing to communicate which almost bordered on catatonia. In one of his more lucid moments, he was given a series of intelligence tests, which indicated that he was of “superior” intellect.
On one occasion, he was admitted to a mental ward after he attacked his brother Terry with a wood plane. When he later visited while Terry was recuperating, he told Terry that if he had died from his wounds, he would have soaked his remains in a bathtub full of acid to dispose of his body. With each admission to hospital, his behavior became more bizarre.
He spent most days completely mute, only communicating by writing notes. He constantly wore a leather jacket, which he refused to take off. His personal hygiene was almost non-existent and he developed a series of mannerisms, such as saluting and rolling up one pants leg when he didn’t wish to be disturbed.
“Bishop” Gary Heidnik
In 1971, while on a trip to California, Gary Heidnik had the startling revelation that he should form his own church. Returning to Philadelphia, he registered the United Church of the Ministers of God and installed himself as “Bishop” Heidnik. At that time, the “church” had just five members, which included Terry Heidnik and Gary’s retarded girlfriend.
In 1975, Gary Heidnik opened a Merrill Lynch account in the church’s name. Over the next twelve years, due in no small part to his childhood interest in all things financial, he succeeded in parlaying his $1500 investment into $545,000. During these times, he was in and out of mental hospitals or “ministering” to his parishioners, which were few.
As well as being a regular at mental hospitals, Gary Heidnik had also become well known to the police. In 1976, he was charged with aggravated assault and carrying an unlicensed pistol. The charges were laid after Heidnik had fired a shot at a man who rented a house from him, grazing his face. The house was later sold and while the new owners were in the process of cleaning it, they found boxes of pornographic magazines and a hole dug in the concrete floor of the basement.
Gary Heidnik Sentenced To Jail
Eighteen months later he again came to the attention of the police when he signed his retarded, black girlfriend’s sister out of a mental institution on day leave and kept her prisoner in his apartment. The sister, also seriously retarded, was later recovered from a locked storage room in Heidnik’s basement and returned to the home.
On her return to the hospital, she was examined and found to have been raped, sodomised and contracted gonorrhea, both vaginally and orally. Gary Heidnik was later arrested and charged with kidnapping, rape, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and interfering with the custody of a committed person.
When the case went to trial in November of 1978, Gary Heidnik pleaded not guilty and took the stand in his own defense, claiming that he was innocent. After ordering a psychological examination, which found that Heidnik was, “manipulative and psycho-sexually immature,” he was found guilty and sentenced to three to seven years jail. A later appeal overturned the original sentence, which resulted in him spending almost three years of his incarceration in various mental institutions.
He was finally released on April 12, 1983 on the condition that he remain under the supervision of a state sanctioned mental health program. As in so many similar cases, if the state had realized the true state of Heidnik’s mind, they would never have released him.
Gary Heidnik and The Girls
Prior to his imprisonment, Gary Heidnik had carried on various relationships with women. He seemed to prefer black women, some of them retarded. During these relationships his focus seemed to be on fathering children. His first black partner bore him a daughter but left shortly after, taking the baby with her. The next was another black woman named Dorothy who was seriously retarded.
According to neighbors, Heidnik treated Dorothy badly and often beat her and locked her up and refused to feed her. Dorothy eventually wandered off and was later found living on the street in a dazed condition.
The next woman Heidnik selected was Anjeanette, the sister of the girl that Heidnik was convicted of raping. As before, she was black and retarded. When Heidnik returned from prison, Anjeanette was gone. A later police investigation failed to find any trace of her, leaving police with the impression that Heidnik was responsible for her disappearance.
For his next partner, Gary Heidnik enlisted the aid of a matrimonial service. His selection criteria was simple, he wanted an oriental virgin. A few weeks later he was corresponding by mail with Betty Disto, a young Filipino woman. For two years, she and Heidnik communicated by mail and the occasional phone call. Eventually, Heidnik proposed marriage telling Betty that he was a minister of religion. Betty accepted and traveled to Philadelphia in September 1985.
Gary and Betty
After greeting her at the airport, Gary Heidnik took her home to the North Marshall street house and showed her to her room. She was shocked to find a retarded black woman sleeping in the bed that she was to occupy. In explanation, Heidnik told her the woman was a paying tenant. Despite her misgivings about Gary, and the living arrangements, she married him on October 3 in Maryland.
For the first week, Heidnik treated her well and spoke of starting a family. A week later, she returned from a shopping trip to find Heidnik in bed having sex with three black women. Horrified, she demanded that he pay to send her back home. He refused telling her that he was the boss and having multiple sex partners was normal for him.
From that time on Heidnik was never without additional women in the house and often made Betty watch while he had sex with them. On the occasions that she complained, he would beat her and order her to cook for him and his partner at the time. As the days progressed, he became increasingly violent and constantly warned Betty that if she left he would find her and kill her.
Betty Finally Escapes Gary Heidnik
Sunday 12, 1986 was the last straw for Betty. After she complained about the women he was bringing home, Heidnik beat her and raped her vaginally and anally and again, threatened to kill her. Because she only knew Heidnik and his friends, Betty was forced to turn to other members of the Filipino community for help. They convinced her that she should leave him so four days later, after pretending to go out shopping, she left and never went back.
Two weeks later, Gary Heidnik was picked up and charged with assault, indecent assault, spousal rape and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Luckily for Heidnik, the parole period for his previous sexual offences expired the day before his arrest. His luck continued to hold when the charges were later dismissed when Betty failed to appear for the preliminary hearing.
In 1987, Betty dragged Heidnik into court in an attempt to win financial support for her son. During the case, the judge became aware of Heidnik’s medical history and ordered him to undergo a series of tests to determine his mental competency. By the time the tests were conducted, two of the girls he held captive in his basement “baby factory” had already died. Ironically, when Betty Disto left Gary Heidnik, she was pregnant with his child and later gave birth to a son.
On April 23 1987, Gary Heidnik appeared in court for the first time since his arrest. Beside him sat his counsel, Charles “Chuck” Peruto. Heidnik had selected Peruto, an experienced, sharp-minded defense attorney, based on his reputation for defending sensational cases. The reason for the appearance was to officially determine if the prosecution had the “probable cause” to hold Gary Heidnik for the crimes he had been charged with.
For Assistant District Attorney Charles Gallagher, the preliminary hearing was a mere formality as he presented the state’s case against Gary Heidnik. Heidnik stood charged with murder, kidnapping, rape, aggravated assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent exposure, false imprisonment, unlawful restraint, simple assault, indecent assault and other associated offences.
The most damning evidence against Gary Heidnik was the testimony of the captives themselves. The first to be called was Lisa Thomas, who described in minute detail how Gary Heidnik had chained, beaten and raped her.
Next to give evidence was Josefina Rivera. In a clear and confident voice, she related her story from the time she was picked up in Heidnik’s Cadillac until the time she was released. She was particularly graphic in her description of Sandra Lindsay’s death and the electrocution murder of Deborah Dudley, particularly when she admitted that it had been she who had pushed the power cord into the pit. Peruto later cross examined Rivera and accused her of instigating many of the beatings and the electrocution of Dudley.
When Lisa Thomas was cross examined, she too accused Rivera of being Heidnik’s willing partner in his acts of death and depravity, however her evidence was refuted when Jacquelyn Askins took the stand and told the court that Rivera only did Heidnik’s bidding when she was under threat of death or punishment.
The proceedings ended with Dr. Paul Hoyer of the county medical examiner’s office giving evidence regarding the body parts and other human remains found in Heidnik’s kitchen. In a hushed court room Dr Hoyer read out the items found like a gruesome shopping list – two forearms, one upper arm, two knees and two segments of thigh, all cut with a saw, the tissue, muscle and skin still attached. In all, twenty-four pounds of human remains were found carefully wrapped and stored in Gary Heidnik’s refrigerator. Although considered a foregone conclusion, Gary Heidnik was indicted and held for trial.
Crazy or Not Crazy
After the usual legal machinations and the jury selection process, the main trial began in earnest on June 20, 1988 in front of a packed courtroom. From the outset, as Charles Gallagher outlined the prosecution’s case in all it’s gory detail, Chuck Peruto knew what his defence was going to be, he was going to plead his client guilty on all charges but was going to try and prove that Gary Heidnik was certifiably insane.
If the prosecution’s case had been strong at the pre-trial hearing, at the trial itself, it seemed even stronger. With both sides opening statements having taken only a few minutes, Charles Gallagher began calling his witnesses to the stand.
For two days, the jury of six whites and six blacks, heard testimony from the captives themselves, their families, the police and the medical examiners. As the judge excused the last of the prosecution’s witnesses, Chuck Peruto requested that the charge of first-degree murder be removed on the grounds that intent to kill had not been proven. Judge Lynne Abraham’s reply was one that Peruto would become familiar with during the trial, “overruled.”
Chuck Peruto’s defence was centred around two men, Heidnik’s psychiatrist, Dr Clancy McKenzie and psychologist Jack Apsche. Unfortunately for Peruto, and Heidnik, when he called his first witness to the stand, he found that McKenzie had his own agenda. McKenzie, who had spent a total of one hundred hours with Heidnik, refused to answer direct questions, preferring instead to launch into intellectual discussion on schizophrenia and other associated mental conditions, which at times completely confused the jury. Eventually, Peruto managed to direct McKenzie to give his opinion on the most important aspect of an insanity defence. “At the time of the offences, did Gary Heidnik know the difference between right and wrong?” – “No, he did not.”
Peruto then asked the judge to instruct the jury to consider the possibility that Josefina Rivera was actually an accomplice of Gary Heidnik’s. Judge Abraham answered that she would be prepared to do so as long as he understood that it would indicate to the jury that if Gary Heidnik was capable of enlisting the aid of an accomplice then he was clearly not insane. Wisely, Peruto decided not to pursue the point.
Another Setback For The Defense
The following day, the defense case received another setback when Judge Abraham refused to admit most of Jack Apsche’s testimony on Heidnik’s mental history, ruling it inadmissible.
Peruto was caught completely off guard by the ruling as most of his insanity defense was based on the testimonies of Apsche and McKenzie but in a short time, McKenzie had undermined his own credibility and Apsche was not allowed to table the results of weeks of painstaking research into Heidnik’s medical history, the details of which Peruto believed would prove that his client had been insane for most of his adult life.
Peruto then played his final card by calling Dr. Kenneth Kool, another psychiatrist. Kool was able to give part of his professional opinion regarding Heidnik’s sanity but in a closed session, Abraham ruled that his testimony was “confusing the jury” and ruled that most of it be stricken.
Kool also had his testimony damaged in cross examination when he admitted that he had only spent twenty minutes with Gary Heidnik and had “left in frustration,” when Heidnik refused to talk to him. When Gallagher asked what he had based his analysis on, he admitted that he had relied on Heidnik’s previous medical history.
As a parting shot at the already damaged defense case, Gallagher called an additional witness, Robert Kirkpatrick, Heidnik’s broker at Merrill Lynch. Kirkpatrick gave evidence that the Gary Heidnik he knew was “an astute investor who knew exactly what he was doing.” For the next few days Peruto and Gallagher called additional witnesses to prove and disprove each other’s arguments until there were no more witnesses to call and they began their final summations.
The following day was taken up with Judge Abraham instructing the jury on the technicalities of the various degrees of murder and other legalities to help them reach a verdict.
Finally on June 30 1988, after sixteen hours of deliberation over two-and-a-half days, the jury was ready. As Betty Ann Bennett, the jury foreperson stood to read their verdict, Chuck Peruto was confident that his client would be found guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder and thereby escape the death penalty. His hopes were dashed, however when Bennett began reading the verdict.
Betty Read The Verdict
“For the murder of Deborah Dudley, guilty in the first degree. For the murder of Sandra Lindsay, guilty in the first degree.” And so the list went on. By the time Bennett had finished, Gary Heidnik stood convicted on eighteen charges. Two counts of first-degree murder, five counts of rape, six counts of kidnapping, four counts of aggravated assault and one count of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.
With the verdicts announced, Judge Abraham retired the jury until nine a.m. the following day when the prosecution and defensce attorneys would have the chance to address the jury before the sentence was decided. By 12:15 pm the next day, the jury had made a unanimous decision; Gary Heidnik should be sentenced to death for the murders of Deborah Dudley and Sandra Lindsay. Just as he had throughout the trial, Heidnik showed no sign of emotion when the sentence was read.
For eleven long years, Gary Heidnik waited in jail until the normal legal hyperbole that inevitably follows a death sentence had diminished. During that time he made several suicide attempts and played very little part in the appeal process. Finally on July 6 1999, at 10:29 p.m., Gary Michael Heidnik was executed by lethal injection. At the time of his death, no member of his family had made arrangements to claim his body.
credit murderpedia / crimelibrary / Patrick Bellamy