|“||Heidnik: I was trying to find something that would make them behave.
Interviewer: But it was painful to them.
Heidnik: I hope so! Yeah, that's what I was trying to achieve. You know to make them behave!
— Extract of a 1991 interview on TV
Gary Michael Heidnik was an ephebophilic killer, serial rapist, abductor, and projected cannibal who abducted, tortured, and raped six African-American women, keeping them captive in his basement in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Born on November 22, 1943, in Eastlake, Ohio, Heidnik's parents divorced due to his mother's alcoholism. As a result, Heidnik and his brother, Terry, went to live with their father, who later remarried. Heidnik and Terry both hated their stepmother, but their father always sided with her when it came to conflicts. Heidnik's father would punish him severely for wetting the bed by hanging the soiled sheets by his bedroom window for everyone to see. Sometimes, he even dangled him out the window, shaking him by the ankles. While he was still a child, Heidnik fell from a tree, smashing his skull and suffering a misshapen cranium, which is believed to have caused behavioral aberration. His schoolmates called him "football head" because of it. In 1961, when he was eighteen, Heidnik, through his father's encouragement, dropped out of high school and enlisted in the U.S. Army, once being stationed in West Germany during his time there in the summer of 1962. He was honorably discharged a year after his enlistment, receiving a full disability pension and being diagnosed with "schizoid personality disorder". In 1964, Heidnik started taking nursing classes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, completing them a year later and receiving an internship at Philadelphia General Hospital. In 1967, he purchased a three-story house and started frequenting the Elwyn Institute, a house for the developmentally disabled.
Heidnik made his first of many suicide attempts after his mother committed suicide by overdosing on medication and alcohol in 1970, which have resulted in frequent hospitalizations. After incorporating the United Church of the Ministers of God, Heidnik founded the Church of Heidnik as its ordained minister, Brother Heidnik. Receiving $1,500 investment in a Merrill Lynch account, the church made at least half a million dollars. In 1976, he sold his house and purchased another three-story house and rented out two of the floors, which he moved into with his mentally-disabled girlfriend Anjeanette Davidson, and where he began living a successful life. He later assaulted one of the house's tenants. In 1978, Heidnik had his first child, a daughter named Maxine, with his girlfriend and later abducted her sister Alberta (who was also mentally disabled) from an institution in Harrisburg. He was later arrested and charged with aggravated assault, then multiple charges of abduction and rape when the woman was found chained in his basement. While the aggravated assault charges were dropped, Heidnik served three to seven years in prison for the other charges but was released in April 1983. In 1984, he purchased his third house and began advertising his church, and on the following year, Heidnik married a mail-order bride, Betty Disto, from the Philippines. However, the marriage was short-lived after Disto found out that Heidnik had affairs with three other women, and in addition, he had also forced his wife to watch while he had sex with other women. Unbeknownst to Heidnik, until his ex-wife demanded child support, Disto had given birth to his son, Jesse John Disto, after the divorce.
Abductions, Capture, and Execution
Desiring to have "sex slaves" and create a "harem", Heidnik began his series of abductions and rapes in 1986. On November 25, Heidnik picked up Josefina Rivera, a part-time African-American prostitute, and took her to his house. After having sex with her, he choked her into unconsciousness before chaining her up in his basement. Heidnik then dug a pit in the basement floor, and Rivera was put into the pit, which was covered by a weighted board if she tried to escape or "misbehave". On December 3, 1986, Heidnik abducted the mentally-disabled Sandra Lindsay, whom he had gotten pregnant previously, but she had an abortion, which angered him. Heidnik fed the two women irregularly, kept them half-naked, and raped them repeatedly. On December 23, he brought 19-year-old Lisa Thomas over to his home. He drugged her wine and put her in the basement with the other women. A week later, on January 2, 1987, Heidnik abducted Deborah Dudley. During her period of captivity, she would try to defend herself against Heidnik, but was beaten and put in the pit more than the others. After Dudley's abduction, Heidnik further humiliated the four women by forcing them to have sex with each other and made them eat dog food. On January 18, he abducted Jacquelyn Askins. On February 7, Heidnik became angry with Lindsay for unspecified reasons and punished her by hanging her by one of her wrists from a roof-beam for two days; she developed a high fever and died the next morning. He then took her body upstairs, dismembered it with a power saw, put her head into a cooking pot, and cut out her flesh. He fed some of her parts to his two dogs, and the rest to his captives. A couple of days later, neighbors complained of a terrible smell, prompting police to investigate. Heidnik was interrogated and successfully explained that he had burnt his food.
After that, Heidnik bribed his captives into telling on one another. Josefina Rivera told him that the others had planned to attack him and escape. As a result, he made them deaf by driving screwdrivers through their eardrums. Heidnik started to apply electrocution to all of his captives except Rivera, who started to aid him in torturing the others. She also had other "privileges" after apparently becoming his favorite, including being occasionally allowed upstairs to watch a movie or being allowed to be raped in a more comfortable environment. Eventually, on March 19, 1987, Heidnik took Deborah Dudley to the cellar, threw her in a water-filled pit, and fatally electrocuted her due to her resistance. He and Rivera later disposed of her body, later abducting Agnes Adams to replace Dudley. On March 24, 1987, Rivera asked Heidnik's permission to be allowed to visit her family. Possibly assuming that she had fallen to Stockholm syndrome, therefore believing she would not run to the authorities, he allowed it. However, Rivera went home to tell her boyfriend, Vincent Nelson, what had happened and called 911, and Heidnik was arrested. On June 1988, he first appeared in court. For his defense, Heidnik made the unlikely claim that the woman he abducted had been in his basement when he moved into the house. When he tried to claim that he was legally insane, it was rebutted by the fact that he had earned half a million dollars at the stock market. On July 1, Heidnik was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, five of kidnapping, six of rape, four of aggravated assault, and one of involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, being sentenced to death. On December 31, while awaiting execution, he attempted to commit suicide by overdosing on Thorazine, but he only fell into a brief coma. On April 15, 1997, Heidnik was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at Rockview State Prison in Bellefonte, but a last-minute appeal was filed, leading to a hearing to determine his mental competency. On June 25, 1999, the State Supreme Court affirmed the death sentence. On July 6, Heidnik was executed by lethal injection, aged 55.
Heidnik targeted African-American women in their late teens to mid-twenties. He usually abducted them by simply bringing them over to his house, where he proceeded to either drug them or attack them. He also tortured his captives in many ways, including rape, beating, electric shock, forcing them to have sex with each other while he watched, and hanging by the wrists (as in the case of Lindsay's death). Whenever one of them disobeyed him, he would force her into a four-foot-deep pit filled with water and place a wooden board weighed down with stones so she could not escape. He would then place an electrical cable that wasn't insulated on one end and connected to an outlet on the other through a gap in the board to electrocute her. In an attempt to deafen his victims so they would not be able to hear him come down the basement, he cuffed each victim's hands and feet together, hung them from a basement beam, gagged them, and gouged different-sized screwdrivers into their ears. He did not do this to Rivera due to her compliance and telling him about his victims' escape attempts. During their captivity, he fed them food, the amount and type varying based on his mood, dog food, and even forced them to eat Lindsay's body.
- Unspecified date in 1976: Unnamed tenant (assaulted)
- Unspecified date in 1978: Alberta Davidson, 34 (his girlfriend's sister; abducted from a mental hospital, raped, and sodomized; was rescued)
- November 25: Josefina Rivera, 25 (escaped)
- December 3: Sandra Lindsay, 24 (died on February 7, 1987 due to starvation, excessive torture, and a fever; dismembered post-mortem)
- December 23: Lisa Thomas, 19 (was rescued)
- January 2: Deborah Dudley, 23 (fatally electrocuted on March 19, 1987)
- January 18: Jacqueline Askins, 17 (was rescued)
- March 23: Agnes Adams, 24 (abducted to replace Deborah Dudley; was rescued)
On Criminal Minds
- Season Two
- Season Five
- "Cradle to Grave" - Much like his first mention, Heidnik was again recalled about impregnating victims. He also appears to have inspired the episode's main unsub, Robert Reimann - Both were serial rapists, abductors, and killers who targeted women, kept multiple victims captive in their homes for long periods of time before killing them and raped their victims with the intention of impregnating them and having them give birth to children.
- Wikipedia's article on Heidnik
- Radford University's summary of Heidnik's life
- Criminal Minds: Sociopaths, Serial Killers & Other Deviants by Moseh Dunn
- Robert Keller's blog article on Heidnik
- Murderpedia's article on Heidnik
- Captive Humans's article on Gary Heidnik
- A harem is a polygamous household whose quarters are forbidden to men