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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[]

Heidnik's house

The house where Heidnik kept his victims.

Desiring to have "sex slaves" and create a "harem"[1], Heidnik began his series of abductions and rapes in 1986. On November 25, Heidnik picked up Josefina Rivera, a part-time African-American sex worker, 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.

Modus Operandi[]

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.

Known Victims[]

  • 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)
  • 1986:
    • 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)
  • 1987:
    • 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
    • "Aftermath" - Heidnik was mentioned when the BAU compared his intentions of impregnating his victims to the case at hand.
  • Season Three
    • "Limelight" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in the episode, Heidnik appears to be an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Jeremy Andrus - Both were murderous and sadistic serial rapists and abductors who had absent mothers, targeted women, suspended them from the ceiling and tortured them with rape and electrocution, held more than one victim captive at a time in a basement, one of their victims died from the torture, they had some contact with law enforcement prior to their apprehensions (Heidnik was previously arrested and was later questioned by police after neighbors reported an odor from his home, while Andrus called an FBI agent to taunt her), and had at least one surviving victim.
  • 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 ephebophilic serial rapists and abductors who began their crimes after a family member died (Heidnik's mother committed suicide, while Reimann's wife miscarried), sexually abused their wives, targeted women (at least some of whom were either teenaged or lived high-risk lifestyles), kept them captive in modified dungeons in their basements, raped them, at least one of their captives miscarried their child (though this was an abortion prior to her abduction in Heidnik's case), and had at least one of their captives help with their crimes in some way (Reimann had some of his act as either nurses or midwives, while one of Heidnik's succumbed to Stockholm syndrome and began helping him torture the others and tell him of their escape attempts). Also, the way the BAU profiled Linda as possibly being a nurse may be a slight nod to Heidnik actually being one.
  • Season Eight
    • "The Good Earth" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Heidnik appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Emma Kerrigan - Both were mentally unstable killers and abductors who lost a relative prior to their crimes (Heidnik's mother and Kerrigan's husband, respectively), had a daughter, targeted victims of specific races and genders (Kerrigan targeted Caucasian men, Heidnik targeted black-American women), held multiple victims captive at the same time, stripped, restrained, and tortured them by force-feeding, killed one victim whose health worsened, killed another victim from the extent of the torture (presumably in Kerrigan's case), used remains of some of their victims for cannibalism (including projected cannibalism, which was the only cannibalism Heidnik partook in), were both profiled as wanting to conceive children with their victims (though this was only true for Heidnik), each had at least one surviving female victim, and were arrested from a victim being saved by a ruse.
  • Season Nine
    • "The Inspiration" and "The Inspired" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in the episodes, Heidnik appears to be an inspiration for the episodes' unsub, Wallace Hines - Both were misogynistic murderers and serial rapists whose parents separated, had failed relationships with women resulting in separations, were institutionalized repeatedly, and were diagnosed with mental disorders (Heidnik with schizoid personality disorder, Hines with acute delusional disorder). They primarily targeted women in their 20s (with at least one of them being black-American), held their victims captive in their homes and tortured them (which included repeated rape and force-feeding them the remains of a previous murder victim), and had accomplices as their crimes progressed (Heidnik forced one victim to participate in torture, while Hines was assisted by his twin brother).
    • "The Edge of Winter" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Heidnik appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's main unsub, Joe Bachner - Both were murderous serial rapists with abusive and alcoholic legal guardians in their family, had criminal records prior to their murders (including abduction), primarily targeted women in their 20s of a certain ethnicity (Caucasian in Bachner's case, African-American in Heidnik's), abducted and held multiple victims captive at the same time and raped their female captives, forced one victim to assist in torturing the others, killed their victims from the extent of the torture (though Heidnik only did so once), were apprehended after one victim escaped and reported to the police, and were arrested at their hideouts while still holding victims captive.
    • "What Happens in Mecklinburg" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Heidnik appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Sheila Harrison - Both were murderous abductors with absent mothers, held multiple victims captive at a time in their basements, suspended them from the ceiling and tortured them by beating, rape, and some method of burning (Heidnik used electrocution, Harrison used acid), force-fed at east one of their victims a dangerous substance (Heidnik forced several of his victims to eat the remains of one victim who was murdered, while Harrison force-fed one victim hydrochloric acid and left him to die), intentionally killed one victim each, assaulted one victim unrelated to their sprees, one victim each escaped captivity (though Harrison released the victim and left him for dead, before was narrowly rescued and taken to the hospital), targeted six victims for their worst torture, and were arrested once a witness to their crimes associated with at least one of the victims reported them to the police.



  1. A harem is a polygamous household whose quarters are forbidden to men