For Josefina, 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 in north Philadelphia to go to work.
|Braving rain and bitter cold, she noticed a silver and white Cadillac Coupe De Ville drive slowly past her and stop. She moved closer as the driver's window slid down and a bearded man asked if she wanted a ride. He looked okay to her and she got into the car.|
The man introduced himself as Gary and told her he had to make a stop; Josefina, 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 new companion. 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.
They drove to a dilapidated house in a seedy neighborhood. Josefina couldn't help but notice another car parked in front of them; it was a 1971 Rolls Royce. He clearly had some money.
When they reached the door, Heidnik pulled out a strange key and pushed it into the lock. When Josefina 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. He offered to show her around and led her up a narrow staircase. As she reached the door of his bedroom, she couldn't believe her eyes, the hallway directly in front of it had been partially covered with one and five dollar bills.
Suddenly, Heidnik stepped behind her and began choking her with his hands. He released his grip but instead of letting her go, he pulled her arms behind her and handcuffed her wrists. He then led to a cold, damp basement room.
|Heidnik dragged her to a dirty mattress, 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. When Josefina awoke there was enough daylight to see the small room that was her prison.|
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. When Heidnik returned, he 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 so he could raise his family. Then, to demonstrate his intent, he raped her.
Left alone a second time, Josefina loosened one of the ankle clamps and, after prying the covers from the window, stretched the chain to its full length and lifted herself halfway out of the window. Unable to escape fully, she screamed, hoping that a neighbor would come to her aid. Unfortunately, only Heidnik responded to her cries.
He pulled her back inside the basement and beat her with a stick until she quieted 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 struggled to breathe and waited to die.
SandyFrom 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 leapt as the board was lifted and Heidnik dragged her from the pit. Josefina 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 Lindsay before leaving them alone. As Sandy spoke to Josefina began to understand why the new arrival seemed so detached, she was retarded.
Sandy told Josefina that 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 became pregnant, but had an abortion. When Heidnik learned what she had done, he flew into a rage 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.
One day Heidnik told 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 understood that Heidnik's intended 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's mother was actively searching for her. The mother 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 and eventually dropped the inquiry.
LisaAround Christmas, Gary Heidnik cruised the streets looking for another woman. As he turned into Lehigh Street, he found her. Nineteen-year-old Lisa was on her way to a girlfriend's house when Heidnik pulled up beside her in the Cadillac. He leaned out of the window and made a suggestive comment but she became angry and told him she wasn't a prostitute. He quickly apologized and offered her a ride instead. Mollified by the change in his demeanor and his impressive car she accepted.
He lured the young woman to his home by buying her a meal and some clothes and offering to take her to Atlantic City. Then he drugged Lisa with some wine and when she passed out, he raped her, handcuffed her and took her to the basement with his other "slaves."
Now there were three young women of the ten that Heidnik planned to abduct. As they talked about their situation, they wondered how seven more women would ever be able to live in the small basement, let alone any children they might eventually have. Their only hope was that one of them or a future victim might be able to escape and get to the police.
Two MoreTen days later, Heidnik returned from one of his trips with another 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 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 Josefina began to win his confidence by displaying a level of loyalty and obedience that convinced Heidnik that she actually enjoyed being one of his "wives."
His sexual appetite also changed with the arrival of Deborah when, apart from having intercourse with all of them on a daily basis, he would often force them to have sex with each other while he watched. While personal hygiene did not seem to be a priority for Heidnik, he later provided a portable toilet for his captives and "baby wipes" to wash their bodies. Some time later he allowed the girls to have a bath after which he would force them to have sex.
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, Heidnik went out again and returned with another girl. He had picked up a tiny eighteen-year-old named Jacqueline on the north side of the city and brought her back to the house. As before, he raped 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.
Josefina would later reveal that Heidnik was in good spirits because he had the idea that she and Sandra Lindsay had become pregnant by him when this was not the case.
Cellar of DeathIn early February 1987, Heidnik found reason to punish Sandra Lindsay when he caught her trying to move the plywood that covered the pit. The punishment was severe. She was forced to hang from a roof beam by a single handcuff attached to her wrist for several days. During this time, her condition deteriorated and she refused to eat. Still believing her to be pregnant, Heidnik tried to force feed her pieces of 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.
After telling the girls that she had probably choked, he carried Sandra'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 Heidnik had ground up Lindsay's flesh using a food processor, 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 patrolman was sent to the house to make inquiries but left after Heidnik assured him that the smell was caused by an overcooked roast dinner.
Following Sandra'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 would later testify that the attack never occurred because Josefina told Heidnik what they were planning.
Convinced that the girls were constantly plotting against him, Heidnik devised a plan of his own to prevent them from leaving. After cuffing each girl hand and foot, he hung them from a beam and gagged them. Then, taking several different sizes of screwdrivers, he gouged inside their ears in an attempt to deafen them. He believed that if they could not hear, they would be unable to hear him coming. The only one he didn't touch was Josefina.
Later when Deborah Dudley began to cause trouble, he unchained her and took her upstairs. When they returned, Deborah was unusually quiet and solemn. After Heidnik had left, the others asked her what had happened. Stammering with fear, she told them that Heidnik had taken her into the kitchen and showed her a pot he had on the stove. Inside it was Sandra Lindsay's head. He then opened the oven and showed her part of Sandra's ribcage that he was roasting. Opening the fridge, he pointed to an arm and other body parts that he had wrapped in plastic and told her that if she didn't start obeying him, she would be next.
Within a few days, Deborah had recovered her composure and continued to defy Heidnik's attempts to "tame" her. As an added incentive to obey, Heidnik added a new punishment to his already cruel bag of tricks, his own version of electric shock treatment. His method was simple. He stripped the insulation from one end of an electrical extension cord and plugged the other into a socket. Then, turning on the power, he would hold the bare wires against each of the girl's chains and watch with detached amusement as they wriggled and danced to escape the current. As before, Josefina was exempt from punishment.
As the weeks passed, Heidnik began to treat Josefina 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 Josefina to help him. The shock treatment was again employed with one added feature, water. After drilling airholes in the plywood cover, Heidnik ordered Josefina to fill the pit with water. The three other women, still in chains, were then pushed down into it before the cover was replaced and weighted down with bags of dirt. As they sat shivering with cold and fear, the bare wire was pushed through one of the holes until it briefly touched one of the chains sending a jolt of electricity surging through all of them. The wire was then pushed into the hole a second time, making direct contact with Deborah's chain. Absorbing most of the voltage, Deborah screamed and shuddered uncontrollably before collapsing face down in the water.
Seeing their friend fall, Jacqueline and Lisa screamed until Heidnik removed the cover and dragged Deborah out. After ascertaining that she was dead, Heidnik calmly made sandwiches and told the women, "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 Josefina, 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. 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 Josefina's chains and told her to go upstairs and change. It was the first time she had been completely dressed in four months. The following day, Heidnik returned to the basement and, after wrapping Deborah's body in plastic, placed it in the freezer and left.
FreeFollowing Deborah Dudley's death, Josefina became Heidnik's constant companion, often accompanying him on outings to restaurants and on shopping expeditions. On one such outing, Heidnik told Josefina 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 Josefina, 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 Heidnik stopped the car near a heavily wooded area and remarked that it would be a good place to hide Deborah's body. The following night, March 22, Heidnik and Josefina loaded Deborah'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 Josefina waited in the vehicle, Heidnik dumped the body in a grove of trees.
The next day, Heidnik told her that he would need to find a "replacement" for Deborah 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.
Heidnik found a new victim, Agnes, who he convinced to go home with them. Shortly after getting to the house, Agnes found herself stripped, chained and imprisoned in the basement with the others. To Heidnik, Josefina 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 24 when after days of pleading and cajoling, she convinced Heidnik that if he let her go to see her family, she would bring him back a new "wife" for his collection. Heidnik, anxious to expand his "family" agreed on the condition that after visiting her family, she would pick up the woman and meet him at a gas station near her house at midnight. Later that evening, Heidnik dropped her near her house and drove off. Within seconds, Josefina was sprinting towards the apartment that she shared with her boyfriend, Vincent Nelson.
When Nelson answered the door, Josefina 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 quiet 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, Josefina convinced him to call the police.
Several minutes later, two police officers, John Cannon and David Savidge arrived. Again Josefina told her incredible story. Like Nelson, Cannon and Savidge also found it hard to believe until Josefina lifted the bottoms of her jeans and showed them the scars on her ankles where the chains had been. They were convinced and went to the gas station where Heidnik was waiting in his Cadillac. As they took out their weapons and approached the car, Heidnik raised his hands and asked if they were there regarding child support payments. He was told that it was a far more serious matter and placed under arrest. After four months of unspeakable horror, Gary Heidnik's reign of terror was finally at an end.
Gruesome EvidenceJust before 5 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's direction, he and his partner, Officer McCloskey went straight to the basement.
When Savidge entered the small room, he saw two 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 screamed 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. When one of the officers asked if there were any more women in the house, they 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 squatting in the bottom of the pit. After lifting Agnes out, the police removed the women's chains and took them upstairs to a waiting ambulance. With the women freed, the police turned their attention to the search. In the kitchen, Savidge found an aluminium pot on the stove, which was badly scorched and contain a yellowish fatty substance. On the kitchen counter was an industrial food processor, which had been recently used, possibly for raw meat. Inside the stove, he found an oven dish containing a charred piece of bone that resembled a human rib. Up to that point, Savidge was still struggling to believe what had really occurred in the room, but when he opened the fridge, what he found removed all doubt. Lying on a shelf in the freezer compartment was a human forearm.
Over several days, police searched the house and yards detailing every piece of paper and material they found. They excavated the front and back yards but did not find any further human remains. In the house they found a closet full of pornographic magazines all of which featured black women. Although the house and surrounds gave the impression that the owner had been a disturbed person existing only on a veteran's pension, they later discovered that Gary Heidnik was in fact a rich man, having amassed an amazing $550,000 in a Merrill Lynch investment account. While the search was continuing, Heidnik was being questioned in custody as police attempted to unravel the life and crimes of the scruffy individual the press was already calling "a vicious madman."
Crazy or What?
EpilogueTo this day, Jacquelyn, Agnes and Lisa have various levels of hearing impairment thanks to the damage Heidnik did with his screwdrivers. Together with Josefina, they instituted civil proceedings to gain access to the funds in Heidnik's Merrill Lynch account and divide them equally between them as criminal compensation.
Other parties as diverse as the Peace Corps and the IRS have also filed for access to the funds.
For eleven long years, Gary Heidnik waited in jail until the normal legal hyperbole that inevitably follows a death sentence had diminished. During that time he made several suicide attempts and played very little part in the appeal process. Finally on July 6 1999, at 10:29 p.m., Gary Michael Heidnik was executed by lethal injection. After his death, no member of his family had made arrangements to claim his body.
BibliographyThe reference material for this story was drawn from the following sources:
PG News website - www.postgazette.com
Philadelphia Daily News - <>
Philadelphia Inquirer - <>
In the Court of Common Pleas, First Judicial District of Pennyslvania, Criminal Trial Division: Commonwealth vs. Gary Heidnik.
Douglas,John E. & Mark Olshaker, "Obsession." Pocket Books, New York.
Englade, Ken, "Cellar of Horror." St. Martins Press, New York.
"Crime - An Encyclopedia" - Oliver Cyriax - Andre Deutsch Ltd. London.
The above was written by
Bellamy is a former Scientific Investigator with a prominent Australian Police Department. Trained as a Crime Scene Analyst, his case experience includes the investigation of serious crime including multiple murder, rape, arson, bombings, aircraft crashes and acts of terrorism.
After leaving the department, he became a private investigator specialising in insurance fraud and motor vehicle accident investigation. He has worked in a variety of fields including financial futures trader and computer store proprietor. He has been writing true crime articles since 1998 and currently lives in Queensland.