GARY HEIDNIK – I: The Chamber of Death Crime File

When, on March 24, 1987, Josefina’s ordeal finally ended, and she could make it to her boyfriend first and then to the police, it was very hard for everybody to believe her bizarre story, including her boyfriend and the police officers who initially interviewed her. They thought she had lost it until she pulled her jeans up to reveal the scars on her ankles from the chains she had been restrained with. On her indication, the police went to the house of her alleged tormentor, and soon enough all skeletons tumbled out of the cupboard, almost literally.

The night of November 26, 1986 was the cursed night for Josefina, who had fought with her boyfriend that night and, fuming in anger, had left their apartment in a slum area in north Philadelphia for work, which is when she came across a bearded man in a Cadillac Coupe De Ville, who offered her a ride. It was cold night with heavens pouring down quite heavily. Josefina saw no risk in taking the ride. The man, after introducing himself as Gary, told her that he has to make a stop, to which Josefina agreed. He made the stop at McDonald’s, and she went into the food joint with the man, and sat with him as he drank his coffee. The man was white with a trimmed beard and penetrating blue eyes, had an expensive watch and some jewelery on him though his clothes were quite cheap and unclean. During the small talk they had at the joint, the man gave his full name as “Gary Heidnik”.

josefina-riveraAfter finishing his coffee, Gary told her that they were leaving for his place. Josefina went along, and when they reached his house, which was basically a reasonably big house in bad condition, she noticed a 1971 Rolls Royce parked. The man certainly wasn’t poor. Gary unlocked the door with a strange key, half of which, he explained, remained inside the lock so as to prevent anybody else from gaining entry by manipulating the lock. The door opened into the kitchen. He offered to show her around, and as she was stepping into the bedroom, she felt his fingers around her neck from behind choking her. She could have passed out, had he kept on with it, but he released the grip, pulled her arms behind her back and bound her wrists together with a pair of handcuffs. He took her to the basement of the house, where she was dragged on to a dirty mattress and her ankles were shackled in metal clamps that were attached to a chain. The other end of the chain was bound to a large, strong pole attached to the ceiling. When he was done securing Josefina to the pole, he asked her to sit up, laid his head in her lap and promptly fell asleep.

In the morning, when she woke up, she noticed that at the center of the room that was her prison now, a small area had been dug up and turned into a shallow pit. When Heindik returned he started digging the pit wider and deeper. As he went about digging the hole, she kept watching and he told her that all he had ever wanted was a large family, and for that purpose he had already fathered four children with four different women, but had lost track of them for different reasons. He also told her his future plan, which was to get ten women right there and father children with them to raise a large family. After detailing his plan, he proceeded to rape Josefina as though to demonstrate his intent.

Once he left, Josefina was all alone with her chains. She somehow loosened the clamp on one of his ankles, stretched the chain as much as she could to reach the window. She somehow managed to open the covers on the window and could also lift herself halfway out of the opening to scream at the top of her voice in the hope that a neighbour or a passerby would hear her and either help her out, or call the police. None of it happened, and the only person who answered her frenetic calls was Gary himself, who dragged her back in and gave her a good beating for her escape attempt. After beating her with a stick, he dragged her into the hole at the center of the room, put a piece of plywood over her head with heavy weights atop it. That was her punishment. And to ensure that even if she tries, she does not attract any outside attention by her screams, Gary turned the radio on, switched it to a rock hard rock station, cranked up the volume and left Josefina to suffer. Josefina was half naked from waist below and was half buried in the cold ground. Quite a punishment that was.

While she was inside the pit, and could not see what was happening in the room, there was another woman brought to the room. While Josefina could not see the woman then, she could hear her complain and could also hear the sound of the chain being dragged around. A little later she was dragged up from the hole, and introduced to Sandy Lindsay, a young, black woman, who appeared completely lost in the beginning, which was because – as Josefina realized when left alone with her – she was mentally retarded. She told Josefina that she had known Gary for long, and had had sex with him and his friend Tony. In the same emotionless, mechanical way she also disclosed that she had also become pregnant, but underwent an abortion. While the two were still in captivity, Gary made Sandy write a letter to her mother telling her that she had gone away, and would get in touch later. Gary also told both of them that he intended to post the letter from New York so as to make Sandy’s mother think that she had really gone away.

Gary fed the women on and off and kept them semi-naked at all times so that he could sexually indulge himself with them at will, which he did very often. When he was away they sometimes tried to make noise to draw attention, but that invariably got them severe beatings. Later, Gary devised another punishment, which was to hang the offending woman by the wrist with a handcuff from an overhead beam and leave her hanging that way for hours. They soon realized that calling for help was useless, and did nothing but invite torture.

Sandra’s mother, however, was looking for her daughter desperately, and was convinced that a man called ‘Gary’ was keeping her with him against her will. She knew Gary’s address and his phone number, which she gave to the police officer who investigated her report. The officer called Gary, and also went to his place, but when he got no response, the inquiry died down.

In late December 1986, Gary found 19-year-old Lisa walking down to her girlfriend’s house. He offered a ride, and then took her to his house, where they had wine together. Gary laced Lisa’s wine with some sedative, and when she passed out, he raped her and then brought her down into the basement to keep her with his other women. Now, they were three in all.

Gary went on a ten days’ trip and returned with a 23-year-old Deborah Dudley, who was not willing to submit to Gary’s wishes so easily. She was rebellious right from the start, and questioned Gary’s acts and authority at all times, which got her savage beating, and along with her even others used to get beaten up as a consequence of her defiance. Gary started appointing one of the girls in-charge when he went out, and expected the in-charge woman to report to him if any of the other girls misbehaved. He would then order the in-charge woman to discipline the disobedient one by beating. Josefina was the most willing of the women, and obeyed Gary without much resistance, which gradually convinced him of her ‘loyalty’.

GaryHis sexual inclinations also underwent change after the arrival of Deborah, and now he not only had sex with all of them on daily basis, but also forced them to have sex with each other as he watched. The quality, kind and quantity of food he provided to the women varied according to his moods. So, sometimes it would be water and bread only, sometimes stale hot dogs, at other times they might get peanut butter sandwich, and then he settled for canned dog food, which he forced them to eat.

On January 18, 1987, another girl was added to the group – Jacqueline, an 18-year-old. She was raped and then bound by chains, like others. Gary brought Champagne and Chinese food for the women that day and was in good mood, which was perhaps because he thought that Josefina and Sandra Lindsay were pregnant by him. It wasn’t true though.

In February 1987, when Gary found Sandra trying to remove the plywood covering the pit, he was furious and after beating her severely, he hung her from the beam by a single handcuff, and left her like that for days. She refused to eat, and was force-fed by Gary, who still believed that she was pregnant with his child. By the end of the week she was running high fever, but was still being fed by force. She lost consciousness. Gary took her out of the pit and tried to bring her back to consciousness, but failed. He kicked her and left thinking that she was pretending. He returned later and checked her pulse. There was none. She was no more.

Gary took her body upstairs, and a short while later the women in the basement heard the whirring of a power saw. They were horrified when one of Gary’s dogs entered the basement with a long piece of meaty bone and proceeded to eat right in front of them. Gary used a food processor to mince Lindsay’s flesh and fed it to his dogs and also mixed it with dog food to feed the women in the basement. Gary cooked other body parts on the stove to get rid of them. In the days that followed, an intolerable stench filled the house. So bad was the stench that the neighbours called the police. The smell was due to an overcooked roast dinner, Gary explained to the officer who made inquiries.

The girls planned a united attack on Gary to escape, but it never took off because, according to Jacqueline, Josefina disclosed the plan to Gary. To prevent such plans in future, Gary hung all women from the beam cuffing hands and legs, and then used screwdrivers of different sizes to stab and gouge into their ears in an attempt to deafen them so that they do not hear his footsteps when he came into the basement and could not conspire for lack of adequate communication. However, Josefina was spared the screwdriver.

Originally written for and published in LAWYERS UPDATE  as a two-part ‘Crime File’ in April 2014.

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