In 1986, Gary M. Heidnik held six African-American women in the basement of his West Philadelphia home. Heidnik was responsible for taking the lives of two women - Sandra Lindsay and Deborah Dudley. Heidnik also starved the women and forced them to engage in intimate acts. His acts later provided the inspiration for the character "Buffalo Bill" in Thomas Harris’s 1988 psychological thriller The Silence of the Lambs. In 1991, filmmakers adapted the novel into a drama of the same title.
In 1988, Pennsylvania courts convicted Gary M. Heidnik on two counts of murder and gave him the death penalty. In July 1999, over a decade later, he received the lethal injection.
Gary Heidnik chained six Black women to pipes at the bottom of a hole he dug into the soil beneath his Philadelphia house. In 1986, Heidnik took his first victim, a known prostitute named Josefina Rivera, who later helped him obtain several others. His second victim was a mentally disabled woman named Sandra Lindsay. His third, Lisa Thomas, was a 19-year-old single mother.
In 1987, Heidnik confined three more women: Deborah Dudley, Jacqueline Askins, also a known sex worker, and Agnes Adams. Reportedly, Heidnik intended on starting a “baby farm” with the women, whom he planned to impregnate.
Philadelphia police arrested Heidnik on March 24, 1987, when one of his victims, Josefina Rivera, convinced him to let her go and visit her family. Reportedly, Rivera led Heidnik to believe she was “on his side.” When he released her, believing she would return, Rivera left and called 911. As a result, she saved the lives of Thomas, Askins, and Adams.
In 1988, Thomas Harris published the psychological thriller The Silence of the Lambs, after police apprehended Heidnik. Three years later, filmmakers adapted the novel into an award-winning movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. The basement pit where Heidnik kept his victims inspired the movie version where Buffalo Bill held the senator's daughter in a basement well.
Heidnik claimed Sandra Lindsay’s homicide was an accident. Reportedly, she upset him because she wasn't eating the bread he had given her fast enough, so he suspended her from his basement ceiling by her arms. He later alleged not realizing she slowly suffocated.
Heidnik took her body upstairs and dismantled it with a chainsaw before grinding her remains. Rivera, whom he trusted enough to let wander throughout the house, remembered going upstairs and seeing a head floating in a boiling pot of water on the stove. Heidnik claimed he cooked her body and mixed it with dog food, before forcibly feeding the concoction to his victims.
Heidnik, a serial rapist, kept his captives confined in chains. The chains were either attached to the basement pipes or loosened when he put the women into his self-made basement hole. Their wrist shackles were in place at all times. Heidnik subjected them to electric shocks. He used a loosened live wire, which he held against their chains, to send volts of electricity through his victims' bodies.
He also stuck screwdrivers into their ears as a form of punishment. To drown out their screams, Heidnik played loud music or turned the television volume up.