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15 Horrifying Facts Gary Heidnik, The Killer Who Inspired 'Buffalo Bill'

Updated April 11, 2019 660.8k views15 items

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. 

  • He Dumped Deborah Dudley's Body In The New Jersey Pine Barrens

    He Dumped Deborah Dudley's Bod is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 15 Horrifying Facts Gary Heidnik, The Killer Who Inspired 'Buffalo Bill'
    Photo: c_neuhaus / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Deborah Dudley died in Heidnik's basement on March 18, 1987. Heidnik forced her into the hole in his basement floor and added water. He then held a hot wire to the chains attached to her wrists, electrocuting her. She died instantly.

    He made Rivera sign a document stating she helped kill Dudley and went with him when he hid Dudley's body in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Askins, under the assigned name “Donna,” signed as a witness. Heidnik used the document to coerce Rivera into helping him, claiming he could then “trust” her. Police recovered Dudley’s body from the New Jersey forest after the surviving women provided information.

  • He Was Violent Toward His Wife As Well

    Throughout their short marriage, Heidnik repeatedly beat his wife, Betty Disto. In 1985, Heidnik and Disto married. She claimed he forced her to watch while he had sex with other women, some of which were prostitutes. Betty also alleged Heidnik regularly beat her with his fists when she was pregnant with his child.

    Disto, hesitant to leave her abusive husband because she had just arrived in the United States from the Philippines, turned to the Filipino community for support. Neighbors and friends convinced her to escape, and she divorced Heidnik in 1986. 

    Reportedly, she attempted to file charges against him for “indecent assault, spousal rape, assault, and involuntary deviant sexual intercourse,” but the judge dropped the case when Disto didn’t appear in court.

  • He Was Honorably Discharged From The US Army 

    After Heidnik dropped out of high school his freshman year, his father forced him to attend the Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. At 17, he left the academy due to “mental problems” and joined the US Army. He received medical training and a transfer to a post in Landstuhl, West Germany at the 46th Army Surgical Hospital.

    In April 1962, he complained of severe headaches and other medical ailments. A medical evaluation reported Heidnik showed symptoms of “degenerative mental illness.” Military officials transferred him to an Army hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he received an honorable discharge. 

  • He Was Diagnosed With Schizoid Personality Disorder

    During his stint in the US Army, military psychiatrists diagnosed Heidnik with schizoid personality disorder. Several Army comrades, as well as Philadelphia prosecutors, maintained Heidnik “faked” mental illness to get out of service and secure a disability pension. Reportedly, Heidnik had an IQ of 148.

    Multiple psychiatrists testified in 1991 - during an appeal his ex-wife filed on his behalf - that Heidnik suffered from schizophrenia. Forensic psychiatrists maintained Heidnik was under the “systematized delusion that God wanted him to produce a number of children.”

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