In 1986, Gary M. Heidnik kidnapped six African-American women and held them in the basement of his West Philadelphia home. Heidnik, who tortured his captives, was responsible for the deaths of two of the women - Sandra Lindsay and Deborah Dudley. Heidnik also sexually assaulted and starved the women he abducted. After killing Lindsay, he forced his victims to eat her. Due to the extent of his crimes, the public often refers to him as a serial killer. His criminal 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. After his conviction, Heidnik attempted to overdose while in custody at the Pittsburgh State Correctional Institution. In July 1999, over a decade later, he received the lethal injection.
He Kidnapped Six Women And Confined Them In His Basement
Gary Heidnik abducted and kept six African-American women in his basement. He chained them to pipes, trapped at the bottom of a hole he dug into the soil beneath his Philadelphia house. In 1986, Heidnik kidnapped 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 kidnapped three more women: Deborah Dudley, Jacqueline Askins, also a known prostitute, and Agnes Adams. Reportedly, Heidnik intended on starting a “baby farm” with the women, whom he planned to impregnate.
He Inspired 'The Silence Of The Lambs' Character 'Buffalo Bill'
Philadelphia police arrested Heidnik for his crimes 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.
He Fed Lindsay To His Captives
Heidnik claimed Sandra Lindsay’s death 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.
He Tortured His Victims With Electric Shocks
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 tortured them with 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.