CRIME HUNTER: Monster was a role model for the killer of the silence of the lambs


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When Thomas Harris wrote his seminal serial killer novel Thesilenceofthelambs, he found inspiration in Philadelphia.

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The 1988 novel centered on the hunt for a maniac nicknamed Buffalo Bill.

Harris discovered his murderous muse in the form of Gary Heidnik in the City of Brotherly Love.

Labeled a genius, Heidnik was born in Ohio in 1943 and served in the US Army until it was suggested he may not have been quite cut out for it, as he was a paranoid schizophrenic.

It wouldn’t be the last time Heidnik’s sanity would be called into question.

Still, Heidnik wasn’t going to let Uncle Sam’s rejection ruin his life. He would end up making millions in the stock market and in a moment of inspiration created the United Church of God Ministers to beat the IRS.

Heidnik was the self-proclaimed bishop of the church.

Josefina Rivera escaped and called the cops.  SCREENSHOT/ YOUTUBE
Josefina Rivera escaped and called the cops. SCREENSHOT/ YOUTUBE

By the 1970s, Heidnik had landed in Philadelphia. Neighbors said he was, well, a bit eccentric.

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There was heavy metal music playing all the time along with inexplicable banging noises and the smell coming from his house.

There was an attempt at marital bliss via a mail-order bride from the Philippines. She arrived in September 1985 and the couple married two months later.

But there was something else. He never told his new wife that he was imprisoned in 1978 for kidnapping, raping and sodomizing his then girlfriend’s mentally handicapped sister, keeping her prisoner in his basement.


It didn’t take long for the shocked new bride to discover that her Romeo was a rat. Things quickly went downhill after Betty caught Heidnik in bed having sex with three other women and she was forced to join them. What followed were rapes and beatings. Three months later, she separated.

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Heidnik began his reign of terror in Philadelphia for real in November 1986. He targeted prostitutes and mentally ill women.

Before long, he kidnapped six women from the street and held them in the basement of the house he shared with his longtime friend David Stec. Inside, it was a house of horrors.

In a relentless campaign of sadism and depravity, Heidnik sexually abused, beat, and tortured his captives. One of his victims perished due to relentless torture and starvation. His body was dismembered, then ground up in a food processor and mixed with dog food and given to the other victims.

Heidnik’s favorite method of torture was electrocution and one of his victims died this way.

The victims of Gary Heidnik.  PHILADELPHIA POLICE DOCUMENT

At night the women were thrown into a deep pit — as in Thesilenceofthelambs — and it would be covered with plywood and weights.

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But after just five months, the end was on the horizon for the Philadelphia newspaper man called “The People Collector.”

Captive Josefina Rivera escaped on March 24, 1987 after convincing Heidnik to let her out, promising to lure another slave for him. Oddly, Heidnik agreed.

Rivera went to the cops who came home in force and arrested the creepy man. He told stunned homicide detectives – who discovered body parts in his freezer labeled ‘dog food’ – the women had come in pieces with the house.

At the time of his arrest, Heidnik had $750,000 in his bank accounts and even more with various brokerage houses.

During his murder trial, Heidnik was in a frenzy of denial. In fact, he denied everything and… the captive Sandra Lindsay was murdered by the other women because she was a lesbian, he revealed.

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His legal team focused on Heidnik’s wavering grasp of reality, but the prosecution countered that the killer’s vile machinations were all carefully planned. Heidnik, prosecutor Charlie Gallagher later said, had always acted crazy to get what he wanted.

“From Thanksgiving Eve 1986 to March 1987, this man performed repeated sadistic and malicious acts on six helpless victims. He planned what he was doing, he went ahead and did it, and he did it on purpose,” Gallagher later said.

“What kind of girls did he take?” Girls he knew he could force into submission. He got the young girl, mentally retarded, he got her, and she was in chains, he made her sign a note, sent her to her mother in order to dissuade the family from trying to find this girl and save her. Is it the mind of someone who’s psychotic? Who didn’t know what he was doing?

In the end, all of his apologies earned him a ticket to Pennsylvania death row at the Pittsburgh State Correctional Facility.

Despite appeals, Heidnik was executed by lethal injection on July 6, 1999. To date, this is the last execution in Keystone State.

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