Two decades ago, Philadelphia was introduced to its most notorious criminal — an eccentric who gruesomely tortured six women in his basement. On the 20th anniversary, the question still lingers: Was Gary Heidnik insane … or just evil?
Philadelphia was still reeling from 1985’s MOVE disaster when 43-year-old Gary Heidnik became our Ted Bundy, with his own brand of horror that included rape, torture, and rumors of cannibalism. His neighbors and friends thought Heidnik — whose IQ was 148 — was an eccentric oddball, but certainly didn’t consider him capable of the gruesome evil that played out for months in his North Philadelphia cellar. When the case came to trial before then-Judge Lynne Abraham, a young, publicity-hungry Chuck Peruto tried to convince a jury — and the country — that Heidnik was insane and therefore not responsible for his crimes. On the 20th anniversary of the case, questions about Heidnik’s sanity and even his intent remain. Based on interviews, police reports and court transcripts, this is the story of Gary Heidnik, in the words of the victims, the lawyers, the friends and neighbors — the people who knew him best.
Shannon Heidnik, daughter of Heidnik’s brother Terry: We came from Ohio. We’re Pennsylvania Dutch, Irish, and something else. German, I think. The whole family was screwed up and weird. My mom told me how their dad beat Gary real bad with a toy wooden airplane because he peed his pants. His dad was an alcoholic, and his mom took poison. They found her in the basement. She was tired of the abuse. They were really sick parents, and they gave their kids some serious problems. Gary and my dad left Ohio at some point, and I’m not exactly sure how we wound up in Pennsylvania.
Charlie Gallagher, prosecutor, Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office: In the ’60s, he went in the Army and he wanted to get a certain kind of training, but they ended up training him as a medic. Then they sent him to Germany, and I think he didn’t like the assignment, didn’t like being in Germany. So he started thinking, “How can I beat this?” He just stopped obeying orders. He finally got them to give him a medical discharge. Eventually he wound up with 100 percent disability, because he was able to convince the doctors that he was crazy. He’s been faking all his life.
Jack Apsche, forensic psychologist who examined Heidnik: There had been something like 22 hospitalizations. There was a clear history of him being a schizophrenic.
John Cassidy, Heidnik’s best friend in Philadelphia: I met Gary in ’74 or ’75 in Philly. He claimed the Army gave him LSD while he was in Germany. Sometime over there, he had a nervous breakdown. A legitimate, real nervous breakdown. And then he said he got this brilliant idea. He said, when he came out of it, why the hell should I come out of it if I can get disability?
He formed his own religion after he left the Army. I believe it was originally just a tax scam, but towards the end he was believing that stuff. I asked him, “Don’t you think if there’s a God, he’ll be upset with what you’re doing to religion?” He said no, God would be amused. God has a sense of humor.
Charlie Gallagher: There was a sign on his house, United Church of the Ministers of God. He had an ID card as Bishop Heidnik, in a Roman collar. With the checks he was getting from the Army and Social Security, he started investing the money in his church’s name. The first thing he invested in was Playboy … and later he lost a lot of money on Crazy Eddie. Eventually, he changed $1,500 in investment money into three-quarters of a million dollars.
Gary Heidnik, in a letter to his stockbroker, dated May 5, 1983: Dear Mr. Kirkpatrick … I would prefer you send church mail to the United Church of the Ministers of God, care of Bishop Gary M. Heidnik. … I saw that Tastykake hit eleven yesterday. I hope we got our two thousand shares that I previously ordered. Thank you. Respectfully, Bishop Gary Heidnik.
John Cassidy: He had a lot of money. He had a Rolls-Royce, a Cadillac. But at one point, he was driving around in a trailer and sleeping on the street in it in Southwest Philly.
Doris Zibulka, Heidnik’s next-door neighbor in North Philly: He held these church services on Sundays. A lot of people came, and they were usually mentally retarded.
John Cassidy: In the ’70s, he had this girlfriend, she was black and retarded. He has an IQ of 148, but all his girlfriends were black and retarded. He said the blacks treated him better than the whites ever did. He also said he sexually preferred blacks, that they expected less. His girlfriend was Anjeanette — I think they eventually had a daughter. And Anjeanette’s sister was severely retarded, and he took her out of the institution and brought her home, and they said he kidnapped her.
Josefina Rivera, former prostitute: He told me that he had a girlfriend named Anjeanette, and that Anjeanette’s sister was in a mental institution, and that they had went to visit her one weekend and ended up bringing Anjeanette’s sister home with them. Later the mental institution came around to the house and took Anjeanette’s sister back, and he was subsequently charged with raping Anjeanette’s sister.
Charlie Gallagher: He kept the sister locked up in a storage bin in his basement. He went to prison. He should have been convicted of rape in that case, but he was convicted on other charges because she couldn’t testify. He was sent off to Graterford, which was hard time.
Chuck Peruto, criminal defense attorney: He comes up for parole on that prior assault. These are the people with the power to grant your release. And they ask him a question at the parole board hearing. And he doesn’t answer them. He writes on a piece of paper: “The devil put a cookie in my throat.” Are you gonna release him on society?
Josefina Rivera: When he got out, he couldn’t find Anjeanette, and he felt society owed him a wife and family.
John Cassidy: After he got out of jail, he got this mail-order bride from the Philippines named Betty. He thought he was getting hooked up with a nice subservient Oriental, but she wasn’t. He brought her up to the Franklin Diner a couple of times with me. He started getting much more reclusive around that time, though.
Doris Zibulka: For a while there, him and his wife started fighting a lot. I talked to his wife outside sometimes. She was pregnant with “Little Gary,” and she told me, “He’s hitting me.” I said, “Honey, you’re pregnant. If you can’t stop him from hitting you, leave.” And she did. After the wife left, there was a lot of girls, in and out all the time. They looked like hookers. One night we were sitting on the front porch, and a girl comes flying out the door — she was thrown out — she was half naked. She’s screaming and banging on the door. The cops came, he gave her back the clothes.
John Cassidy: For all the years I knew him, he would do weird things. You know, like wear a leather coat with sheepskin lining in the middle of August. Or there was this time when he lived in West Philly. There was this car with some kind of machine gun and Afro emblem on it, and he said it was one of them violent people. It was always parked in front of his house. So first he shot out some of the windows with a BB gun, and the car would still come and park there. Then he would pour sugar down the gas tank. But the car just kept driving. And he put more in, and it still ran. He put like 20 pounds of sugar in, and the car never stopped running. It drove him nuts. He was always crazy, but I thought he was a garden-variety Kensington kind of crazy. But then after his wife left, he started getting paranoid. This was I guess in the mid-’80s.
Josefina Rivera: On November 25, 1986, I was hustling on the corner of 3rd and Girard at about 11 p.m. A 1987 Caddy, a Coupe de Ville, pulled up. The driver of the car and I discussed price. We came to an agreement of $20. He drove me to 3520 North Marshall Street, and we went into the house. He identified himself to me as Gary Heidnik. We went up to the second-floor front bedroom, and he gave me a $20 bill. Then we took off our clothes and we had sex on his water bed.
We got off the bed, and I was walking over to where my clothing was, and he came up behind me and grabbed me by my neck. I wasn’t able to breathe, and then I went unconscious. When I regained consciousness, he had me on the bed. He had a handcuff on my right wrist. He kept telling me to shut up or he was going to choke me. I told him, “All right, I’ll do anything you say but don’t hurt me.” When we got into the basement, I saw this big hole in the floor, and plastic bags full of dirt were stacked in the corner. He shackled my legs to a chain, he used clamps that are used to hold mufflers on around my ankles, and he secured them with nuts. Then he put Krazy Glue on the nuts so that I couldn’t turn them.
He told me that he was going to get me pregnant and I would have his children and he would raise them.
He put me in a hole in the basement floor. He kept trying to put a board over top of me, but it wouldn’t fit because the hole wasn’t deep enough. He finally forced the board down over me, and after I was in there a while I had trouble breathing and I was screaming. He took the board off and pulled me out of the hole by my hair, and then he picked up a stick and started to beat me with it. Then he put me back in the hole and left me there for a long time. It seemed like it was a full day or more. Then I heard his voice and a girl’s voice coming down into the basement. I could hear him saying, “Be quiet. Shut up, Sandy, you know that I am not going to hurt you.”
Tracey Lomax, sister of Sandra Lindsay: Sandy was a retarded adult. All she wanted to do was be like you and me — normal, to fit in. And she did pretty much blend in. Sandy had told us before that this guy named Gary was a bishop of a church, and that he was gonna take Sandy and her friends to Great Adventure. And he was always buying them dinner at McDonald’s.
The day after Thanksgiving, Sandy was having menstrual cramps. She wanted to go to the store to get some meds. It was around three o’clock on Friday. And so she went out. And she didn’t come home.
Josefina Rivera: He was saying that he had known Sandy for four years and that she told him that she would have his baby, but that she kept backing out of it. He would come down at different times and give us water and crackers. If he thought we were being bad or if someone was coming over to the house, he would stick us both in the hole and cover it with the board.
Tracey Lomax: By Monday, my mom was really sad, so we called the police. And we wound up with Detective Julius Armstrong, which was a nightmare. One of the first questions he asked my mom was, “Why are you worried about your daughter? She’s 25.” And we realized he wasn’t going to do anything.
Julius Armstrong, former detective: I found out she was a person who worked, I think she was very functional, so I think she had enough intelligence, enough pride to be on her own.
Tracey Lomax: So my mom says, “We ain’t heard from [Sandy’s friend] Tony as long as we ain’t heard from Sandy, so we gotta find Tony.” And what better place than McDonald’s? So we sat out there and we waited, and sure enough, he walked down the street. We got him to give us Gary’s number.
My sister called and said, “Gary, where’s Sandy?” He just says no, she’s not here, and hangs up. We went to the house, but no one was home. But we showed the neighbor a picture of Sandy, and she said, “Yeah, I’ve seen her recently.”
Julius Armstrong: I knocked on the door. I didn’t receive any answer. I left a message for anyone known as Gary to contact West Detectives.
Josefina Rivera: Gary came down with a box of Christmas cards, and he made Sandy write in the cards. He made her write, “Dear Mom, I am all right, don’t worry, Love Sandy.” Then he put on gloves, gave her a $20 bill, and he had her put it in the card. He wouldn’t touch it himself.
Charlie Gallagher: He drove to New York to mail the card. A lot of times the police investigate to ascertain if people are really missing or if they fled on their own because they didn’t like the situation they were living in. The card was mailed to put the police off and to stop the family from coming around to the house again.
Tracey Lomax: It was out of character for her to send a card and not call. So we went back to Detective Armstrong and we asked him to have a handwriting analyst look at it. But he was content that she was okay. That’s when he basically ceased the investigation.
Julius Armstrong: In my mind, this person was missing voluntarily.
Josefina Rivera: A few days before Christmas, we were in the hole and we heard Gary coming down the stairs with another girl. When he let us out of the hole, we found out her name was Lisa Thomas. She said that he had picked her up around 6th and Lycoming.
Lisa Thomas: He took me to City Line Avenue to TGI Friday’s, and he had a martini and I had a cheeseburger and french fries. Then he took me to Sears and Roebucks and he told me to spend up to $50 … then he took me to his house on Marshall Street and gave me a beer. We was watching a movie, then we went upstairs, and then we had sex. Afterwards he got up and strangled me. I couldn’t hardly breathe. And I told him that he could do whatever he want, and that’s when he got the handcuffs and took me down to the basement.
He had the chains and clamps, the car clamps. He put them on my ankle, and he had to count the links so, you know, the amount to open my legs wide to have sex.
Josefina Rivera: In the first month, there was sex every day, and when Lisa came, about every other day. Sometimes he would start with one and kept going until he finally came with the last girl.
On Christmas Day, he came to the basement with a Chinese menu and told us because it was Christmas, we could order anything we wanted from the menu. Then the day after, he went back to giving us Pop-Tarts in the morning and a plate of rice and hot dogs at night.
Chuck Peruto: He kept them alive barely with store-brand dog food, cat food. He didn’t spend $5 for food for them per month.
Josefina Rivera: On New Year’s Day, we were out of the hole and Gary brought down another girl into the basement. Her name was Debbie.
Charlie Gallagher: She really wasn’t going to be missed. I don’t want to sound callous, but she had led a pretty tortured life. She had been on the streets for years.
Josefina Rivera: After he put the shackles on Debbie, he put her in the hole. Debbie kept hollering all night long and he came down and beat her a couple of times with the stick. Gary used two sticks — one had nails in the end and it would leave sores on their ass. Debbie refused to cooperate.
Lisa Thomas: And then Jacquelyn Askins was brought down.
Jacquelyn Askins, former prostitute: He told me he would give me money to go with him for a half-hour. When we got to his house, we was playing this video game called Mr. Do. And like a half-hour or 45 minutes later, he grabbed me in a headlock with his arm around my neck choking me. … He took me to the basement, and I met [Josefina], Lisa, Debbie, Sandy.
Josefina Rivera: The next date I was aware of was January the 18th. My birthday was on the 19th, and he said we could celebrate it. Gary told us he was going to go out and get me a birthday cake. Later on, we heard tussling upstairs, and then he brought Donna [Jacquelyn’s alias] down. After Donna arrived, Gary would make us beat each other if one of us was bad. At different times, I beat all of the other girls. Gary was handling us like we were in the military. At this time, all of the girls were back-biting each other trying to get in charge, because he would treat whoever was in charge better than the other girls.
Chuck Peruto: Josefina was definitely in on it as a survival mechanism. She was beating the other girls. She was feeding a sick mind so he would eventually trust her.
John Cassidy: I later realized that when he had those girls in the basement, he came to South Philly to talk to me about putting a big fence up around his house. He had [Josefina] with him. Gary and I had to run an errand in my truck, and I said that I didn’t have room for her. He said, she’ll stay here at the gas station. Meanwhile, there were two police cars sitting there. She was supposed to be a captive. Well, she didn’t seem like a captive. I know later they were talking about Stockholm syndrome or something. But she didn’t appear to be a captive to me at all.
Josefina Rivera: He would gag their mouths and take a screwdriver to their ears. At first he used a little screwdriver, and then he moved up to bigger screwdrivers. When he did this to them, I could see tears coming from their eyes, and they were trying to scream but the gag muffled their sounds.
Lisa Thomas: In February, Sandy did something to upset him, and he told me to beat her constantly because she was eating bread and water — she was eating it slow and he kept hitting her to hurry up to eat the bread. He hung her on a loop, and she was up there for three days, standing. Then it looked like she was just hanging down, sleeping. I went over to smack her face, and Gary came back downstairs saying she was playing … but she was dead.
Charlie Gallagher: Sandy, it was horrible the way he killed her; he had her hanging. She used to have problems with her mouth and her jaw. She couldn’t eat food that quickly, and that was part of reason she died; she was held up by her wrists, and she fell asleep.
Chuck Peruto: She basically suffocated, because when you pass out from fatigue and you’re being held up by your arms, you cut the oxygen off. He didn’t want to kill her. He was punishing her so that the others would see what happened if you got out of line.
Josefina Rivera: Gary took her chain off, and he carried her body upstairs. I could see that Gary was upset. We were all upset, because we didn’t know what he was going to do. I was afraid that he would panic and take it out on all of us. Later on, we could hear a sound like an electric saw. Then we started to smell a terrible odor for like three or four days.
Doris Zibulka: My father lived down the street from us. He said it smelt like a dead body. I kept calling the city. There was one day I asked Gary about the smell. He said, “I haven’t smelled anything. I’ve been cooking. Maybe you just don’t like my cooking.”
Josefina Rivera: The smell was the worst thing I have ever smelled. When he would come down to have sex with everybody, we could smell the odor all over him.
Doris Zibulka: I called the cops and said there was a smell like burning flesh. An elderly cop came out and he smelled it, couldn’t figure out what it was.
Julio Aponte, former police officer: I proceeded to knock on the door for approximately 10 or 15 minutes. I then proceeded to the rear of the premises where I did some more knocking, looked through the rear window. I could see a large pot. Something was overboiling, and the smell was twice as strong in the back of the house. I was about to call for a supervisor.
Doris Zibulka: All of a sudden, door opens, Gary walks out. I said, “Gary, what is that god-awful smell, what is that burning?” “I’m cooking a roast. I fell asleep and it burnt,” he said. And the cop left.
Chuck Peruto: Heidnik was cooking the girl’s head, and was getting ready to get rid of certain body parts, because he didn’t want anybody to be identified. It was his 148 IQ kicking in. Heidnik was not putting them all in one spot; he was burying them all over the place.
Josefina Rivera: Debbie was still acting up, she was hollering and screaming. Gary took her upstairs, and I asked her later what Gary did to her. Finally, she told me that Gary had Sandy’s head in a pot on the stove and he was cooking it. He had Sandy’s ribs and, like, a hip bone in other pots in the oven. She also said that he had Sandy’s arms and legs in the freezer in the kitchen.
Charlie Gallagher: When Aponte came to the house, I think he was boiling Sandra Lindsay’s head at that point. And getting the teeth so there could be no — they didn’t find any hands or fingers. It’s so sad.
Josefina Rivera: On March 18th, Gary went out, and when he came back, the girls were making noise. Gary told me to hook the hose up to the sink so he could fill the hole with water. While the water was filling the hole, Gary went over to the electrical extension and he started to touch their chains with the hot wire. The girls were screaming and hollering, begging him to stop. Gary said he would stop if everybody got quiet, but Debbie refused to get quiet. Gary gave me the wire and told me to hold it on Debbie’s chain. Debbie was still hollering, and then he took the wire from me and held it on Debbie’s chain for a few minutes. Then everything went quiet.
Jack Apsche: He wasn’t really intending to kill anybody. He drew diagrams for me of how he had Debbie, how the electric was just there to get her to do what is right. He showed me how he applied the electricity, how she was chained and how she was grounded so she shouldn’t have died.
Tracey Lomax: He killed Deborah on purpose, because she was a fighter. She was strong. And she would’ve killed him. At some point, he might have killed all of those women.
Josefina Rivera: He told me to write this letter that says, “Gary Heidnik and Josefina Rivera electrocuted Deborah Dudley in the basement of 3520 North Marshall Street.” And then he signed it and I signed it and Donna witnessed it at the bottom. He said now he could trust me because he had this letter. Then he said he was going to go out and try to find a place to dump Debbie’s body.
Gary had a New Jersey map. And we went out and stopped at the Burlington Flea Market. From there we pulled into a little place, like a little driveway, and Gary said, “This is it. This is where I am going to place Deborah’s body at.” He walked a good ways into the park, because he didn’t want anybody to find it that was just like strolling through the park or something.
Josefina Rivera: On March 24th, Gary put the girls down in the hole and we went out looking for girls. While we were on Girard, we passed by a girl I know, Agnes. Gary told me that if I helped him pick her up, after he finished with her, he would let me contact my family. After they finished having sex, he took her down to the basement. And then he asks me if there is another girl I could get. I told him I had proved myself to him and that I had to get the girl by myself. I told him to wait at the gas station at 6th and Girard, that this girl lived a couple of blocks away and I had to walk up to her house myself. He agreed to this, and I left him in the car at 6th and Girard. I walked away and I ran to my house, and my boyfriend opened the door and asked where I had been. I tried to tell him what had happened and he told me I was crazy. Then I went to the phone booth on the corner.
David Savidge, former police officer: We responded to a female, Josefina Rivera, and we met her at 6th and Oxford. She told a bizarre tale of being held captive and chained up and people that were in the basement.
John Cannon, former police officer: She said he’s up the corner, at 6th and Girard. I said, well, let’s see if Mr. Gary’s up there … and sure enough, there was a Cadillac, just like she described. We got out, approached, ordered him out of his car. The girl came down and said, “Yeah, that’s him, that’s him. He raped me and killed these two other girls, and he had me eating her bones. He cut up this girl and put her in a pot and made us eat her.” She said other girls were still in there, down in the cellar in a hole. I said, “Wow.”
James Hansen, former police lieutenant: When I got there, the house was sort of intimidating. It had metal doors on it, and all the windows had bars, and in the bars was a crucifix.
John Cannon: The television was up, playing real loud. We went to the cellar door, down to the cellar, in the back, and sure enough, laying on the floor were these half-naked girls, and they were screaming, “We’re saved, we’re saved.”
James Hansen: I went right to the freezer in the kitchen. Josefina had said he had body parts in there. So I open the freezer, and I went to enough autopsies to know they were body parts. Then I proceed down to the basement, and the girls are sitting on a mattress, they were in shock, naked. They were chained to a soil pipe, padlocked. We had to go to the firehouse and get bolt cutters.
Doris Zibulka: Every news media from around the world was on our block for the next two weeks. They came with their big trucks. I remember Dennis Woltering, Bill Baldini, a lot of the reporters for Channel 6. There was this one tiny little guy who had to stand on a milk crate when he was on TV. We were all laughing at him.
Larry Kane, TV newsman: We thought we were tired of the story after three weeks, but the audience just couldn’t get enough. In my career, not counting the MOVE massacre and the senseless terrorist killings, this was the most bizarre thing to ever happen.
Chuck Peruto: People were constantly talking about the case. And there were these crazy jokes. “Chuck, I heard you charged him an arm and a leg.” “Gary Heidnik debuted his own brand of clothing today: Dismembered Only.” Some were funny. Some weren’t. Eventually Gary’s story wound its way into Silence of the Lambs. If you watch that movie, you can see a lot of Heidnik in the Buffalo Bill character. The way he has the girl in the pit.
Doris Zibulka: I was on Sally Jessy Raphael with the victims. I asked them about a time when I heard this banging constantly. And I was like, what the hell is that? So I think it’s Gary or something, and I bang back, and it stops. And I asked them, why didn’t you yell and tell me you were trapped? And they said they thought it was Gary banging back, that he was in the house. I don’t know why we never heard them.
Chuck Peruto: I was trying a homicide in Lancaster, and my secretary calls me and says that a guy claiming to be Gary Heidnik was calling me from prison. It was all over the papers and airwaves. I thought it was somebody playing a joke on me at first. I go up to see him, and the first thing he does is salutes me. Then he starts telling me the story, but he’s obviously skipping major parts. So I said, “Gary, the police reports, in the newspaper at least, it shows that when they executed a search warrant, there was a head of a woman, boiling in a pot on the stove, right then and there! Were you cooking the head?” He says yeah. I said, “Well, what kind of seasoning do you use?” And he looked at me and he said, “You’re crazy.” I didn’t get that ridiculous with him after that, because I realized that this guy was either very evil, or very insane.
Doris Zibulka: We all were amazed at how Gary looked during the trial. He was always a good-looking, well-kept kind of guy. He was always clean-cut and very decent-looking. And then at the trial — before it started, I met his lawyer, he came around the house. And I said, “You’re making Gary look crazy. He never looked like that. You’re making him look like Manson.” And he says, “Isn’t it wonderful?”
Chuck Peruto: If you want to demonstrate that someone is insane, then they gotta fucking look insane. During the trial, he looked like a total whack-job. Did I do that? Yes. But doesn’t Women Organized Against Rape dress up their victims?
Charlie Gallagher: There was a belief that he was feeding the girls the body parts of Sandra Lindsay, mixed in with dog food. We examined the Cuisinarts and other things in the kitchen, but we never found any physical evidence of that. And we didn’t press it at trial, because, yes, it would have cast him in a crazier light.
Chuck Peruto: If you make your victims eat human flesh, that’s sadistic. But if you eat it yourself, that’s insane. I thought Charlie was gonna blow a blood vessel during that time in the trial when I tried to get that in. But Charlie was correct — there was no evidence of cannibalism. I started all that. I would leak it, and by week’s end, he’s a cannibal.
Charlie Gallagher: Peruto basically said because of what he did, it’s clear that he’s crazy. It would’ve been a tougher case if Peruto had a better psychiatrist than the first guy he put on, Clancy McKenzie. He came up with some theory about two siblings and the fact they were born 17 months apart and Gary struggling with having a younger brother … it didn’t make sense.
Chuck Peruto: Let’s just say he wasn’t the best witness in the world. And then the judge didn’t allow a lot of the testimony of my other expert, Jack Apsche.
Charlie Gallagher: This guy Apsche, he really didn’t have all the credentials. He said he analyzed all the records, and I knew he didn’t analyze all the records, because when I questioned him, I knew he hadn’t been through half the things.
Jack Apsche: They tortured me for quite a while on the stand. The bottom line is, he had 22 legitimate hospitalizations for mental problems. Diagnoses included paranoid schizophrenia, a ton of psychotropic medications, he had been examined by hundreds of MD and Ph.D. types over the years, and in the suicide attempt before he committed his crime, I think he took over 1,000 milliliters of Thorazine, drank a quart of vodka, and put a hose inside his car. That’s not a real suicide attempt? When he was discharged — and he did the first girl not too long after that — he said something bad is going to happen. He had paranoid delusions that he probably maintained for the rest of his life.
Chuck Peruto: I would love to have the case today. I would have more ammunition than I did then. If I had a different judge, it would have been “Not guilty by reason of insanity.” I’ve said it before, I love Lynne. But she was a tough opponent. And that’s a lawyers’ joke. If there’s a judge, they’re not supposed to be your opponent.
Ken Englade, author of Cellar of Horror, 1988 book about the case: The judge was very anti-Peruto and anti-defense. I think he had the cards stacked against him. I think Heidnik was crazy as hell. And she just ignored that. I think she wanted to run for office, wanted to be strong on crime.
Charlie Gallagher: Judge Abraham was fair and impartial. The trial record completely refutes any claim now by Peruto et al. to the contrary. No such complaint about bias was ever made in the 11 years of appeals. And the trial was reviewed and affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and all levels of the federal court, including the Supreme Court prior to Heidnik’s execution in 1999.
Marcella Lenhart, juror: Heidnik certainly seemed lucid enough, to amass a small fortune in the stock market, and he certainly was aware enough to cover his tracks to a certain extent when he got those girls. I just don’t know if he was crazy or not. I thought the defense could have done a better job. With the way everything was brought by the defense attorney, we had no choice but to arrive at what we did. I regret voting for the death penalty. But I didn’t really have a choice, the way the law was written. I have wrestled with my decision. I guess I could have held out.
Doris Zibulka: One of the local radio stations did this show, “Countdown to the Execution.” They got me on the show, and I told them, this is a wish that Gary wanted done a long time ago. He wanted to die.
Chuck Peruto: As a lawyer, it was very frustrating that Heidnik didn’t want to appeal. But he was smart enough to know he was not getting acquitted. He had a motive not to fight the death sentence. Look at the type of crime he committed, and all of his victims were black. He was getting his ass kicked every single fucking day in jail. So it was either a lifetime of getting your ass kicked — and I’m not talking about punched — or the death penalty.
Gary Heidnik, in a stay of execution hearing, April 14, 1997: You people think I committed murders that I have not committed. And I have refused to appeal my case. I still refuse — even though I can prove my innocence, right, I still refuse to appeal my case. I resent this kind of shit being done to a disabled veteran.
Tracey Lomax: I went to the execution, but it was too calm and serene for me. I’m thinking execution is something like, turn around and let me shoot you. Instead they just stuck a needle in his arm. He never looked at us. Never acknowledged us. Never said he was sorry. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t even look in our direction.
Charlie Gallagher: From the eve of Thanksgiving 1986, up through March 1987, this man conducted repeated sadistic and malicious acts upon six defenseless victims. He planned what he was doing, he went ahead and did it, and he did it on purpose. What kind of girls did he take? Girls that he knew he could force into submission. He got the young girl, with mental retardation, he got her, and she was in chains, he forced her to sign a note, sent it home to her mother in order to diffuse the family from trying to find that girl and save her. Is that the mind of someone who’s psychotic? Who didn’t know what he was doing?
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