This Day in History (March 26)

Mar 26, 1987: Torture chamber uncovered in Philadelphia

History.com

Responding to a 911 call, police raid the Philadelphia home of Gary Heidnik and find an appalling crime scene. In the basement of Heidnik’s dilapidated house is a veritable torture chamber where three naked women were found chained to a sewer pipe. A fourth woman, Josefina Rivera, had escaped and called police.

Gary Heidnik was a former mental patient and sex offender who had managed to become a wealthy stock investor. He owned a Rolls Royce and beat Uncle Sam on his income taxes by making himself the bishop of his own church. The sign on the front of his house read, “United Church of the Ministries of God.” One room in his house was partially wallpapered with money. At the end of 1986, Heidnik decided to create his own harem and began kidnapping women off the streets of Philadelphia.

Six women were kidnapped and held in Heidnik’s dungeon. All were raped and tortured while the others were forced to watch. He killed one of the women by putting her in the pit, filling it with water and putting a live electrical wire into the water. Another of the women was killed when Heidnik let her starve to death while chained to the wall. In perhaps the most grisly and horrid episode of the entire incident, Heidnik dismembered one of his victims, cooking parts of her body and feeding it to his other captives. The women who were found alive recovered after being treated for dehydration and malnutrition.

Although Heidnik was clearly mentally disturbed, he was found guilty and convicted of murder on July 1, 1988. He received a death sentence, and was executed on July 6, 1999.

Heidnik was one the inspirations for the Buffalo Bill character in Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs.

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