I Wanna Be Your Dog: Philadelphia’s House of Horror

After the reaction to last week’s close to home topic, I decided to keep that theme going for this week’s Murder Monday. I’ll skip all the personal banter about why I took an interest in this murderer, because he definitely doesn’t deserve any more thought than was already required for this – and he is the fucking worst.

Philly folk, buckle up. I’m here this week to tell you about…

Philadelphia’s House of Horror


And all about this asshole, Gary M. Heidnik.


Gary Heidnik was born to Ellen and Michael Heidnik on November 22, 1943, in Eastlake, Ohio. After his parents divorced, Gary Heidnik and his younger brother Terry were placed in the care of their father and his new wife. Heidnik claimed to have been emotionally abused by his father and that he suffered life long symptoms of this abuse (bedwetting, ect.) His father later denied these accusations. According to classmates, during the time Heidnik spent in school he was confrontational to other students. Other counts also state that he was bullied for his abnormally shaped head, which he apparently acquired from falling out of a tree as a child. (if your kid falls and hits their head, please do your best to make sure they aren’t showing early signs of sociopathy / homicidal tendencies *please*) One even recalled that he would tell other students they were not “worthy enough” to speak to him. Although he was the odd man out, he was an academic star with a tested I.Q of 148. He went on to a Military Academy at the age of 14 as encouraged by his father, but dropped out two years prior to graduation. He then spent another period in public school, but dropped out again and joined the U.S Army at the age of 17. After 13 months of service, he was rejected for numerous specialist positions that he applied for. Eventually, he was transferred to the 46th Army Surgical Hospital, where he was trained as a medic. Although he seemed to be a great fit for this position, and had just earned his GED – Heidnik wasn’t doing so great after all. In 1962 he began complaining of nausea, blurred vision, dizziness, and severe headaches. A neurologist then diagnosed him with gastroenteritis- and later noted that he also displayed signs of mental illness and prescribed him Trifluoperazine. Shortly after this Heidnik was transferred to a military hospital in Philadelphia, PA, where he was diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder and was honorably discharged from the military. He went on to become a licensed practical nurse and enrolled at UPenn, but dropped out yet again. Ironically, he worked as a psychiatric nurse for a span of time, but was fired for being rude to patients and for his poor attendance. After this last failed endeavor, Heidnik found himself in and out of psychiatric hospitals with a recorded 13 suicide attempts. Meanwhile, his brother Terry was also suffering the effects of mental illness, with various recorded suicide attempts. In 1970, their mother committed suicide by drinking mercuric chloride.

What comes next? Surprise – Heidnik found religion. (*Eternal eye roll*) In 1971, Gary Heidnik started a church. The “United Church of the Ministers of God” initially only had five followers.



Heidnik opened a bank account under the churches name, and eventually amassed over $500,000. By 1986 the church was more than wealthy. He appointed himself a bishop, apparently invested in Playboy magazine, and drove a Rolls-Royce. (I find all of this very hard to believe, internet.)


Heidnik was arrested for the first time and charged with aggravated assault after shooting a potential landlord with an unlicensed pistol.


Gary M. Heidnik signed his girlfriend’s sister out of a mental institution, took her home, and kept her locked in his basement. He raped and sodomized her, and gave her gonorrhea. After she was found and returned to the institution, Heidnik was arrested and charged with kidnapping, rape, false imprisonment, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, and interfering with the custody of a committed person. She was also mentally disabled. Heidnik’s sentence was overturned and he was released in April 1983 under the supervision of a state-sanctioned mental health program.

But this wouldn’t stop him.


In ‘86 at the peak of his thriving church scam, Heidnik met his wife through a marriage service. Betty Disto moved here from the Philippines in September 1985, married Heidnik in October 1985, and left him in January of 1986. During their marriage, Betty claimed that he repeatedly raped and assaulted her, and that he would often force her to watch as he engaged in deviant sexual acts with other women. Before she left him he had impregnated her, and she gave birth to his child in September of 1986. Heidnik had a total of three children from three separate women, one of which was mentally disabled – the sister of the mentally disabled woman that he had previously been arrested for abducting.

It gets worse.

3520 North Marshall Street, Philadelphia, PA

In November of 1986, he began collecting victims in his home. His captives, who were all African American women and mostly mentally disabled, were raped, beaten, and tortured….. and worse.


In the course of a year, Heidnik abducted six victims and kept them in his dungeon-like torture house. Two of the six women did not survive. Sandra Lindsay was the first to die in his basement, from a combination of starvation, torture, and an untreated fever. To hide her body Heidnik dismembered her, continued to cook her ribs in the oven, and her head on his stove top. This created a foul odor, and the police were notified. Somehow, this asshole was able to convince the police that he “burnt a roast” – and his torture spree continued.

“I’m cooking a roast. I fell asleep, and it burnt.”

Sandra Lindsay’s arms and legs were found in his freezer in a bag marked “dog food.” He ground up the rest of her remains, combined it with real dog food, fed it to his remaining victims, and himself. During his trial his defense attorney Chuck Peruto said that there was no evidence in any of his kitchen tools that he had done this with her remains, Peruto claimed he had made up the cannibalism story to support his insanity defense. She was the second to be kidnapped.

Deborah Dudley was the second to pass, after he had forced the girls into a water filled pit in his basement and then electrocuted it with a live wire. It is said that Deborah Dudley put up a strong fight towards Heidnik since her abduction, more so than the other girls.


Dudley’s body was found in the Jersey Pine Barrens – just like everyone elses body’s in the 80s.

Josefina Rivera, Jacquelyn Askins, Lisa Thomas, and Agnes Adams survived the house of horrors.

Josefina Rivera

Josefina Rivera was abducted on November 26, 1986. She had just left her home after a fight with her boyfriend, and decided to try and flip some tricks (sexual favors) to attain some extra cash to buy her family Thanksgiving dinner. She found herself in a Cadillac Coupe De Ville with a man named Gary, he took her to a nearby McDonald’s where he bought a coffee and she watched him drink it. She noticed that he wore an expensive watch and drove a luxury car, but that his clothes were soiled. She asked where they were going, and he said they were going to his house. Upon arrival, Josefina noticed another car in his driveway – a 1971 Rolls Royce. For a soiled man living in a run down neighborhood, he sure had fancy things. They entered his home through a variety of locks and keys that he explained to her were to prevent anyone from entering (red flag!) and they entered through his kitchen, which was decorated with pennies glued to the walls. He offered to watch a movie with her, but she declined. He led her to a room upstairs, through a hallway that had been decorated with $1 and $5 bills, handed her a $20 bill, and hopped into bed with her. They’re act was short lived, and she stood to dress herself. Heidnik came up behind her, choked her, restrained her with handcuffs, and led her to the basement where he put her ankles in metal clamps attached to a chain connected to a ceiling. He meticulously added glue to her shackles and dried them with a hair dryer. He then explained to her that he had planned to get ten women, impregnate all of them, and that he wanted a big happy family. Josefina had numerous escape attempts, all of which were failed, and even though she could see a window, her screams outdoors were muffled by a radio set on a loud classic rock station near the window.

Lisa Thomas

Lisa Thomas was abducted three days before Christmas on Lehigh Avenue, she was 19 years old and on her way to a friends house. He initially proposed a sexual favor, but then apologized and offered her a ride. She felt safe getting into his vehicle because he had apologized nicely and had an impressive car. He gave her a ride to her friends house, and suggested that when she was finished that the two of them go grab dinner. She agreed, he waited outside for her. When they were out to dinner, he suggested they take a trip to Atlantic City the next day, but she said she had nothing to wear. Heidnik took out a $50 bill and took her to Sears to buy some new clothes. They went back to his house afterwards, where he gave her a glass of wine and put on a movie. She became drowsy from the wine mixed with her allergy medication, and she woke up to Heidnik undressing her. He took her upstairs, and raped her for the first time. He then choked her and lead her to the basement where he told her he would be introducing her to two of his friends – Sandra, and Josefina. He lifted a plywood sheet off of the floor, revealing a pit with the two girls inside. He introduced the three girls and brought them sandwiches, but would not let them eat until he “indoctrinated” Lisa. After Lisa satisfied him, he chained her up like the others, and went upstairs. The women ate their meals and talked amongst themselves.

Ten days later he returned home with Dudley, and shortly after returned with Jacquelyn Askins. It is said by the survivors that his behavior became increasingly more violent after he had brought home the feisty Deborah Dudley. He began demanding the girls to beat eachother and preform sexual acts upon one another while he watched. He would often pick one girl at a time, force them to control the beatings, and then preform sexual acts on the one in control. He also began beating them until the agreed to eat dog food and crawl on all fours.


Jacquelyn Askins

On January 18th, Heidnik picked up Askins on the North side of the city and brought her home. She was a sex worker. He took her upstairs, sexually assaulted her, and took her to the basement like the others. He tried to shackle her ankles, but they were so small he had to use handcuffs instead. Later that day, he brought everyone Chinese food and Champagne to celebrate Josefina’s 26th birthday. Clearly, she had become his favorite. They were also celebrating the fact that Heidnik believed two of the girls, including Josefina, to be pregnant with his children.

The girls watched Sandra and Deborah meet their deaths, and lived to tell the horrors. Sandra was punished and hung from the ceiling by a single shackle on her wrist and force fed with her mouth held shut while she choked for several days. He cut her up in front of the girls when she passed, and let his dog come down to play with the remains that he had used as “dog food” for the other girls. Shortly after, he showed Deborah the remains on the stove when she was acting out. He then led her downstairs for shock therapy, killed her in the water pit with a live wire, and forced Josefina to write on a piece of paper that she had assisted in the shock treatment of Deborah Dudley. Heidnik said that he could use this as evidence for the police if he was ever caught, and that she would be blamed.

Agnes Adams

Following Dudley’s death, Josefina became Heidnik’s sidekick of sorts. She helped him dispose of Dudley’s remains in the pine Barrens. He then told her that they would need to find a “replacement” – they went out on the prowl, and came across Agnes Adams. Both of them had already known Agnes, Josefina had worked with her in a strip club, and Heidnik had picked her up on street corners and engaged in sexual acts with her in the past. They took her home after negotiating prices, Josefina waiting downstairs as he did his usual of taking the new girl upstairs and assaulting her before leaving her to the basement. Josefina convinced Heidnik that she had helped him find a replacement, and the two developed a bond – but she had a plan all along.

March 24th 1987

Josefina Rivera convinced Gary M. Heidnik that if he drove her home, she would return to him with another wife for “their collection”. He was anxious, but the two made a strict plan and set it into action and he was to pick her and his new wife up from a gas station later that night. Josefina ran to safety after exiting his vehicle, and called 9-1-1.

March 25th 1987

Around 5pm on March 25, a police squad under the supervision of Homicide Lieutenant James Hansen, arrived at 3520 North Marshall Street. One of the first officers to enter was David Savage, he and his partner officer McCloskey followed Josefina Rivera’s lead to the basement after knocking down the front door. They entered the horror scene that was Gary Heidnik’s basement and found Askins and Thomas in thin blouses and socks, chained to the ceiling. They woke and screamed, and the officers assured the girls that they were here to help them. Thomas directed them to the sheet of plywood on the floor, where they found Adams squatting in the pit naked. They took the girls to an amulance and began searching the house.


In the kitchen the police found a yellowish fatty substance lining the pots on the stove, and an industrial food processor that looked to have been used for raw meat. They found what seemed to be a human rib in a dish inside the stove, and a forearm in the fridge. Police excavated his yards to check for human remains but found none.

Although the house did not depict a man of wealth, it was discovered that Heidnik did in fact have $550,000 in a Merril Lynch stock market investment account.


Gary M Heidnik was arrested at a gas station where he was waiting for Josefina to return. His reported best friend Cyril Brown was also arrested, but was released on 50,000 bail after agreeing to testify against Heidnik. Brown admitted to having witnessed the death and dismemberment of Lindsey. Shortly after his arrest, Heidnik attempted to hang himself in jail, and failed.

This dude was god damn cockroach.

At his arraignment, he claimed that the women were already in his house when he moved in. (Seriously?) At trial, Peruto attempted to prove Heidnik’s insanity but this was successfully rebutted with the fact that the man had managed to amass $550,000 in his bank and brokerage accounts – and clearly was of some sort of functional mental capacity if he could do this. Testimony from a Merrill Lynch financial advisor was also used to prove competence.

“Heidnik was an astute investor who knew exactly what he was doing.”


Betty Heidnik (Disto) and her daughter (his ex wife and child) – filed a suit in federal court seeking a stay of execution on the basis that he was not competent to be executed. After two years of proceedings, this was denied and the way was cleared for Gary M. Heidnik’s execution.

July 6, 1999

Heidnik was executed by lethal injection, and his body was cremated. Gary M. Heidnik was the last person to have been executed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


Suck it, Heidnik.

Honestly I usually have some sort of point to make in reference to these murders but in this case I’m just gonna keep it real real-

Trust no one, be terrified of every one and everything, because people like this exist. Everywhere. Your neighbor could be a cannibalistic rapist attempting to run a baby mill out of his basement… and if you live in Philadelphia – you live REAL close to your neighbors.

….Have a nice week? See you next Monday? Maybe?



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