Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Gary Heidnik: To Hell and Back

Cellar of Death

In early February 1987, Heidnik found reason to punish Sandra Lindsay when he caught her trying to move the plywood that covered the pit. The punishment was severe. She was forced to hang from a roof beam by a single handcuff attached to her wrist for several days. During this time, her condition deteriorated and she refused to eat. Still believing her to be pregnant, Heidnik tried to force feed her pieces of bread. Towards the end of the week, even though she was vomiting and running a high fever, Heidnik continued to force feed her, often jamming food into her mouth and holding her mouth shut until she swallowed. The next day she lost consciousness. When Heidnik couldn't rouse her, he became angry and unlocked the handcuffs, dropping her to the ground. He told the others that she was faking and kicked her into the pit and left her there while he served up ice cream for everybody and left. When he returned, he lifted Lindsay out of the pit and checked her pulse. She was dead.

After telling the girls that she had probably choked, he carried Sandra's body upstairs. A short time later, they shuddered with horror when they heard the unmistakable whine of a power saw. Their horror later turned to revulsion when one of Heidnik's dogs walked into the basement carrying a long meaty bone and proceeded to devour it in front of the terrified girls. Investigators would later reveal that Heidnik had ground up Lindsay's flesh using a food processor, and fed it to his dogs and the captives mixed with dog food. To dispose of the remaining parts of the body, he cooked them on the stove.

In the days following Sandra's death, the girls began to notice a sickening stench that filled the entire house. Eventually, it would become so bad that Heidnik's neighbours complained to the police. After several such calls, a patrolman was sent to the house to make inquiries but left after Heidnik assured him that the smell was caused by an overcooked roast dinner.

Following Sandra's death, Heidnik's behavior became increasingly bizarre. He urged the girls to inform on each other with the promise of better conditions for those who complied. During this period, the girls devised a plan to attack Heidnik and escape but the plan never came to fruition. Jacqueline would later testify that the attack never occurred because Josefina told Heidnik what they were planning.

Convinced that the girls were constantly plotting against him, Heidnik devised a plan of his own to prevent them from leaving. After cuffing each girl hand and foot, he hung them from a beam and gagged them. Then, taking several different sizes of screwdrivers, he gouged inside their ears in an attempt to deafen them. He believed that if they could not hear, they would be unable to hear him coming. The only one he didn't touch was Josefina.

Later when Deborah Dudley began to cause trouble, he unchained her and took her upstairs. When they returned, Deborah was unusually quiet and solemn. After Heidnik had left, the others asked her what had happened. Stammering with fear, she told them that Heidnik had taken her into the kitchen and showed her a pot he had on the stove. Inside it was Sandra Lindsay's head. He then opened the oven and showed her part of Sandra's ribcage that he was roasting. Opening the fridge, he pointed to an arm and other body parts that he had wrapped in plastic and told her that if she didn't start obeying him, she would be next.

Within a few days, Deborah had recovered her composure and continued to defy Heidnik's attempts to "tame" her. As an added incentive to obey, Heidnik added a new punishment to his already cruel bag of tricks, his own version of electric shock treatment. His method was simple. He stripped the insulation from one end of an electrical extension cord and plugged the other into a socket. Then, turning on the power, he would hold the bare wires against each of the girl's chains and watch with detached amusement as they wriggled and danced to escape the current. As before, Josefina was exempt from punishment.

As the weeks passed, Heidnik began to treat Josefina as more of a partner than a captive and spent more and more time with her alone. So much so that, on March 18, when Heidnik decided to punish the others, he enlisted Josefina to help him. The shock treatment was again employed with one added feature, water. After drilling airholes in the plywood cover, Heidnik ordered Josefina to fill the pit with water. The three other women, still in chains, were then pushed down into it before the cover was replaced and weighted down with bags of dirt. As they sat shivering with cold and fear, the bare wire was pushed through one of the holes until it briefly touched one of the chains sending a jolt of electricity surging through all of them. The wire was then pushed into the hole a second time, making direct contact with Deborah's chain. Absorbing most of the voltage, Deborah screamed and shuddered uncontrollably before collapsing face down in the water.

Seeing their friend fall, Jacqueline and Lisa screamed until Heidnik removed the cover and dragged Deborah out. After ascertaining that she was dead, Heidnik calmly made sandwiches and told the women, "Aren't you glad it wasn't one of you." He then left for a few minutes and returned with a pen and paper. Handing it to Josefina, he ordered her to write the time and date at the top of the page. When she had done so, he made her write a statement detailing how she had assisted him to electrocute Deborah. He then ordered her to sign it before adding his own signature. Holding up the letter, he then told her: "If you ever go to the cops, I can use this as evidence that you killed Debbie." Satisfied that he had her completely under his control, he removed Josefina's chains and told her to go upstairs and change. It was the first time she had been completely dressed in four months. The following day, Heidnik returned to the basement and, after wrapping Deborah's body in plastic, placed it in the freezer and left.

 

 

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