Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Gary Heidnik: To Hell and Back

Downward Spiral


Life started for Gary Michael Heidnik in November 1943 in Eastlake, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Eighteen months later, Gary's brother Terry was born. Six months later their parents, Michael and Ellen, divorced and the boys went to live with their mother and her new husband until Gary started school, after which they went to live with their father and his new wife. These were not happy times for the boys as they spent most of their time arguing with their stepmother or being heavily disciplined by their father. Heidnik would later tell psychologists that his father had continually ridiculed him especially when he wet his bed, which was often. At these times his father would hang the stained sheet out a second story window in full view of the neighbors.

Gary was also ridiculed at school after a fall from a tree left him with a misshapen head. His brother Terry believes the accident was the root cause of Gary's erratic behavior. A curious comment indeed considering Terry himself spent much of his life in mental institutions and made numerous suicide attempts.

By the time Gary had reached the eighth grade he had developed two main obsessions, making money and becoming an army officer. So intense was the latter ambition that his father made arrangements for him to attend the prestigious Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. Gary lasted at the academy for two years attaining excellent grades but left suddenly in his junior year and returned home to live with his father. Within the next year he tried two different high schools but soon became bored and left after a few weeks. Finally, at age eighteen he joined the regular army. Heidnik later told prison psychologists that he left Staunton after visiting a psychologist but failed to indicate why he had felt he needed one or give details of his treatment.

Heidnik adapted readily to army life but made few friends. During his training, he was graded as "excellent." Following basic training, he applied for several specialist training positions, including the military police but was refused. Finally he was sent to San Antonio, Texas to be trained as a medic. Again he did well and also developed a thriving business by lending money to other soldiers and charging interest on the loans. Unfortunately for him, this enterprise came to a swift end when he was transferred to a field hospital in West Germany. Within weeks of his new posting, Heidnik sat for a high school equivalency diploma scoring 96%. Things seemed to be going well for him until late August 1962 when he went to the sick bay complaining of dizziness, blurred vision and nausea. A neurologist later determined that Heidnik was suffering from gastroenteritis and also displayed the symptoms of a mental illness.

Dr. Jack Apsche, a noted Philadelphia psychologist, later investigated Heidnik's history of mental illness and found that although the Army had not indicated if they considered him schizoid or schizophrenic, they had prescribed a heavy tranquillizer normally reserved for the treatment of serious psychotics or patients that experience hallucinations.

Within weeks, Heidnik was sent back to the states. Three months later he was given an honorable discharge and released from the Army on medical grounds and given a 100% disability pension. The official diagnosis was "schizoid personality disorder." He had served only fourteen months. After leaving the Army, he settled in Philadelphia and qualified as a Licensed Practical Nurse and was issued with a state certificate. He later enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania and gained credits in a variety of subjects including anthropology, history, chemistry and biology. Eventually, with his nursing qualifications, he was able to get a job in the University Hospital but was later fired when the standard of his work declined. From there he enrolled at the Veterans Administration Hospital near Philadelphia to be trained as a psychiatric nurse but was asked to leave because of his bad attitude.

From then on, Heidnik's life began to decline as he spent more and more time in mental institutions. In 1970, his mother Ellen took her own life by swallowing poison, which only served to exacerbate his already fragile state of mind. Numerous suicide attempts followed which ultimately resulted in more hospital time and so the vicious cycle continued. He would often spend long periods refusing to communicate which almost bordered on catatonia. In one of his more lucid moments, he was given a series of intelligence tests, which indicated that he was of "superior" intellect.

On one occasion, he was admitted to a mental ward after he attacked his brother Terry with a wood plane. When he later visited while Terry was recuperating, he told Terry that if he had died from his wounds, he would have soaked his remains in a bathtub full of acid to dispose of his body. With each admission to hospital, his behavior became more bizarre. He spent most days completely mute, only communicating by writing notes. He constantly wore a leather jacket, which he refused to take off. His personal hygiene was almost non-existent and he developed a series of mannerisms, such as saluting and rolling up one pants leg when he didn't wish to be disturbed.

'Bishop' Heidnik (AP)
'Bishop' Heidnik

In 1971, while on a trip to California, Heidnik had the startling revelation that he should form his own church. Returning to Philadelphia, he registered the United Church of the Ministers of God and installed himself as "Bishop" Heidnik. At that time, the "church" had just five members, which included Terry Heidnik and Gary's retarded girlfriend. In 1975, Heidnik opened a Merrill Lynch account in the church's name. Over the next twelve years, due in no small part to his childhood interest in all things financial, he succeeded in parlaying his $1,500 investment into $545,000. During these times, he was in and out of mental hospitals or "ministering" to his parishioners, which were few.

As well as being a regular at mental hospitals, Heidnik had also become well known to the police. In 1976, he was charged with aggravated assault and carrying an unlicensed pistol. The charges were laid after Heidnik had fired a shot at a man who rented a house from him, grazing his face. The house was later sold and while the new owners were in the process of cleaning it, they found boxes of pornographic magazines and a hole dug in the concrete floor of the basement.

Eighteen months later he again came to the attention of the police when he signed his retarded girlfriend's sister out of a mental institution on day leave and kept her prisoner in his apartment. The sister, also seriously retarded, was later recovered from a locked storage room in Heidnik's basement and returned to the home. On her return to the hospital, she was examined and found to have been raped, sodomized and infected with gonorrhea, both vaginally and orally. Heidnik was later arrested and charged with kidnapping, rape, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and interfering with the custody of a committed person.

When the case went to trial in November 1978, Heidnik pleaded not guilty and took the stand in his own defense, claiming that he was innocent. After ordering a psychological examination, which found that Heidnik was, "manipulative and psycho-sexually immature," he was found guilty and sentenced to three to seven years in jail. A later appeal overturned the original sentence, which resulted in him spending almost three years of his incarceration in various mental institutions.

He was finally released on April 12, 1983 on the condition that he remain under the supervision of a state sanctioned mental health program. As in so many similar cases, if the state had realized the true state of Heidnik's mind, they would never have released him.

Prior to his imprisonment, Heidnik had carried on various relationships with women. He seemed to prefer black women, some of them retarded. During these relationships his focus seemed to be on fathering children. His first partner bore him a daughter but left shortly after, taking the baby with her. The next was woman named Dorothy who was seriously retarded. According to neighbors, Heidnik treated Dorothy badly, often beating her, locking her up and refusing to feed her. Dorothy eventually wandered off and was later found living on the street in a dazed condition.

The next woman Heidnik selected was Anjeanette, the sister of the girl that Heidnik was convicted of raping. She was also retarded. When Heidnik returned from prison, Anjeanette was gone. A later police investigation failed to find any trace of her, leaving police with the impression that Heidnik was responsible for her disappearance.

For his next partner, Heidnik enlisted the aid of a matrimonial service. His selection criteria was simple, he wanted an Oriental virgin. A few weeks later he was corresponding by mail with a young Filipino woman named Betty. For two years, she and Heidnik communicated by mail and the occasional phone call. Eventually, Heidnik proposed marriage telling Betty that he was a minister. Betty accepted and travelled to Philadelphia in September, 1985.

After greeting her at the airport, Heidnik took her home to the North Marshall street house and showed her to her room. She was shocked to find a retarded woman sleeping in the bed that she was to occupy. Heidnik told her the woman was a paying tenant. Despite Betty's misgivings about Heidnik and the living arrangements, she married him on October 3 in Maryland. For the first week, Heidnik treated her well and spoke of starting a family. A week later, she returned from a shopping trip to find Heidnik in bed having sex with three women. Horrified, she demanded that he pay to send her back home. He refused, telling her that he was the boss and having multiple sex partners was normal for him.

From that time on Heidnik was never without additional women in the house and often made Betty watch while he had sex with them. On the occasions that she complained, he would beat her and order her to cook for him and his partners at the time. As the days progressed, he became increasingly violent and constantly warned Betty that if she left he would find her and kill her.

One day in 1986 was the last straw for Betty. After she complained about the women he was bringing home, Heidnik beat her, raped her vaginally and anally, and again threatened to kill her. Because she only knew Heidnik and his friends, Betty was forced to turn to other members of the Filipino community for help. They convinced her that she should leave him so four days later, after pretending to go out shopping, she left and never went back. Two weeks later, Heidnik was picked up and charged with assault, indecent assault, spousal rape and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. Luckily for Heidnik, the parole period for his previous sexual offenses expired the day before his arrest. His luck continued to hold when the charges were later dismissed when Betty failed to appear for the preliminary hearing. In 1987, Betty dragged Heidnik into court in an attempt to win financial support for her son, which had been conceived, unknown to Heidnik, from one of his encounters with Betty. During the case, the judge became aware of Heidnik's medical history and ordered him to undergo a series of tests to determine his mental competency. By the time the tests were conducted, two of the girls he held captive in his basement "baby factory" had already died.


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