Who was Gary M. Heidnik? Details explored following People Magazine Investigates: Surviving a Serial Killer on ID?

Gary Heidnik is one of the most gruesome killers in history (image via Pexels)
Gary Heidnik is one of the most gruesome killers in history (image via Pexels)

One of the most notorious serial r*pists and killers, Gary M. Heidnik, was executed by lethal injection in 1999, making him the last man to be executed in Pennsylvania. He abducted and held six African-American women captive in the basement of his house in West Philadelphia in 1986. He was arrested in 1987 for his crimes and sentenced to death by lethal injection in 1988.

Gary was already a convicted serial r*pist when he imprisoned the women in his basement, two of whom died in his captivity. He was previously convicted for the r*pe of his ex-girlfriend Anjeanette's sister and also for r*ping his ex-wife Betty Disto.

Investigation Discovery's (ID) People Magazine Investigates: Surviving a Serial Killer is set to explore the heinous crimes of the twisted r*pist and killer. The fourth episode of the ID series is titled Surviving the Bishop’s Basement and looks at Gary's crimes through the lens of Josefina Rivera, one of his surviving victims.

The official synopsis for the episode reads:

"Gary Heidnick, who calls runs a church out of his house and calls himself “The Bishop,” abducts a woman and holds her captive. Soon, he imprisons six women in his basement and tortures them. As captives begin to die, Josefina Rivera knows her only chance of survival is to escape."

The episode will air on Investigation Discovery on Sunday, May 26, 2024, at 9 pm ET.

Who was Gary M. Heidnik?

A still of Gary Heidnik (Image via Oxygen)
A still of Gary Heidnik (Image via Oxygen)

Gary M. Heidnik was a serial r*pist and murderer who held six African-American women captive in his basement and subjected them to r*pe as well as mental and physical torture. He was convicted for his crimes in 1988 after Josefina Rivera escaped his captivity in March 1987.

Heidnik, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, reportedly had a difficult childhood. According to the New York Times, he joined the Army when he was 17 only to be honorably discharged after serving for a little over a year. He was discharged from the Army where he served as a medic due to mental health concerns. He had a nursing degree but was let go from a prestigious hospital where he worked owing to his inconsistent attendance and negative demeanor.

In 1971, he founded The United Church of the Ministers of God in North Philadelphia and his Philadelphia home served as the church's headquarters. Gary M. Heidnik, one of his brothers, and three other members made up the board of the church. As per Oxygen, Heidnik's neighbor next door claimed in an interview that while the church had a sizable attendance, most of its members had mental disabilities.

As per Ranker, Gary M. Heidnik was convicted of his first crime in 1978 when he r*ped Alberta Davidson, the sister of his then-girlfriend Anjeanette Davidson. He held Alberta, who was believed to be mentally disabled, hostage in his basement, where he s*xually assaulted her. He was caught after this and charged with r*pe, kidnapping, and unlawful restraint. This led to him spending three years of his incarceration in mental institutions.

After he was out, Gary married, Betty Ditso, an immigrant from the Philippines in 1986. A Time Magazine report from 1987 stated that during their brief marriage, Gary M. Heidnik forced her to watch him perform deviant s*xual activities on other women. He repeatedly r*ped and assaulted Ditso till she left him with the help of a Filipino community.

Gary M. Heidnik kidnapped Josefina Rivera on November 25, 1986. He imprisoned her in his basement and subjected her to various degrees of torture. However, he also forced her to help him kidnap four other victims, whom he tortured.

One of his victims, Sandra Lindsey died due to the torture and an untreated fever. The killer proceeded to dismember her and fed her to his other victims. Heidnik electrocuted another one of his victims to death before kidnapping two more women.

However, in 1987 Josefina Rivera managed to report Gary M. Heidnik to the authorities, leading to his arrest. He was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, six counts of kidnapping, and five counts of r*pe among other charges. Gary was sentenced to death in 1988 and was executed by lethal injection in 1999 by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

All the details of the crimes of Gary M. Heidnik will be portrayed in the upcoming episode of People Magazine Investigates: Surviving a Serial Killer on ID. The episode is set to be aired at 9 pm ET on Sunday, May 26, 2024.

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