Meet Gary Heidnik, A Killer Who Terrorized Philadelphia In The 1980s

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Gary Heidnik was a murderer who kidnapped, tortured, raped, and killed six women, holding them hostage in his basement in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1986 and 1987.

Heidnik was born in Ohio in 1943 to parents who divorced while he was a child. He exhibited many of the lesser-known signs that someone may become a murderer, including lifelong bed-wetting and a head injury sustained when he was young.

He joined the Army when he was 17, where he initially did well and gained praise from superiors. Eventually, however, he was diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder and honorably discharged.

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Heidnik spent time in and out of psychiatric hospitals and married his mail-order bride, Betty Disto, after she arrived from the Philippines in 1985.

Their marriage was not a happy one. Heidnik had sex with other women and sexually assaulted Disto regularly. She had a son, and Heidnik impregnated two other women, including a woman named Anjeanette Davidson.

The first indication that he was truly dangerous came when he kidnapped Davidson’s sister, Alberta.

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Alberta was living in a mental institution when Heidnik took her and kept her locked in his Philadelphia basement, raping and sodomizing her. Heidnik was arrested and charged with kidnapping, rape, unlawful restraint, false imprisonment, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, and interfering with the custody of a committed person. He was convicted, but that ruling was overturned and he was sent to a mental health facility.

After leaving the mental institution, between 1986 and 1987, Heidnik captured six African-American women.


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He also held them in his basement, tortured, and raped them. Sandra Lindsey died of starvation, torture, and illness. He dismembered her body and some say he fed it to his other captives.

Deborah Dudley died of electrocution, which was one of the killer’s preferred methods of torture. Josephina Rivera, Lisa Thomas, Jacqueline Askins, and Agnes Adams all survived. Rivera convinced Heidnik to let Adams go visit her family temporarily, and when she was out, Adams called the police. They didn’t initially believe her horrific story until she repeated herself.

Heidnik’s lawyers argued that he was not competent enough to stand trial (he claimed he did nothing wrong), but his prolific investments helped prove otherwise. He was sentenced to death.

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Heidnik’s daughter fought to prove his legal insanity for years, filing many appeals. However, on July 6, 1999, Gary Heidnik was executed. He is, as of 2016, the last person to have been executed in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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