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Victims of ‘monster preacher’ who raped and tortured them reveal how they escaped

Two women who were held captive, raped, and tortured by a sadistic preacher who fed them the remains of one of his victims have opened up about the horrors they endured in his home. 

Gary Heidnik, the man who partly inspired the character of serial killer Buffalo Bill in the film The Silence of the Lambs, kidnapped a total of six women — Josefina Rivera, 25, Sandra Lindsay, 24, Lisa Thomas, 19, Deborah Dudley, 23, Jacqueline Askins, 18, and Agnes Adams, 24 — from November 1986 to March 1987.    

In the Oxygen special ‘Monster Preacher,’ Rivera and Askins detailed how they were manipulated, pitted against each other, and viciously abused by Heidnik before escaping his ‘house of horrors.’ 

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Monster: Gary Heidnik, a self-ordained preacher from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, kidnapped a total of six black women from November 1986 to March 1987

Victims: He kept Josefina Rivera, Agnes Adams, Sandra Lindsay (top), Jacqueline Askins, Deborah Dudley, aand Lisa Thomas (bottom) chained in a hole in his basement

Victims: He kept Josefina Rivera, Agnes Adams, Sandra Lindsay (top), Jacqueline Askins, Deborah Dudley, aand Lisa Thomas (bottom) chained in a hole in his basement 

Rivera, who was working as a prostitute at the time, was the first woman Heidnik had abducted. On November 25, 1986, he asked her to go back to his home, where he choked her and put her in handcuffs.

Heidnik then led her down to the hole he had dug in his basement under the concrete floor, chaining her to a sewer pipe. He covered the hole with plywood and put filled plastic bags on top. 

Jerry L. Jennings, a psychologist and author of Breaking the Silence of the Lambs, explained in the special that Heidnik’s ‘idea was to kidnap women and create this harem off sexual slaves that he would impregnate them and have all these children.’  

Heidnik, who self-ordained himself a bishop and started the United Church of the Ministers of God, portrayed himself as a religious man in the local community. 

‘He would actually have church services on the first floor of his house while girls were in his basement chained together,’ Charles Peruto Jr., the preacher’s defense attorney, told producers. 

Heidnik would rape and beat the women daily. By January 1987, he had kidnapped a total of five women, with Askins becoming his youngest and most recent captive.

Askins, who was a prostitute at the time, recalled how Heidnik took her out to dinner and tricked her into letting her guard down before he took her back to his home. She was playing a video game when he came up from behind her and grabbed her neck. 

Looking back: Rivera (pictured) and Askins detailed how Heidnik raped and tortured daily during Oxygen's new special 'Monster Preacher'

Looking back: Rivera and Askins (pictured) detailed how Heidnik raped and tortured daily during Oxygen's new special 'Monster Preacher'

Looking back: Rivera (left) and Askins (right) detailed how Heidnik raped and tortured daily during Oxygen’s new special ‘Monster Preacher’

She said he handcuffed her and brought her to the basement where she saw the other women, recalling how one was crying. Rivera told her to stop screaming, promising that she would get her out eventually, but Askins didn’t want to wait. 

After Heidnik beat her and ignored her pleas to go home, she realized he was never going to let her leave. 

‘Everybody had a chain that was separated, like, 30 paces apart so that it was big enough where he can get between us to have sex and we could walk around,’ Askins recalled. 

After Lindsay’s family knocked on his door, he forced her to write a letter to them saying she was safe and headed to York, Pennsylvania, to throw them off the scent. 

‘He had on these rubber gloves and he had this pen, paper, and envelope and he told Sandra, “OK, you’re going to sit down and write this letter,’ Rivera recalled. 

‘He told Sandra to make sure she touched the whole paper so her prints would be on it. Then he made her do the envelope the same way and he made her lick the envelope himself.’

Heidnik drove to New York to mail the letter to deter Lindsay’s family from trying to come back to his house looking for her.  

Facade: Heidnik, who self-ordained himself a bishop and started the United Church of the Ministers of God, portrayed himself as a religious man in the local community

Facade: Heidnik, who self-ordained himself a bishop and started the United Church of the Ministers of God, portrayed himself as a religious man in the local community

Brazen: Heindik would hold church services on the first floor of his home while his victims were locked in the basement

Brazen: Heindik would hold church services on the first floor of his home while his victims were locked in the basement 

‘He was gone for a long time, like hours. We heard the car when it left and then we heard the car when it came back,’ Rivera said. ‘There were times where we were in the hole for hours, and the thing was, what if something happened to him while he was out? Who was going to find us then?’

When he came back, she told him that she knew how long he was gone for, which made him realize that they were aware when he was coming in and out of the house.   

‘I remember him saying, “Well, I have a solution for that.” He went back upstairs and then he came downstairs to the basement. He had a Phillips screwdriver. He said, “I’m just going to dig everybody’s eardrums out.”‘

Heidnik proceeded to jab their ears with the screwdriver to try to puncture their eardrums to prevent them from hearing him.   

He didn’t just physically torture the women, but he also manipulated them and pit them against each other, with Rivera ingratiating herself as his favorite.    

‘Josefina was the only victim who was clever enough to know that he was constantly gonna be watching her,’ Peruto explained. ‘So Josefina would discipline the girls when Gary wasn’t there. She convinced Gary Heidnik that she was his ally, that she would help him.’ 

On Rivera’s birthday, Heidnik surprised her with cake and slippers as a gift. She recalled how they all had Chinese food and cake together, admitting she hasn’t had a birthday party since.  

Horrific: Heidnik had dug a hole in his basement that he covered with plywood. When he ran out of room, he chained some of the women around the basement

Horrific: Heidnik had dug a hole in his basement that he covered with plywood. When he ran out of room, he chained some of the women around the basement 

Criminal: Neighbors complained of a horrible smell after Lindsay died in Heidnik's basement, but he told police officers he burned a roast

Criminal: Neighbors complained of a horrible smell after Lindsay died in Heidnik’s basement, but he told police officers he burned a roast 

It was at that moment that she realized that he liked her, and she could use that to her advantage, but the other women felt she was on his side. 

Lindsay was the first of the women to die from a combination of starvation, torture, and untreated fever at the hands of their captor. Both Rivera and Askins recalled how Heidnik thought Lindsay was pregnant and was angry that she wouldn’t eat. 

He had handcuffed her wrist to a ceiling rafter near the hole in the basement for days while he beat her and tried to get her to eat. When she started choking, he ran upstairs to get the keys and once he released her handcuffs, her body dropped to the ground. 

‘She was gone,’ Rivera said.  

Heidnik chopped up Lindsay’s body and started cooking it. At one point, he brought Dudley upstairs to show her Lindsay’s head in a pot and her ribs in a roasting pan, warning her that if she didn’t get in line, she would be next. 

The smell was horrible and led to neighbors complaining, but when police officers stopped by the house, he claimed he had burned a roast and they left him alone without further question. 

Heidnik blended Lindsay’s remains with dog food in a food processor and then fed it to the women in his basement.  

‘Next thing I know, he came into the basement with some rice and dog food,’ Askins recounted. ‘That big piece of meat on there, I didn’t know what it was, and then I realized that the whole time he was upstairs burning Sandy, cooking her so he can dismember her body.

‘If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here,’ she admitted. ”Cause I ate her.’ 

Under duress: Heidnik didn't just physically torture the women, but he also manipulated them and pit them against each other, with Rivera (pictured) ingratiating herself as his favorite

Under duress: Heidnik didn’t just physically torture the women, but he also manipulated them and pit them against each other, with Rivera (pictured) ingratiating herself as his favorite

Torture: Rivera recalled how Heidnik jabbed their ears with a screwdriver to try to puncture their eardrums to prevent them from hearing him leave the house

Torture: Rivera recalled how Heidnik jabbed their ears with a screwdriver to try to puncture their eardrums to prevent them from hearing him leave the house 

Still angry: Askins said she thought Rivera was in cahoots with Heidnik, saying she was just as bad as he was

Still angry: Askins said she thought Rivera was in cahoots with Heidnik, saying she was just as bad as he was 

Askins said Rivera would side with Heidnik and report that the other women were yelling and screaming to ensure he would beat them instead of her. 

Rivera was allowed to go upstairs and take a bath at this point. The women wanted her to grab a knife and bring it to the basement so they could attack Heidnik, but she ended up telling him what was going on. 

She explained that the plan was ‘ridiculous’ because he never brought the keys down to the basement, and they would just end up stuck downstairs with a dead body. She said she had a plan of her own, but she didn’t confide in the other women because she didn’t want them telling Heidnik.   

Two months after Lindsay’s death, Heidnik filled the hole in the basement with water and had Dudley stand in it. He gave Rivera live wire and had her touch Dudley’s chains to electrocute her while she was in the pit. 

‘His thing was, it would give them an electric jolt, which would make them behave, like some kind of shock therapy. Then he had me do it,’ Rivera said, recalling how she screamed for Heidnik when Dudley died shortly after.

‘Rivera, she killed Debbie,’ Askins said. ‘We all could have gotten out of there alive. There was a lot of stuff she did that she didn’t have to do. I just thought she took on her serial killer ideal too. 

Heidnik made Rivera sign a letter saying they had electrocuted Dudley together, which led him to release her from her shackles. He felt that she wouldn’t turn on him because they would both go to jail. 

Cannibalism: Askins said Heidnik cooked Lindsay's dead body and blended it with dog food before feeding it to her and his other captives

Cannibalism: Askins said Heidnik cooked Lindsay’s dead body and blended it with dog food before feeding it to her and his other captives 

Ending it: Rivera convinced Heidnik that she was on his side, and he allowed her to visit her family, giving her the opportunity to call the cops

Ending it: Rivera convinced Heidnik that she was on his side, and he allowed her to visit her family, giving her the opportunity to call the cops

Caught: After Rivera escaped, Heidnik was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and multiple counts of kidnapping and torture

Caught: After Rivera escaped, Heidnik was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and multiple counts of kidnapping and torture

Askins said Rivera ‘got to walk around the house freely’ because she ‘had killed Debbie,’ but that’s now how she saw it. 

‘I was free, but I wasn’t free because these other girls were still in the basement,’ Rivera explained. ‘Even if I get away, the first thing he’s gonna do is get rid of them. ‘Cause that’s all the evidence.’

Heidnik took Rivera to the woods to bury Dudley’s body, thinking they were now on the same side. When they returned, he told her he wanted her to help him find another woman to replace Dudley.

Rivera said she agreed on the condition that he would take her to see her family after and he went for it. She helped him kidnap Adams, a prostitute he knew.  

‘Rivera went and got her and brought her in that basement,’ Askins said, recalling how her fellow captive was rewarded with gifts and Heidnik’s trust. 

Askins insisted she could never do that to another woman, but Rivera said it was all part of her plan to get them out of the basement together. 

‘I remember I came down them couple steps and leaned over the banister, and they all looked up at me,’ she said. ‘The expression on their faces…it was breaking my heart that I couldn’t say to them that the only reason I didn’t run was the fact that they were still there.’

Peruta noted that Rivera ‘did whatever was necessary for survival.’  

Killer: Dudley's body was found int he woods in March 1987 after Heidnik buried her there

Killer: Dudley’s body was found int he woods in March 1987 after Heidnik buried her there 

Case: Heidnik pleaded insanity, and his lawyer tried to convince the jury that Rivera was the mastermind feeding into his delusions

Case: Heidnik pleaded insanity, and his lawyer tried to convince the jury that Rivera was the mastermind feeding into his delusions

Case: Heidnik pleaded insanity, and his lawyer tried to convince the jury that Rivera was the mastermind feeding into his delusions

Over: Heidnik was convicted and give the death sentence in 1988, becoming the last person in Pennsylvania to be executed

Over: Heidnik was convicted and give the death sentence in 1988, becoming the last person in Pennsylvania to be executed

In April 1987, Rivera convinced Heidnik to let her go see her family and wait at a gas station until she returned. She called the police instead. They didn’t believe her until they saw the marks and bruises on her ankles where she was chained. 

He was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and multiple counts of kidnapping and torture. 

Peruta tried convincing the jury that Heidnik was insane and that Rivera was the mastermind feeding into his delusions. 

‘It really baffles me because I risked my life to save yours,’ Rivera said of the other women seeing her as culpable as Heidnik.

In 1988, Heidnik was given the death sentence and became the last person in Pennsylvania to be executed as Askins and others watched him die by lethal injection. 

‘It didn’t bring no closure,’ Askins said, while Rivera noted: ‘I would have preferred for him to stay in jail because that would have been more of a suffering.’

The special ended with Rivera and Askins reuniting for the first time in 30 years to clear the air. Askins admitted she thought Rivera was in cahoots with Heidnik and recalled how she was fed misinformation about her involvement in the crimes.

Rivera insisted that she was a victim; her goal was always to get all of them out of the basement together. 

‘I wish we could’ve said this 30 years ago,’ Askins said. 

‘It would’ve probably made a lot of difference,’ Rivera agreed. 


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