When someone kidnaps six women, locked them in a basement, and raped and tortured them for months, an instant thought is: Why? Why would anyone do something so rotten, so terribly awful?
In the case of Gary Heidnik, the subject of Oxygens new special “Monster preacher” There will never be consensus as to why he committed such crimes in Philadelphia in the 1980s. Some say he did it because he was seriously mentally ill while others insist because he was just plain bad. But Heidnik apparently told the prisoners why he personally believed he was holding them as prisoners.
“I want to have children, lots of them. I already have children, but the state keeps taking them from me. Well, I now have a way of having children so that no one can take them away. You are just the beginning You will have my baby down here. But not just you. I want to bring 10 girls here so that they can all have my children, ”he said to Josefina Rivera, one of his surviving victims. According to a 2014 interview, she gave The Mirror.
Heidnik, who was born in Ohio in 1943, apparently longed for a family of his own after a lonely, emotionally burdened childhood. His father was abusive and his mother had mental health problems.
“The whole family was confused and weird. My mom told me how her dad hit Gary really badly with a toy wooden airplane for peeing in his pants. His father was an alcoholic and his mother took poison. They found her in the basement. She was tired of the abuse. They were really sick parents and gave their children some serious problems. Gary and my father left Ohio at one point or another and I’m not exactly sure how we ended up in Pennsylvania, ”said Heidnik’s niece Shannon Heidnik Philadelphia Magazine in 2007.
Heidnik jumped around a bit after high school. He served in the army as a medic, but was honorably discharged for psychological reasons. He has a degree in nursing but was discharged from the veterans hospital where he worked due to a spotty attendance list and poor attitude. Finally, in 1971, he decided on one path: he devoted himself to religion and formed himself The United Church of Ministers of God in 1971 in a neighborhood in north Philadelphia.
Next, Heidnik was looking for a wife and a child, which he did in an alarming way. John Cassidy, a friend of his at the time, told Philadelphia Magazine that Heidnik always dated black women with intellectual disabilities. One such woman was Gail Lincow. They had a son named Gary Jr., who was placed in foster care shortly after he was born. according to RJ Parker’s book “The Basement”.
Another was Anjeanette Davidson, with whom he had a daughter, Maxine, in 1978. Maxine was also taken into foster families because of her mother’s intellectual disability.
Shortly afterwards, Heidnik was sent to prison. He had kidnapped Davidson’s mentally challenged sister, Alberta Davidson, from the facility she lived in, allegedly raped her, and kept her in his basement room. Authorities were able to locate Alberta and accuse Heidnik of a variety of crimes. However, since Alberta was viewed as mentally incapable of taking a stand, Heidnik was only convicted on the less serious charge. He was sentenced to three to seven years in prison and ended up serving a little over four years.
However, free time has not dampened his obsession with raising a family.
“When he got out, he couldn’t find Anjeanette and he felt that society owed him a wife and a family, ”Rivera told Philadelphia Magazine.
Heidnik took advantage of a marital service in 1983 to meet Betsy Disto, a woman in the Philippines. They exchanged letters before Disto came to the United States in 1985 and married Heidnik.
The marriage was an utter disaster. It ended within a few months and Disto went to the authorities and accused Heidnik of raping her. Heidnik was charged indecent assault, marital rape, assault and involuntary deviant sex, but all charges were dropped after Disto failed to show up at the first hearing. She had fled with the help of the Filipino community in Philadelphia and was hiding, according to “The Basement”.
Disto eventually reappeared in Heidnik’s life when she asked for maintenance – she had given birth to Heidnik’s son Jesse John Disto in September 1986. However, Heidnik had no relationship with either, Parker wrote. His other two children were being fostered. He didn’t have a wife. His family fantasy had gone nowhere.
In November of that year he kidnapped Rivera.
He then abducted, tortured, and raped five other women in his basement in order to pursue his dreams of a “birth harem” until Rivera escaped in March 1987 and contacted the authorities.
“He wanted a perfect breed of children from these women,” said defense attorney Chuck Peruto said WPVI-TV, a local news channel, in 2019.
Little is known about Jesse John Disto and Gary Jr., but Maxine Davidson White eventually made public appearances – because she wanted to save her father from execution.
Heidnik had been convicted of rape, kidnapping and murder in 1988 and sentenced to death. Heidnik refused to ever admit guilt and stated at his trial: “I say real or wrong, you can execute me because I am innocent and can prove it […] That is the end of the death penalty in this state. When you execute an innocent man, knowingly execute an innocent man, you know that there will be no more death penalty in this state, and possibly elsewhere in this country. And you know I didn’t kill two women. Go ahead and execute me … Yes, I want you to execute an innocent man so that there is no more death penalty, ”said a Post-Gazette article at the time of his execution.
But while Heidnik did not oppose his execution, his daughter did so on his behalf and even took his case to the Supreme Court to overturn his death sentence. When she lost her last appointment, her lawyer Kathy Swedlow told the Post-Gazette that White was devastated.
“The state executed an extremely mentally ill and psychotic man,” said Swedlow.
On the day of his execution – July 6, 1999 – White visited her father one last time for about an hour. She did not stay for his execution.
White, then a student at Temple University, refused to speak to reporters. Little is known about her life since Heidnik’s death.
To learn more about Heidnik’s crimes and hear from two of his victims, watch “Monster preacher” on oxygen.