Gary Michael Heidnik, known as “the baby planter” was an American murderer and rapist, known for his terrible forms of mistreatment and sexual abuse of the women he had kidnapped in the eighties.

Below we will see a biography of Gary Michael Heidnik , and how he committed his abominable crimes.

Biography of Gary Michael Heidnik

The life of this sex criminal is that of a psychopath, who rather than enjoying the murder, preferred to delight in the suffering of his victims, feeding on their fear and anxiety. Let’s look at his personal life, how his childhood was raw and probably influenced him to do what he did as an adult.


Gary Michael Heidnik was born on November 22, 1943 in Cleveland, Ohio , son of Michael and Ellen Heidnik, who later had another son, Terry. Gary Heidnik did not have an easy childhood. His parents divorced in 1946, when he was just three years old. Gary and his brother were in their mother’s care for four years, but then moved to their father’s house, who had remarried.

In the parental home where Heidnik, as he would later claim, was physically and emotionally abused by his father . The cause of this was that little Gary wet the bed and his father, in order to correct the problem while feeling pleasure while psychologically destroying his child, humiliated him by forcing him to hang the wet sheets on the window of his room, so that the neighbors would know what had happened.

School wasn’t a good place for Heidnik either. Despite her good grades, she was not good at interacting with others, and avoided making eye contact with her classmates, as she was the object of their ridicule . As a child he had suffered an accident that had deformed his head, and the children, in their cruelty, constantly reminded him of this by means of comparisons.

But despite his head deformity, his brain was intact, at least as far as cognitive abilities were concerned. His intelligence was not below average, quite the contrary. His IQ was 148, that is, technically he was gifted .

Military life

On his father’s recommendation, Gary Heidnik enrolled at the Staunton Military Academy in Virginia at the age of 14, where he stayed for two years , and left before graduating from the academy. Later he would return to public education, to re-enrol in a military institution, in this case the United States Army at the age of 17, serving his country for 13 months.

He showed good training skills, and his sergeant rated him as an excellent military student. After this military training, Heidnik would apply for different specialized positions, but was rejected from them. Then, he managed to be transferred to San Antonio, Texas, where he would receive military medical training .

However, he did not stay long in the Texas state, being transferred abroad to West Germany at the 46th U.S. Army Mobile Surgical Hospital in the city of Landstuhl.

In August 1962 Heidnik began to feel serious discomfort: nausea, dizziness, blurred vision and headaches. The neurologist at the hospital diagnosed Gary Heidnik with gastroenteritis, but in addition detected symptoms of a mental disorder and prescribed him trifluoperazine (antipsychotic).

In October of the same year he would be transferred to the military hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he would be given a diagnosis: schizoid personality disorder . Because of this he was discharged from the American army with honours.

Return to the United States

After being diagnosed with the alleged schizoid personality disorder and leaving the US military, Heidnik would study at the University of Pennsylvania, although it only lasted one semester. He worked as a psychiatric nurse in the veterans administration of a hospital in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, but ended up being fired because of his bad behavior with patients .

From August 1962 until his arrest in March 1987, Heidnik went from psychiatric ward to psychiatric ward, because he tried to commit suicide up to 13 times . Suicidal tendencies ran in his family, since his mother Ellen, who had been diagnosed with bone cancer and was an alcoholic, ended her life drinking mercury bichloride, a very toxic compound. Her brother Gary also attempted suicide on several occasions.

In October 1971 Gary Heidnik joined the United Church of God , and in 1975 he opened an account for the church, where he deposited $1,500. Over time, by investing in the stock market, Heidnik managed to amass a total of $500,000 for the church, and by the mid-1980s the United Church of God would be prosperous and rich.

First abuse of women

Gary Michael Heidnik met his wife through a marriage agency , with which he would contact his future spouse through postal correspondence. Her name was Betty Disto, a Filipino citizen who had arrived in the United States in September 1985 and on October 3 of that same year would marry Heidnik in Maryland.

But the marriage did not last long, as Betty had the traumatic experience of finding her husband with three women in bed. Throughout the brief marriage, Heidnik forced his wife to watch him sleep with other women. It gave him great satisfaction to hurt his wife’s feelings and sexually abuse her .

Fortunately for Betty Disto, the Filipino community in Philadelphia managed to get her out of such a catastrophic, grueling and abusive marriage, achieving this in January 1986. But despite the bad relationship, Betty became pregnant with Heidnik, giving birth to a son, named Jesse John Disto. Heidnik discovered he was a father when his ex-wife sued him for child support.

But this wouldn’t be Gary’s only child, obtained through sexual abuse. He would later have another with Gail Lincow, whom he would name Gary Jr. The child was taken to a foster home shortly after birth. He would later have a third child with another woman, in this case Anjeanette Davidson, an illiterate woman with an intellectual disability. The daughter of this relationship would be Maxine Davidson, born on March 16, 1978, and also placed in a foster home.

Shortly after Maxine’s birth, Heidnik was arrested for kidnapping and raping Anjeanette’s sister , Alberta, who had lived in an institution for persons with intellectual disabilities in Penn Township.

First offenses

But if Gary Michael Heidnik, better known as “the baby planter”, is known for his long criminal life, dating back to the 1970s. In 1976 Heidnik would commit one of his first crimes, nothing serious compared to what would follow. He assaulted the tenant of a house he had offered to rent, shooting him in the face , with a weapon of which he did not have a license.

But it would be two years later that he would be taken to prison for the first time, though not the last. In 1978 Heidnik took the sister of his then-girlfriend Anjeanette Davidson out of an institution for people with intellectual disabilities. Gary Michael Heidnik did not do this as a good thing for his beloved. Heidnik had a strong preference for women with intellectual disabilities and dark-skinned women, preferably African Americans.

The sister, Alberta, was taken into a storage room in Heidnik’s basement, and locked up there. Once the police knew about the incident, Alberta was taken out of there and taken to the mental institution, where she would have a physical examination to see if she had been abused, and indeed she had been. Heidnik had raped and sodomized her and given her gonorrhea.

This is why Heidnik was arrested and accused of kidnapping, rape, deprivation of liberty and taking advantage of a person with a disability , and spent three years in mental institutions with state supervision.

Starts his career as a serial rapist

In 1986, after being abandoned by his ex-wife Betty Disto, Heidnik would again be arrested and charged with assault, as well as partner rape and deviant sexual behavior. But this would only be the beginning of his career as a serial killer. Between 1986 and 1987 he would commit his chain of murders and rapes in a row .

On November 25, 1986, Heidnik kidnapped a woman named Josefina Rivera, and in January of the following year, four women would have been unlucky enough to fall into the hands of Gary Michael Heidnik. He kept them in a pit in his basement in North Philadelphia. All the kidnapped women were black, and were raped, beaten and tortured .

It is not known if she did it out of a desire to enjoy the experience of taking someone’s life or out of simple carelessness, such as forgetting to water the plants, or if it was really a mistake, but one of the women, Sandra Lindsay, died from starvation, torture, and from not receiving treatment for severe fevers that she suffered during her detention.

Faced with this, Heidnik chose to dismember the body, but had problems with the arms and legs, so he put them in the freezer, keeping them labelled “dog food”. He cooked the ribs in the oven, and boiled Sandra Lindsay’s head in a pot as if boiling potatoes. The neighbours complained about the bad smell, and called the police, having no suspicion of the atrocities being committed in the house.

However, when they went to Heidnik’s home, far from exploring the house and trying to find out where the smell was coming from, the police were content with Heidnik’s explanation: “I was making a roast, I fell asleep and it burned”

It is believed that Heidnik took Lindsay’s meat and mixed it with dog food, and then gave it to the other girls . However, Heidnik’s defense attorney, Chuck Peruto, during the trials that were to take place some time later, said that no evidence was found for these claims.

Heidnik had a predilection for electroshocks. At one point during the abduction, he forced three of his prey into a pit together, chained and wired around their bodies. Heidnik ordered Josefina Rivera and another woman to fill the hole with water, forcing Rivera to apply electricity to the chains of the woman who was in it .

The girl, who had been abducted a week after Lisa Thomas, on January 2, 1987, would eventually die, and Gary Michael Heidnik placed Dudley’s body in Pine Barrens, New Jersey.

Neglect and detention

On 18 January 1987 Heidnik kidnapped Jacqueline Askins to replace the recently deceased Deborah, the youngest of his total of six victims, who was only 18 years old. When Askins was interviewed in 2018, 30 years after her abduction, she indicated that Heidnik gagged her victims with duct tape and penetrated their ears with a screwdriver .

On March 23, 1987, Heidnik and his accomplice by force, Rivera, kidnapped Agnes Adams. The next day, Rivera managed to convince her kidnapper to let her go temporarily to see her family. Surprisingly, Heidnik believed her and “released” her, but Rivera was no fool. In fact, she had been tricking her kidnapper for some time in order to manipulate him and free herself and her other cell mates .

Heidnik drove her to a gas station and waited for her there. She walked away and managed to call 911. The police, hearing that the woman had to be chained up because of the sound of the phone ringing, went to the gas station and arrested Heidnik. Then they went to his house, discovering the tremendous scene: three women in the basement, one released on the street and two bodies, one in the refrigerator and one buried.

Heidnik’s best friend, Cyril “Tony” Brown was also arrested , although he was released after posting a $50,000 bail and testifying against Heidnik. Brown confessed to witnessing Sandra Lindsay’s death and how Heidnik dismembered her. Shortly after his arrest, Gary Michael Heidnik tried to end his life by hanging himself in his cell, without success.

The trials

Gary Michael Heidnik tried to make the jury believe that the women in his basement were already there when he moved into that house. During the trial, Heidnik was defended by Charles Peruto, who tried to prove that his client was legally insane, not aware of what he was doing.

This defence thesis was thrown out by the prosecution, led by Charles F. Gallagher III. Among the evidence used was the fact that, while in the United Church of God, he amassed a total of $550,000 in the bank through gambling, something that an insane person would be unlikely to accomplish.

His tax advisor, Robert Kirkpatrick, who had previously advised him on financial matters, was also used as a witness. Kirkpatrick said that his former client was astute, aware of his economic decisions .

As a result of all this, Gary Michael Heidnik was sentenced to two first-degree murder convictions on July 1, 1988, and sentenced to death , being incarcerated in the Pittsburgh State Correctional Facility. In January of the following year, he attempted suicide by overdosing on thorazine (chlorpromazine), without success.

Gary Michael Heidnik was executed on July 6, 1999 at Rockview Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania. His body was cremated. Heidnik was the last person to be executed in the state of Pennsylvania .

Psychological profile of this criminal

Despite the fact that in his youth he was diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder, as time went by the possibility began to be considered that Gary Michael Heidnik had faked his symptoms in order to be compensated , and thus earn money without working.

However, given the twisted nature of his crimes, it is difficult to think that he did not have a mental disorder that made him behave in such an unhumane way with his victims. Despite having had depressions, several suicide attempts, tics, and mania, the psychologists and psychiatrists who interviewed him during his trial were unable to link these symptoms to his twisted mind and ability to inflict harm on others.

Bibliographic references:

  • Mendoza Luna, M. (2010). Serial Killers: Profiles of the Criminal Mind. Norma publishing group. p. 138.