“DEATH OF THE ICE CREAM BLONDE” and More True Stories! #WeirdDarkness

DEATH OF THE ICE CREAM BLONDE” and More True Stories! #WeirdDarkness

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Listen to ““DEATH OF THE ICE CREAM BLONDE” and More True Stories! #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.

IN THIS EPISODE: She was sexy, she was flirtatious… then she was dead. Who killed actress Thelma Todd, and why does her ghost still linger in Hollywood? (Death Of The Ice Cream Blonde) *** A woman has been haunted by a dark,cloaked and hooded entity for the past eighteen years. And it’s real – because her husband has seen it too. (Followed By A Hooded Entity) *** Gary Heidnik didn’t just kidnap, torture, and murder women in the basement of his house of horrors — he got one of his victims to help. (Gary Heidnik: The Inspiration for Buffalo Bill)

“Death Of The Ice Cream Blonde” by Troy Taylor: http://bit.ly/2XkqRZA
“Followed By A Hooded Entity” by Chaos 92: http://bit.ly/2UIJcme
“Gary Heidnik: The Inspiration for Buffalo Bill” by Mark Oliver: http://bit.ly/2UIO2Qw

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The ghost of Thelma Todd still walks in Hollywood, or at least that’s what the owners of a building on the Pacific Coast Highway have claimed for years. It was in this building where Todd’s “Roadside Rest Cafe” was once located and it’s not far from the house where she met her mysterious end. This is a house where the ghostly elements of her demise are still repeated today. But what strange events have caused this glamorous ghost to linger behind in our world? The official cause of Thelma’s death was said to be an accidental poisoning from carbon monoxide, but the true facts in this sensational case remain unresolved to this day. Perhaps this is why Thelma still lingers, looking for someone to uncover what really happened on the night of December 16, 1935.

I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.


Welcome, Weirdos – I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.

Coming up in this episode…

She was sexy, she was flirtatious… then she was dead. Who killed actress Thelma Todd, and why does her ghost still linger in Hollywood? (Death Of The Ice Cream Blonde)

A woman has been haunted by a dark, cloaked and hooded entity for the past eighteen years. And it’s real – because her husband has seen it too. (Followed By A Hooded Entity)

Gary Heidnik didn’t just kidnap, torture, and murder women in the basement of his house of horrors — he got one of his victims to help. (Gary Heidnik: The Inspiration for Buffalo Bill)

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Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!

Thelma Todd was born on July 29, 1905 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and was the first of two children of John and Alice Todd. Thelma’s father was a former police officer who had entered politics and had little time for his family. Because of this, her frustrated mother channeled all of her energy into Thelma and her younger brother, William. By the time Thelma was 10, her father had become the director of public health and welfare for the state of Massachusetts, a position that kept him away from home even more. Thelma was an exceptional student and did very well in school. She had also turned into a very pretty young woman. In 1932, she enrolled at the Lowell State Normal School, intent on become a teacher. In 1925, her brother was killed in an accident and engulfed by this family tragedy, Thelma began dreaming of moving away and making a life away from her oppressive home.
Fate intervened when a local boy submitted her high school picture into a statewide beauty contest and she won. This led to a talent scout from Famous Players-Lasky (later Paramount Films) inviting Thelma to screen test for the studio’s first film school. She passed the audition and became one of the 16 attendees, on the condition that she lose 10 pounds before arriving at the facility in Astoria, New York.
During her training, Thelma fell in love with a classmate, Robert Andrews, but the studio nipped the romance in the bud, fearing gossip would somehow taint the new school. This led the always-rebellious Thelma to seek revenge by being extra sexy and flirty around studio executives. It was this aspect of her nature that led to her nickname of “Hot Toddy.” With her classmates from the film school, Thelma made her screen debut in the silent feature “Fascinating Youth” in 1926.
Initially, Thelma’s mother had been thrilled by her daughter’s career opportunities, but she had doubts when she saw a publicity photo of the pretty girl in a flimsy costume. Alice Todd rushed to New York to voice her moral objections to studio executives. Already at wit’s end with Thelma’s rebellious behavior, Paramount gave her an ultimatum – relocate to Paramount’s studio in Hollywood, or go home. Thelma packed up and moved to California.
Thelma went to work under a five-year, $75-per-week contract with Paramount and throughout 1927 she was given small parts in a number of feature films like “Rubber Heels” with Ed Wynn and “Nevada,” a western with Gary Cooper. Then, Al Jolson spoke a few words onscreen in “The Jazz Singer” and motion pictures were changed forever. The industry went through a terrifying series of changes as the “Talkies” became the new medium of choice. The old silent films were gone for good and with them went some of the biggest stars of the era. The careers of screen legends like John Gilbert, Clara Bow, Norma Talmadge and many others were suddenly over. They were forced into retirement when the public did not respond to the sound of their voices. For Thelma, the coming of sound motion pictures could not have occurred at a better time. She was now able to develop her wisecracking persona and the demise of many screen veterans made room for newcomers and little-known actors like Thelma. A new generation of screen stars was born. However, Paramount discharged her in 1929.
A short time later, Thelma was approached by Hal Roach, who offered her a new movie deal that would also allow her to freelance for other studios. Roach planned to feature Thelma with comedy actress Zasu Pitts in a series of two-reel comedies. A former director at Essanay, Roach persuaded Pathe to sponsor him in his own studios and he soon emerged as a comedic talent, envisioning hilarious situations and translating them to film. Roach concentrated more on story than slapstick and audiences loved him at the box office. His biggest stars became Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chase and Thelma Todd. She proved to be a real asset to Roach, not only appearing in her own films but as a female foil to Stan and Ollie and others.
At first, Thelma was reluctant to take the deal with Roach because the requirement came with conditions. The first was that she had to bleach her hair platinum blonde and the second required her to abide by the “potato clause.” This meant that she was being signed at a certain weight, and if she gained more than five pounds, it was cause for instant dismissal. Thelma’s mother, widowed since 1925, was in Hollywood for one of her frequent visits and she urged Thelma to take the deal. Before reporting to the Roach lot for her first shoot, Alice Todd supervised the bleaching of her daughter’s hair and helped her to arrange a stringent diet.
In addition to Thelma’s comedies for Hal Roach, Thelma also played major roles in films for other studios. They were mostly comedies in which she portrayed the sarcastic and wisecracking blonde role that most suited her. She appeared in two different films with the Marx Brothers, “Monkey Business” and the classic “Horse Feathers.” Stan Laurel always wanted Thelma as the female lead in the Laurel and Hardy films, but her personality didn’t always mesh with the two comedians on screen. She and Laurel became close friends and he often found work for her in other films when she wasn’t working for Roach. He loved her bawdy sense of humor and when she suffered from boyfriend problems, she always confided in Stan.
Thelma was always up for partying when she was not at work and found it difficult to avoid liquor and foods, both of which were fattening. Friends on the Roach lot introduced her to diet pills, and she soon became hooked on the tablets.
By 1930, Zasu Pitts had moved on to other work and Thelma was often joined on screen by Patsy Kelly. They were still going strong in 1935 and her professional career was filled with high spots. Always restless in her personal life, though, Thelma was pleased when director Roland West started showing an interest in her, even though the unattractive older man was already married to silent screen actress Jewel Carmen. West was one of the most respected directors in Hollywood during the 1920s and early 1930s. While his output of films was small, his work was appreciated by studios and audiences alike. His greatest success came in 1926 with “The Bat,” an atmospheric thriller starring Jack Pickford and Jewel Carmen. His visually astounding 1928 film, “The Dove,” won an Academy Award for art direction. In 1931, he created one of the most extraordinary chillers of the time, “The Bat Whispers” with Chester Morris. West and Thelma began a romance, with West promising her the lead in Howard Hughes’ “Hell’s Angels,” but that role went to Jean Harlow instead.
To make amends, West cast Thelma as the lead in “Corsair,” a new film that he was producing and directing for United Artists. When released, the film bombed and Thelma returned to her heavy work schedule. Although she was no longer romantically interested in West, they remained friends. By then, he had lost interest in making movies and suggested that they open a restaurant that catered to the film colony. Thelma promised to consider the idea.
Around this same time, Thelma met Pasquale DiCicco, a handsome New York playboy who associated with gangsters for the thrill of it. The suave Pat, new to Hollywood, promoted himself as a talent agent and began making the rounds of the L.A. restaurant and nightclub circuit. Movie industry people knew that he associated with Charles “Lucky” Luciano, the Syndicate gangster who was based out of New York, which, of course, made him an intriguing character. Thelma was also amused by DiCicco and dating him gave her life a touch of danger – although it would prove to be more danger than she could have ever wanted.
Thelma and DiCicco had a whirlwind romance and, despite his violent temper and a number of beatings, the couple eloped on July 10, 1932 to Prescott, Ariz. The happy marriage did not last long. DiCicco refused to settle into married life and often left his new wife alone at their Brentwood home while he was out on the town. Frustrated, Thelma began drinking heavily, always relying on her faithful diet pills to keep the weight off. One night when Thelma convinced Pat to take her out with him to the clubs, DiCicco introduced her to Lucky Luciano, who was in town for a visit. Thelma was excited to be in the presence of the famous mobster, although DiCicco was unnerved by the gangster’s obvious interest in his wife.
By 1933, DiCicco was frequently away on business in New York and Thelma was continuing to churn out films, including her popular shorts with Patsy Kelly. Reportedly, she was seen out on the town several times with Luciano during this period. By February 1934, Thelma filed for divorce from DiCicco. That August, she began making plans with Roland West to open their restaurant on the beach. With funding from West’s wife, supervision by West himself, and Thelma’s name to lure in the film crowd, Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café opened for business.
Located under the palisades of what is now Pacific Coast Highway (then known as Roosevelt Highway), the restaurant occupied the ground floor along with a drug store. On the second level were a bar, lounge, and West’s business office, as well as two apartments, one of which West and Todd shared “separately.” Nearby, at 17531 Posetano Rd, was the grand house where West’s wife, Jewel, sometimes lived, along with her brother (the café’s business manager), and his wife. Thelma stored her car in one of the garages of the Posetano Road house. To reach the garage from the restaurant required an arduous climb of 270 concrete steps. The café opened to good business. Many of West’s and Thelma’s famous friends began frequenting the place and it became popular with actors and star-struck fans alike.
In mid-1935, Thelma was spending much of her spare time operating the café. She was still working hard, drinking, and keep up her steady run of diet pills. Her hectic life was further complicated by several threatening letters demanding a sizable blackmail fee. They proved to be the work of a deranged stalker in New York and while this bit of strangeness worked itself out, it was not the most frightening thing that Thelma had to deal with that summer.
Her most disconcerting problem was the pressure that she was receiving from Luciano to turn over the café’s third story storage room (used unofficially as a gambling parlor for wealthy customers) to him as a Syndicate operation. At that time, organized crime was starting to appear in California, moving west from places like New York and Chicago. Bootlegging and drug trafficking had long been a part of Hollywood, but in the middle 1930s, Luciano was making an attempt to penetrate California with his illegal gambling enterprise. He already had casinos all over the country and with so much money flowing in and out of Hollywood, he was looking for a way to get a piece of the action. Thelma kept refusing Luciano’s request and he eventually became violent, causing her to break off all contact with him.
Their final confrontation came one night in late November at the Brown Derby in Beverly Hills. According to witnesses, the pair had a brief exchange in the restaurant:
Thelma Todd stated, “You’ll open a gambling casino in my restaurant over my dead body!”
Luciano replied, “That can be arranged.”
Thelma threatened to take her problems with Luciano to L.A. District Attorney Buron Fitts and made an appointment at his office for December 17, 1935. To spite Luciano, she began converting the third-floor café space into a steakhouse. Meanwhile, Pat DiCicco showed up one day at the restaurant and asked her about the possibility of managing the place. Thelma didn’t know if he was trying to get back into her life – or if he was on a mission from Luciano.
Thelma’s film work continued to thrive. In 1935, she appeared with Bing Crosby in the Paramount musical “Two for Tonight” and in November, she began working with Laurel and Hardy again in the feature-length musical “The Bohemian Girl.” This film was also based on an operetta and Stan found an unusual part for Thelma to play. She appeared as a gypsy’s daughter, wearing a black wig to cover her blond curls. She continued to work on the film well into December.
On December 14, Thelma received an invitation to a Hollywood party. A few years earlier, she had made a film with Stanley Lupino, the British stage comedian and father of actress Ida Lupino. Stanley and his wife were in town, and Ida was hosting a dinner party for him at the Café Trocadero. When Thelma informed West about the party, he was irritated with her that she would not be at their own restaurant on such a busy night before the holidays. But this was not the worst thing to come that night. A few days earlier, Pat DiCicco had run into Ida Lupino at the Trocadero and she had unknowingly invited him to the party.
On the afternoon of December 14, Thelma and her mother went out Christmas shopping, driven by her chauffeur, Ernest Peters. Later, she returned home to change clothes while her mother continued with her errands. At 7:30 p.m., Peters, along with Mrs. Todd, picked up Thelma. The actress was wearing a blue satin evening gown with lace and sequins, expensive jewelry, and a luxurious mink coat. Before leaving, she and West argued again about the café, but the still-rebellious Thelma slammed the door in his face and walked out. After dropping Thelma off at the Trocadero, Peters took Mrs. Todd home and then made himself available to drive Thelma home after the party.
The party was a great success and Pat DiCicco showed up later in the evening with actress Margaret Lindsay, a subtle way of snubbing his ex-wife. During the dinner, Thelma left the group to make a telephone call and use the restroom. When she returned, she seemed moody, but did not say why. Around midnight, DiCicco also made a mysterious phone call, which left him jittery. He refused to comment on it and left with Lindsay at about 1:15 a.m. without saying good night to anyone.
While Thelma waited for her driver to arrive, she asked her friend, theater owner Sid Grauman, to call Roland West and tell him that she was on her way home. Sid made the call, telling West that Thelma should be back at the apartment by 2:30 a.m., although a half-hour after that, she was still waiting at the restaurant. The car reached its destination about 3:30 a.m. As usual, Peters offered to escort Thelma to the door, but she told him that it wasn’t necessary. She gathered her coat around her and walked off into the dark – and this was the last time that Thelma Todd was ever seen alive.
At 10 a.m. on Monday morning, December 16, Thelma’s maid, Mae Whitehead, entered the garage of the Posetano House and found the body of Thelma Todd. She was lying face down on the front seat of her Packard convertible. Her blond hair was matted and her skin was pale. She was still wearing her clothes from Saturday night. A porcelain replacement tooth had been knocked out of her mouth and blood was spattered on her skin, her evening gown, and on the mink coat. The police were summoned at once and the shoddy investigation – or cover-up, depending on what you believe – began.
Thelma died from carbon monoxide asphyxiation, but how she managed to get locked into her garage, by her own hands or by someone else’s, was a matter of conjecture. The investigation into her death revealed more questions than answers. Some suggested that Thelma might have committed suicide. It was not an uncommon method for such an act, but then murders had been committed in a similar fashion. In addition, if she had killed herself, where had the blood on her face and clothing come from? To make matters more suspicious, an autopsy had revealed that Thelma had suffered a broken nose, several broken ribs, and enough bruises to suggest that she had been roughed up. This seemed to rule out suicide.
As the investigation continued, some nervous witnesses claimed to receive ominous threats and, in turn, recanted part, or all, of their original statements. In another weird twist, when Thelma’s mother first arrived at the scene, she insisted that someone had murdered her daughter. Later, she said that she believed Thelma’s death had been accidental. Then, still later in life, she changed her story again and once more said that Thelma had been murdered. Did someone lean on Thelma’s mother during the investigation and convince her that voicing suspicions of murder was a bad idea?
But if Thelma had been murdered, who had killed her? Roland West seemed to be the likely suspect and witnesses from the party, including Ida Lupino, said that she had been uneasy after making a telephone call. All agreed that she had been drunker than usual when she went home and Sid Grauman told the police about his telephone call to West. Also, witnesses from the neighborhood told the court how they had seen Thelma, still in her evening gown and mink coat, screaming obscenities and kicking at the door of the apartment. Apparently, she may have made it to the top of the concrete stairs, but could not get into the apartment.
Throughout the investigation, West contradicted himself several times, changing his story about his activities over the weekend several times. West admitted that instead of helping Thelma into bed on Sunday morning, he had locked the door to the apartment. After their fight earlier on Saturday, West had warned her that if she was not home by 2 a.m., he was going to lock her out. Some have surmised that Thelma’s telephone call during the party had been to West, hoping for a reprieve. When it didn’t come, she had asked mutual friend Sid Grauman to call for her later. But West remained adamant and said that after Thelma got home, they had another fight through the door. However, he added a strange contradiction to his story. He stated that he had later been awakened by his dog barking and was sure that he heard water running in the apartment. He assumed that Thelma had somehow gotten into the house.
An examination of the door did reveal marks where it was apparently kicked. Police were baffled though as to how Thelma could have gotten inside when it was bolted shut on the other side. This made them even more suspicious of West. Someone raised the incredible theory that West had hired an actress to pretend to be Thelma beating on the door while he was actually beating the real woman to death inside. The idea of the look-alike aside, West had a strong alibi against murder. Although his statement was contradictory, there was no evidence to tie him to the murder scene. He was, by his own admission, the last person to speak with Thelma on Sunday morning, just a short time before she died.
Another strange twist came from West’s wife, Jewel Carmen. She claimed that she had seen Thelma on Sunday morning, after the sun was up, driving her Packard past the intersection of Hollywood and Vine. At her side was a handsome stranger. This testimony was very bizarre because the coroner and the police believed that Thelma was already dead by then. They were sure that she had died during the early morning hours of Sunday and was not discovered until the following day.
But how reliable was Jewel Carmen? She was West’s wife and he was the prime suspect in the case. If she were lying, why would an estranged wife protect her unfaithful husband? Some suggested that perhaps if West did kill Thelma, perhaps Carmen hoped to get back into his good graces by providing an alternate killer in the form of the “handsome stranger.” She could also put Thelma in another place far from the early morning argument with West. All of the confusing stories, combined with no hard evidence, eventually cleared West of Thelma’s murder.
Years later, sources who have studied the case have pointed out West’s close ties to industry mogul Joseph M. Schenk and believe that it’s possible that Schenk may have used his major clout to help his friend get away with murder. Regardless, West never directed another film in Hollywood. He and Jewel Carmen divorced shortly after Thelma’s death and later, he sold the café. In 1950, he suffered a debilitating stroke and endured an emotional breakdown. On his deathbed in March 1952, he confessed to Chester Morris that he had always been haunted by Thelma’s death and felt that he was in some way responsible for it.
At the inquest that was held into Thelma’s death, the jury ruled that she had died accidentally from carbon monoxide poisoning. They had been confused by all of the complicated testimony and, lacking any real evidence of murder, had no choice but to conclude that it had been an accident.
But Thelma’s attorney, who attended the inquest, was sure that the police had been on the wrong track all along. He requested a second inquest, in which he would be able to prove his theory. He believed that he could pin her murder, not accidental death, on Lucky Luciano. He was sure that when Thelma had turned down the gangster’s offer to take over the gambling at her café, she had unknowingly signed her own death warrant. The attorney was convinced that Luciano, or someone who worked for him, had beaten Thelma, put her in the car unconscious, and then started the engine. With the garage door closed, she had been poisoned by the fumes.
The district attorney agreed to the idea and a second inquest was scheduled. However, when Hal Roach learned of the plans for the second inquest, he begged the D.A. to drop the matter. Terrified at the thought of crossing Luciano, he urged the District Attorney to reconsider. Reluctantly, he agreed and the case was closed for good. As a result, the murder of Thelma Todd was never solved.
Although the case was wrapped up as far as the law was concerned, there were just too many unanswered questions and, as usual, involvement in the affair was enough to bring on the Hollywood style of retribution. In the past, Hollywood circles had ruined the careers of many popular stars and the death of Thelma Todd brought on the destruction of Roland West, who never worked again. No one else wanted to join him in his descent into obscurity.
The mystery over the unsolved death of Thelma Todd has lingered for decades. Some believe this may be why her spirit is so restless. Her ghost is still frequently seen and encountered at the building where the Roadside Rest Cafe was once located. Staff members at the production company that took over the space a few years ago stated that they often saw a filmy apparition that resembled Thelma. It was often seen near the concrete steps leading to the garage and also outside, in a small courtyard area. Was she replaying the events that occurred on the night of her death?
But the café is not the only spot connected to Thelma Todd’s death where ghostly events have occurred. In the garage of the house on Posetano Road, people have complained about the sound of a spectral engine running when the space is actually empty. Others say they have smelled, and have been nearly overwhelmed, by noxious exhaust fumes in the garage, even when no car was present. Apparently, the terrible events of that long-ago night in December have left an indelible impression on the place.
Will Thelma Todd ever rest in peace? It’s not likely. Unless new evidence could somehow come to light, her murder will always remain unsolved — perhaps resulting in a tragic spirit that will continue to walk for many years to come.


Up next…

A woman has been haunted by a dark, cloaked and hooded entity for the past eighteen years. PLUS… Gary Heidnik didn’t just kidnap, torture, and murder women in the basement of his house of horrors — he got one of his victims to help.

These stories, when Weird Darkness returns.



The first time I recall seeing him was when I was around 8 years old. My bed had recently been moved to face the window in my room. It was nighttime but quite well lit outside and I saw this cloaked, black figure with a hood covering most of his face. What I could see of his face was white and maybe translucent and there seemed to be some blood dripping down it. I’m not sure if I would say he was solid but I did see him very clearly.

The next time I saw him was when I was around 12 or 13. I was sitting in my basement (different home) with a friend, facing her. I blinked and in my mind’s eye I saw the basement from her perspective somehow and saw him standing behind me in a doorway.

I went to a little wiccan shop and scared the daylights out of the owner. She basically ran away as soon as I entered the store. Her husband told me that she sensed some dark energy about me. I took this as me having darkness in my aura.

The order of events gets a little foggy from here, and there were plenty of paranormal experiences in this time frame that may or may not have to do with this particular entity so I’ll leave those out for now but I should point out that after the basement incident I made the very poor decision to use a ouija board in that basement. I wanted to contact my uncle but I believe I invited in other spirits and perhaps allowed this entity to gain a stronger hold on me.

Shortly after that I started hearing him in my head. It sounds crazy, and maybe it is, but he was communicating with me very clearly and non-threateningly. He told me his name (which I have since forgotten) and quite a bit about who he supposedly was. I don’t remember all of the details but he claimed to be someone from one of my past lives that was very similar to this one in which I committed suicide at the age of 17. He implied that he was trying to help me.

Things started to get scary for awhile and I assumed it was this spirit and that he was trying to trick me somehow so I decided to do a binding ceremony. Considering the fact that I was in my early teens and had no idea what I was dealing with (still don’t but I’d like to think I’m a little more cautious now) I don’t think it went as planned.

He stopped talking in my head. I haven’t exactly seen him since. But I have felt him, although I wasn’t sure if it was him or not at the time. My husband has caught glimpses of him in every house we have lived in (5 different locations) and thought that it was something haunting him. I have saged my homes. I have cleansed this home of negative energies. But there is something here.

The reason I’m writing about this now is because last night I had a conversation with someone who barely knows me. She is my step brother’s girlfriend and we haven’t spoken much but my mom brought up the shop incident and asked what it was that the owner had said to me. When I answered that my energy bothered her she said that she didn’t think it was mine. She said that when she first met me she also had to leave quickly because she saw a cloaked figure standing behind me and that he didn’t want anyone else near me. She’s very scared of him and didn’t even want to say anything to me about it. She didn’t want to admit that he was there last night, too, but he was. What threw me off was that she described him to a T without ever knowing my story.

So, here I am at 26 years old, this entity has been following me around for around 18 years. I thought he was gone. I have gone back and forth between feeling like he is malevolent and feeling like he is a misunderstood guiding spirit… But either way I feel like he is hindering me from reaching my full potential.

Does anyone have any advice or experience with something similar? Especially considering I believe I have bound him to me? I’m not sure I should release him from his binding because he could be malevolent and I don’t want to release that into the world, but I would also like to be free of him.


Serial killer Gary Heidnik was every bit as twisted as the infamous movie character he inspired: Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. He used his victims as sex slaves, forced them to torture each other, and even ground one of their bodies up and forced the other women to eat her flesh.

And yet, to the 50 members of his congregation, he was Bishop Heidnik, head of the United Church of the Ministers of God. They would meet every Sunday inside of his home to hear his unique spin on the Bible.

Could they have ever imagined that, in the basement under their feet, Gary Heidnik had six women chained up in a pit?

Gary Heidnik — born in Ohio in 1943 — eventually learned how to control people after a rough start to his life. He’d suffered through an abusive childhood during which, he claimed, his father abused him and even mocked the young boy’s bedwetting by forcing him to hang his soiled sheets for the neighbors to see.

His troubles continued through high school, where he remained isolated and socially stunted before joining the Army after graduation. Following his discharge due to mental health issues (namely schizoid personality disorder) after just 13 months, Heidnik worked briefly as a nurse before finding a way to control people via religion.

Gary Heidnik started the United Church of the Ministers of God in 1971 in Philadelphia with just five followers and a $1,500 investment — but things grew wildly from there. He ultimately raised more than $500,000 for his cult. Furthermore, he learned how to manipulate people – and he put that skill to use on the women he’d started keeping locked up in his basement.

He’d been charged with crimes related to sexual assault before but never served any significant time. He’d even been charged with spousal rape of Betty Disto, the Filipino mail-order bride he’d wed in 1985 and who left him in 1986, but not before bearing him a son, Jesse.

In fact, Heidnik had two other children with two different women, both of whom had also complained of his deviant sexual practices and penchant for locking them up. But soon, those tendencies were about to reach new depths.

Gary Heidnik captured the woman conventionally cited as his first victim, Josefina Rivera, in 1986. And it’s hard to imagine, but he actually turned her, by many accounts, into his accomplice. The way he initially captured her, though, was as brutal as the capture of any of his other victims.

Like all of the women Heidnik targeted, Rivera was a prostitute, lured into his home by the promise of money in exchange for sex. While Rivera was getting her clothes back on, Heidnik came up from behind and choked her. Then he dragged her down to his basement, shackled her limbs together with chains, and sealed the bolts in with superglue.

Her life flashed before her eyes. “All I could remember was, like, a film projector of things that were going on in my life,” Rivera would later say. “It was, like – y’know, just flipping back.”

Gary Heidnik then beat her with a stick until she stopped screaming for help. Then he threw her into a pit, boarded it up, and sealed her in. The only light that seeped in came through the thin cracks between the wood covering overhead.

He would kidnap five more women in just three months, all in the same way as Rivera. They were choked, chained up, thrown into the pit, and boarded up inside, only pulled out to be raped or tortured.

“Anytime that you’re cut off from the world outside,” Rivera admitted after she was freed, “whoever’s holding you captive … you’re going to grow to like him regardless, because he’s your only contact to things that are outside. He’s your only source of survival.”

Rivera came over to Heidnik’s side and he made her the boss of the other women. It was his way of pitting the women against each other. If she did what he said, he’d bring her hot chocolate and hot dogs and let her sleep outside of the hole. But he made it clear: If she disobeyed him, she could lose all of her privileges.

Disobeying him was dangerous. When one of the women displeased him, Heidnik would put them “on punishment”: They would be starved, beaten, and tortured. Sometimes, he would wrap duct tape around their mouths and slowly jam a screwdriver into their ears, just to watch them squirm.

If Rivera was going to keep her privileges, she understood, she had to aid in the torture. Once, he had her fill the pit full of water, attach a stripped extension cord to the other women’s chains, and electrocute them while he watched. The shock was so painful that one of the women, Deborah Dudley, was electrocuted to death.

Heidnik barely reacted. “Yeah, she’s dead,” he said, after checking her body. “Now I can get back to having a peaceful basement.”

Even more so than that of Dudley, the most horrible death in that basement was the death of Sandra Lindsay, a mentally disabled woman who Gary Heidnik lured in shortly after Rivera.

Lindsay couldn’t take the abuse as well as the others, so Gary Heidnik put her “on punishment” and starved her for days. When he tried to give her food again, she didn’t move. He released her chains and she collapsed onto the ground.

The women were only allowed a few moments to panic. When they started screaming at the sight of their dead friend, Heidnik told them to “cut out [their] bullshit” or they would die next.

He then dragged her body upstairs and cut it into pieces. He cooked her ribs in the oven, boiled her head on the stove (neighbors’ complaints of the smell prompted a police visit but he claimed he’d just absentmindedly burned a roast), and put her arms and legs in a freezer. Then he ground her flesh up, mixed it with dog food, and brought it down to the other women.

Three of the women were still “on punishment.” A few days before, he’d let them watch TV and one had angered him by saying she was so hungry that the dog food in an ad looked “good enough to eat.” She’d get dog food, Heidnik told her, and she and the other two women would eat it – with Lindsay’s body parts mixed it (though some sources refute this account and say that Heidnik made it up to support an insanity defense later).

It would plague them for the rest of their lives – but they didn’t have much of a choice. They had to either eat her or die. As one of the women, Jacqueline Askins would later say, “If it wasn’t for me eating her or eating dog food, I couldn’t be here today.”

Ultimately, accomplice or not, Josefina Rivera saved them all. Toward the end, Heidnik was using her as bait to catch more women. He’d let her enter the outside world to help him pick up other women and lure them into his home, always keeping her close by his side.

She used the goodwill she’d earned to get these temporary trips out of the basement. On March 24, 1987, after helping Heidnik abduct a seventh victim, she managed to convince him to let her go for just a few minutes so that she could see her family. He would wait at the gas station, they agreed, and she’d come right back.

Rivera walked around the corner and out of his sight. Then she rushed over to the nearest phone and called 9-1-1. Officers promptly arrested Gary Heidnik right there at the gas station and then raided his house or horrors. After four months of imprisonment and torture, the women were finally free.

Despite his attempts to get off on an insanity defense, Gary Heidnik was convicted in July 1988 and sentenced to death. He tried to kill himself the following January and his family tried to get him off death row in 1997, but all to no avail.

Finally, on July 6, 1999, Heidnik received a lethal injection and became the last person to be executed in Pennsylvania.

A decade earlier, while he was still in prison, Heidnik’s legacy in pop culture was secured when the character of Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs was based on him. The character’s house of horrors and penchant for keeping women confined in a basement unquestionably recalled Heidnik’s crimes.

As for Heidnik’s cult, it’s hard to say how much they knew. Even after he was arrested, they kept coming to church. While every news channel was blaring stories about Heidnik’s den of women and the way he’d abused them, his followers kept coming out to his house for Sunday services.

At least one follower, a man named Tony Brown, actually helped Heidnik torture the women. He thought of himself as Gary Heidnik’s best friend. He was there when Heidnik starved Lindsay to death and he was there when Heidnik dismembered her body and wrapped her limbs up and labeled them “dog meat.”

Brown, however, was mentally disabled. He was a victim of Heidnik’s manipulation, according to his lawyer, a man who fit “the pattern of Heidnik’s victims – he’s poor, retarded, and black.”

According to Heidnik’s neighbors, the members of his cult fit this description just as well. “He held these church services on Sunday. A lot of people came,” one of his neighbors recalled. “They were usually mentally retarded.”

Like Rivera, Gary Heidnik’s followers were poor victims of his manipulation.

But in a way, that’s perhaps the most terrifying part of the story. Gary Heidnik wasn’t just an unhinged sadist, willing to torture, murder, and cannibalize a basement full of women. He got people to help.


Thanks for listening. If you like the show, please share it with someone you know who loves the paranormal or strange stories, true crime, monsters, or unsolved mysteries like you do! You can email me anytime with your questions or comments at darren@weirddarkness.com – and you can find the show on Facebook and Twitter, including the show’s Weirdos Facebook Group on the CONTACT/SOCIAL page at WeirdDarkness.com. Also on the website, you can find free audiobooks I’ve narrated, watch old horror movies with horror hosts at all times of the day for free, sign up for the newsletter to win free prizes, grab your Weird Darkness and Weirdo merchandise, plus if you have a true paranormal or creepy tale to tell, you can click on TELL YOUR STORY – or call the DARKLINE toll free at 1-877-277-5944. That’s 1-877-277-5944.

All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise) and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.

“Death Of The Ice Cream Blonde” by Troy Taylor: http://bit.ly/2XkqRZA

“Followed By A Hooded Entity” by Chaos 92: http://bit.ly/2UIJcme

“Gary Heidnik: The Inspiration for Buffalo Bill” by Mark Oliver: http://bit.ly/2UIO2Qw

Again, you can find link to all of these stories in the show notes.

WeirdDarkness™ – is a production and trademark of Marlar House Productions. Copyright, Weird Darkness.

Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.’” – Zechariah 7:9

And a final thought… “A grateful person is a breath of fresh air in a world contaminated by bitterness and discontentment.” — Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.

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