Gary M. Heidnik: The Real-Life 'Buffalo Bill' Who Kept Women In A Pit

By | March 24, 2020

Buffalo Bill—the unhinged villain of Silence Of The Lambs, not the greatest showman of the wild west—feels too evil to be real. However, the most frightening thing about this character who keeps women in a pit until he skins them is that he's based on a real person. Gary M. Heidnik carried out a series of grisly crimes that inspired the nightmarish actions of Thomas Harris's famous character, but the truth is so much worse than fiction.

test article image
(All That's Interesting)

Obviously, Heidnik Was Horribly Abused

It's hard to understand what kind of life could lead to a such a gruesome series of crimes, but Gary M. Heidnik's childhood certainly does fill in a few pieces of the puzzle. Of course, a bad childhood doesn't excuse the monstrous acts of Heidnik's adult life, but his early years outside of Cleveland, Ohio were abhorrent. He and his brother were raised by their mother throughout the late '40s before she sent the boys away to live with their father, which proved to be a tragic mistake as far as Heidnik's mental state was concerned, as her ex-husband wasn't exactly a doting parent. Heidnik, a lifelong bed-wetter, claimed that his new guardian forced him to hang his soiled sheets from his bedroom window for the entire neighborhood to see. Things weren’t better when he was outside the home: Despite an I.Q. of 148, Heidnik experienced nothing but misery in his academic life. He claimed it was because he was teased about his oddly shaped head, but his refusal to wear anything but military clothing probably didn't help.

test article image

Heidnik Was Briefly In The Army

Heidnik's penchant for the military was apparently not limited to fashion. After an on-again, off-again relationship with the educational system, he gave up on it altogether in 1960, joining the U.S. Army at the age of 17. For the next 13 months, Heidik flourished in the military. After basic training, he was sent to San Antonio, Texas, where he was trained to be a medic. Unfortunately, after he was transferred to Germany, things went sideways for the promising young military man. In August 1962, he started complaining about headaches, blurred vision, and nausea. A military neurologist reported that Heidnik was showing symptoms of mental illness, and two months later, he was transferred to a military hospital in Philadelphia and honorably discharged from military service.