Breaking the Silence of the Lambs
Jack A. Apsche, Ed.D., ABPP
and Jerry L. Jennings, Ph.D.
A Dark Journey Inside the
Secret Letters of Gary M. Heidnik
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Copyright © Statement
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording, photocopying, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the Publisher’s written permission.
This book was the non-fiction winner of the 2012 Public Safety
Writer’s Association writing competition under the title,
“Greetings From the Crypt: A Dark Journey
Through the Letters of Gary M. Heidnik.”
Cover art by Melissa Apsche
“Breaking the Silence of the Lambs” is a unique and fascinating story within a story. It is, first, a dark journey into the secret world of the infamous “Silence of the Lambs” serial killer, Gary M. Heidnik. It presents 26 secret letters from Death Row that reveal the truth of how Heidnik made a fortune in the stock market and conducted church services in his living room, while a harem of starving sexual slaves were chained in the cellar beneath their feet. It is also the story of Jack Apsche, Gary Heidnik’s psychologist and the recipient of these personal letters, who is prepared to “break the silence of the lambs” by revealing Heidnik’s secret letters and his own simultaneous struggle with the dark side.
When the case begins, Jack is still deeply haunted by the horrors of Vietnam, mired in a self-destructive life of drug abuse, criminal violence and sex orgies. Letter by letter, the book takes the reader through the inside experience of being Heidnik’s psychologist and the emotional toll of dealing with the infamous killer’s cunning and the uncensored revelations of his perverse crimes. At the same time, in a personal narrative that is harrowing in its honesty, Jack reveals the truth of his simultaneous struggle with his own dark side, of death and killing in Vietnam, depression and self-destruction, reckless gangsterism, and cocaine-charged orgies.
During the course of his unblinking investigation of Heidnik’s ultimate human evil, Jack becomes transformed by the emerging power of love – for his daughter, his new wife and stepfamily, and finally, himself – and it yields the path to healing and hope. By the end of the story, Jack has used his insights from the Heidnik case to create an innovative new treatment for helping violent and disturbed adolescents and has redeemed himself as a husband, father and citizen.
Table of Contents
- The Case
Chapter 1. The Untold Story of Gary M. Heidnik
Chapter 2. Meet the Devil
Chapter 3. Was Heidnik Truly Crazy? A Review of the Case
Chapter 4. Was I Crazy? A Review of My Case
- The Correspondence
Letter #1: “I’m Not Available” – 8/12/88
Letter #2: “Who’s Exploiting Me?” – 10/14/88
Letter #3: “The Special Olympics of Churches” – 11/5/88
Letter #4: “It Piques Me Extremely” – 11/13/88
Letter #5: “This Vacuum of Belonging” – 11/19/88
Letter #6: “As Interesting as a Dried Prune” – 11/25/88
Letter #7: “My Injustices of 78” – 11/30/88
Letter #8: “Is That Love or What??” – 12/2/88
Letter #9: “Now I’m Going to Play a Game With You” – 12/9/88
Letter #10: “Here Lies Gary M. Heidnik” – 12/12/88
Letter #11: “A Distant Chord But No Music” – 12/16/88
Letter #12: “Prunes Could Turn Into Plums” – 12/20/88
Letter #13: “Persecution is My Middle Name” – 12/23/88
Letter #14: “I Promised You a Juicy Story” – 12/24/88
Letter #15: “Put Yourself in a Criminal’s Mind” – 12/25/88
Letter #16: “Let Her Know I Am Remorseful” – 12/30/88
Letter #17: “Greetings from the Crypt” – 2/4/89
III. The Schism
Letter #18: “The Local Drug Lord” – 2/10/89
Letter #19: “Don’t Open that ‘Can of Worms’ ” – 2/10/89
Letter #20: “Your Hostile Perspective” – 10/17/89
Letter #21: “Expose Him From the Grave” – 11/1/89
Letter #22: “YOU That’s Right YOU” – 11/14/89
Letter #23: “A Failure to Communicate” – 11/24/89
Letter #24: “The Quintessential Cruel Ghoul” – 1/2/90
Letter #25: “My Last Letter to You” – January 1990
Letter #26: “I’ve Got a Lot of Nerve, Don’t I?” – 1/18/92
Summary Guide to Gary Heidnik’s Letters
Other Books by the Authors
- THE CASE
The Untold Story of Gary M. Heidnik
In March 1987, the national media exploded with the story of a horrific sexual murder in Philadelphia. In seventeen weeks of terror, Gary M. Heidnik kidnapped, imprisoned, raped, and tortured six women in his basement, killing two and dismembering one. Like most people, I read the newspaper accounts with curiosity and revulsion, but I never imagined that I would come to play a key role in the case that inspired The Silence of the Lambs.
Over 25 years later, Gary Heidnik remains one of the most notorious sex criminals in history. His crimes continue to fascinate and haunt. Hundreds of books, articles, TV shows and internet sites have documented the bizarre and shocking exploits of this man who kidnapped and tortured a harem of sexual slaves, while making a fortune in financial investments and started his own church. Yet, for all the attention that this infamous case has received, there is another Heidnik story that has never been told.
What no one knows is that Heidnik wrote a series of 26 intimate letters from Death Row. In over 150 hand-written pages, Heidnik revealed his life, his personality, and the motivations and thinking that drove his violent sexual atrocities. Those personal letters were written to me, Jack Apsche, the psychologist on his defense team.
This book will reveal the extraordinary story of how and why I became the confidant to Heidnik’s secrets. It will present these private letters in their entirety for the first time, analyze their meaning, and chronicle the roller-coaster relationship between this crazy serial killer and me, a half-crazy Vietnam veteran. In fact, the letters are comprehensive enough to serve as Heidnik’s autobiography, the genuine “inside story,” told in his own words. As such, it is a grim portrayal of loneliness, pain, and destruction. But it is also my story, which is a story of redemption.
When the Heidnik case first began, my life was in ruins – a mess of post-traumatic nightmares, drug abuse, sexual addiction, explosive violence, divorce, and self-contempt. The freak chance to become part of Heidnik’s defense team in September 1987 became a chance to revitalize and redeem myself. In the three years that covered Heidnik’s trial and this correspondence, I was challenged both personally and professionally. When this strange odyssey began, I shared too many qualities with Heidnik. We were the same age and the same height and build. We were both failed husbands. We had both killed and we had both engaged in obsessive sexual behavior. We both hated our current situations and had no promise for our futures. And we were both, arguably, crazy.
By the end of the Heidnik period, I could be proud of myself as a good father, husband, and citizen, and an accomplished psychologist. I would never credit Heidnik with my transformation but, for better or worse, Heidnik was my dark companion on the journey to health. The story in these pages reveals the darkest depths of human ugliness and despair – for both Heidnik and me. But also, I hope, it conveys the promise and triumph of human goodness and love.
It was very difficult to write this book. It was hard enough to write my first book about the Heidnik case, which was published in 1993 under the title, Probing the Mind of a Serial Killer. That book used excerpts from a few of the letters presented here and was intended as a serious psychological analysis of Heidnik and serial killers. To be honest, the book was flawed and incomplete, partly due to my exhaustion from dealing with Heidnik himself. I was depleted by the project and the quality of the book likely suffered.
Since that time, however, my career has remained inextricably linked to Heidnik. I continue to receive as many requests for interviews as I did when the case was fresh. For that reason, I have always wanted to revisit the case and write a better book that would explain the deeper psychopathology of Gary Heidnik. To reach that depth, I felt that I needed to be brutally honest about myself during that same time period. But did I dare to confess the reprehensible and humiliating details of my own past in order to explain the mystery of Heidnik? Such candor would be risking my personal and professional reputation. I needed help and encouragement.
Enter my good friend and colleague, Jerry Jennings, another clinical psychologist. I told Jerry about my experiences with Heidnik and that I had a trove of his personal letters packed somewhere in my attic. Jerry urged me to find them. After reading through Heidnik’s many letters, he had a great idea. We would use the letters in their exact words and chronology to give a live voice to Gary Heidnik. The series of letters would be like private clinical sessions between Heidnik and me. We would analyze each letter as forensic psychologists, but I would also reveal what it was like, as a person, to deal with such a complex, manipulative, and repulsive criminal. Through most of this book, I discuss Heidnik as a professional. But many times I take my tie off and speak personally, revealing the gut level reality of how I felt and what it was like to struggle with the depravity of Heidnik.
With the infusion of Jerry’s energy and talent, we have created a uniquely personal and professional forensic investigation of an infamous serial killer that is the first of its kind. Other investigators have used letters or transcripts of interviews to analyze their subjects. But we don’t believe that any published criminal forensic study has ever had an original correspondence of such volume to literally fill a book that could sustain readers’ interest.
In February 1989, Heidnik began his fifteenth letter with the words, “Greetings from the Crypt.” Written shortly after his umpteenth suicide attempt, the words convey the narcissistic bravado and idiosyncratic flair for words that characterize Heidnik’s correspondence with me. Each Heidnik letter is a chapter in this book. Each chapter is titled using a distinctive phrase from that given letter. The letters vary in length from one to 28 pages and vary in attitude as well. At times, Heidnik’s transparent efforts to justify and minimize his crimes are tedious and irksome. This is Heidnik the criminal – arrogant, crass, and manipulative. Yet, many times he is surprisingly candid and reveals the deep insecurities that drove his abominations. This is Heidnik the person, a vulnerable mental patient. Through Heidnik’s letters, we can observe the continually shifting balance between bravado and inadequacy, between deception and honesty, between controlling manipulation and child-like helplessness.
Our intention is for the reader to experience the emotions, mystery, and discomfort of these letters as if they are private sessions in a therapy room. As much as possible, we allow Heidnik to “speak” at length before interrupting his letter narratives to analyze his meaning or to point out the workings of his disordered and criminal mind. But we also attempt to show my personal experience of the relationship. What was it like for me to interact with Heidnik and be immersed in the dark ink of his psyche? How did the ugliness of revisiting his atrocities and the egotism of his self-serving explanations drain me emotionally? How did my own personal ugliness and on-going struggle with sex, drugs, and depression play into our dynamic? You might mistake my attitude and frank disclosures as arrogance or even egotism, but it is honest and direct. I share my worst side because I think this story demands the truth, not because I am proud of it.
Hopefully, Jerry and I have succeeded in creating something unique, interesting, and worthwhile. In describing what this book is intended to be, we also should be clear on what this book is not. It is not sensationalist pulp for those seeking titillating stories of the macabre. It is not a citation-heavy academic monograph meant for clinical forensic professionals. It is not a treatise about the legal issues of the insanity defense as applied to Heidnik. In my first book, I drew evidence from a few of these private letters to buttress my argument that Heidnik was insane. In this book, we present the full collection of Heidnik’s letters in their original chronology, not to add more convincing evidence to a forensic proof, but to reveal the actual thinking of this cunning, but mentally disordered criminal.
And now, in the words of Gary Heidnik from letter #9, “You are about to take a ride on a literary roller coaster. At all times I endeavor to be entertaining… BUT I’m warning you ahead of time, you have to be wary of me…” Wary, indeed.
Authors’ note: With the exception of the individuals and victims whose names are part of the public and court records of the Heidnik case, the identities of other people, such as Heidnik’s children, have been replaced with generic false names like Doe, Smith, and Norton.
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