You’d think the guy who has a 2002 Philadelphia Weekly cover featuring Gary Heidnik’s mugshot would remember today was the 25th anniversary of Josefina Rivera’s miraculous escape from a House of Horrors which served as part of the inspiration for Jame Gumb’s basement in Silence of the Lambs.
But I didn’t. Until I saw Rivera on the front of today’s Philadelphia Daily News which featured a story by Barbara Laker. You can — and should — read it via this link.
You can also read the piece I wrote on Josefina for the 15th anniversary via this link. Those were interviews that will never leave my mind.
For the past five years the couple has called a series of hotels and motels home. Rivera says she’s happy now living close to her family. The reminders of Heidnik are just an hour up the expressway. Whatever the distance, she says, the past is impossible to avoid. Today the reminders come in the form of hearing problems and aching shoulders from being bound in the basement.
When she sees someone digging a hole, she sees Heidnik. She sees him every time she sees a guy with a beard. When she notices generic food in a supermarket, it reminds her of the hot dogs, bread, rice and other cheap food Heidnik fed them–when he fed them at all. The memories of eating dog food and biscuits are only as far away as the dinners she buys her kitten.
Rivera has read that the serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs was partially based on Heidnik, but she’s never seen the movie.
“Sometimes I’ll just see somebody and think to myself, ‘It’s a nut! It’s a nut!'” she says. “The shrinks told me that I’d never function normally again.”
Heidnik was the last man executed by the state of Pennsylvania. And he warranted it.
Chuck Peruto, the attorney who represented Heidnik, just told me, “I can’t believe it’s been 25 years, or that I had a case that big [when I was] that young. I’ve learned a lot since then, and wish I had [the case] now.” He also noted that without Judge Abraham (who wanted to become District Attorney), he’d have had a “serious shot” to win the case “then and now” since the jury deliberated for about 40 hours way back when.