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

By Sarah Norman | September 19, 2023

Heidnik Was Horribly Abused

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.

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(All That's Interesting)

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 Was A Deeply Troubled Genius

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(getty images)

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.