Gary Heidnik’s Survivors: Where Are They Now?

In the episode titled ‘Surviving the Bishop’s Basement’ of ‘People Magazine Investigates: Surviving A Serial Killer,’ we get taken back in time to the 1980s when Gary Heidnik, who called himself The Bishop, wreaked havoc in Philadelphia by abducting six women and keeping them in his basement, raping and torturing them. Two of the captives, Sandra Lindsay and Deborah Dudley, were murdered in 1987, but the other four, Josefina Rivera, Jacqueline Askins, Lisa Thomas, and Agnes Adams, survived and lived to tell the traumatizing tales of their time with him in the basement.

Josefina Rivera is Happily Married to the Love of Her Life

Born in the early 1960s, Josefina Rivera went on to give birth to three children and became a part-time sex worker, struggling with drug addiction. On November 25, 1986, Gary Heidnik took the 25-year-old woman into his home at 3520 North Marshall Street in North Philadelphia by promising her a handsome amount of cash, but after they engaged in sex, he choked her until she was unconscious. After digging a pit in his basement floor, he kept her chained up down there. After holding her hostage, he captured five other women and raped, harassed, and tortured all of them.

When Gary bribed the women into snitching on each other, Josefina outed the rest of the women by telling him that they were devising a plan to ambush him and escape. As a punishment, he resorted to giving them, except Josefina, painful punishments, like driving screwdrivers through their eardrums to make them deaf and electrocuting them. With time, Josefina gained his trust and became his favorite, allowing her to get several privileges, such as watching a movie. She was even made to dispose of the body of one of the victims, Deborah Dudley, in March 1987. On March 24, 1987, Josefina decided to make the most of the privileges she had and escape from the traumatic place and experience.

She asked his permission to visit her family for a while, and surprisingly, Gary allowed her, trusting her not to report him to the authorities. After dropping her at a gas station, he told her that he would wait for her right there. From there, the first thing she did was to run straight to her boyfriend, Vincent Nelson, and tell him about the serial rapist before dialing 911. When the police noticed the chafing from chains on Josefina’s leg, they arrested Gary and took him into custody. Although she got him arrested and saved the other women, they wanted to press charges against her for teaming up with him and playing a part in their suffering.

However, the DA declined their request and stated that Josefina was the reason the women were out of the pit, believing her claim that the captor forced her to work with him. After tasting freedom again, Josefina reportedly turned to sex work for a year or so but gave it up, along with drugs, for good. Since then, she has dipped her feet in different kinds of work, including waitress, security guard, and daycare worker. Moreover, she also reunited with her three children, who were reportedly put up for adoption when she was missing.

Not just that, Josefina also authored two books — ‘Cellar Girl’ and ‘Kälter als die Nacht: Gefangen im Keller eines Serienmörders.’ In the early 2010s, she began dating a house painter named Chris Lyle, and as their feelings intensified, they decided to tie the knot on October 19, 2013. As of today, she reportedly resides in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with her husband and is quite close to her grandchildren. The pair loves to take walks on the beach and collect colorful sea glass. From what we can tell, Josefina now goes by the name Nicole and is proud of her strength and how far she has come in her battle against all the trauma.

Jacqueline Askins is Still Living in Philadelphia

Jacqueline “Jackie” Askins was born in the late 1960s. She was an 18-year-old sex worker when Gary Heidnik kidnapped her on January 18, 1987, from the streets of Philadelphia by offering her $500 for her time, making her the youngest of all the victims. During her time in the pit at his mercy, she faced many cruelties, such as getting stabbed in her ears with a screwdriver, rape, and other forms of torture. Fortunately, she was able to survive and get out of the hellhole safe and sound, but even after three decades, she could not gather enough courage to walk into a basement.

Image Credit: Oxygen

Reports suggested that Jacqueline was on seven medications for her anxiety and used to suffer flashbacks of the trauma. She brought two sons and a daughter into the world in the following few years. In 2014, she featured on ‘Our America with Lisa Ling,’ talking about her trauma in detail and how even a minor stressful situation could send her back to the basement. Although she couldn’t recall these episodes, her two sons had witnessed them right in front of their eyes.

Jacqueline’s sons alleged that in order to protect herself from the pain and fear, her subconscious mind assumed a different personality, Donna, during these episodes. As per one of her kids’ claims, when she was Donna, she allegedly even grabbed a spoon and tried to stab her son, mistaking him for Gary Heidnik. Despite this, she felt stronger than before as the survivor was able to share her traumatic experience and lead a normal and healthy life.

As of 2014, she used to clean houses in Philadelphia, picked up her daughter from school daily, and considered adopting her cousin’s kids. In the 2021 movie ‘Monster Preacher,’ Jacqueline and Josefina got a chance to reunite, which turned out to be a tense and emotional meeting between the two survivors. Jacqueline told her, “I ain’t gonna lie, I did have some hate for you. I blamed you for a lot of stuff that happened down there.” But when she heard Josefina’s side of the story, she understood where she came from. Later, Jacqueline admitted, “I think the plan you did was the best one… we’re here.” Parting ways on good terms, the reunion turned out to be a significant part of their respective healing process.

Lisa Thomas is Leading a Quiet Life Today

Another one of the survivors of Gary Heidnik’s torture is Lisa Thomas. After convincing the then-19-year-old young woman to come over to his house on December 23, 1986, he slipped sedatives into her wine. When she lost consciousness, he put her in the basement of his house with other women. When she was released after months of getting tortured and raped, her sister Denie and Aunt Sylvia were relieved. However, it was reported that Lisa was having a tough time recovering from the pain and trauma inflicted upon her by the serial rapist, leading her to have mental health issues and addiction in the years that followed. As of writing, it can be said that Lisa has naturally slipped into a life of privacy since her rescue in 1987.

Agnes Adams is Privately Trying to Get Past Her Past

Born in the early 1960s, Agnes Adams was 24 years old when she was abducted by Gary Heidnik on March 23, 1987, making her the last target of the murderer. She was reportedly kidnapped to replace Deborah Dudley, whom he had killed on March 19, 1987, by electrocuting. Just like others, even Agnes found it hard to move after going through such a traumatic experience. Even though she was physically free from the clutches of her torturer, her mind was still in the shackles of the mental trauma and showcased psychological scars. Therefore, it is evident for her to choose to stay away from any sort of limelight. Agnes Adams is seemingly leading a life surrounded by her loved ones.

Read More: Karen and Sharon Sanders: Where Are the Alleged Rape Survivors Now?