Gary Heidnik



Gary Heidnik wanted children, but every intimate relationship he had with women disintegrated. He needed to find a way to make sure they would never leave him, so he decided to keep females in his basement. His sadistic desires were the stuff of horror movies, and would become part of the inspiration behind serial killer Buffalo Bill, portrayed in The Silence of the Lambs.

Lead up to Crime

Michael Heidnik pushed his tyrannical nature and racism onto his two boys. He devised punishments for his sons: forcing them to wear bulls-eyes on the seats of their pants so their schoolmates would kick them; hung their sheets out for their neighbours to see after they wet the bed; and hung Gary by his ankles from a third storey window. When he was six, Gary fell out of a tree and suffered brain damage. The injury led him to have a misshapen skull, and the other children called him “football head.” It was then that his unusual behaviour began to take hold and he would torture his once loved pets by hanging them.

Gary Heidnik’s father disinherited and renounced him in the mid-1960s after he discovered him living with a black woman. He joined the army in his late teens, but was later discharged when he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. He would spend much of his adult life in and out of 21 different mental institutions and he made several suicide attempts.

His alcoholic mother, Ellen Vandervoort, was married five times, twice to African-American men. She committed suicide on Mother’s Day 1971 by swallowing mercury as a way of making sure her sons would never forget her. She was found in the basement.

In 1976, Heidnik owned a house in Cedar Avenue, Philadelphia. He had an argument with his girlfriend and shut off the electricity to the building. Another tenant, Robert Rodgers, climbed through a basement window to find Heidnik sitting on a child’s mattress. Heidnik shot at him, grazing his face. Charges were laid, but dropped a week later. When he sold the rubbish filled house, the couple cleaning the premises found a large amount of pornography. They also found a pit where Heidnik had dug through the concrete basement floor.

On May 22, 1978, Heidnik’s girlfriend, Anjeanette Davidson, gave birth to their daughter. Anjeanette had an IQ of only 49 and suffered a fibroid tumour, not allowing her to have a natural birth. Their child was placed in foster care after Heidnik barely allowed Davidson to eat during her pregnancy.

While the couple visited Anjeanette’s sister, Alberta Davidson, 34, at the Selingrove Centre for the mentally retarded on May 7, 1978, he signed her out with no intention of returning her. Heidnik held Alberta in her sister’s basement for 10 days, where he repeatedly raped her, tearing her vagina and giving her gonorrhoea. Officials from the centre visited the house with a police escort, after a previous attempt failed to find the missing woman. She was found in a coal bin in the basement. Heidnik was charged with a string of offences, including kidnapping, rape, and false imprisonment. The more serious charges had to be dropped, as Alberta was too mentally handicapped to testify. He was found guilty of interfering with the custody of a committed person, unlawful restraint, and recklessly endangering another person. He was sentenced to three to seven years, and spent just over four years moving through a series of mental institutions. He was released on April 12, 1983, with three years supervision.

Gary Heidnik would impregnate several women, including a mail-order bride from the Philippines. He would not have access to any of his children, with them either placed in foster care or living with their mothers. If he wanted to raise a family of his own, he would have to make sure neither the mothers nor his children could ever leave.

Held Captive

Josefina Rivera, 25, was streetwise, running away from a foster home at aged 12 to live on the streets of North Philadelphia, where she would inject cocaine at local flophouses. On November 26, 1986, she had a fight with her boyfriend. She stormed out of the house to prostitute on the corner of Third Street and Girard Avenue, hoping to turn a $20 trick. Gary Heidnik cruised by in his Cadillac Coupe de Ville, the mother of three children hopped inside, and he took her back to his house at 3520 North Marshall Street.

After they completed their deal in an upstairs bedroom, Heidnik choked Rivera, and took her to the dank and dark basement. He fastened a muffler clamp around her ankle and secured the bolt with glue. He left her alone, chained up in the basement.

When Heidnik returned three days later, he brought down his next captive, Sandra Lindsay, 24. She was mentally disabled and went missing while walking to the store. He chained her up in the same fashion as Rivera. He forced the women to watch each other be raped, and used a shovel handle to beat them into submission. Lindsay’s mother visited Heidnik’s house multiple times over the next few days, searching for her daughter, but there was never an answer at the door.

Lisa Thomas, 19, was a single mother on welfare, who had dropped out of high school to have her baby. As she walked down Lehigh Street on December 22, 1986, Heidnik offered her a lift. She hopped in the car with the stranger. He bought her lunch, where she took an allergy pill. Afterwards, he took her clothes shopping at Sears. Promising her a trip to Atlantic City, he drove her back to his house and gave her a wine. As the wine reacted with the pill, she passed out. He took her upstairs and had sex with her. When she asked to go home, he choked and cuffed her, then pushed her down the stairs into the basement.

Heidnik uncovered a pit — a deep hole burrowing through the concrete that he had spent nine months excavating — where Rivera and Lindsay were confined. He introduced the women, had sex with Thomas again, and then prepared the women sandwiches.

On New Year’s Day 1987, Deborah Dudley was brought into the cellar. She made a poor captive for Heidnik — feisty and confrontational. She refused to submit. The cramped and putrid conditions caused Heidnik to do some refining. He bought them a portable toilet, tampons, and allowed them to bathe over consecutive days.

Along with the regular rapes, humiliations, and starvation, Heidnik devised a serious of punishments for any perceived slight he believed the women to be guilty of. He beat them with a shovel handle while stretched on a pool table, forced them into the pit, and suspended them from an eyehook. To prevent them from hearing him move around upstairs, he pushed screwdrivers into their ears to deafen them. Music blared continuously so no one could hear their desperate cries. The already substandard diet was reduced to dog food.

On January 14, while the women were held captive, Heidnik attended court as his Filipino mail-order bride — who fled after only three-and-a-half months marriage and who sent only a postcard alerting him of her pregnancy — sued him for child support. He became evasive when questioned about the finances of the United Church of the Ministers of God, which he ran from his home, estimated to be worth over $550,000. The church provided services to mentally and physically disabled people who didn’t feel comfortable attending regular church.

Jacquelyn Askins, 18, had a slight build and was quiet. She met Heidnik around noon on January 18, 1987, while trying to turn a trick on West Girard Avenue in Poplar. She soon joined the other women in the cellar.

Heidnik thought his plan was unfolding perfectly, believing Rivera and Lindsay were pregnant after they missed their periods, ready to supply him with two of the ten babies he desired. Heidnik was mistaken and the women were not pregnant, which left him disappointed.

Sandra Lindsay was suspended by her wrists from a ceiling beam as punishment for trying to climb out of the pit. A week later, on February 7, she died. Heidnik thought she was faking, so he threw her body back in the pit. He made Rivera, Thomas and himself bowls of ice cream. He retrieved Lindsay’s body and carried her upstairs, where he dismembered her with a power saw. He bagged some parts and placed them in the freezer, gave some bones to his dogs, and minced up flesh and mixed it with dog food to feed his captives and pets. Neighbours soon called the police as the sweet-awful smell of roasting flesh crept its way through the city block. Police responded, but soon left after Heidnik told them, “I just burnt my dinner.”

Besides providing a meal, Lindsay would also serve as a warning. Dudley refused to comply with Heidnik’s authority, so he took her upstairs to show her Lindsay’s head boiling away in a pot. When this made little difference to her attitude, Heidnik came up with another plan.

Rivera had been working on Heidnik, attempting to befriend him so she could plot an escape. The favour she garnered from Heidnik had a price. On March 18 he sought to punished Lisa, Jacquelyn, and Deborah, using Josefina to carry out the act. He ordered Josefina to partly fill the pit with water and he lowered the three women into the sludge. He fetched a stripped electrical cord, and made Josefina electrocute the women by touching the bare wires on their chains. On the final jolt, the wires touched the chain around Deborah Dudley’s neck, killing her instantly.

Dudley’s body was placed in a freezer. A week later Heidnik and Rivera transported the body to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, where they dumped her in the forest. The next day the pair kidnapped Agnes Adams, 24, a prostitute he had already had sex with in the house while the other women were held downstairs. Like all the other victims, she was also African-American. However, with two women dead and none pregnant, Heidnik would have to work harder to see his plan come to fruition.

Escape and Rescue

Josefina Rivera convinced Gary Heidnik that if he let her out she would visit a friend and bring her back as the next slave. But, first she needed to visit her family. Heidnik had forced Rivera to write a confession, claiming responsibility for Dudley’s death. He believed this protected him from Rivera escaping, as she would incriminate herself.

Parked at a gas station on Sixth and Girard Street, Heidnik left the car running as he waited for Rivera to return. She ran four blocks to the house she shared with her boyfriend, that she had left on a cold November night four months earlier. As Rivera unloaded the details of her ordeal, her boyfriend listened in disbelief. They decided to go an attack Heidnik, but changed their minds, fearing he might return to North Marshall Street and kill the other women. Instead, they called 911.

Police soon arrived at the gas station and approached the car with their guns drawn.

“Didn’t I make my child support?” asked Heidnik.

Police were quick to smash through the front door of Heidnik’s house. They found the three women chained up in the basement: Thomas and Askins were asleep on an old mattress; Adams’ was found handcuffed in the pit and police lifted her out of the hole. In the kitchen, human remains were found in a roasting pan and a forearm discovered in the freezer.

“Gary kept ice cream in the freezer. Can we eat that?” asked Agnes Adams, as police escorted the women from the house.


On March 25, 1987, Heidnik’s nose was broken when attacked by a fellow prisoner. A week later, on April 2, he attempted suicide by trying to hang himself in the shower with a t-shirt.

Heidnik was charged with a slew of offences, including: murder, possession and abuse of a corpse, kidnapping, rape, making terroristic threats, indecent assault, and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.

Throughout the trial, the testimony indicated the other captives felt Rivera received preferential treatment from Heidnik, which caused jealousy amongst the women, though she would be ultimately responsible for their rescue.

On July 1, 1988, Gary Heidnik was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death on each count. He appeared unmoved as the verdict was read, tranquilised by 300 milligrams of Thorazine. Other charges he was found guilty of were: kidnapping – six counts; rape – five counts; aggravated assault – four counts; and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse – one count.

Heidnik was housed at the State Correctional Institute in Pittsburgh, where he waited to be executed by electric chair. On January 3, 1989, he left prison and was admitted to the State Penn Hospital in a semi-comatose state, after he attempted suicide by overdosing on Thorazine.

“The ironic thing is now they’re going to work on him around the clock so he can regain consciousness so we can execute him,” said Heidnik’s attorney.

After a number of delays, Gary Heidnik was executed by lethal injection on July 6, 1999, at Rockview State Penitentiary in Benner, Pennsylvania. A final appeal was made to save his life, claiming Heidnik was mentally incompetent, but it delayed his death by only 45 minutes. He was pronounced dead at 10.29 p.m. Even anti-death penalty activists were notably absent from his execution. No one claimed his body and he was cremated.


Heidnik’s estate was divided amongst his victims and the families of the deceased.

The women made attempts to re-adjust to normal life. Most have remained out of the public eye, though attention was never far away in the suburbs of North Philadelphia. They were known as the “Heidnik girls,” and people regularly called out “Alpo” after the brand of dog food they were fed.

After the trial, Josefina Rivera lost custody of her children, and fell back into drugs and prostitution, rather than seeking therapy. She remains tormented by Heidnik and still sees reminders of him everywhere: in food packaging, in men with beards, and in holes in the ground. She has appeared in print interviews on the anniversaries of their liberation. She was reunited with her children on Christmas 2010. She was last known to live in New Jersey.

Jacquelyn Askins appeared on The Steve Wilkos Show episode “I Survived a Serial Killer,” where she explained her story in detail. She described how the captivity made her unsure of what she would become once she was released, fearing she would turn into a person similar to Heidnik. She spent five years in and out of mental institutions to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder, and still bears the mental and physical scars of her ordeal.

The house at 3520 North Marshall Street has been sold since Heidnik lived there, though the sale price has always remained painfully low. In 2003 the house sat in a state of disrepair, abandoned, and unfit for human habitation. Trash was strewn around the block and filled the basement where the horrors took place. The appearance of the house was altered drastically in an attempt to distance it from its past. As of 2012 it appeared to be somewhat occupied.

Alexander Komin

Vyatskiye Polyany, Kirov Orbast – Russia.



Alexander Komin sought out people who would not be missed: alcoholic, homeless, and forgotten. He lured them with the promises of work, shelter, and drink. Deep under the hard, icy ground of the former Soviet Union, Komin was building a colony of slaves.

Lead up to Crime

Vyatskiye Polyany is located in Kirov Oblast, Russia, almost 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) east of Moscow. The industrial town is situated along the banks of the Vyatka River, and in 1997 it supported nearly 45,000 inhabitants. The town’s economy revolved around the Molot factory, which produced military machinery.

In 1971, when Alexander Komin (Александр Комин) was on the verge of adulthood, and about to enter into the army, he was convicted for hooliganism after being involved in a street fight and sentenced to three years in prison. During his sentence, Komin worked in a garment factory colony, a job he enjoyed. He met a fellow prisoner named Bigley, who was convicted for holding homeless people in his basement, forcing them to make wooden toys.

On release, Komin became a qualified tailor, but he found work difficult to come by in Vyatskiye Polyany after many of the garment factories closed. Instead, he gained employment as a labourer, security guard, and electrician.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw abject poverty sweep the country, but many people were able to gain property rights. Some of those people were allowed to own garages. Komin took ownership of garage number 198, tucked away amongst a series of dilapidated garages lining a dirt track, resembling a row of modern day storage sheds. A small wicket gate, cut into the main rusted cream painted door, allowed access to the garage.

Komin drew the assistance of accomplice Alexander Mikheyev, a local security guard and friend. For four years they dug the shaft and excavated the rooms. A trapdoor was cut into the wooden floor of the cramped garage, and a 12 metre (40 foot) shaft was dug, squared off, and lined with bricks. Three doors sealed the bunker, one a large metal door stolen from a military base. A metal ladder clung to one wall of the shaft, allowing access to the underground chambers.

Komin’s plans were ambitious and entrepreneurial. His goal was to build an underground factory and fill it with female slaves, who would work for his profit and submit for his pleasure. His plans were even greater, with his ultimate aim of establishing an underground city completely colonised by slaves.

The two room subterranean factory was fitted with sewing machines and overlockers. A three-bunk bedroom was built for his slaves, along with a toilet and kitchen. He provided bedding and a television, and lined the walls with wallpaper and pornographic photographs. Electrical wire webbed its way across the brick walls and through the tunnels and rooms.

“Of course, such a crazy idea would not come to a normal man,” Komin said. “But still, I think I am normal.”

With his factory complete, all Alexander Komin needed was the slaves to populate it, so he could begin production.

Held Captive

Alexander Komin had an eye on his neighbour, Vera Tolpayeva, 33, who appeared to be a perfect victim. On January 13, 1995, Komin engaged Tolpayeva in a round of heavy drinking for the Old New Year holiday, celebrated by members of the Russian Orthodox Church. She was invited to the garage, where her vodka was laced with the sedative clonidine. After she woke in the bunker, Komin would soon discover Tolpayeva was not a suitable slave, as she had no desire to learn how to sew.

Komin used Vera Tolpayeva to secure more captives, with each successful mission gaining her more favours and freedoms. She contacted her tailor friend, Tatyana Melnikova, and gave her details on the location of the garage so they could meet. Losing her way, Komin went out to find Melnikova. He met Nikolai Malykh, also a tailor, who happened to be Tatyana Melnikova’s boyfriend. The pair was invited back to the garage where they drank with Komin, only to wake in the bunker.

Nikolai Malykh had served time for robbery, and ranked higher in the criminal hierarchy than Komin. Threatened by the presence of a stronger male, Komin drugged Nikolai Malykh, and with Alexander Mikheyev’s help, dumped him in a snow-covered field in the countryside, where he would become lost under the drifts. His body would be found a week later, but police suspected he drank too much moonshine vodka, wandered off, and froze to death.

Tatyana Melnikova was forced to make gowns, boxer shorts and pants, which Komin sold at local markets. As his business grew, Komin decided he needed more physical labour to expand his bunker.

On March 21, 1995, he used his traditional methods of offering employment and alcohol to take alcoholic Yevgeny Shishov captive, with Komin believing Shishov would be easy to control and could dig extra rooms in the underground prison. Komin had made a mistake.

There was no chance of the slaves reaching the metal door and attempting to escape; 220 volts electrified the ladder leading up the shaft to the exit. However, Shishov was a qualified electrician and former paratrooper. He could easily disable the homemade security system. He was strapped to a chair and bound in electrical wires. The two female captives were given a switch each and told to flick them. Tatyana Melnikova refused, but Vera Tolpayeva was threatened; soon to suffer the same fate if she did not comply because of her expendable position and her refusal to complete manual labour. She pressed a switch and sent a jolt of electricity, killing Shishov. His body was removed with the aid of a winch and dumped in a field.

Komin and Vera Tolpayeva set out to find a new slave.

Tatyana Kozikova had worked as a cook in Ulyanovsk. She had spent two years in prison, and on July 21, 1995, she was to appear at the District Court of Vyatskiye Polyany. She did not attend court and had not been seen for a week. Instead she had met Komin and Tolpayeva at a train station, who offered her alcohol and employment. She was drugged and set to work in the factory.

The victims were shackled to walls and chained around the ankle while they worked 16 hour shifts. They were beaten with a rubber hose, and raped on Komin’s whim. As punishment they were made to rub themselves with their own excrement. The captives made dance costumes, gowns, and robes for priests. They also created highly detailed religious tapestries and vestments for the church.

The two Tatyana’s made a plan. They locked Komin in a room, but before they could escape, he broke free. After this attack, Komin enforced new security measures. He rigged up a red light to flash, signalling he was about to descend into the bunker. The prisoners locked themselves into a wire collar and waited for Komin to enact his torture. As retribution for the escape attempt, Komin and Mikheyev tattooed the women’s faces, carving the word “раб” (slave) on their foreheads. The women chose tattooing over the other option of having their mouths sliced from ear to ear — a form of torture known as a “Glasgow smile.”

While scouting for a new slave Vera Tolpayeva went missing. Komin was concerned she would go to the police but they never arrived. He took to scouting on his own.

Tatyana Nazimova was ill, suffering from leukaemia and mental illness. Komin approached her at a train station. He now had three slave women, all with the name Tatyana. Tatyana Nazimova would prove to be an unsuccessful slave. She was too ill to work, had no work ethic, but she was attractive. She was taken as a sex slave, used predominantly by Mikheyev. After a year, he grew tired of her, and illness was wasting her body. Komin forced her to drink brake fluid, from which she took days to die.

Komin offered to feed his captives Tatyana Nazimova’s body. Instead, he decided to dump Nazimova on the doorstep of the local morgue as a twisted joke. He placed her body on a sled, but was almost caught by a passer-by. Her emaciated corpse was found in a field near the garage. Police believe she suffered a similar fate as the others, and her death was the result of drinking moonshine vodka.

Alexander Komin found Vera Tolpayeva again, at a train station sometime in January 1997. He offered her money if she returned to work for him, finding new markets to sell his garments and sourcing new slaves. She reappeared at the garage a few days later with 23 year-old, blonde haired, Irina Ganushina.

Tolpayeva would soon suffer a similar fate as Nikolai Malykh and Tatyana Nazimova, after she demanded weekly payments from Komin. But, it was Komin who gave her an ultimatum; she decided to drink antifreeze rather than have it forcibly injected into her veins. Her death would take only a few hours, dying with both Tatyana’s watching on.

The new captive surprised Komin, and he fell in love with Irina Ganushina. He proposed and bought her a wedding dress. She complied with his wishes after he made threats against her two-year-old child.


On July 21, 1997, in the heat of summer, Irina Ganushina was taken back to Komin’s apartment. She was allowed out so they could plan their wedding, but when she was left briefly unattended she made her escape. She ran to the local police station to report the horrific crimes, but police were sceptical of her claims. When she listed the names of her fellow captives the police demanded the location of the underground factory.

Komin was arrested near his garage. Even while apprehended he enacted a final plan and directed a rescuing police officer down the electrified staircase. The officer didn’t take the bait.

The two Tatyana’s were removed from the underground chamber. Their eyes covered by black armbands as authorities were worried the women would be blinded by the harsh daylight that they had not witnessed in over two years. Tatyana Melnikova, 37, and Tatyana Kozikova, 38, had survived, but their faces were tattooed and they had aged dramatically, far beyond their years.



Komin was initially silent upon his arrest, but soon made full confessions and escorted police officials to the scenes of his crimes. The Kirov regional court convicted Alexander Komin on four counts of murder, three counts of illegal detention, illegal entrepreneurship, and use of slave labour.

On June 11, 1999, Alexander Komin was sentenced to life in prison.

Alexander Mikheyev was convicted for the same crimes as Komin and sentenced to 20 years in prison.


On June 15, 1999, Alexander Komin committed suicide in prison, four days after learning of his sentence. He severed his femoral artery, while detained in a holding cell, and bled to death. Komin was buried in the same cemetery as his victims, much to the horror of their relatives.

Tatyana Melnikova and Tatyana Kozikova sought compensation through a civil suit, for the moral damage caused to them under Komin’s reign. The court decided to grant them ownership of the garage, and the underground prison, as compensation.

Tatyana Melnikova and Tatyana Kozikova moved in with each other after their release, sharing a one-room apartment owned by Melnikova’s mother. Both women lived in desperate poverty, with Melnikova scavenging through garbage to find food, because she could not secure her identification papers to obtain welfare.

A public donation fund was established to raise US$400 to remove their facial tattoos. In the demoralised new Russia, not one ruble was donated to remove the markings of their captivity. Tatyana Melnikova died in poverty, still wearing Komin’s branding.

In 2009, the Molot factory became unprofitable, and closed in 2010. Its closure saw workers unpaid for months, causing more residents to flee the declining town of Vyatskiye Polyany.

The gruesome events played out by Alexander Komin featured in a documentary series called Criminal Russia, screened on Russian television. The episode featuring Alexander Komin was watched by millions, including Victor Mokhov, who rather than become horrified by what he saw, he would instead become inspired.


Bernardo Ramos




For the residents living along the crime riddled streets of North Philadelphia, hardship is a way of life. However, behind the façade of an aging and dilapidated row house, in one of the cities most impoverished areas, a series of deplorable crimes were committed. For the Weston family, there really was no place like home.

Lead up to Crime

When Alice Collier died in the 1970s she left her teenage daughter, Linda Ann Weston, behind to take care of her twelve siblings. The family lived in an apartment situated near the corner of North 33rd Street and West Norris Street in Strawberry Mansion, Philadelphia. No fathers were involved in the upbringing of the children. Linda developed a domineering personality, splintered by her mother’s death. She grew fearful of evil spirits and controlled her younger siblings with extreme violence.

Weston would spike her siblings Kool Aid with narcotics, as a means of keeping them in the apartment. The drugs made them easy to control and quick to overpower if they attempted to flee. One of the younger girls, Valerie, was afraid to go outside, fearing her sister’s violent nature. “She used to hit me all the time.”

Linda reigned over the family with a ruthless terror. She tortured her brothers and sisters with continual beatings, and ordered them to complete chores, such as constant cleaning and scrubbing of the walls. She tied them up for days on end. The children became so conditioned to Linda’s torment that they never challenged her, fearful for their own safety.

She forced her siblings, some as young as 11, into prostitution with older men to make her money. Weston kidnapped relatives and took advantage of mentally disabled people, often holding them at different places around Philadelphia, and at times sexually abusing them.

The Weston house was plagued by incest from when Linda was nine years old, according to the testimony of a prison chaplain. She went on to make her family members perform incest; with the aim that they would have children so she could collect the Social Security payments. She would also have sex with her brothers and sisters. Her younger brother, aged eight, refused to watch her have sex with their cousin. He was hospitalised after Linda punished him by putting him in a hot oven, causing him to suffer burns, blisters and welts.

In 1979, while in her early twenties, Linda Weston gave birth to her first child, Jean McIntosh, followed by James a year later. Joseph would arrive in 1982, with Raymond the year after, but before they were born more children were on the way to fill the already crowded household.

Held Captive

Linda Weston’s sister, Venus, 19, became pregnant by Bernardo Ramos, 25, but he refused to financially support their unborn baby. Venus Weston “was afraid he was going to go away and not come back no more.”

Linda Ann Weston, 21, bashed her sister’s boyfriend with a hammer and a broomstick as he attempted to leave the apartment. “You wasn’t going to take care of my sister’s baby,” screamed Weston.

Ramos was described by prosecutors as being “possibly mildly mentally retarded.” He was much smaller than the two women, standing only 1.65 metres (5 foot, 4 inches).

Linda Weston ordered her brother, 11-year-old Alexander, to tie Ramos’ hands and feet with an electrical cord and strap him to a chair. In October 1981, the sisters locked Ramos in a rat-infested closet measuring 90 centimetres by three metres (3 x 10 feet). Water dripped through the leaky ceiling, providing his only source of fluids. They let him out sporadically to use the toilet.

Ramos kicked at the door as he attempted to summon for help. Alexander tried to smuggle the captive food but Linda caught him. As punishment, she broke his toes with a hammer. He would lay in a bedroom with another sister, pretending they were angels in heaven, fantasising that they were somewhere else.

The sisters starved Ramos, only feeding him beans on four occasions, and sometimes providing him with a carrot or a piece of cheese. His weight loss was dramatic and he grew painfully weak, weighing only 35 kilograms (78 pounds). He became so ill he vomited anything he ate. He was washed down in the bathroom when his stench became too overpowering for the women.

The man held in the cupboard wasn’t entirely a secret. Many family members knew of his situation, as such occurrences of people being locked up in the house were not unique.

Peppi McIntosh, father of Linda Weston’s children, visited the apartment while Ramos was held captive. Jean was a toddler at the time and alerted her father to the man’s presence. He approached, opened the door and began questioning the man. “He was in there tied up. I told him to get out [of] the closet. I asked him what is he doing there anyway. I say, ‘What is you doing in the closet?’”

McIntosh attempted to untie the man, but then asked one of the younger Weston sisters to do it for him.

Ramos’ mother reported him missing on November 24, after she noticed she hadn’t seen him for about two weeks.

After two months in the closet, Ramos’ emaciated body turned purple. Bernardo Ramos died shortly after Christmas, around December 28, 1981.

“Get him out of here,” sobbed Linda Weston, when she saw his corpse.

Disposal of Body

Family members removed Bernard Ramos’ clothes and dressed him in a blue sweatshirt and women’s underwear. Alexander and Venus stuffed Ramos’s body into a green garbage bag. Using a baby stroller, they wheeled this body through the harsh Philadelphia winter streets, in the early hours of the morning, and dumped him on the floor of an abandoned convent in the 1800 block of Green Street, just a few streets from where Ramos lived.

Two men entered the convent later the same day the body was dumped and reported their find to authorities. Police noticed the body was stiff, but there was no sign of foul play. The medical examiner ruled that Ramos died of natural causes, succumbing to malnutrition.

On November 12, 1982, police were called to the Weston’s home. Linda and Venus had lit a fire inside the apartment, aiming to “set the fire to run the evil spirits out of the closet.” They were charged with arson.


On Saturday, January 15, 1983, Linda and Venus Weston were arrested at their new residence in the 1900 block of North 11th Street. They were both charged with murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy. A concerned relative — a teenage girl who lived at the former apartment at the time of the murder — contacted police after a member of the Weston family went missing, suspecting they had been murdered in a similar fashion to Ramos. The girl also feared she would suffer a similar fate because of her knowledge of Ramos’ death.

Alexander and Valerie testified against their sisters in a preliminary hearing. On Tuesday, July 12, 1983, Venus Weston pleaded guilty, convicted of third-degree murder. The arson charge was dropped in exchange for her guilty plea. On October 17, 1983, she was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison.

Despite being the mastermind, Linda Weston initially avoided jail, as she was deemed incompetent to stand trial alongside her sister.

Common Pleas Court Judge John Geisz wrote: “The doctor had performed a psychiatric evaluation on Linda Weston and his report described the defendant as being a mentally retarded young adult suffering from intrinsic brain disease, mainly epilepsy. … Dr. Grosso also diagnosed the defendant as a schizophrenic.”

On December 14, 1984, after being ruled competent, Linda Weston was also found guilty of third-degree murder. She was found not guilty on the charge of arson. Peppi McIntosh testified against her in court. She was sentenced to four to ten years at the maximum-security women’s prison, State Correctional Institution, near Muncy, Pennsylvania.


On January 15, 1987, Linda Weston was paroled after serving her minimum time, a total of four years, including her two years held at a local prison. She was ordered to undertake intensive supervision and therapy, along with an order that she take psychotropic drugs to stabilise her mental illness. Violating her parole, she returned to prison, but was paroled again on July 8, 1987.

On October 10, 1988, Linda failed to make contact with her parole officer and absconded for five years, avoiding detection of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. She quickly regained custody of her children. By 1993 she eventually fell off the radar and was out of contact with the criminal justice system.

Venus served her minimum term of six years and returned to live in North Philadelphia after her release, where she still resides. Venus claims she has little recall of the events surrounding Barnardo Ramos’ death, because of Linda drugging her at the time. She also claims that her sister feigned her mental problems to avoid being properly prosecuted.

Around 1996 Linda assaulted a woman, but when questioned by police she told them Venus had carried out the attack. Venus was arrested and charged. Soon the sister’s relationship disintegrated because of the false accusation. Venus also suspected her sister had stolen her identification. Even though the assault charges were later dropped, Venus and Linda never rebuilt their bond.

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