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Brother Tells of Abused Childhood for Murder Suspect

April 4, 1987 GMT

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The younger brother of the man charged with torturing and killing women in a basement says their childhood was marked by frequent beatings by their father.

″It got to the point where we’d be afraid to pick anything up because he’d beat us if we dropped something like a glass or something,″ Terry F. Heidnik said of his father. ″I was knocked unconscious once.″

Heidnik, 41, interviewed by the Philadelphia Inquirer at his trailer home in the north-central Pennsylvania community of Cogan Station, detailed a childhood of turmoil for himself and his brother, Gary, 43.

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Heidnik also said their mother was an alcoholic, according to the interview that appeared in Friday’s editions.

Gary Heidnik, who tried to commit suicide Thursday night at the Philadelphia Detention Center by hanging himself in a jail shower, was back in the prison Friday after an overnight hospital stay, authorities said.

He is accused of digging a pit in the basement of his north Philadelphia home where he tortured and raped six black women he had lured there. Two died, police charged. Three half-naked women were found shackled in the pit after a fourth managed to escape 10 days ago.

Michael Heidnik, 74, contended his children were raised in a normal household, as he has said since his son was arrested March 25. He denied he had beaten them or taught them to be prejudiced.

″Hell no, why would I do that?″ Heidnik said in an interview with the Inquirer from the Eastlake, Ohio, home where his sons grew up. He said he had nothing against blacks and worked with them for years at Chase Brass & Copper Co.

Terry Heidnik said after his parents divorced when Gary was 3, the brothers went to live with their mother, Ellen Vandervoort.

During this time, Gary fell 20 feet from a tree, suffering a severe injury that left his head misshapen, Terry Heidnik recalled. Children began calling him ″football head,″ and he became more violent and his personality began to change.

Five years later the brothers returned to live with their father, who had remarried, Terry Heidnik said. The abuse continued, however, and the boys were sometimes forced to wear pants with a bull’s-eye on the seat, he said. Classmates and their father would kick the bull’s-eye, Heidnik said.

Eventually, the boys returned to live with their mother. But in addition to a succession of boyfriends and husbands, she had severe drinking problems and was once arrested for theft, Terry Heidnik said. She committed sucide on Mother’s Day in 1971.

Terry Heidnik said he and his brother are schizophrenic and have often received psychiatric care. The two have tried to kill themselves several times, he said.

The women rescued from Heidnik’s basement told reporters and police they were tortured if they disobeyed Heidnik’s orders or misbehaved in even seemingly insignificant ways.

″You see where it comes from?″ Terry Heidnik said. ″To me that’s the important message.″