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Another Candidate for Grand Marshall of the Lunatic Parade
on December 7, 2007
Ken Englade's CELLAR OF HORROR details the bundle of insanity that was Gary Heidnik. Heidnik, who had been diagnosed for years as schizophrenic, held six women captive in his basement over a four month period spanning 1987/1988. His goal was ostensibly to have each of these women bear his children - he wanted ten - creating a family who would continue living in his basement. Heidnik sexually assaulted and tortured these women in a variety of repulsive ways, and two of them eventually died at his hands.
An interesting and unusual facet of Heidnik's psyche is that he was a white man with an IQ measured at 130 who preferred the company of mentally and physically disabled black women, though of the captives only one was disabled.
CELLAR OF HORROR was first published in 1989. As Heidnik was convicted in July 1988, I was afraid the book was going to be a rush-to-print slop job.
It most definitely is not. Englade is a professional. He doesn't tell the reader what to think; he does not at all inject his own personality into the account; and he doesn't pad his book with mindless repetition and filler. What he does is write fairly, reportorially, and intelligently.
A strong point of this book is that Englade has included a reasonable amount of background material on Heidnik, from his childhood on.
I would have actually preferred even more background, but there is still a lot more than is usually found in true crime books printed this close to the trial. I also think this would have been a better book if there had been an attempt to provide background information about the victims. And the picture section, while it contains 5 good pictures of Heidnik, has none of any of the women Heidnik abducted and held captive. I realize that this may have been a sensitive issue, but the victims are all named in the book and the four that lived testified at the trial, so it seems to me that their pictures, and/or more information personalizing them, could have been printed. This would have improved the book. In short I would have liked the book longer and with more depth.
Still, I still found CELLAR OF HORROR to be a fast paced and very well written account of a truly appalling crime comitted by yet another truly appalling lunatic. And I recommend it highly.