The Torture and Death of Sylvia Likens

   *Note: I wrote all of this by myself. If you're going to accuse me of stealing any of this from your pathetic website I will rape you and stab you in the knee cap vigorously with an ice pic. The blog also contains graphic images.*

There are so many cases we hear about everyday where children are tortured and murdered. In 1965, this wasn't so common. They did have their fair share of child murders but the suspect was usually a crazed lunatic or your basic criminal who had problems with his momma. It usually didn't last for days either. This poor girl's murder and torture were described by the prosecutor in the trial as the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana. Warning, the photos below are Sylvia's body and they're pretty graphic.

Gertrude Baniszewski's idea of punishment was severe physical abuse resulting in a young girl's death. She didn't seem to punish any of her children this way. Only Sylvia and Jenny Likens, who were staying with Gertrude while their parents were away. Perhaps what's so disturbing about this case is the fact that it was not only Gertrude carrying out the abuse but her children and other children in the neighborhood as well. This abuse went on for months and none of these children told their own parents about what was going on. It was entertainment to some and to others, they just thought they were punishing her. The pictures below are of John, Paula, their father cuddling them after Paula's life sentence, Gertrude crying and saying goodbye to John, and Stephanie talking to a reporter.

Numerous adults came into that house and saw the bruises on Sylvia's face but none of them went out of their way to make sure she was okay. Sylvia and Jenny had several opportunities to tell adults what was going on and they never did. Maybe they were so scared, they thought they would get a beating for telling. Jenny did say later on that she thought it would only make things worse. It's a shame. Think about how different things would have been if they would have told some one. Sylvia could be alive. It's important to teach our children the difference between right and wrong and if they're ever in children there are people who will help them. They need to be taught that it's not right to treat others in such a manner. Obviously, none of these children involved were taught a damn thing from either of their parents.

Where were Sylvia's parents? Her parents traveled with carnivals selling food. This is why they left their two girls into Gertrude's care. Lester Likens only had an eighth grade education level. Makes you wonder. The marriage was unstable and they moved around several times. Sylvia often babysat and did a lot of ironing. It's funny because these are the same jobs Gertrude often did. Much isn't known about Betty Likens. She was arrested for shoplifting. There isn't much to like about Lester and Betty from the looks of it. A mutual friend introduced Lester to Gertrude and she volunteered to look after the girls for twenty dollars a week. Gertrude already had seven children to look after. Paula, John, Stephanie, Marie, Shirley, James, and Dennis. So why would she volunteer to now take care of two more children for a whopping twenty dollars a week? Jenny was insecure and had a limp from childhood polio. Sylvia was more confident and even though she was a very pretty girl, she never opened her mouth because she was missing a front tooth.

From the start, Paula (who was 17 at the time) and Sylvia did not get along. Gertrude kicked Sylvia in the vagina and accused her of being pregnant. Paula was enraged by this because she was actually pregnant so she knocked her down. Medical examiners proved that Sylvia was not and could never have been pregnant. Sylvia was a virgin minus the coke bottle incident. But that was the least of Sylvia's worries. One day, the money order from the Likens didn't show and Gertrude punished the girls for it. According to Jenny's testimony, Gertrude "took us upstairs and she slapped me and said, 'Well I took care of you little bitches for nothing." The money order arrived the next day. It was a day too late. Gertrude began using a paddle on Sylvia and Jenny for minor offenses like exchanging coke bottles for change at the store. She suspected Sylvia of stealing and burned her fingers with matches. Paula often helped to discipline the girls due to her mother's illness that often made her weak. Gertrude was also underweight. The kids from the neighborhood started to come around a lot more and participated. Not by force. By their own free will. The kids would practice their judo on Sylvia and hurled her around the house. They began kicking and beating her and put their cigarettes out in her skin. Eventually, Gertrude forced Sylvia to undress and insert a coke bottle into her vagina. I have always been so floored by this. Imagine the humiliation. Imagine the pain. She was also forced into a scalding hot bath so she could be cleansed of her sins. If she wet her mattress, she was beaten and burned. Gertrude decided she wasn't fit to live with her children. Bed wetting is common when you're terrified of getting the shit kicked out of you every day. I cannot even fathom the torture that this poor soul had to endure.

Sylvia was no longer allowed to leave the house and she was thrown down into the cellar and locked in. They gave her crackers and refused to let her use the bathroom. This is when the worst of the torture began. She was forced to eat her own urine and feces when she was allowed to go to the bathroom. Gertrude took a large needle and carved the words, "I'm a prostitute and proud of it" into Sylvia's stomach. A neighborhood boy even helped. Gertrude figured she was going to die so she made Sylvia write a note and they planned to dump her body in the woods. Sylvia did die but they didn't dump her body. The cause of death was brain swelling, internal hemorrhaging of the brain and shock induced by her skin damage. She also suffered from malnutrition as well. Below are pictures of the basement and the mattress Sylvia slept on until she wet herself in her sleep.

On October 26, 1965, Indianapolis officials found Sylvia's body laying on a mattress  dead. Gertrude told the police that Sylvia had been attacked by a gang of boys and she had a note written in Sylvia's handwriting that confirmed this complete lie. The police could tell it was all a rouse. Her body was malnourished and covered in sores, burns, and bruises. Gertrude was out of her mind if she thought she was getting away with this. Of course she was out of her mind for her severe punishment as well.

When it came time for the trial, Gertrude denied any wrongdoing or part in the torture and death of Sylvia Likens. She claimed that her children must have been involved. She then entered a plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. The jury found Gertrude guilty of first degree murder. Paula Baniszewski was found guilty of second degree murder. Two neighborhood boys and John Baniszewski were convicted of manslaughter. Gertrude and Paula were sentenced to life at the Indiana Women's prison in Indianapolis. The boys were sentenced to two to twenty one year terms at the Indiana State Reformatory. In 1971, the supreme court granted Gertrude and Paula a new trial because of 'prejudicial atmosphere.' Gertrude was convicted of first degree murder once again. Paula pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and severed only two years in prison. This is so disturbing to me. How can they free this girl???? You do the crime, you should do the time and this wasn't just any ordinary crime. They tortured that poor innocent child. The boys were released on parole for good behavior in 1968. They only served two years of their sentences. It's smart to let these young murderers out. They should have been taught a lesson. John became a minister in Texas and counseled children of divorced parents. Well that's nice, someone who tortured and was involved in an innocent girls horrific death now counsels children. As for the two neighborhood boys, one died of cancer at the age of 21 (ha) and the other was in and out of trouble with the law until his death and heart attack in 2007. 

Gertrude was released on parole in 1985. She changed her name to Nadine Van Fossan and moved to Iowa. She died five years later due to lung cancer. In my opinion, she should have died in prison but at least she got hers. Paula married and moved to a farm in Iowa. Lester and Betty Likens divorced. Betty remarried and died in 1998 at the age of 71. Jenny Likens Wade died in 2004 at the age of 54. Thanks to Star Files for updating information on where they are now. I had always wondered what happened to these people, except for Gertrude. I had heard that she eventually died of cancer. Below are several photos of her during the trial, release on parole, and five years before she died.

I pray that crimes like this do not happen anymore but unfortunately, times are even worse than they were in 1965 and we never know what to expect. If you want to see  a film based on the torture and death or Sylvia Likens, you can see The Girl Next Door or An American Crime. I personally prefer An American Crime because it follows the story closer and has great performances by Ellen Page, Catherine Keener, James Franco, and Scout Taylor-Compton. The Girl Next Door is more like fictional work with incidents that didn't even happen.

Rest in piece Sylvia Likens, you will never be forgotten. Below is a picture of the house being demolished in 2009 and an older Jenny Likens at a memorial for Sylvia. I cannot believe this house was still present until 2009.


  1. Fantastic review of this horror of a case, and also, it figures that the younger sister, Jenny Fay got really really obese & ugly since then as well. This thing occurred largely in part because of her own sister's cowardice, she could have very well got them both out of the impending tragedy trap, simply because she was the "sacrificial lamb" if you will of the 2 sisters. So, she was playing along will all of the others in the annihilation. She (Jenny) is about just as much to blame as any of the other players in this real-life nightmare. As for Sylvia, I think that she became too fearful to leave on her own mostly because she began to lose all hope of ever escaping alive from this living hell. Such a phenomenon that is known as "The Stockholm Syndrome." Either way, after the very first strike by Gertrude Besinewski, out the door! The two sisters had a golden chance to leave right then and there, but missed their chance to just run away either through laziness, lack of volition, or apathy, take your pick. Severe physical abuse is never okay, not even a sideways look, a slap, or a spanking, once this happens in any relationship get out! Domestic violence escalates, and that's a known fact, not just with spouses, but with anything which involves 2 or more people.
    Back to sister Jenny, I heard she died in 2004 of a heart attack which doesn't surprise many people, because she must have allowed the gut-wrenching grief to overtake both her body and soul, by eating away her depression and guilt of what happen to her sister Sylvia, not getting themselves out of all of that dungeon trap of hell. She felt responsible for what happened because Sylvia would be very much alive & well today if not for her fear of opening up her mouth soon enough.

  2. What a witch this Gertrude was, she should have died in the electric chair.

  3. She had a more painful and deserving death in my opinion, cancer. It lasts longer and it's more miserable. Plus, that bitch got to live with her guilt for years before she died.

  4. Sometimes people are too scared to try. They may have been afraid they would get caught or that no one would believe them. They might have been holding on to some hope that their parents would return soon and they wouldn't have to suffer anymore.

  5. Maybe the parents of the girls were negligent, in that they really had no strong bond attachments to these children. Other than that, why would they both not pick up their things and go, there must have been places for the homeless where they'd find some decent temporary shelter, and good food. I'm sure there where places for the poor back then, and even runaway children, where they could find help until either somebody claims them or they get helped some other way, such as through a family services agency. But after I read the trial transcript of this case in general,my synopsis is that Sylvia was battered at every turn by those in the entire household, yet she was reported to have just strangely enough, just stood there and took every hit,paddle,cigarette burn,punch,being thrown or pushed down a flight of stairs, and every other form of brutality known to mankind. Gertrude wanted them to leave, not excusing her actions, it's just that life is made up of trial and error, and this home didn't have to be the only "place" for these girls in life to stick to. Once they were paddled, the first time, is when they should have held hands and left. After that, it was much too late once those demons got their deadly claws into them.

  6. What gets me most about that fat pig Paula, was that in 1971 , while serving time, she tried to escape from prison not once-but twice!! Bitch got caught!! And how did she get punished? Yep! Thats right! She got paroled the following year. Nice huh? She went on to live her life - got married, had a couple of kids ( I wonder how she would react to one of her kids being tortured)? Any way- Sylvia couldn't live her life!This has really made me sick!! Just when I thought that I had heard it all.Makes the Manson family look like the Brady Bunch . Thanx for letting me vent.


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