The murder of Sylvia Likens was a child murder case that occurred in Indianapolis , Indiana in October Likens, aged 16, was held captive and subjected to increasing levels of child abuse and torture —committed over a period of almost three months—by her caregiver, Gertrude Baniszewski, many of Baniszewski's children, and several other neighborhood children, before ultimately succumbing to her injuries on October Baniszewski; her oldest daughter, Paula; her son, John; and two neighborhood youths, Coy Hubbard and Richard Hobbs, were all tried and convicted in May of neglecting, torturing, and murdering Likens.
At the defendants' trial, Deputy Prosecutor Leroy New described the case as "the most diabolical case to ever come before a court or jury"  and Gertrude's defense attorney , William C. Erbecker,  described Likens as having been subjected to acts of "degradation that you wouldn't commit on a dog" prior to her death. The torture and murder of Sylvia Likens is widely regarded by Indiana citizens as the worst crime ever committed in their state   and has been described by a senior investigator in the Indianapolis Police Department as the "most sadistic " case he had ever investigated in the 35 years he served with the Indianapolis police.
Baniszewski was the third of six children, and her family was working class. On October 5, , Baniszewski saw her year-old father die from a sudden heart attack. Six years later, she dropped out of high school at age 16 to marry year-old John Stephan Baniszewski — , who was originally from Youngsville, Pennsylvania , and to whom she bore four children.
Although John Baniszewski had a volatile temper and occasionally beat his wife, the two would remain together for ten years prior to their first divorce. Following her divorce, Baniszewski married a man named Edward Guthrie. Shortly thereafter, Baniszewski remarried her first husband, bearing him two more children. The couple divorced for a second time in Weeks after her third divorce, Baniszewski began a relationship with a year-old named Dennis Lee Wright, who also physically abused her. Shortly after the birth of his son, Wright abandoned Baniszewski.
She was born between two sets of fraternal twins —Daniel and Dianna two years older than she , and Benny and Jenny one year younger. Jenny Likens suffered from polio , causing one of her legs to be weaker than the other.
She was afflicted with a notable limp and had to wear a steel brace on one leg. Lester and Elizabeth's marriage was unstable; they often sold candy, beer, and soda at carnival stands around Indiana throughout the summer,  moving frequently,  and regularly experiencing severe financial difficulties. The Likens' sons regularly traveled with their parents in order to help out, but—due to concerns for their younger daughters' safety and education—they didn't particularly like Sylvia and Jenny traveling with them in this employment.
In her teenage years, Sylvia Likens occasionally earned spending money by babysitting, running errands, or performing ironing chores for friends and neighbors—often giving her mother part of her earnings.
Although exuberant, Likens always kept her mouth closed when smiling, due to having lost a front tooth in a collision with one of her brothers during a childhood game. On July 3, their mother was arrested and subsequently jailed for shoplifting. Shortly thereafter, Lester Likens arranged for his daughters to board with Gertrude Baniszewski, the mother of two girls with whom the sisters had recently become acquainted while studying at Arsenal Technical High School , Paula and Stephanie Baniszewski.
At the time of this boarding agreement, Gertrude assured Lester she would care for his daughters until his return as if they were her own children. During the initial weeks in which Sylvia and Jenny resided at the Baniszewski household, the sisters were subjected to very little discipline, or abuse. Likens regularly sang along to pop records with Stephanie,  and she willingly participated in housework at the Baniszewski residence.
In response, Gertrude began venting her frustration at this fact upon the sisters by beating their bare buttocks with various instruments, such as a one-quarter-inch-thick 6. By mid-August , Gertrude Baniszewski had begun to focus her abuse almost exclusively upon Sylvia, with her primary motivation likely being jealousy of her physical appearance and potential in life.
This initial abuse included subjecting Likens to beatings and being refused sufficient food which would gradually lead to Likens eating leftovers or spoiled food out of garbage cans. In response to hearing this, Gertrude asked if she had "ever done anything with a boy" to which Likens—unsure of her meaning—replied, "I guess so" and offered that she had gone skating with boys there, and once went to a park on the beach with them and Jenny.
Continuing the conversation with Stephanie Baniszewski and Jenny, Likens mentioned that she had once lain under the covers with her boyfriend. Upon hearing this, Gertrude asked, "Why did you do that, Sylvia?
Several days later, Gertrude returned to the subject with Likens, telling her, "You're certainly getting big in the stomach, Sylvia. It looks like you're going to have a baby. I'm just going to have to go on a diet. She then kicked Likens in the genitals. Paula—herself overweight, three months pregnant and also jealous of her physical appearance—then participated in attacking Likens; knocking her off her chair onto the kitchen floor, shouting, "You ain't fit to sit in a chair!
Likens vomited as a result, and was later forced to consume what she had regurgitated. In what would be Likens' only act of retaliation, she spread a rumor at Arsenal Technical High School that Stephanie and Paula Baniszewski were prostitutes. She did this because she was upset with the household singling her out for similar accusations. While at school, Stephanie was jokingly propositioned by a boy who told her that Likens had started the rumor about her. Upon returning home that day, Stephanie questioned Likens about the rumor and she admitted to starting it.
Stephanie punched her in response, but Likens apologized to her, in tears, and Stephanie then also began to cry. However, when Stephanie's boyfriend—year-old Coy Hubbard—heard about the rumor, he brutally attacked Likens; slapping her, banging her head against the wall and flipping her backwards onto the floor.
When Gertrude found out, she used the paddle to beat Likens. Gertrude would later occasionally force Jenny to strike her own sister, beating Jenny if she did not comply. Coy Hubbard and several of his classmates frequently visited the Baniszewski residence to both physically and verbally torment Likens, often collaborating with Baniszewski's children and Gertrude herself.
Gertrude Baniszewski eventually forbade Likens from attending school after she confessed to having stolen a gym suit from the school, after Gertrude had refused to purchase the clothing for her.
Gertrude then switched her conversation to the "evils" of premarital sex before repeatedly kicking Likens in the genitals as Stephanie rallied to Likens' defense, shouting, "She didn't do anything! The Likens sisters were fearful of notifying either family members or adults at their school of the increasing incidents of abuse and neglect they were enduring, as both were afraid that doing so would only worsen their predicament.
Jenny was also subjected to bullying by girls in her neighborhood, in addition to occasionally being ridiculed or beaten whenever she alluded to Sylvia's situation.
In July and August, both Lester and Elizabeth Likens would occasionally return to Indianapolis to visit their daughters, whenever their travel schedule afforded them the opportunity. The last occasion Lester and Elizabeth visited their daughters was in late-August. On this occasion, neither girl exhibited any visible sign of distress about their mistreatment to their parents—likely because both were in the presence of Gertrude and her children. Almost immediately after Lester and Elizabeth had left the Baniszewski household on their final visit, Gertrude turned to face Likens and stated: "What are you going to do now, Sylvia?
Now they're gone? On one occasion, in September, the girls encountered their older sister, Dianna Shoemaker, at a local park. Both Jenny and Sylvia informed Dianna as to the abuse they were enduring at the hands of their caregiver on this occasion, adding that Sylvia was being specifically targeted for physical abuse—almost always for things she had neither said nor done.
Neither sister mentioned the actual address where they resided and, initially, Dianna believed her sisters must be exaggerating their claims regarding the scope of their mistreatment. Several weeks prior to this occasion, Sylvia and Jenny had encountered Dianna in the same park while in the company of year-old Marie Baniszewski and Sylvia had been given a sandwich to eat when she had mentioned to her sister she was hungry.
In response, Gertrude accused Likens of engaging in gluttony before she and Paula choked and bludgeoned her. The pair then subjected Likens to a scalding bath to "cleanse her of sin," with Gertrude grabbing Likens' hair and repeatedly banging her head against the bath to revive her when she fainted. Shortly after this incident, the father of a neighborhood boy named Michael John Monroe  phoned Arsenal Technical High School to anonymously report that a girl with open sores across her entire body was living at the Baniszewski household.
As Likens had not attended school for several days, a school nurse visited East New York Street to investigate these claims. Gertrude claimed to the nurse that Likens had run away from her home the previous week and that she was unaware of her actual whereabouts, adding that Likens was "out of control" and that her open sores were a result of Likens' refusal to maintain decent personal hygiene.
The immediate neighbors of the Baniszewski family were a middle-aged couple named Raymond and Phyllis Vermillion. Both initially viewed Gertrude as an ideal caregiver for the Likens sisters and both had visited the Baniszewski residence on two occasions when the girls had been under Gertrude's care.
On both occasions, the Vermillions witnessed Paula physically abusing Likens—who on both occasions had a black eye—and openly boasting about her mistreatment of the child to them. On or about October 1, Dianna Shoemaker discovered that her sisters were temporarily residing at the Baniszewski residence. She visited the property in an attempt to initiate regular contact. Gertrude, however, refused Dianna entrance to her property, stating that she had "[received] permission" from their parents not to allow either girl to see her.
She then ordered Dianna off her property. She was informed, "I can't tell you or I'll get into trouble. Due to the increase in the frequency and brutality of the torture and mistreatment she was subjected to, Likens gradually became incontinent. As a form of punishment for her incontinence, on October 6, Gertrude threw Likens into the basement and tied her up. Here, Likens was often kept naked, rarely fed, and frequently deprived of water.
In the weeks prior to locking Likens in the family basement, Gertrude had increasingly abused and tormented Likens. She would occasionally falsely claim to the children in her household that either she herself or one of them had been the recipient of direct insults from Likens in the hope this would goad them into belittling or attacking her.
Physical and mental torment such as this was occasionally ceased by the Baniszewskis to watch their favorite television shows. Throughout the period of Likens' captivity in the basement, Gertrude frequently—with the assistance of her children and neighborhood children—restrained Likens before placing her in a bathtub filled with scalding water before proceeding to rub salt into her wounds.
On one occasion, Gertrude and her twelve-year-old son, John Jr. On October 22, John Baniszewski Jr. Gertrude Baniszewski eventually allowed Likens to sleep upstairs, on the condition that she learned not to wet herself. That night, Sylvia whispered to Jenny to secretly give her a glass of water before falling asleep.
The following morning, Gertrude discovered that Likens had urinated herself. As a punishment, Likens was forced to insert an empty glass Coca-Cola bottle into her vagina in the presence of the Baniszewski children before Gertrude ordered her into the basement.
Shortly thereafter, Gertrude shouted for Likens to return to the kitchen, then ordered her to strip naked before proclaiming to her: "You have branded my daughters; now I am going to brand you. In what Hobbs would later insist were "short, light" etchings, he continued to brand the text into Likens' abdomen as she clenched her teeth and moaned.
You can't get married now. What are you going to do? Later that day, Likens was forced to display the carving to neighborhood children, with Gertrude claiming she had received the inscription at a sex party. That night, Sylvia confided to her sister: "Jenny, I know you don't want me to die, but I'm going to die. I can tell it. The following day, Gertrude Baniszewski woke Likens, then forced her to write a letter as she dictated the contents, which were intended to mislead her parents into believing their daughter had run away from the Baniszewski residence.
The content of this letter was intended to frame a group of anonymous local boys for extensively abusing and mutilating Likens after she had initially agreed to engage in sexual relations with them before they inflicted the extreme abuse and torture upon her body. After she had finished writing the letter, Likens was then again tied to the stair railing and offered crackers to eat, although she refused them, saying: "Give it to the dog, I don't want it.
On October 25, Likens attempted to escape from the basement after overhearing a conversation between Gertrude and John Baniszewski Jr. Likens was then given toast to eat but was unable to consume the food due to her extreme state of dehydration.