Suspects: Gertrude Baniszewki , The.Baniszewki kids, Several other neighborhood kids
Victims: Sylvia and Jenny Likens
The year was 1965. The Beatles were all the rage. The American fighting forces were preparing for War in Vietnam. Lyndon B Johnson was President. But in Indianapolis, Indiana a shocking torture murder was occurring that gripped not only the community of Indianapolis, but the whole country.
In July 1965, Lester and Betty Likens, traveling carnival workers, suggested that Baniszewski take their two daughters—Sylvia Marie Likens, 16, and Jenny Faye Likens, 15—as boarders in return for $20 a week ($150.18 adjusted for modern inflation) in compensation while they worked across the country. The Likens sisters attended high school and social functions with the Baniszewski children, as well as church with Gertrude Baniszewski on Sunday.
However, when the Likens's first $20 payment was late, Baniszewski beat the girls. Shortly thereafter, the girls were beaten for having candy that Baniszewski accused them of stealing. Thus began a regular pattern of child abuse.
In August 1965, Baniszewski began to verbally and physically abuse Sylvia Likens, allowing her older children to beat her, and push her down stairs. Baniszewski also accused Likens of prostitution and delivered "sermons" about the filthiness of prostitutes and women in general. After the Likens sisters reportedly accused Baniszewski's daughters Paula and Stephanie of being prostitutes, Stephanie's boyfriend Coy Hubbard and several other classmates and local boys were brought in to assist Baniszewski in beating Sylvia. Baniszewski later forced Jenny to hit her sister. It was later revealed that all the stuff bought and money received was through recycling soda bottles for deposits. Which was a common practice in the 60s
When Likens became incontinent, Baniszewski locked her in the basement and began a bathing regime to "cleanse" Sylvia, involving dousing her with scalding water and rubbing salt into the burns. She was often kept naked and rarely fed. At times, Baniszewski and her twelve-year-old son John Jr. would make Likens eat her own feces.
Around this time, Jenny managed to contact her older sister Diana, outlining the intense trauma that the two sisters were experiencing and asking Diana to contact the police. Diana ignored the letter, believing that Jenny was simply displeased with being punished and that she was making up stories so that she could come live with Diana.
Shortly after this, Diana Likens came to visit her sisters, but Baniszewski refused to allow her inside. Diana hid near the house until she spotted Jenny outside, then approached her. Jenny told her that she was not allowed to talk to her and then ran away. Concerned, Diana contacted social services and informed them that Baniszewski told her that Sylvia Likens had been abandoned for being physically unclean and a prostitute, and that she had since run away. When a social-services worker arrived at the Baniszewski home inquiring about Sylvia, Baniszewski told Jenny to lie about Sylvia's whereabouts, threatening that she'd get the same treatment as Sylvia if she didn't. Terrified, Jenny confirmed that Sylvia had run away. The worker returned to her office and filed a report stating that no more follow-up visits to the Baniszewski home were needed. This was truly one of the most shocking child abuse cases of the 20th century.
On October 21 Baniszewski instructed John Jr., Coy, and Stephanie to bring Likens up from the basement and tie her to a bed. The next morning, enraged that Sylvia had wet the bed, Baniszewski again forced her to insert a large glass Pepsi bottle into her vagina,before beginning to carve the phrase "I'm a prostitute and proud of it" into her abdomen with a hot sewing needle. When Baniszewski was unable to finish the branding, she had Ricky Hobbs finish. The next day, Baniszewski woke Likens, and then dictated a letter to her, intended to look like a runaway letter to her parents.
After Sylvia finished the letter, Baniszewski formulated a plan to have John Jr. and Jenny take Sylvia to a nearby garbage dump and leave her there to die. When Sylvia overheard this, she ran down the stairs attempting to escape, but Baniszewski stopped her as she stepped out the front door and onto the porch. Baniszewski then pulled Sylvia back inside the house and again threw her down the basement steps and kept her there.
On October 24, Baniszewski came down to the basement and attempted to bludgeon Sylvia with a wooden paddle, but missed her and accidentally struck herself. Coy Hubbard stepped in and viciously beat Sylvia on the head repeatedly with a broomstick and left her unconscious on the basement floor. In the early evening of Tuesday, October 26, Baniszewski told the children she would give Sylvia a bath, in lukewarm water this time. Stephanie and Richard Hobbs brought Sylvia upstairs and placed her in the bathtub fully clothed; as they took her out shortly thereafter and laid her on a bare mattress on the floor, they realized she was not breathing. Stephanie frantically attempted to resuscitate her, but Likens was already dead.
Panic-stricken, Stephanie told Hobbs to call the police. When they arrived, Gertrude gave them the letter she'd made Sylvia write. Amidst the commotion, Jenny Likens whispered to one of the policemen, "Get me out of here and I'll tell you everything." Her statement, combined with the discovery of Sylvia's body, prompted the officers to arrest Gertrude, Paula, Stephanie and John Baniszewski, Richard Hobbs, and Coy Hubbard for murder. Other neighborhood children present at the time—Mike Monroe, Randy Lepper, Darlene McGuire, Judy Duke, and Anna Siscoe—were arrested for. injury to person. Next was to begin the Trial for.one of the sickest and saddest crimes in American History.
In 1966 Gertrude Baniszewki was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. However in 1971 Gertrude received a new trial and the ruling stayed. Controversially, she was granted parole in 1985 due to good behavior she conducted herself by while in prison. 40,000 people actually signed petitions against releasing her on parole. The Indiana state parole board voted 3 to 2 to release her and grant parole. While she was addressing the News Media several people drove by yelling statements such as "Shoot that Bitch" or "Burn in Hell". She changed her name while in prison to Nadine Van Foussan. She moved to Iowa to resume her New identity only to die five years later in 1990. The Crime was the story if.a movie staring Ellen Page called "An American Crime" which I think is on Netflix or YouTube.
This is not a story your going to hear on Law and Order, CSI or Criminal Minds. It is shocking, but it is a true story that this is one of the darkest crimes ever committed in the 20th Century.