Sylvia Likens (right) was a 16-year old girl who was tortured, mutilated and eventually murdered by Gertrude Baniszewski (left) and some of her own children in 1965.

Likens and her younger sister, Jenny (15), were put in the care of the Baniszewski family as boarders by their father, who promised Baniszewski $20 a week for the trouble. Both girls were friends with Baniszewski’s oldest daughter, Paula (17).

When the first payment was late, Baniszewski took it out on the girls by beating them, and thus began a regular pattern of child abuse.

In August 1965, Gertrude started to mainly focus her anger on Sylvia by abusing her verbally and physically, encouraging her own children, as well as kids who lived in the neighborhood, to do the same. 

When Sylvia started wetting her pants, she was locked inside the basement, often naked with no food for her to eat. At one point she was forced to eat her own feces by Baniszewski and her twelve-year old son, John Jr. On other days they would make her insert a Coke bottle into her vagina. This happened on at least two occasions. More often than not, these hostile actions would happen in the presence of her own children.

In her final days, Likens had to undergo the worst kind of abuse yet: Baniszewski had gathered her children and some neighbors at her house and made them watch as she carved “I’m a prostitute and proud of it” into Likens’ abdomen with a hot sewing needle. When Baniszewski was unable to finish it, she had Richard Hobbs (15), a neighboring youth, finish it for her. 

The next day Likens was told to write a letter to her parents, intending to look like she had run away. After the letter was finished, Baniszewski formulated a plan to have John Jr. and Jenny take Sylvia to a garbage dump nearby and leaving her to die there. Likens tried to escape after she had overheard Baniszewski talking about her plan, but failed.

On October 24, Baniszewski attempted to bludgeon Sylvia with a wooden paddle but accidentally hit herself. Another neighboring youth, Coy Hubbard (15), stepped in, viciously beating Likens to unconsciousness with a broomstick.

On the final eve of October 26, Baniszewski decided to give Likens a lukewarm bath, telling her daughter Stephanie (10) and Richard Hobbs to get Likens upstairs. They put her in the bath fully clothed. As they took her out shortly after and laid her on a mattress on the floor, they realized she was not breathing. Stephanie panicked and tried to resuscitate her but was already too late. Sylvia Likens was dead.

Freaking out, Stephanie told Hobbs to call the police. When they arrived, Baniszewski offered them the letter Likens had written. Amidst the commotion, Jenny had whispered to one of the police officers: “get me out of here and I’ll tell you everything”.

Jenny’s statement, together with the discovery of Sylvia’s body, had prompted the police to arrest Gertrude, Paula, Stephanie and John Baniszewski, Richard Hobbs and Coy Hubbard for murder. Other neighboring youths present at the time were arrested for “injury to person”.

Sylvia Marie Likens (January 3, 1949 – October 26, 1965) was an American murder victim. She was tortured to death by Gertrude Baniszewski, Baniszewski’s children, and other young people from their neighborhood. Her parents, who were carnival workers, had left Likens and her sister Jenny in the care of the Baniszewski family three months before her death in exchange for $20 a week.

Baniszewski, her daughter Paula, her son John, and two neighborhood youths (Coy Hubbard and Richard Hobbs) were charged with and convicted of the crime. Likens’ torture and murder were described by the prosecutor in Baniszewski’s trial as “the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana”.