The Family That Murdered and Tortured Together
Gertrude Baniszewski and her murder legacy
Baniszewski was an Indiana divorcee, who oversaw and facilitated the prolonged mutilation, torture and eventual murder of Sylvia Likens. Likens was a teenage girl staying with the murderous family at the time.
As a child, Baniszewski had a close relationship with her father who died suddenly of a heart attack. She was said to have a fractured relationship with her mother.
She married John Baniszewski who was a violent man and went on to have six children with him. She then entered into a violent affair with Dennis Lee Wright who she had one child with. Wright left after the birth of the child.
Baniszewski was destitute with seven children to bring up, the problem was compounded when her sixteen-year-old daughter fell pregnant with a married man’s baby. During this time her health also started to deteriorate.
In 1965, she met Sylvia Likens through her daughter Paula. It was agreed with her parents that Baniszewski would take both Sylvia and her sister, Jenny in as boarders. The parents never checked the house they sent their children to. If they had they would have discovered it was in a poor state of repair, with only enough beds for half the occupants.
When the parents failed to pay the boarding fee, Baniszewski beat the sisters, taking their undergarments off, laying them over the bed and whipping them with a belt. This was the first of many fits of abuse. Although, the parents did see their children occasionally, neither divulged the abuse.
Late on Boarders Fees
Sylvia bore the brunt of most of the torture. Amongst these, she was made to eat her own vomit, urine and faeces. Had multiple cigarettes extinguished on her. She was given regular beatings and made to sit on the floor. Others would carve letters and phrases into her body with a knife. Whenever Baniszewski attacked Likens it would be to accuse her of being a prostitute. During the autopsy, although her vagina was so damaged it was swollen shut, her hymen was intact.
The abuse though was not just carried out by Gertrude, the whole family viewed Liken as a plaything of torture. They would charge their friends money to come and beat her, throw her down the stairs or practice their martial arts moves on her. She was often made to stand naked in the lounge so that boys could assault her and ridicule her.
Twenty-four Hours Until Death
This reign of terror culminated with twenty-four hours of extreme torture. During this day she was beaten multiple times and had messages carved into her flesh. When the police eventually intervened and found her body, the Baniszewski’s had coerced her to write a letter saying she had been attacked by a gang. Her sister Jenny whispered to one of the officers “get me out of here and I’ll tell you everything.”
Trial and Release
Gertrude was charged along with four others. Paula Baniszewski, her eldest daughter, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter during retrial and received a sentence of three years. John Baniszewski, her young son, Coy Hubbard and Richard Hobbs were found guilty of manslaughter. They were sent to Indiana reform on a sentence of 2 to 21 years. All three served under two years.
Gertrude for her part in the murder was sentenced to eighteen years, she was paroled in 1985 and died in 1990.
The rest of the family went on to lead satisfactory lives.
The reason for the light sentences was never made clear. The Liken family campaigned to keep the family behind bars longer, this did not happen. The level of torture and punishment they inflicted on this poor girl would have justified a heavier sentence, yet they were let go.
Sylvia Likens Legacy
In June 2001, a six-foot-tall (1.8 m) granite memorial was formally dedicated to Sylvia Likens' life and legacy in Willard Park, Indianapolis. The dedication was attended by several hundred people, including members of the Likens family. The memorial itself is inscribed with these words: "This memorial is in memory of a young child who died a tragic death."