The Worst Crime Committed

The Murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens


Alexia, Staff Writer

On October 26, 1965 Indiana was about to experience one of the worst crimes committed.  Police were called to the Baniszewski home where they found the deceased body of Sylvia Likens with over 150 wounds in the basement of Gertrude Baniszewski’s home.


Sylvia’s parents were carnival workers who were always on the road, so her parents put Sylvia and her sister, Jenny Likens, in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski. Gertrude Baniszewski agreed to take care of the Likens sisters as long as she was paid twenty dollars every week. Gertrude already had seven kids that ranged from eighteen months old to seventeen years old; two more kids wouldn’t make much of a difference.


A couple weeks passed of the Likens sisters staying with the Baniszewski family and everything was going fine, Sylvia helped do chores around the house and attended church with the Baniszweski’s. But, once the payment of twenty dollars that was promised didn’t come in, the issues started. Gertrude began to beat Sylvia and Jenny with a paddle because the payment hadn’t arrived. The twenty dollars that were promised came in the next day.


The abuse quickly became more constant and Gertrude mainly focused the abuse on Sylvia. According to the newspaper IndyStar, Jenny Likens didn’t receive as much abuse as Sylvia because she had polio. Gertrude had a daughter, Paula Baniszewski, that was around the same age as Sylvia. Sylvia was beautiful and it enraged Gertrude that Paula didn’t have Sylvia’s beauty and was also overweight.


Gertrude Baniszewski suffered from severe asthma and would get tired of torturing Sylvia. Gertrude would make Paula torture Sylvia when she got too tired to do it herself and Paula was perfectly fine with it. Paula then started to tell kids around the neighborhood about what she would do to Sylvia. The neighborhood kids became interested in what Paula was telling them and started to take part in the torture of Sylvia.


Paula’s boyfriend, Coy Hubbard, was a big contributor to the abuse of Sylvia. He would use Sylvia as a practice dummy for martial arts and would push her down the basement stairs. The other neighborhood kids would rub salt in Sylvia’s wounds, spray her with a hose, and burn the tips of her fingers.


The constant abuse led to Sylvia becoming incontinent and this enraged Gertrude. Gertrude then decided to keep Sylvia in the basement with just a mattress. Sylvia was not allowed to use the bathroom, so she was forced to use the corners of the room as a toilet. While being in the basement, Sylvia’s meal consisted of some crackers and water.


Sylvia was enduring numerous amounts of abuse and her body couldn’t keep taking it. Sylvia was slowing dying and she knew it. As Sylvia’s final days were coming to an end, Gertrude realized Sylvia was dying and her plan was to make Sylvia write a note that said, “I am dying because a gang of boys beat me”, and throw her in the woods with the note next to her.


On October 23, 1965 Sylvia endured the worst abuse. Gertrude Baniszewski carved “I’m a prostitute and proud of it” into Sylvia’s stomach. While carving this on Sylvia, she began to feel unwell and had one of the neighborhood kids finish it. Richard Hobbs was the one who finished the carving and was also one of the neighborhood kids that tortured Sylvia the most.


On Sylvia’s final day she attempted to escape but Gertrude caught her and stomped on her head which ended Sylvia’s life. Based on the newspaper New York Daily News, when the police were called, Gertrude stated that Sylvia had came home in a dying state and had tried to help her but wasn’t able to nurse her back to health. Everyone that lived in the house was questioned and Jenny Likens revealed the truth of Gertrude Baniszewski. Jenny told police “You get me out of here and I’ll tell you everything.”


Gertrude, Paula, Coy Hubbard, and Richard Hobbs were arrested for the murder of Sylvia Likens after Jenny Likens gave the police an accurate statement of what happened to Sylvia. According to a local newspaper, Indianapolis Monthly, five other neighborhood kids were also arrested for involvement in the torture of Sylvia Likens.


In memory of Sylvia Likens a memorial sits in Willard Park, Indianapolis. The plaque on the memorial says: “I see a light; hope. I feel breeze; strength. I hear a song; relief. Let them through for they are the welcome ones.”


Sylvia Likens was just sixteen years old when she died. She suffered many months of abuse and torture. Many people could have prevented the death of Sylvia Likens but nobody was brave enough to stand up to Gertrude Baniszewski.