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The people failed Sylvia Likens but we can try to honor her by never forgetting her story and not letting this happen to others.

Do you know the story of the Likens case? The Likens were carnival workers in the 1960s and Lester Likens decided to leave his daughters Sylvia Likens (age 15) and Jenny Likens in the care of a Gertrude Baniszewski and her seven children (including a recent friend, Paula, 17) after their mother was arrested for shoplifting.

According to the Indianapolis Star, Likens encouraged Baniszewski to “straighten his daughters out”. When a payment from Likens was late, Gertrude slapped the girls and quickly the abuse escalated.

Timeline of Key Events

  • 5 July 1965 – Lester leaves the girls with Gertrude
  • 11 July 1965 – Lester’s payment is late, Gertrude slaps the girls
  • 1 August 1965 – Paula breaks her wrist punching Sylvia
  • Mid-August 1965 – Gertrude accuses Sylvia of stealing
  • Late August 1965 – Phyllis Vermillion witnesses Gertrude abuse Sylvia and does not report it.
  • Early September 1965 – Paula chokes Sylvia.
  • 12 October 1965 – Sylvia is sent to the basement
  • 15 October 1965 – Phyllis sees Sylvia’s beaten and bruised face and again does not report it.
  • 23 October 1965 – Richard Hobbs carves “I am a prostitute and proud of it” into Sylvia’s stomach with a large needle and w/ 10 year old Shirley Baniszewski brands an S on her chest.
  • 25 October 1965 – Coy Hubbard beats Sylvia with a broom, knocking her unconscious.
  • 26 October 1965 – Sylvia succumbs to her injuries and dies. Cause of death is brain haemorrhage, shock, and malnutrition.

Its the stuff of horror movies (see: An American Crime, 2007, and The Girl Next Door, 2007) and one of the most terrible crimes committed in the state of Indiana.

What Happened to Gertrude Baniszewski and her family?

Sadly the perpetrators received little to no jail time for their crimes of taking the life of a 16 year old girl whose only ‘crime’ was being left in the care of the Baniszewski family.

Gertrude Baniszewski was sentenced to life in prison but incredulously and against the outcry of the public she was paroled in 1985 (just twenty years after the death of Sylvia Likens) and died five years later of lung cancer in 1990.

Paula Baniszewski, 17, was convicted of second-degree murder before having her conviction overturned in 1971 due to a technicality. She plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and got 2 to 21 years. Once again the law seems to have been mocking Sylvia by paroling Paula in 1972 despite an attempted prison break.

Richard Hobbs, 15, was convicted of manslaughter and served two years. He died of cancer at the age of 21.

John Baniszewski, 13, was convicted of manslaughter and served two years. He is the only Baniszewski to show any remorse for his crimes.

Stephanie Baniszewski, 15, had all charges against her dropped.

Marie Baniszewski, 11, was never charged and was the only member of the Baniszewski family to cry during the trial.

Shirley Baniszewski, 10, despite her active participation was never charged.

Coy Hubbard, 15, was Stephanie’s boyfriend and a participant in the beatings and torture of Sylvia. He was convicted of manslaughter and served two years. He was tried for another murder in 1982 but acquitted.

All together, Sylvia’s abusers and torturers served 33 years for their crimes. The law unfortunately was not able to give Sylvia the justice she deserved so hopefully by sharing this and your reading this we can do her some small justice.

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Sylvia Likens Torture and Murder Timeline