Sylvia Likens Murder House

3850 E New York St, Indianapolis, IN 46201

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Quick Facts

Killer(s): Gertrude Baniszewski, Paula Baniszewski, John Baniszewski Jr., Richard Hobbs, Coy Hubbard,

Victim(s): Sylvia Likens,

Written by: Jewls Krueger

About This Location:

Warning: Most cases described on are haunting in their own way, but the case description below is extremely disturbing and contains descriptions of severe abuse against a child. Read at your own risk.

In July of 1965, Sylvia Likens and her younger sister Jenny were fairly normal teenage girls. Their parents were traveling carnival workers and were going on the road until November of 1965, so they decided to board Sylvia and Jenny with Gertrude Baniszewski, a mother of Sylvia and Jenny's neighborhood friends. Gertrude charged the Likens' $20 a week to care for the girls, and promised their parents they would be treated as one of her own.

Within a few weeks, the payments to Gertrude began to show up a few days late. Gertrude became frustrated by this, and took out her frustrations by beating the two girls with wooden paddles and other objects. After about a month residing with Gertrude, the abuse towards Sylvia increased. At this point, the abuse against Sylvia included Gertrude forcing her to eat leftover food out of the trash, beating, and kicking her. Soon, Gertrude's own children and several neighborhood kids joined in on the abuse.

Both Sylvia and Jenny were fearful of telling an adult outside of the home about the abuse due to threats of increasing violence from Gertrude if anyone found out. On several occasions, neighbors saw Sylvia at the home and noticed she was bruised and looked frail, but didn't report it to any authorities. Once, when school authorities were notified about Sylvia having open sores and bruises, officials visited the home, but Gertrude claimed that Sylvia had run away from home and didn't know of her whereabouts. Officials made no further effort to find Sylvia or ensure she was okay.

At one point, Gertrude discovered that Syliva had stolen a gym suit from the high school, and at that point Gertrude made it clear that Sylvia was not to go to school anymore. She made Sylvia bathe in scalding hot water, hitting her head against the wall when she lost consciousness. By October, 1965, Gertrude denied Sylvia access to the bathrooms in the house, and when Sylvia wet herself Gertrude forced her into the basement where Sylvia was kept tied up, nude, and deprived of most food and water. Neighborhood kids could pay 5 cents to see Sylvia's bruised and beaten body, and to inflict their own wounds upon her. The abuse against Sylvia continued to escalate, and included forcing her to eat feces, shoving a coca-cola bottle up her vagina, and having the words "I'M A PROSTITUTE AND PROUD OF IT" carved into her stomach.

On October 25, 1965, Sylvia attempted to escape from the house through the front door, but Gertrude was able to stop her before she could leave. Gertrude and a neighborhood boy then beat her with a curtain rod until the rod was bent, and dragged her unconscious body back into the basement. The next day, Sylvia was delirious, had trouble speaking or moving, and defecated on herself. In response, Gertrude stomped on Sylvia's head and had a neighborhood boy spray her down with a hose. One of Gertrude's daughters, Stephanie, became upset at the appearance of Sylvia and decided to give her a warm bath and dress her in new clothes. Sylvia asked Stephanie to take her home, but Stephanie instead laid her down on a mattress in one of the bedrooms. Sylvia Likens finally succumbed to her injuries and abuse on October 26, 1965, a little over 3 months after her parents left her in the care of Gertrude Baniszweksi.

After discovering that Sylvia was dead, Gertrude had the police called to the house and claimed that Sylvia had run away but returned that afternoon already severely beaten. Police questioned Sylvia's younger sister, Jenny, about the death and Jenny was able to give a damning statement that led to the arrest of Gertrude, Paula, Stephanie, and John Baniszewski Jr, though Stephanie was later released and not charged. Later that day, neighborhood boys Coy Hubbard and Richard Hobbs were also arrested in connection with the abuse and murder. An autopsy revealed around 150 separate injuries in various stages of healing on Sylvia's body.

Gertrude, Paula, John, Coy, and Richard were all tried together. Gertrude was found guilty of first degree murder, Paula was found guilty of second degree murder, and both were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. John, Coy, and Richard were found guilty of manslaughter and received between 2-21 years in prison. In 1970, Gertrude and Paula were granted new trials. Paula pled guilty to a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter, and was released in 1971. Gertrude was again found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced again to life in prison. During her time in prison, she was seen as a model prisoner, and in 1984 she was granted parole. She died of lung cancer in 1990 while living in Laurel, Iowa.

A granite memorial for Sylvia was installed at Williard Park in 2011 by the Indianapolis Police Department. On the memorial this message is inscribed, "This memorial is in memory of a young child who died a tragic death. As a result, laws changed and awareness increased. This is a commitment to our children, that the Indianapolis Police Department is working to make this a safe city for our children." A child advocacy center in Lebanon, Indiana was officially named The Sylvia's Child Advocacy Center in remembrance of Sylvia.

Finding the Location

The house where Sylvia Likens was brutally tortured and murdered was torn down in 2009, and nothing but a gravel parking lot remains in it's place. The lot is located at the north-west corner of E. New York St and N. Denny St.