If you’ve ever read Jack Ketchum’s “The Girl Next Door,” you may not know that the novel was loosely based on the horrific story of Sylvia Likens.
While the 16-year-old and her sister, Jenny, were staying with the Baniszewski family in Indianapolis, Indiana, Sylvia became the unfortunate victim of sadistic abuse.Only three months after arriving at their home, she died from starvation and injuries sustained from ruthless mutilation.
Aside from those directly involved in torturing her, nobody in the neighborhood seemed to be aware that any of this was happening.
This is a photo of Sylvia that was taken shortly before her stay at the Baniszewski house.She and Jenny were living with their mother, Betty, in Indianapolis at the time.Their parents were separated.
After Betty was arrested for shoplifting in 1965, their father, Lester, decided to send them to live with Gertrude Baniszewski, who was the mother oftheir new friend, Paula. Lester was a carnival worker, so he believed that this would be a more stable living arrangement for his daughters.
This quickly proved to be a terrible mistake.Gertrude was a depressed, unstable woman who frequently beat the sisters with paddles before taking her anger out solely on Sylvia.
She verbally and physically abused Sylvia on a daily basis, frequently calling her a whore and accusing her of being a prostitute.She had harsh views about women in general and ranted about how filthy they were.
It wasn’t long before she started involving her children in the beatings, which eventually turned into torture.She encouraged her 13-year-old son, John, his siblings, and other neighborhood children to do horrific things to Sylvia.
Their torment included tying her up, putting out cigarettes on her bare skin, pouring scalding water on her, rubbing salt into her raw wounds, and making her eat feces.One of their most awful methods was forcing Sylvia to get naked and insert a soda bottle into her vagina on two different occasions.
Seventeen-year-old Paula Baniszewski punched Sylvia so hard one day that she broke her wrist in the process.She also kicked her in the genitals and accused her of being pregnant, likely trying to verify her mother’s claims that Sylvia was a “whore.”
Even Jenny was told to hit her own sister.Though she and Sylvia made multiple attempts to contact their family and tell them what was happening, they were never taken out of the house.
Sylvia was eventually forbidden to go to school and forced to live naked in the basement, where she rarely got to drink water or eat.Days before her death, Gertrude and a neighborhood boy, Richard Hobbs, carved the words “I’m a prostitute and proud of it” on her abdomen with a heated needle.
Hobbs and Gertrude’s other 10-year-old daughter, Shirley, also used an iron poker to burn the letter “s” into her chest.When later asked why he mutilated Sylvia, Hobbs said it was because Gertrude had told him to do it.
When Sylvia attempted to escape, Gertrude caught her and tied her up in the basement, beating and burning her mercilessly.A day later, she died of a brain hemorrhage, shock, and malnutrition.
Police finally came to the house after Hobbs called them from a payphone.They were shocked when they found Sylvia’s horribly mutilated body and arrested Gertrude, Paula, John, Hobbs, and another neighborhood boy, Coy Hubbard, for murder.
John Baniszewski, Hobbs, and Hubbard were convicted of manslaughter andreceived two to 21 years in prison, but they were all released onparole in 1968.Paula Baniszewski was originally convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, but her conviction was later changed to voluntary manslaughter, for which she only served one year in prison.
Gertrude was convicted of first-degree murder andsentenced to life in prison, but shockingly enough, she was released for good behavior in 1985.She died five years later from lung cancer.