Sylvia Marie Likens
January 3, 1949 - October 26, 1965
Find A Grave Memorial
On October 26, 1965 in Indianapolis, Indiana a beautiful, young woman named Sylvia Marie Likens was released from the home that had been her prison for a long time. That release, unfortunately, came in the form of her death.

When the police found her body, it was covered with bruises and small wounds that were later revealed to be cigarette burns, there were over 100 of them on her body. Sylvia Marie Likens also had skin peeled back away from her body, the number 3 was burned into her body as were the words "I'm a prostitute and proud of it".

A 37 year old woman named Gertrude Baniszewski had lead a group of children, some as young as 11 years old and including, UNWILLINGLY, Sylvia's younger sister, Jenny and willingly, Gertrude's daughter Paula to beat and torture this young woman, until one day she died after being given a bath.

Sylvia and Jenny's parents had left their children with Gertrude to care for them while they traveled with a carnival. They hardly knew this woman and didn't even bother to check out her home before leaving their children alone with her. Lester told Gertrude that his daughters needed some discipline and asked her to straighten them out. Lester
and Betty had offered her $20. a week to care for their daughters. She did more than straighten them out.

One adult, Gertrude and four children were the only ones, out of the many who had contributed to Sylvia's tortured existence, to stand trail for her murder.  The charges against most of the children who had joined in were dropped. Gertrude, her daughter Paula, her son John, Coy Hubbard and a boy with the last name Hobbs were all charged and went to trial.

In May of 1966, Gertrude was on trial and denied having any part in the torture and death of Sylvia. She claimed that the children must have been the one to do this to her. She plead not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.

On May 19, 1966, Gertrude was found guilty of first degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Paula was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. All of the boys were sentenced to two to 21 year terms at the Indiana State Reformatory in Pendleton.

In 1971, Gertrude and Paula were granted a new trial by the Indiana Supreme Court based on a prejudicial atmosphere. Gertrude was, once again, convicted of first degree murder on August 5, 1971. Paula 
entered a guilty plea to manslaughter and served ONLY two years in prison. In 1968, the three boys who had been found guilty, were each granted parole for good behavior. They had only been in prison for about two years each.

In September 1985, Gertrude Baniszewski was released on parole. She changed her name to Nadine Van Fossan and moved to Iowa where she lived in obscurity until her death from lung cancer on June 16, 1990. Paula married and moved to a farm in Iowa. John became a lay minister in Texas and counseled children of divorced parents. Hobbs died of cancer at the age of 21, four years after being released from the reformatory. Hubbard has had several brushes with the law. Lester and Betty Likens divorced. Betty remarried and died in 1998 at age 71. Jenny Likens Wade died in 2004 at age 54. 

SHOCKINGLY in December of 1985, Gertrude was paroled from prison after serving only 20 years for her inhuman crimes against Sylvia Marie Likens. Changing her name to Nadine Van Fossan, she moved to Iowa and died of lung cancer on June 16, 1990. 

Paula was married and moved to Iowa to live on a farm. John became a minister in Texas. He was a counselor for children who came from homes where the parents had divorced. Coy had many other dealings with the law. Lester and Betty Likens were divorced. Betty remarried and she died in 1998 at the age of 71.

Jenny married, had children and was there when a monument was put up to honor her sister, Sylvia. Jenny died on June 23, 2004 at the age of 54.

How could so many people, including an older sister, a Reverend, a child's mother and several ADULT visitors to this home become aware of the horrible things that were happening to this innocent young girl, yet ignore it which allowed the abuse to continue until finally Sylvia Marie Likens body could take it no more and she died.

Clearly the case of Sylvia Marie Likens is one in which had ANY of the adults who witnessed this horror reported it to the proper authorities, she could have been released from the nightmare she was living. This true story should be a reminder to us all that we should NOT turn our backs on ANY child that needs our help.

I received an e-mail at one point, from a man who said that he had been one of the children who had tortured Sylvia all those years ago. He told me that not a day goes by that he doesn't think about Sylvia and regret what took place. I offered him the chance to tell his story here on her pages and he could even remain anonymous, I never heard from him again.

Below are pictures of the house where Sylvia died, the room where Sylvia was tortured and died, back then and how the house looks today.


Below is a picture of Sylvia's headstone.

Click below to view a trailer for the movie due out in 2007.

I received an e-mail on June 19, 2003 and here is what is said:

"I want to thank you for the memorial I saw on a web site for Sylvia Marie Likens. I remember
Sylvia and 
Jennie when we were very young playing together when they came to visit or stay with
 their Grandmother. 
Then for a short time living in our neighborhood. Thank you so very much!! 
Sylvia is buried in my hometown."
"Connie T."

After asking her for permission to use her comments on my site she had this to add:

"You may add what I had said earlier. I really do not remember  much about our times together,
we were so little. They moved 
around a lot, and was never in one place for long. I remember 
Sylvia as a quiet girl, which I assume we played dolls together, and Jennie with her leg brace,
which she was more wary 
about kids."
"Connie from Lebanon, Indiana"

My sincerest thanks go out to Connie for writing me and for allowing me to use her comments on my site. If you know any of the children within my child abuse pages and would like your comments to be on my site, on their page, please let me know by e-mail. THANK YOU!

You can see Jenny Fay Likens memorial, here: Find A Grave Memorial
Sylvia had a brother who died, you can read about Benny Ray Likens, here:  Find A Grave Memorial
Return To Sylvia's Story
Read About A Memorial For Sylvia
Click here for a 2012 news story

Death occurred in the state of Indiana

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