The Most Evil Woman Ever? | Gertrude Baniszewski: part one

(Gertrude Baniszewski during her second trial. Photo credit: murderpedia.org

When I read about this case the other day, it reminded me of a movie that I had watched years ago, back in 2007 which I thought was really disturbing. The film was called Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door and I thought it was just a horror movie but it turned out that the film was loosely based on the Sylvia Likens case.

The film was so disturbing that I thought at the time, nobody could be that evil but over the years I've learnt that there are some pretty sick people in the world that are capable of anything. In this series of posts, I will be covering one of the most shocking and horrendous murders that America and the world has ever seen. A sickening crime that involved a mother, her children and their neighbourhood. This case is from the 1960s but it still brings shock, fear, anger and disgust into the hearts of many to this day. 

Before I begin I have to warn you that the details in this case are very disturbing and involve child abuse, neglect, torture, violence and murder. There were points during my research when I had to stop and take a breath because I just couldn't believe what I was reading. 

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Let's begin...


Gertrude Nadine Baniszewski is a name that people who know about her would like to forget. She's had various nicknames over the years but the one that seems to have stuck the most is ''The Torture Mother''. Some people describe her as ''The Most Evil Woman Ever''. When I'd finished my research into the case these were the first words that popped into my head when thinking of a title. I added a question mark because I'm sure there are other female murderers out there who are just as worse and even more so than her but she is definitely evil. 

Gertrude Van Fossan was born in 1929 and was the third of six children. Not much is known about her childhood except that she was extremely close to her father but didn't bond so well with her mother. At the age of 11, Gertrude's beloved father had a heart attack and died in front of her. As anyone could imagine, this would be quite a traumatic thing to happen for a fully grown adult to witness let alone a child who wouldn't be psychologically capable to deal with the situation. Losing someone you love so suddenly in quite a shocking way right in front of you and feeling powerless to help must have been very traumatic for young Gertrude. Instead of her father's death bringing Gertrude and her mother together in their grief, they further drifted apart and arguments between the pair became a regular occurrence.

Gertrude went off the rails and dropped out of school at the age of 16. She married her 18 year old boyfriend, John Baniszewski and started a family. She would go on to have four children with him. The marriage was a violent one with Gertrude often starved of affection and during discussions, her husband would hit her if she dared to argue or disagree with him. John Baniszewski was a police officer who upheld the law in public but didn't seem to do so behind closed doors with his wife. 

Despite the rocky marriage, it lasted for 10 years before they divorced and Gertrude gained custody of all four children. Being an attractive woman at the time, it didn't take Gertrude that long to become involved in another relationship despite being a single mother of four children which was frowned upon by some people back in those days. She got together with a man called Edward Guthrie and after a brief romance, got married. The marriage was short lived and only lasted three months as Edward quickly grew tired of the family life and became fed up of being responsible for Gertrude's children. 

A short time after this, John Baniszewski came back on the scene again and Gertrude and John rekindled their romance. Despite their previous experience of being married to each other being a total disaster, they decided to try again and re-married. They managed to stay together for seven years before divorcing a second and final time in 1963. Gertrude won full custody of their children.

Gertrude began an affair around this time with a younger man called Dennis Lee Wright who was 23 years old. This was another relationship which proved to be violent with Dennis raising his hand regularly to Gertrude. She fell pregnant twice during the relationship with her suffering from a miscarriage with her first one to Dennis which was speculated to be due to his violent assaults. The second pregnancy lasted full term and she gave birth to her final child, Denny Lee Jr, in 1964.

she had 7 children and had suffered 6 miscarriages. Dennis Sr walked out on her and his newborn son leaving Gertrude struggling to make ends meet whilst trying to take care of her baby and 6 other children.

By the time 1965 rolled around, Gertrude's years of hardship, bad relationships and financial struggles were starting to take a toll on her health and appearance. She had lost a lot of weight and struggled with asthma as well as other ailments. Due to lack of proper nutrition, she had a receding hairline and her face looked tired and drawn. She also failed to wash regularly or keep her house clean and was a heavy chain smoker.

The family tried to get by on the sporadic child support payments from John Baniszewski. Gertrude would make the odd bit of money when she could, by doing a neighbours washing or babysitting their children.

Gertrude told people in the neighbourhood that she was married to Dennis Sr as a way of keeping some respectability as some people back then would frown upon having children out of wedlock. She changed her name to ''Mrs Gertrude Wright''.

Gertrude and her children, Paula (17), Stephanie (15), John (12), Marie (11), Shirley (10), James (8) and Dennis Jr (1),  lived in a big house at the corner of East New York and Denny Street. The address was 3850 East New York Street in Indianapolis, USA. The rent was $55 per month.


To add to the financial problems and Gertrude's worries, her 17 year old daughter, Paula, had fallen pregnant due to a fling with a middle-aged married man.

There's no disputing that Gertrude and her children had suffered a tough past and times were hard but what was to take place in that house on East New York Street was way beyond any nightmare anyone could have imagined.


Continued in part two...


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Check out some of the true crime cases I have covered previously:

The Tragic Life & Death of Marvin Gaye

The Camden Ripper: Anthony John Hardy

Deadly Obsession: The Ricardo Lopez Story

Targeted: The Kriss Donald Story

-Toxic Relationship: The Tracie Andrews Story

Stalked To Death: The Alissa Blanton Story

Rod Ferrell And The Kentucky Vampire Cult

What Happened To Dominique Dunne?



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