The Most Evil Woman Ever? | Gertrude Baniszewski: Part two

(The Baniszewski house. Photo credit:

Continued from part one...

As previously mentioned, my posts on this case contain some very disturbing details so please be warned.

Sylvia Marie Jenkins was born on the 3rd of January, 1949 in Lebanon, Indiana to Betty and Lester Jenkins. She had two sisters, Diana and Jenny, and two brothers, called Benny and Daniel. Her family struggled financially and would move frequently as their father tried to find work. Sylvia's parents would often travel with carnivals selling food from concession stands to make ends meet. Her sister Diana who was the oldest sibling, later became estranged from the family and got married. Diana had started a family and had her own house. Benny and Daniel would often go to their grandparents whilst their parents worked away and there would always be difficulties trying to find somewhere for Sylvia and Jenny to stay. 

Jenny walked with a limp due to polio and had to wear a steel brace on one of her legs. Sylvia was very close to her sister Jenny and very over protective. They would go rollerskating together with Sylvia placing a skate onto Jenny's strong foot and holding onto her carefully as she skated around the roller rink. Sylvia was described by those that knew her as a kind and caring person who made friends easily. The constant moving around must have been hard for her but she had a confidence when meeting new people because she was used to it and would fit in wherever she was pretty quickly. Her nickname was ''Cookie'' and she was a big fan of The Beatles. She was a pretty girl with freckles and lovely long wavy brown hair. She would always smile with her mouth closed due to a missing tooth that was knocked out during an accident playing a game with one of her brothers.

Sylvia always seemed to have a little bit of an entrepreneur about her, she was always doing little jobs, such as ironing for people, sweeping up leaves from a neighbours lawn or collecting empty Coca Cola bottles for money.

 In July of 1965, Betty had suffered financial problems as she and her husband had just recently separated and she turned to shoplifting. Betty ended up getting caught and was put in jail which left Sylvia and Jenny to fend for themselves after their brothers went to their grandparents and due to the family estrangement, they couldn't go to their oldest sister Diana's house.

One day, Sylvia and Jenny were walking down the street with their friend, Darlene McGuire when Darlene came across her friend, Paula Baniszewski. Darlene introduced Sylvia and Jenny and all the girls seemed to get along just fine. Later, Paula suggested that they all go to her house for some soda and listen to some music. The girls went to the Baniszewski house and had a great time getting to know each other and Paula suggested that the girls stay over at her house that night. Darlene had to go home but Sylvia and Jenny stayed behind as they were staying at home themselves at this point with their mother being in Jail so they didn't have to ask for permission.

Lester Likens who was elsewhere, had found out about his estranged wife's incarceration and went to visit her. They discussed their financial problems and giving their marriage another chance. They decided that their best chance of making any money was to carry on working together travelling with the carnivals. Their only problem was finding somewhere suitable for the girls to stay, where they could continue attending school. The boys were settled at their grandparents house so Lester set off to find Sylvia and Jenny and to see what arrangements could be made for them.

When he got to the house, the girls were missing and he began to worry. Lester asked around the neighbourhood if the girls had been seen and came across Darlene who told him that they were staying at Paula's house.

When Lester arrived at the Baniszewski house that evening, he was exhausted but relieved to see the girls and had gotten on really well with Gertrude. He could see that Gertrude or ''Gertie'' as the girl's had nicknamed her, had a lot of children to look after and that she had a ''young old'' look about her. As it was getting late, Gertrude offered Lester her sofa for the night and he accepted.

The next morning, Lester and Gertrude spoke over coffee about Lester and Betty's plans to get some money together working in the carnivals but they didn't know what to do with the girls as they would be worried for their safety. As the conversation continued, Gertrude and Lester came to the idea that the girls should stay at Gertrude's house where they could continue attending school and Lester would send her $20 a week.

The girl's seemed to be happy with this idea and were looking forward to spending more time with their friends without the constant moving around, they could stay at one place for once. Lester said goodbye to the girls and that he and Betty would be visiting soon and to behave. He told Gertrude to keep the girls on the straight and narrow as their mother had let them do what they wanted.

Despite staying in the house overnight and entrusting his daughters to Gertrude's care, a woman he had barely known. Lester failed to check out the house or notice the thick layers of dust, mould and dirt around the place. There was also a lack of plates, utensils and no stove or microwave. The only food that was on offer was bread, crackers and soup.

The first couple of weeks went well for the girls, they attended school and church with the Baniszewski family and went to the park with the children, all seemed well.

Things took a sudden turn when the $20 payment didn't come through on the day that Gertrude was expecting it. She flew into a rage and grabbed Sylvia and Jenny. She dragged the girls into a bedroom where she pulled down their pants and pushed them face first onto the bed. She yelled ''I took care of you two b*tches for two weeks for nothing,'' and proceeded to spank the girls very hard on the buttocks.

The payment arrived the next day and nothing more was said about it. There was no apology to the girls from Gertrude and when their parents came to visit them a short while later, nothing was said about the incident.

A short time after this the girls decided to go looking around the neighbourhood for empty Coca Cola bottles to get some money for candy. When they brought the candy back to share out with the other children, Gertrude flew into another rage and accused them of stealing. Sylvia tried to explain but Gertrude dragged her into a bedroom and hit her continuously on the backside with a paddle.

Things began to turn even sour between Gertrude's daughter Paula and Sylvia. Paula seemed to have a jealously towards Sylvia and when the children had come back from a dinner at their local church. Paula and some of the children told Gertrude that they had seen Sylvia stuff her face with lots of food.

Gertrude confronted Sylvia and told her that she was angry that she would do something that could ruin her appearance and sat her down at the kitchen table. The children had a collection of spices, mustard, ketchup, salt, etc and Gertrude made them pass around a hot dog whilst piling it up with condiments. Once the hot dog reached Sylvia, it was piled high with various sauces, she was forced to eat it. Sylvia vomited and Gertrude forced her to eat her own vomit whilst the children stood around taunting her.

Betty and Lester visited the girls at the house again and nothing was said about this incident either. After they had left, Gertrude taunted Sylvia, ''What are you going to do now, Sylvia? Now that they're gone?''

 One can only think that the girls were living in fear and had no idea how to get out of their situation. They didn't think they had anywhere else to go.

Continued in part three...

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