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

(The mattress in the bedroom where the police found Sylvia's body. Photo credit:

Continued from part three...

As I mentioned in parts one, two and three, please be aware that this post contains some disturbing content.

In one of her sick games, Gertrude told Sylvia that she could sleep upstairs again if she could learn to control her bladder during the night. She instructed John, Coy and Stephanie to tie her up so that she couldn't get up to go to the bathroom during the night. Gertrude said to her ''You can't go to the bathroom until you've learnt not to wet the bed.''

The poor girl had wet the bed during the night and the next morning she was dragged into the living room and forced to perform a strip tease in front of Gertrude's sons and some of the neighbourhood kids again. She was also forced to put a Cocoa Cola bottle up her vagina again. In the middle of all of this, Stephanie walked in and slapped Sylvia across the face.

Gertrude suddenly announced to Sylvia, ''You have branded my daughters so I will have to brand you.'' 

Sylvia was tied down and gagged and Hobbs was told to tattoo her. Gertrude heated a sewing needle till it was orange and carved ''I'' and part of an ''M'' into Sylvia's stomach. She ordered Ricky Hobbs to finish the job. He started carving but stopped and asked Gertrude how to spell ''Prostitute'' so she wrote it down for him and he continued. Sylvia now had ''I'm a prostitute and proud of it'' carved into her stomach. Ricky, Paula and 10 year old Shirley decided they wanted to put something on Sylvia's chest. They decided to go with an ''S'' and Rick carved the first half and told Jenny to do the rest to which she refused so Shirley took over. Shirley carved the wrong way and the 'S'' ended up looking like a ''3''.

Gertrude returned and began to mock Sylvia in front of her little gang, Randy Lepper, Shirley, Ricky, and Jenny.

 ''What are you going to do now Sylvia? You can't get married now. You can't undress in front of anyone. What are you going to do now?'' 

Sylvia responded to Gertrude and said ''I guess there's nothing I can do. It's on there.''

When they all left, Sylvia was left alone in the basement where she was kept for most of the time. Her sister visited her during the night and on this occasion she told Jenny, ''Jenny, I know you don't want me to die but I'm going to die, I can tell.''

Shortly after this, Gertrude brought Sylvia upstairs and allowed her to sleep in one of the bedrooms. Stephanie and Gertrude gave her a warm bath rather than the usual boiling hot one. After this, Gertrude told her that she was going to write a letter to her parents. As Gertrude dictated, Sylvia wrote down what she said onto the piece of paper.

To Mr and Mrs Likens.

I went off with a gang of boys in the middle of the night and they said that they would pay me if I gave them something. So I got in the car and they all got what they wanted and when they were finished, they beat me up and left sores on my face and all over my body.

And they also put on my stomach, I am a prostitute and proud of it.

I have done just about everything I could to make Gertie mad and cost Gertie more than she's got. I tore up a new mattress and peed on it. I have also cost Gertie doctor bills that she really can't pay and made Gertie a nervous wreck and all her kids.

For some reason, Gertrude didn't ask Sylvia to sign the letter but it was clear that she had a feeling that Sylvia was coming to the end of her life as she was growing even more weaker by the day.

Sylvia overheard Gertrude making plans to have her dumped in a waste lot to be left to die. She ordered John Jr and Jenny to carry this out. Sylvia panicked and tried to escape but being too weak and not having much energy, Gertrude got a hold of her. 

Sylvia was dragged to the kitchen where she was offered a piece of dry toast, when she refused and said that she couldn't swallow properly, Gertrude took down a curtain rod and beat her on the mouth with it. John Jr was ordered to take her back down to the basement and tie her up.

A short while later, Gertrude came down to the basement with some crackers. Sylvia refused them and said ''Give it to the dog, it's hungrier than I am.'' Gertrude then punched Sylvia several times in the stomach before leaving the basement. 

On the 24th of October, Gertrude and John Jr both beat Sylvia. Gertrude threw a chair at her but it broke against the wall so she tried to hit her with the paddle but ended up hitting herself in the face. Coy Hubbard then stepped in and beat Sylvia unconscious with a broomstick.

During the night up until 3 am, the neighbours later told the police that they heard a scrapping sound coming from the Baniszewski basement. It was Sylvia using the scoop end of a shovel in an attempt to attract attention from the neighbours. None of the neighbours contacted the police.

On the 26th of October, Sylvia was given a final non-torturous bath by Ricky and Stephanie. They noticed that she wasn't breathing in the bathtub. Stephanie attempted to give her CPR but Sylvia was gone. 

Gertrude told her children to strip Sylvia naked and ordered Ricky to go to the payphone (there wasn't a phone line in the house) and call the police. 

 (Sylvia Likens as she was and a police photograph from the crime scene at the Baniszewski house. Photo credit:

When the police arrived, Gertrude came up with a ridiculous story that Sylvia had run away as a prostitute and that she had shown up on her doorstep out of the blue half naked with a note claiming that a gang of boys had attacked her. She said that she'd been doctoring Sylvia for about an hour when she passed away.

In the middle of all of this, Paula who was holding a bible, announced to everyone that Sylvia's death was meant to happen and told Jenny ''If you want to live with us Jenny, we'll treat you like our own sister.'' 

The police were not stupid, they could see that they were not dealing with people who were of sound body and mind and the poor girl's body was so emaciated and covered in sores, bruises and burns that they could tell that her injuries had come about over a period of time and not the result of a recent attack as Gertrude had claimed. They took a look at the note and during the commotion, Jenny whispered to one of the police officers ''Get me out of here and I'll tell you everything.''

The police didn't waste any time and arrested Gertrude, Paula, Stephanie, John, Ricky and Coy. The neighbourhood children who were present at the time, Mike Monroe, Randy Lepper, Judy Duke and Anna Siscoe were also arrested for ''Injury to a person.''

Gertrude, her children, Ricky and Coy were held without bail pending their trials.

Charges against Mike Monroe, Randy Lepper, Judy Duke and Anna Siscoe were dismissed.

Stephanie Baniszewski's lawyer got her a separate trial and before it was able to begin, the district attorney dropped the murder charges.

An autopsy performed on Sylvia Likens body concluded that she had suffered over 150 separate wounds across her entire body. Her injuries included burns, bruises, muscle and nerve damage. Her vaginal cavity was almost swollen shut. A further examination determined that Sylvia was still a virgin at the time of her death. All of her fingernails were broken backwards, layers of her skin were peeling off and she had bitten through her lips, partially severing sections of them from her face. Her official cause of death was severe swelling and hemorrhaging of the brain combined with shock and malnutrition. 

(seated, left to right: John Nedeff, Stephanie Baniszewski, Ricky Hobbs, Paula Baniszewski, John Baniszewski, Coy Hubbard, Gertrude Baniszewski and attorney William Erbecker. Photo credit:

The trial began in May of 1966, the prosecution sought the death penalty for everyone involved, including John and Ricky who were 13 and 14 at the time. Paula went into labour during the trial and gave birth to a girl whom she named ''Gertrude'' after her mother. There were four different attorneys involved, one for Gertrude, one for Paula, one for John and Coy and one for Ricky, even though they were all being tried together. Each attorney tried to pass on the blame to the others involved in an attempt to get their client acquitted or a lesser sentence. 

Gertrude and her attorney tried to pull the wool over people's eyes by portraying her as a weak, mentally ill person and placed all of the blame onto the children. The children placed the blame on Gertrude and the other children involved. 

Some of the most damaging testimony came from Gertrude herself when she repeated her paranoid ramblings about Sylvia being a prostitute who had been seeing middle-aged married men and that she caused trouble in her house.

To corroborate Gertrude's story, her 11 year old daughter, Marie was called to the stand. At first the child repeated everything her mother had told her to say but under cross examination, she crumbled and told the truth about everything that happened.

Gertrude was found guilty of first degree murder but she did not receive the death penalty. She was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Paula was convicted of second degree murder, she appealed and was granted a a new trial but before it began she struck a plea bargain and plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. She served just three years of her sentence and was paroled, despite trying to previously escape prison. 

John, Coy and Ricky were each convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in a Juvenile detention facility, By the time Ricky was released, the reality of what he had done, played heavily on his mind and he suffered a nervous breakdown. He became a heavy chain smoker and died of lung cancer at 21 years old. 

Gertrude appealed and was also given a new trial. She was found guilty again but sentenced to 18 years to life. She became a model prisoner behind bars and worked in a sewing shop. She became a shoulder to cry on to younger female prisoners and by the time she came up for parole in 1985, her nickname in prison was ''Mom''.

The public and the Likens family were outraged at hearing that Gertrude was being considered for parole. The Likens family made TV appearances and members of two anti-crime groups organised a sidewalk picket campaign. Over the course of two months, the groups collected 40,000 signatures from the public stating that Gertrude Baniszewski should remain behind bars.

At her parole hearing, Gertrude said, ''I'm not sure what role I had in it, because I was on drugs. I never really knew her. I take full responsibility for whatever happened to Sylvia.''

Despite efforts to keep her in prison, Gertrude walked out of the prison gates on the 4th of December, 1985. She changed her name to ''Nadine Van Fossen''. Her taste of freedom was to be short lived as she died in 1990 of lung cancer.

(Gertrude Baniszewski, picture taken in 1985, shortly before her release. Photo credit:

Another alarming fact is that both Stephanie and Paula managed to get jobs in schools working with children. After the trial, Stephanie was said to have moved in with her father, she later became a teacher and moved to Florida. She has claimed in the past that she didn't have anything to do with what happened to Sylvia but others disagree.

Paula, who was now calling herself, ''Paula Pace'', was working as a counsellors aid in a school and had been for quite some time when someone recognised her picture from facebook and tipped off the school in 2012. She was suspended then fired from the position. The baby girl that she had during the trial and had named ''Gertrude'' was given up for adoption. Her whereabouts in 2019 are unknown.

Shirley who was 10 years old at the time of the murder and Marie who was 11 had no charges brought against them. Marie was last heard to be living in Iowa and is close to Paula. Marie still lives in Indiana and has previously said that both herself and Shirley only took part in what happened to Sylvia because they were scared. She is said to be close to her sister Stephanie but not with her other sisters, Paula and Shirley.

John changed his surname to ''Blake'' and was released into the custody of his father where he continued school. He became a minister, got married and had three children. In 1998, he spoke publicly in the wake of the Johnsboro Massacre to say that he took full responsibility for his role in the murder and that a harsher sentence would have been more just. He died at the age of 52 after a long illness in 2005.

Coy Hubbard had run ins with the law as soon as he was released and this would continue throughout his life. He was acquitted of the murder of two men. He got married and had 6 children. He never moved away or changed his name but when An American Crime was released, he was fired from his job. He died at the age of 56 in 2007.

Judy Duke was initially arrested but the charges were dropped. She later got married and had three children. 

Darlene McGuire who was originally Sylvia's friend and introduced her to Paula, has never shown any remorse about her treatment of Sylvia. Darlene was one of the children who burnt Sylvia with cigarettes.

Randy Lepper had his charges dropped despite the fact he admitted that he hit Sylvia 30 - 40 times. Not much is known about his life other than he never married or had children and passed away in 2010.

Mike Monroe who was originally arrested and the charges were dropped, still lives in the same house he was living in when the murder happened. It is not known to what extent he was involved but he has never publicly apologised or said sorry for his involvement. 

Anna Sisco was also initially arrested but the charges were dropped. Not much is known about her life after the trial but she passed away in 1996.

Dennis Wright Jr. Dennis was a baby at the time of the murder and when the trial had ended he went into foster care. His foster parents were said to be abusive and he had a difficult life dealing with that and the knowledge about what his biological family did. He eventually got married and had a son. He passed away in 2012.

James Baniszewski who was 8 at the time of Sylvia's murder was involved at certain points in her torture but police said he was too young to be held accountable. He has never shown any remorse and has said that Sylvia died on purpose to piss his mom off.

Lester and Betty Likens divorced. Betty later remarried and passed away in 1999 at the age of 71. Lester Likens passed away in 2013.

 Jenny Fay Likens Wade was married with children and sadly passed away due to a heart attack at the age of 54 in 2004.

The house on East New York Street was eventually demolished on the 23rd of April 2009 and in it's place is now a church parking lot.

(Sylvia's grave. Photo credit:

Sylvia's funeral took place in November of 1965 and was attended by over 100 people. The service took place at Russel and Hitch Funeral Home In Lebanon, She was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, her headstone is inscribed with the words ''Our Darling Daughter''.

(The Sylvia Likens Memorial. Photo credit:

In June 2001, a memorial was formally dedicated to Sylvia which was attended by several hundreds of people, including, Sylvia's family.

This was a really difficult case to research, the details were so disturbing and it just got worse and worse the more I looked into it. My heart broke for Sylvia and Jenny. I have a lot of questions about this case which I'm sure a lot of people do too but it's too late for them to be answered. I can't get my head around Lester leaving the girls with a woman he hardly knew and I don't think the visits to see the girls were regular especially in the last months of Sylvia's life. She was so emaciated and covered in sores, burns and bruises that a parent would have spotted this straight away.

The neighbours, Phyllis and Raymond annoyed me because they witnessed some horrific things and chose to do nothing. They claimed it was through fear but they'd not long just bought their house and probably didn't want to upset their lives having to move or maybe they thought they'd be targeted by the Baniszewski kids.

That house seemed to be a hot spot for all of the kids in the neighbourhood and Gertrude was like the Pied Piper. These kids who took part in the torture and humiliation of that poor girl basically got away with it. I suppose we can take some comfort knowing that Gertrude had just five years of freedom. Her daughter Paula was just as much a monster as she was.

What a horrific case! Thank you so much if you've stuck with me this far, I really appreciate it. If you know any more details about what happened to Paula or any of the other Baniszewski family after the trial, please leave some comments below or tweet me and we'll have a chat about the case.

RIP Sylvia, Jenny, Betty and Lester.

Further reading and sources:

Murder Of Sylvia Likens
Murderpedia: Gertrude Baniszewski
An American Crime
The Girl Next Door
Torture Mom by Ryan Green
House of Evil by John Dean
The Punishment Game by Lavinia Jewel
Sylvia: The Likens Trial by Forrest Bowman Jr

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The Tragic Life & Death of Marvin Gaye

The Camden Ripper: Anthony John Hardy

Deadly Obsession: The Ricardo Lopez Story

Targeted: The Kriss Donald Story

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  1. I've just finished reading all of your posts on this murder. I actually can't believe this happened. What sick people they were. Poor Sylvia. Thanks for sharing, it was an interesting read.

    1. Thank you so much hun for taking the time to read and comment. Yeah, it really was a horrible case x

  2. I think Silvia's parents should also be blamed. How they were able to leave their kids with a complete stranger?
    The neighbors should've said something but their selfishness was stronger.
    Horrific to know that "monsters"are real.

    1. Right! How can so many people be THIS complicit in violating another humans basic human right to live without being tortured. If I was the neighbors I would drown from grief for not having listened to my gut! Especially those parents who were smart enough to say “maybe we shouldn’t leave our kids here.” WELL someone else’s kids are there and you SHOULD be looking out for them.

  3. I believe Gertrude enjoyed the power and fear she was able to hold over poor Sylvia and her sister. And in a way it seems that her children did these horrible things to please their Mother. Everytime Gertrude had a audience it was another chance to escalate the horrors and pain and embarrassment and abuse and by getting her children and neighborhood kids engaged in the torture the less likely someone was going to the cops about it.

  4. I never even heard of something so horrific and inhumane and I've read of some really terribly wicked things, but this takes the lead. I hope I never come across something so evil ever again. I just can't stop crying and grieving in my heart for poor Sylvia. Such an innocent beautiful soul she was. She didn't deserve any of this. I haven't been able to sleep well since watching the movie American Crime based on this horrific case. The screams in that movie I can hear them in the night. I'd pace my house in grief for her.

  5. Sylvia was beautiful, inside & out... That evil witch & the eldest daughter couldn't stand her because of it. They wanted to extinguish her light, pure envy, hatred & evil.
    Special place in hell for them for sure.

  6. it is such a shame that some people can reproduce. so many people cant and gertrude was able to keep pumping out sick, weak, horrible minded children that have absolutely contributed nothing to society except looking out for themselves. i see that some of the involved have died ( that is a very good thing) but others are still on this earth taking up space. it is ashame that we have to live among them.

  7. Is the court system stupid? The adult who may or may not have been on drugs, mentally unfit (definitely) was a psychopath and should have received the death penalty. Why? In addition to what was done to Sylvia and Jenny, EVERY SINGLE child who part took in the sadistic torture of another human being clearly found it for “kicks” and took pleasure in it EVEN if G “manipulated them”. Morally it should have felt wrong and even if they complained to their parents who chalked it up to “punishment for being bad” at least one or two of those kids should have felt unsettled enough to protest to their parents like “Yes you and daddy might whip me for talking back or getting bad grades but Mama, Daddy, they were forcing soda cans inside or her and burning her with needles.” I BET like 4-5 fathers would have grabbed shot guns and broken down her door. G should have been put to death for that reason alone, that she exposed innocent neighborhood children to such vicious acts. God Forbid if someone exposed my kids to something like that I would make it my life’s mission to watch them hang.
    And no, I wouldn’t have my kids witness it either.

    To IMAGINE some of these “manipulated kids” with their twisted experience are now grown adults with children of their own, it’s one SURE way to perpetuate the cycle of abuse! They never knew any better and their linage well it doesn’t stand a chance really. Let’s let the Mercy of the one true God cure them.