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

(The basement stairs in the Baniszewski house. Photo credit:

Continued from part two...

As with parts one and two, this post contains some disturbing descriptions of child abuse and torture, please be warned. 

 Jenny had to stand by and watch as her sister was bullied, beaten, harassed and starved with threats that if she tried to intervene or tell anyone, that she'd be next. There would be times where she'd be forced to join in and threatened that if she didn't she'd end up in the basement. Jenny later said that when she was forced to hit Sylvia, she would use her weak arm as to try and not hurt her as much. 

Gertrude was ready to pounce on any little thing that Sylvia said or did that she thought was wrong. She was looking for excuses to harm Sylvia and when she overheard a conversation about Sylvia once having a boyfriend who she made out with, Gertrude saw red.

Flying into a rage she confronted Sylvia and questioned her about this boy and called her a prostitute before telling all of the children that ''Sylvia is pregnant because she let a boy touch her vagina.'' 

Gertrude threw Sylvia on the floor and began kicking her really hard in the crotch area over and over again. When she grew tired as she often did with her asthma, Paula would take over. Sylvia, thinking the beating was over, tried to sit on a chair to which Paula threw her off and screamed ''You're not fit to sit in the chair.''

From that moment on, Sylvia was only allowed to sit down on a chair if she was given permission too. 

Encouraged by their mother, the children would beat Sylvia, hitting her with objects, pulling her hair, punching her, throwing her down the stairs. They treated her like a human rag doll. 

Surprisingly, Sylvia and Jenny still attended school with all of this going on and Gertrude had such a hold over them psychologically that they dare not tell a soul what was going on at the Baniszewski house. Gertrude was a master manipulator and knew how to play mind games with people and play on people's emotions to her own advantage. 

The day after Gertrude attacked Sylvia by kicking her in the crotch repeatedly, she attended school as normal whilst trying to put up a facade that all was ok. There was a lot of anger there, understandably and the girls wanted some sort of revenge. For some reason they thought it would be a good idea to tell people in the school that Paula and Stephanie were prostitutes. Word quickly got around and Stephanie's boyfriend, Coy Hubbard, went to the Baniszewski house to tell Gertrude what was happening. 

When Sylvia appeared, she was confronted by Coy and beaten. Gertrude then gave him permission to come round to the house whenever he felt like it to beat Sylvia up, which he did. 

Using her master manipulative skills, Gertrude told Sylvia's best friend, Anna Siscoe that Sylvia had been telling all the boys at school that Anna's mother was a whore. Anna, believing this to be true, followed Gertrude to where Sylvia was and was encouraged to beat Sylvia up. 

Gertrude then told another friend of Sylvia's called Judy Duke, that Sylvia had been spreading rumours around about her mother. Gertrude encouraged the two girls to fight whilst Jenny was stood in shock not knowing what to do. Gertrude ordered Jenny to punch her sister in the face. When Jenny refused, Gertrude began smacking her across the face until she finally agreed to punch her sister.

In August 1965, a middle-aged couple named Phyliss and Raymond Vermillion bought the house next door to the Baniszewski family. The couple had two children themselves and were looking for a babysitter whilst Phyliss attended work. 

The couple noticed that Gertrude, who seemed polite and friendly to them, was a single mother who had a number of children to care for. They took that as a sign that Gertrude must have been a very maternal person and very family oriented. They thought about Gertrude babysitting for them in return for some money. They thought the money would help Gertrude out a bit and they only lived next door so it was handy. 

In an effort to get to know Gertrude and her family a little bit more, they invited them all round to their barbecue. Whilst Phyliss and Gertrude were talking, she noticed a thin, shy girl with a black eye in the background. Noticing Phyliss looking at Sylvia, Paula walked up to Sylvia with a cup of hot water and threw it in her face, she also proudly told Phyliss that she was the one who was responsible for Sylvia's black eye.

Phyliss was shocked and told her husband that maybe it wasn't such a good idea for Gertrude to babysit their children. The couple didn't report the incident to the authorities. 

A couple of months later, Phyliss went over to visit Gertrude to borrow something and saw Sylvia walking around in a daze with swollen lips and a black eye which was swollen shut. As Phyliss sat waiting for Gertrude, Paula again told Phyliss that she was responsible for Sylvia's injuries and proceeded to beat her with a belt. Phyliss again, failed to report the incident to authorities, she later claimed that she was scared.

Paula once punched Sylvia so hard on her jaw that she broke her wrist. She had to wear a cast but this didn't stop her using the cast to beat Sylvia. 

A little while after this, Sylvia told Gertrude that she needed a sweat suit for school, Gertrude told her that she could not afford one. There's varied accounts of what happened next from various sources, some people believe that Sylvia stole a sweat suit from school and others believe that she was falsely accused by Gertrude as another excuse to beat her. Whatever the case with the sweat suit, Gertrude accused her of theft and threw her to the ground where she repeatedly kicked her in the crotch. To ''cure'' Sylvia of her ''sticky fingers'', Gertrude burned the tips of each of her fingers with a cigarette.

Afterwards, she made Sylvia bend over whilst she beat her with a leather police belt which was left over from her ex husband. As if the girl's suffering was not quite enough, Gertrude told the smokers of the household to burn their cigarettes into Sylvia's body to teach her a lesson not to steal.

Sometime later, Sylvia tried to find some empty Coca Cola bottles around the neighbourhood as a way of making some money. One wonders if she was desperate for some proper food as the eating situation at the Baniszewski household was a nightmare. Maybe she wanted to give Gertrude some money in hopes that she and the children would stop beating her? who knows. Sylvia returned to the house and Gertrude found the money and accused her of being a prostitute. 

Gertrude dragged Sylvia into the living room where she forced Sylvia to strip naked in front of her sons and several neighbourhood boys. She told her that if she didn't do as she ordered, she would beat her sister Jenny. Once she was fully naked, Gertrude forced her to put an empty Coca Cola bottle up her vagina in front of the boys.

Due to this incident, Sylvia developed bladder problems and accidentally wet the bed at night. Gertrude decided that she was no longer fit to live with humans and locked her in the filthy, cold and dusty basement. As Sylvia wasn't allowed to go upstairs to the toilet and there was no bucket, she had no choice but to urinate and defecate on the floor. When Gertrude saw this, she began a harsh bathing regime to ''Cleanse Sylvia'' who she nicknamed ''Dirty girl''. This harsh regime consisted of a bath full of boiling hot water, tying Sylvia's wrists and ankles together and dunking her in and out of the water till her skin was red raw. Once her skin was throbbing and peeling from the hot water, Paula would rub handfuls of salt all over her nude body. 

These hellish baths would sometimes take place several times a day, depending on what kind of mood Gertrude was in. There were times when Sylvia would faint from the hot temperatures of the baths and Gertrude would repeatedly bang her head against the bath in an attempt to revive her.

Gertrude became friendly with a neighbourhood boy called Ricky Hobbs who was 14 years old (this was later deemed to be an inappropriate relationship) who seemed to hang on her every word. Up until this point, Ricky was a well behaved boy, an honour student who came from a respectable family and had never been in trouble with the law. Under Gertrude's spell, he became her assistant and would help her torture Sylvia.

The Baniszewski family turned Sylvia into a money making opportunity. Kids from the neighbourhood would pay money to come and see her naked or have the opportunity to punch, kick or throw her down the stairs. By this time, Gertrude had forbade Sylvia from going to school or to be allowed out of the house. 

Sylvia was constantly naked and was was hardly ever fed. If she was allowed anything, it was mostly some dry crackers or a bowl of soup which she would have to eat with her fingers. The children would often tease her with the soup by pushing the bowl in front of her and then taking it away. Often, Gertrude and her 12 year old son John Jr would force Sylvia to ''clean'' the basement by ''allowing her'' to eat her own feces. She was given a container to collect her urine of which she would be forced to drink for John Jr and Gertrude's amusement.

Sylvia and Jenny had ran into their elder sister, Diana, a couple of times over the previous weeks when they were in the park and tried to tell her what had been going on but she thought that they were making up stories as an excuse to try and move in with her.

A local reverend had been visiting members of his congregation and he visited the Baniszewski house. The Reverend never saw Sylvia but Gertrude told him that she was a prostitute and that she was having difficulties with her. When Jenny appeared in the room and was asked about her sister, Jenny lied and told the reverend that her sister told lies as Gertrude was stood by keeping an eye on what she was saying. He returned a couple of weeks later and a similar situation happened with Gertrude complaining about Sylvia and saying a prayer.

The father of one of the neighbourhood boys had called the Arsenal Technical High school to anonymously report that there was a girl with sores all over her body at the Baniszewski house. As Sylvia had not been attending school, a nurse was sent out to investigate the situation. Gertrude told the nurse that Sylvia had been up to no good and she had thrown her out of the house. The nurse filed a report that no more visits were required at Gertrude's house.

One of the neighbourhood kids who'd been to the house and seen Sylvia, told her mother that she saw a girl being beaten up. Her mother replied in a non caring way that that's what happens when someone is being punished. 

In the beginning of October, Diana tried to visit her sisters and was told by Gertrude to stay away, she claimed that Betty and Lester had specifically told her to keep the girls away from Diana. A short time after this, Diana ran into Jenny and tried to talk to her and find out what was really going on. Jenny told her that she wasn't allowed to speak to her and ran away.

Continued in part four...

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