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Dark Destinations > Locations - S > The Sylvia Likens House

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Filed Under: Infamous Crimes > Sylvia Likens
Added By: Tom G
Added On: April 28, 2008 - 10:58 PM UTC
Last Modified: April 24, 2009 - 05:55 AM UTC
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3850 E New York St, Indianapolis, IN 46201, USA (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Sylvia Likens
On October 26, 1965, a teenage boy called the Indianapolis police to report that the body of a dead girl could be found at 3850 East New York Street. There they found the corpse of a 16 year old girl who had been slowly tortured and beat to death over a period of months. Her body was bruised and had been branded. The dead child also showed signs of malnutrition. The teen girl's name was Sylvia Likens.

Sylvia Likens was the middle child of a five children family. Her parents were carnies and frequently traveled with their job. The children were frequently relocated and left in the care of others while the parents traveled. In July of 1965, Lester Likens, Sylvia's father arranged for the room and board of his daughters Sylvia and 15 year old Jenny (crippled from polio) with Gertrude Baniszewski and her family in Indianapolis. The Baniszewskis were practically strangers to the Likens family, but in desperation he left his daughters in the care of Mrs. Baniszewski. He was to pay Baniszewski twenty dollars a week for their care. Lester also encouraged the woman to discipline his daughters while they were in her care.

Within three months, one of his daughters would be dead.

Gertrude Baniszewski
Gertrude Baniszewski had 7 children of her own by three different men (2 former husbands and boyfriend). She was actually going by the name of Gertrude Wright at the time Likens family met her, though this wasn't her legal name. Gertrude had a history of shacking up with men who were violently abusive with her, with the last boyfriend leaving her shortly after the birth of her last child. The Baniszewskis were so poor that by the time of Sylvia's death, the family had only a single spoon in the house to eat with and had to take turns with it. The entire family lived off of what little Gertrude made doing odd chores and babysitting as well as the occasional child support payment.

Some of Gertrude's Children Who Were Key to the Case
Paula, age 17. She met Sylvia and Jenny Likens and is responsible for introducing the Likens to her family. She would later take enjoyment from beating Sylvia in the head. Paula was pregnant with an illegitimate child, yet her and her mother would accuse the virginal Sylvia of being a slut or prostitute and beat her for it.

Marie, age 11. She would later confess against her mother in court.

Stephanie, age 15. her and her boyfriend Coy would administer multiple beatings to Sylvia.

John, age 12. He also participated in the beatings and torture. Later in life he became a Born-Again Christian and publicly speaks out against violence.

The Abuse Begins
Within two weeks, Gertrude began beating the Likens girls. A late arrival on a weekly payment from their parents resulted in Jenny and Sylvia having their bare bottoms spanked by Gertrude. The beatings would continue regularly for Sylvia as Baniszewski would accuse her of misbehaving or crimes varying from shoplifting to prostitution. The filthy conditions in the Baniszewski house also led to poor hygiene for Sylvia and her sister, which Gertrude used as another reason to punish the girl.

Abuses included paddling, beatings with belts, chairs, broomsticks, fists and kicks, making Sylvia eat her own vomit, being doused or submerged in scalding hot water, beatings to her genitals, forced masturbation with pop bottles and eventually even burning and branding of her flesh. Abuse of her genitals and stomach would eventually lead to the girl losing control of her bladder...which would in turn lead to more abuse. Neighbors witnessed some of the abuse but did not think to report it to the authorities. Neighborhood children witnessed Gertrude forcing Sylvia to masturbate with a bottle and said nothing. Even an attempt by Jenny and Sylvia to confide in an older Likens sibling about the abuse led to the sibling accusing them of lying. People outside the Baniszewski family would even eventually join in on the abuse.

The Abuse Escalates
Coy Hubbard, boyfriend of Stephanie Baniszewski, was a large teenager who beat on Sylvia and practiced his judo flips on her. Gertrude convince neighborhood girl, Anna Siscoe to beat Sylvia up by telling her lies about the girl. A local teen named Richard Hobbs assisted with abuse at times as well, being enlisted to help hold Sylvia down in baths of scalding water. Neighbor children Randy Lepper, Judy Duke, and Mike Monroe also participated in the abuse. Even Sylvia's own sister Jenny was forced to strike her at times.

By October Sylvia had been removed from school and was forced to remain naked for days at a time. The other children made a game out of pushing her down the cellar stair repeatedly. Starved, Sylvia was forced to eat and drink her own bodily wastes by Gertrude and her son, John. Gertrude and Richard Hobbs used a heated needle to brand "I'm a prostitute and proud of it!" into the skin of Sylvia's stomach. Richard then attempted to burn the letter "S" into the girl, but accidentally made the number "3" instead.

Sylvia's Body Finally Gives Out
Shortly before she died, Sylvia was forced to write a letter to her parents. It was dictated to her by Gertrude. She was made to address the letter in a formal rather than familiar manner. The letter blames her abuse on a gang of boys who she prostituted herself to. The letter then goes on to say how she's caused financial and emotional stress on Gertrude Baniszewski.

Gertrude began discussing plans for dumping Sylvia elsewhere. When Sylvia made an escape attempt she was once again beaten and locked in the cellar. The next day, while being given a bath by Stephanie and Richard, Sylvia stopped breathing.

Richard Hobbs called the police from a pay phone. Upon arrival, Gertrude Baniszewski handed the police the letter she'd forced Sylvia to write. However, Jenny Likens spoke up while the police were there and was taken to the police station where she explained everything that had happened to Sylvia.

The Trial
Gertude, Paula, Stephanie and John Baniszewski as well as Coy Hubbard and Richard Hobbs all were tried for the murder of Sylvia Likens. During the trial Gertrude would frequently blame Sylvia Likens for the abuse that was visited upon her, trying to absolve her own responsibility by laying the blame on the victim. Gertrude was sentenced to life in prison. Paula served a few years. Charges against he sister Stephanie were dropped. John, Coy and Richard all served a year and a half in juvenile detention for their part in the crime.

Anna Siscoe, Randy Lepper, Judy Duke, and Mike Monroe were all brought up on lesser charges which were ultimately dropped. Gertrude Baniszewski served only until 1985, when she was paroled. She died five years later.

Books and Film
Author Jack Ketchum based his fictional book, The Girl Next Door on the case of Sylvia Likens. Ketchum's book includes many of the tortures perpetrated on Sylvia, but changes the names, adds new characters and changes it so that the sisters are staying with a relative following a car accident that has left one of the girls crippled (rather than the polio that had actually afflicted Jenny) and left both girls orphans. He also changes the time period to the 1950s as well as having a narrator who is entirely a fictional creation. The book was adapted to film and released in 2007.

Also released in 2007 was the film An American Crime, starring actor Ellen Page as Sylvia Likens. The film is a dramatization of the actual case.

Other books based on the case include The Indiana Torture Slaying, The Basement, and By Sanction of the Victim.

How Could People Allow This To Happen?
This seems to be a frequent question that pops up in the case of Sylvia Likens. How could people in the family and the neighborhood have stood by and allowed this to happen? How could some children have participated in the crime? Yet this is not an isolated case. Many cases of abuse continue to happen when people are afraid to step forward or feel that they should not get involved.

In March of 2008, a 29 year old mentally challenged woman was beaten and tortured to death over a period of months in Alton, Illinois. In an eerie echo of the Sylvia Likens case, the woman, Dorothy Dixon, was taken in by Michelle Riley, 35, who befriended her through a service for the disabled where Riley worked. Riley collected and cashed Social Security checks intended for Dorothy.

Much like Sylvia having to worry about her crippled sister, Dorothy had a need to protect someone else. Her one year old son lived there with her. Dorothy was also forced to live in a basement and not allowed to wear clothing much of the time. Other course of months Michelle Riley, her 12 year old son, her 15 year old daughter LeShelle McBride, friends Benny Wilson, 16, Judy Woods, 43, and Michael Elliott, 18, all took part in the torture of Dorothy Dixon.

Dorothy was beaten with an aluminum baseball bat, shot repeatedly with BB guns for sport, and burned with scalding hot water and a glue gun. She was deprived of food and had to forage about for she could find for her child and herself. Even worse, she was pregnant during most of this abuse. Dorothy was 5 months pregnant at the time of her death.

People can be capable of horrific deeds when provided a permissive environment or even finding themselves rewarded by an authority figure, whether it is a government encouraging genocide or torture or the head of a household. Other folks can be afraid to say something when they witness horrible abuse for reasons varying from not wanting to get involved to feeling that everything must be okay because everyone else in the immediate environment seems okay with it.

If you are witness to abuse or are the victim of abuse, you need to get the authorities involved. There are organizations and agencies that can help. Some of these organizations are linked to below.

The Sylvia Likens House
The home where Sylvia Likens died was demolished on April 23, 2009. It fittingly served as a shelter for abused women for a time, but apparently was abandoned and fell into disrepair. During that time the house was broken into, vandalized and used for further illegal activities. The property was finally purchased by a local church and the house demolished to make way for a parking lot to be constructed on the spot. The demolition was cathartic for some in the neighborhood who were relieved to see the location of such suffering removed from existence.

If you are looking to observe the memory of Sylvia Likens, it is perhaps better to visit her grave (see Oak Hill Cemetery, Lebanon, IN) or her memorial (see Sylvia Likens Memorial) instead.
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Related Sites
Wikipedia: Sylvia Likens
Entry for murder victim Sylvia Likens at Wikipedia.
Crime Library: Sylvia Likens
Article on the murder of Sylvia Likens at Crime Library.
In Memory of Sylvia Likens
An online memorial to the memory of murder victim Sylvia Likens.
International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
Website for the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.
National Children's Alliance
Web site for the National Children's Alliance. An organization for the prevention and treatment of child abuse.
The Center Against Domestic Violence
Web site for the Center Against Domestic Violence. Working to prevent domestic abuse and assist survivors of domestic abuse.
Similar Destinations
Oak Hill Cemetery, Lebanon, IN
Sylvia Likens Memorial
Skidmore, Missouri
See Also on
Blog: The Sylvia Likens Murder Case (05/08/08)
Blog: Dark Destination's Birthday: Top 25 Destinations (08/05/08)
Blog: The Top 25 for the Month of October 2008 (11/04/08)
Blog: The Demolition of the Sylvia Likens House (04/24/09)
Blog: The Dark Destinations Top 50 for Spring 2009 (05/24/09)
Blog: Top 20 Dark Destinations for Month of January 2010 (01/31/10)
Available from
House of Evil: The Indiana Torture Slaying (St. Martin's True Crime Library)
The Indiana Torture Slaying: Sylvia Likens' Ordeal and Death
The Basement
The Girl Next Door
An American Crime
The Girl Next Door
By Sanction of the Victim
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Sylvia Likens
A photo of Indiana torture slaying victim Sylvia Likens.
From: Tom G
Gertrude Baniszewski
Gertrude Baniszewski on trial for the murder of Sylvia Likens.
From: Tom G
The Baniszewski House
The Baniszewski House as it appeared at the time of Sylvia Likens murder in 1965.
From: Tom G
Police Photo of the Basement Stairs
A police photo of basement stairs where Sylvia was tortured.
From: jrock420cfh
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The above content is for informational purposes only. Before making any travel arrangements, it is highly recommended that you contact those in charge of the property to check for updated availability and hours of operation. While we do our best to keep this information updated, we cannot guarantee that it is completely valid and up to date. Any destination marked "Closed to the Public" is marked that for a reason and we discourage any visits or attempts to gain access to that facility. Similarly, take note of any "Travel Advisory" that may be associated with a destination. Finally, treat any location and its local residents with respect. Any vandalism and/or unruly behavior is completely despicable and only ruins the experience for future visitors.

There are 7 comments in the database. Next 2
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Christy Stephens Feb 08 2010, 08:34 PM UTC
I lived about 4 houses down from this house in 1974 at the age of 13 and played with the children living there at the time. They talked about Sylvia Likens dying in the house and took me to the basement, however at the time I thought they were just children trying to scare me and my brothers. I found out last year that it was a true story and it sent chills down my spine. I had the one and only nose bleed I have ever had in my life in that house and thought I would need to go to the hospital due to the blood loss. The house was creepy and I feel so bad for what Sylvia had to go through and I am apalled that no one did anything to help her. May her soul rest in peace.
AMANDITA1981@YAHOO.COM Dec 04 2009, 11:41 PM UTC
pattikrieg Jun 12 2009, 11:28 PM UTC
the house has been demolished
Warren Dodd Apr 24 2009, 12:56 AM UTC
They tore this house down today. I drove by and watched part of the demolition. I say good riddance.
Highlander Jan 22 2009, 04:27 PM UTC
I just found out that the house (3850 E. New York St.) is getting ready to be offered for sale. My realtor spoke with the listing agent, and he said they are offering it for a mere $9,900. It's been unoccupied for quite a while. A church bought it a handful of hears ago to make a shelter out of it, but I don't think they ever did.

I'm a lifelong Indy resident, and, while I'm not from the east side of town, I am very familiar with the area. I have purchased and restored several historic homes near there over the past 10 or so years.

I just drove by yesterday (January 21, 2009). It's in awful repair and would take a sizeable investment to be livable. And it's not the kind of neighborhood where you would want to invest that kind of money. It was a so-so neighborhood even at the time of the crime, and now it's worse, a place where you can buy a home in very nice condition for around $50-70K and a "fixer upper" like the Likens house for $5-20K.

The realtor said that there has been unusually high interest in phone calls and bidding on the house. I attribute this to interest generated by two recent movies made about the case, but it could be people who are just looking for a deal, I guess. I just can't imagine what kind of plans these new bidders have for the place. Nobody wanted it for 20 years, now, all of the sudden, it's a hot commodity. After the last time the house changed hands, both the seller and buyer claimed to be unaware of the house's history, which I find hard to believe.

It really does have a creepy feel to it, once you know about it. New York is a one way street, and the home that was located directly to the west was just razed, so now it just sort of sits by itself as you approach, almost lurching out over the street with it's wide overhangs, a vacant lot on one side and a side street on the other.

I am curious if anyone happens to know if Gertrude was renting the home or if she owned it. Also, it is a double now. I wonder if it was at the time of the crime. I find it hard to believe that those sort of things could go on in a home with a common party wall without the other occupant finding out. It is a large house though. I would guess around 2,500 to 3,000 square feet just by looking at the outside. I'd like to know, if she was as desperately poor as is written about her, how she could afford such a large home.

There are exactly zero houses, by the way, that look like the house used in the movie "An American Crime" on the east side of Indy. You would think the director, a native of suburban Indy, would have tried for a little more authenticity. The housing in this area is more in the traditional American four square or arts and crafts variety, not the Victorian Queen Anne style in the movie.

I'm ambivalent about the fate of the home. The story is such a tragic blot on the history of this city I love (which actually has a history of low crime overall when compared to similarly sized cities). It seems wrong to just let it sit there, boarded up, but I have a hard time envisioning it turned into just another low income slum box. I'm not sure I'd like to see it torn down either though. Does anyone else have thoughts about it?
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