(1929–1990), also known as Gertrude Wright and The Torture
Mother, was an Indiana divorcee who oversaw and facilitated the
prolonged torture, mutilation, and eventual murder of Sylvia Likens, a
teenage girl she had taken into her home.
The case is unique
in that, while Baniszewski did play an active role in Likens' death,
the majority of the torture that eventually brought about Likens'
demise was carried out by Baniszewski's teenage children and other
did instruct the children on several occasions, it was later
discovered that they took a large degree of Likens' torture into their
own hands, in what would later be called a Lord of the Flies
scenario come to life. When she was convicted of first degree murder
in 1965, the case was called "the single worst crime perpetuated
against an individual in Indiana's history".
Life before Sylvia Likens
Baniszewski was born
Gertrude Van Fossan in 1929, the third of 6 children. Little is known
about her childhood, except that she shared an extremely close bond
with her father but had a frigid relationship with her mother. A
further wedge was driven between Gertrude and her mother when
Baniszewski's father died in 1940; the 11 year old Baniszewski watched
her father die of a sudden heart attack.
Five years later,
Baniszewski dropped out of school at the age of 16 to marry 18 year
old deputy John Baniszewski, by whom she had 4 children. John
Baniszewski had a volatile temper, often beating his wife for
"annoying him." The two stayed together for 10 years before eventually
divorcing; Gertrude Baniszewski was granted custody of their children.
Within a year of the
divorce, Gertrude Baniszewski met and married a man named Edward
Guthrie, who divorced her after 3 months when he tired of having her
children around. Shortly thereafter, Gertrude and John Baniszewski
reconciled and re-married. The couple stayed together for 7 years and
had 2 more children before finally divorcing permanently in 1963.
Around this time,
the then 37 year old Gertrude Baniszewski began an affair and moved in
with a 23 year old named Dennis Lee Wright, who further abused her.
She became pregnant by him twice, suffering one miscarriage (possibly
as the result of an assault by Wright) and giving birth to one child.
This child--Dennis Jr.-- would be Baniszewski's last child; in all,
she had 7 children and suffered 6 miscarriages.
Shortly after Dennis
Jr.'s birth, Dennis Wright Sr. abandoned Baniszewski and disappeared.
She was left essentially destitute, as Wright had been supporting her
financially; she was now forced to support herself and 7 children on
occasional child support payments from the unreliable John
Baniszewski, and by performing odd jobs around town such as
babysitting and doing other people's laundry for them.
were quickly exacerbated when Baniszewski discovered that her 17 year
old daughter, Paula, was 3 months pregnant after a fling with a middle
aged, married man.
Around this time
Baniszewski's health declined considerably; she was chronically ill
with a number of unidentified illnesses, ceased practicing proper
hygiene, and barely ate; eventually, these factors began to affect her
outward appearance, resulting in a receded hairline, sunken eyes, and
an overall skeletal appearance. Baniszewski began to present herself
as "Mrs. Wright", claiming that she had in fact married Dennis before
he abandoned her, which allowed her to keep up a verneer of
In July 1965, Paula
Baniszewski met up with a friend of hers, Darlene McGuire, who
introduced her to two new neighborhood girls, Sylvia Marie Likens, 16,
and Sylvia's younger sister, Jenny, 15, who was required to walk with
braces due to polio. Paula took the girls back home to 3850 East New
York Street, where they drank soda and listened to records.
The Likens' girls
mother, Betty, was at the time in county jail after having been
arrested for shoplifting, which left Sylvia to care for her sister;
Betty had abandoned Sylvia's father, Lester, and effectively kidnapped
their two daughters. When Paula heard of the girls' circumstances, she
offered to let Sylvia and Jenny spend the night.
The next day, Lester
Likens arrived in town, having tracked down his wife. He ran into
McGuire, who recognized the description Lester gave of his daughters,
and she directed him to the Baniszewski home.
When Lester Likens
arrived, Baniszewski introduced herself as "Mrs. Wright". The two
struck up a conversation, over the course of which the idea came up
that Gertrude might take in Sylvia and Jenny as boarders; he had
spoken with his wife at the county jail, where they had reconciled and
agreed to travel the United States carnival circuit as carnies.
No one alive knows
whether Baniszewski or Lester suggested that she board the girls;
eventually, Lester agreed to leave the children in Baniszewski's care
for $20 a week. Lester did not inspect the home before leaving; had he
have done so, he would have discovered that Gertrude's home had no
stove or microwave; that there were only enough beds for half the
people in the house; that the only things Gertrude kept in her pantry
were bread and crackers; that most of the surfaces in the home were
caked with thick layers of dirt; and only enough plates and eating
utensils for 3 people.
Early abuse of Likens
The first week of
Sylvia and Jenny's lives at the Baniszewski home went relatively well.
They attended high school and attended teenage social functions with
the Baniszewski children as well as church with Gertrude Baniszewski
When Lester's $20
payment failed to arrive, though, Baniszewski threw a temper tantrum,
screaming at the girls, "I took care of you two bitches for nothing!"
before forcing them to lie across her bed with their skirts and
underwear around their ankles while Baniszewski beat their buttocks.
Shortly thereafter, Lester and Betty Likens came into town to check on
the girls; neither of them made any reference to the beatings,
presumably under threat from Baniszewski.
The next week,
Sylvia and Jenny went through the neighborhood garbage, collecting old
Coca Cola bottles to sell in order to get money for candy. When they
came home with the candy, Baniszewski accused them of stealing; when
Sylvia explained how she had gotten the candy, Baniszewski accused her
of lying and made her bend over her bed as before while she beat her
across the buttocks with a paddle.
the Baniszewski children came to Gertrude Baniszewski after a church
social and told her that they were disgusted with the amount of food
they had seen Sylvia eating.
Sylvia that she was angry that Sylvia would do something to ruin her
physical appearance, and forced the girl to eat a hot dog piled with
condiments; when Sylvia vomited, Baniszewski forced her to scoop the
vomit up and devour it. Soon afterwards, Lester and Betty Likens again
came into town to check on the girls; per Baniszewski's instructions,
Sylvia made no reference to the vomit eating incident.
The torture begins
The incident which
appears to have either precipitated, triggered, or coincided with the
sharp decline of Baniszewski's mental stability occurred in August of
1965 when she overheard Sylvia remark that she had once allowed a boy
to feel her up. Baniszewski inexplicably burst into a fit of
obscenities, accused Sylvia of being a prostitute, and informed the
rest of the house that Sylvia was pregnant because she had let a boy
touch her vagina. Baniszewski then attacked Sylvia, repeatedly kicking
her in the crotch. When Sylvia attempted to sit down afterwards, Paula
threw her out of the chair and informed her, "You ain't fit to sit in
From there on,
Baniszewski only allowed Sylvia to sit in a chair with permission.
Around this time, Baniszewski also began allowing her older children
to use Sylvia as a sort of living "play thing", with the "games"
ranging from beatings to being pushed down the stairs.
Why Sylvia's story
so enraged Baniszewski is still uncertain. It has been theorized that
she saw in Sylvia the beauty and opportunity for happiness that had
long ago escaped her, and so encouraged and participated in Sylvia's
degradation and torture as an act of self loathing.
theorized that Baniszewski's hard life and current living conditions
resulted in a mental break. Still others have theorized that the
violence against Likens was an extreme form of domestic abuse, in
which Baniszewski directed her rage onto Sylvia. Whatever the case,
Baniszewski manifested this rage by justifying her attacks by accusing
Likens of being a prostitute, and delivering bizarre "sermons" to her
children and Sylvia about the filthiness of prostitues and women in
The day after
Baniszewski kicked Sylvia in the crotch, according to Jenny, as an act
of vengeance, Sylvia and Jenny told their classmates that they had
seen Paula and Stephanie (Baniszewski's second oldest daughter) having
sex with boys in exchange for money.
fifteen-year-old boyfriend, Coy Hubbard, discovered what Sylvia and
Jenny had said, he came to the Baniszewski home and beat Sylvia. From
then on, Hubbard, encouraged by Baniszewski, made frequent visits to
the Baniszewski home, during which she would instruct the boy to
practice his judo on Sylvia.
Also around this
time, Baniszewski got Sylvia's best friend, a thirteen year old named
Anna Sisco, alone long enough to convince her that Sylvia had been
telling boys at school that Anna's mother was a whore. When
Baniszewski took Anna to see Sylvia, she directed Anna in a violent
attack on the girl. Soon after, Baniszewski told one of Paula's
friends, a girl named Judy Duke, that Sylvia had been spreading rumors
about her mother, and pitted the girls against each other in a
fist-fight. During the fight, Baniszewski instructed Jenny to punch
Sylvia. When Jenny refused, Gertrude began to beat her in the face
with her fists, until Jenny finally agreed to punch Sylvia.
In August of 1965,
the vacant house next door to the Baniszewski residence was purchased
by a middle-aged couple named Phyllis and Raymond Vermillion. Phyllis,
seeing the number of children Baniszewski cared for, believed that
Baniszewski would make a good babysitter for her two young children,
and that she would also be helping Baniszewski out by paying her for
arranged a backyard barbecue so that the two families could get to
know one another. During the course of the barbecue, Phyllis noticed
Sylvia wandering around the yard with a pronounced black eye; Paula
proudly announced to Phyllis that she was the one who had given it to
her. Then, under Baniszewski's supervision, Paula approached Sylvia
with a glass of steaming water and threw it in Sylvia's face. Neither
of the Vermillions reported this incident to the authorities.
Two months later,
Phyllis went to the Baniszewski home to borrow something. Over the
course of the few minutes she was there, she noticed Sylvia wandering
around as in a daze with swollen lips and a black eye that had swollen
shut. To demonstrate how this had happened, Paula took her belt off
and began to beat Sylvia with it in front of Phyllis. Phyllis again
neglected to report anything to the authorities.
Around the time that
Phyllis Vermillion witnessed Paula beat Sylvia, Sylvia came home from
school and told Baniszewski that she needed a sweat suit for gym
class. When Baniszewski told Sylvia that they could not afford one,
Sylvia stole one from the school. Baniszewski questioned Sylvia about
her new gym outfit, eventually coercing Sylvia into confession.
inexplicably segued from the topic of Sylvia stealing into the topic
of Sylvia being a prostitute, and threw Sylvia onto the ground, where
she repeatedly kicked her in the crotch before once more returning to
the topic of theft; to "cure" Sylvia of her "sticky fingers,"
Baniszewski burned the tips of each of Sylvia's fingers with a lit
Afterwards, she made
Sylvia bend over while she whipped her with a belt. After this
incident, the smokers in the Baniszewski home began arbitrarily
putting their cigarettes out on Sylvia's body as a reminder for her
not to steal.
Likens went out again to sell old soda bottles for money. When she
returned home, Baniszewski accused her of prostitution. Baniszewski
took her into the living room of her home and forced Sylvia to strip
naked in front of her sons and several neighborhood boys, on the
threat of beating Jenny. Once Sylvia was fully naked, Baniszewski
handed her a glass Coca Cola bottle, and forced Sylvia to masturbate
with it for the boys.
Following the Coke
bottle incident, Sylvia became incontinent; as a result, Baniszewski
decided that she was no longer fit to live with humans, and locked her
in the basement. The lack of a toilet in the basement forced Sylvia to
defecate and urinate on the floor. When Baniszewski saw this, she
began a "bathing regime" to "cleanse" Sylvia, whom she began calling
consisted of filling Gertrude's claw-footed bathtub with scalding
water, binding Sylvia's wrists and ankles, and then dunking Sylvia
into it. The regime was administered arbitrarily, sometimes once or
many times a day, somedays not at all. Following the baths, Paula
Baniszewski would rub handfuls of salt over Sylvia's nude body.
During this period
Baniszewski took on 14 year old Ricky Hobbs, a neighborhood boy, as
her "personal assistant" when dealing with Sylvia. Hobbs, an honor
student from a middle class family with no previous legal trouble,
experienced a sudden shift in personality upon becoming Baniszewski's
assistant, blindly following whatever orders she gave him; crime
reporters have since speculated that Hobbs was Baniszewski's lover,
and that she had seduced the boy into becoming her henchman.
children turned Sylvia into a money-making opportunity, charging
neighborhood children a nickel to gawk at the nude Sylvia or to push
her down the stairs to the basement, where she was now kept when not
being bathed or put on display. She was kept constantly naked and
rarely fed; when she was allowed to eat, it was in some bizarre
fashion (such as the instance in which Baniszewski insisted that she
eat soup with her fingers).
and her twelve-year-old son John Jr. would make Sylvia "clean" the
basement by "allowing" her to eat her own feces, and gave Sylvia a
container in which she could collect her urine, which she was then
made to drink.
Sometime around this
period, Jenny managed to send contact to her and Sylvia's older
sister, Diana, who was married and had a family of her own. Jenny
outlined the horrors that she and Sylvia were experiencing, and
instruted Diana to contact the police to come rescue them. Diana
ignored the letter, believing that Jenny was simply displeased with
being punished and that she was making up stories so that she could
come live with her.
Also around this
time, one of the neighborhood children who had been by to see Sylvia,
a twelve year old named Judy Duke, went home and told her mother "they
were beating and kicking Sylvia." The girl's mother replied that was
what happened when someone was punished.
the Baniszewski's reverend, Roy Julian, visited them as part of a
program he had set up to see each of his parishoners at their homes.
While he and Baniszewski drank coffee, she complained to him that
Sylvia had been an intense burden on her, claiming that the girl was a
prostitute who had been servicing married men and had gotten pregnant.
Although at the time Paula Baniszewski was several months pregnant,
Gertrude Baniszewski insisted that her daughter was a virgin and that
Sylvia was attempting to pass off her own misdeeds onto the pure
Baniszewski and the
reverend prayed for Sylvia's salvation before the reverend left. When
the reverend returned again a few weeks later, Paula told the reverend
during prayers that she had "hatred in [her] heart" for Sylvia, to
which Baniszewski interjected that the opposite was true.
Shortly after this,
Diana came by to visit her sisters. Baniszewski refused to allow her
into the home, at first telling her that Lester had contacted her and
instructed her not to allow Diana into the home. When Diana questioned
this, Baniszewski threatened to call the police and have her arrested
for trespassing. Diana hid nearby the house until she spotted Jenny
outside, and then approached her. Jenny told her older sister that she
was not allowed to talk to her and then ran away.
contacted social services. When a social worker arrived at the home,
Baniszewski informed her that she had kicked Sylvia out of the house
for being physically unclean and a prostitute, and that Sylvia had
since run away. Baniszewski then managed to get Jenny alone long
enough to inform her that if she told the social worker the truth,
Jenny would join her sister naked in the basement. Jenny then told the
social worker that Sylvia had indeed run away. The social worker
returned to her office, where she filed a report stating that no more
calls needed to be made to the Baniszewski home.
On October 20th,
Gertrude called the police to come arrest a boy at her home. Robert
Bruce Hanlon was a local youth who claimed that the Baniszewski
children had stolen things from his basement. He had come to the home
earlier in the evening demanding that Baniszewski return his things;
when she refused, he attempted to sneak into the home to take them
witnessed Hanlon being put into the back of a squad car and approached
the police to speak on his behalf, as she had earlier overheard the
argument between Baniszewski and Hanlon over the stolen goods.
Vermillion made no mention of Sylvia during her conversation with the
On October 21st,
Baniszewski instructed John Jr., Coy, and Stephanie to bring Sylvia up
from the basement and tie her to a bed, telling Sylvia that if she
could hold her bladder through the night, she would be permitted to
sleep upstairs again.
checked Sylvia the next morning and discovered she had wet the bed,
Baniszewski made her dress, then took her into the living area, where
she was once again forced to perform a striptease for her sons and the
neighborhood boys, again climaxed by Baniszewski forcing Sylvia to
masturbate with a Coca Cola bottle.
When Sylvia was
finished, she was allowed to dress. After a few moments, apropos of
nothing, Gertrude brought up Sylvia's lies about Paula and Stephanie,
and declared, "You have branded my daughters so I will brand you!"
Sylvia was forcibly stripped naked, tied down, and gagged while one of
Baniszewski's children heated a sewing needle with a series of
matches. When the needle was orange, Gertrude used it to carve and
burn the letter "I'" and part of the letter "M" into Sylvia's stomach.
She then instructed Ricky Hobbs to continue carving letters to spell
out the phrase, "I'M A PROSTITUTE AND PROUD OF IT."
At one point Hobbs
stopped and asked Baniszewski in a confused manner to spell
"prostitute" for him. Baniszewski wrote it down on a piece of paper,
and the carving/burning re-commenced. When the process was finished,
the tattoo - consisting not only of the actual carving but
third-degree burns left behind by the heat of the needle - was such
that modern plastic surgery would have been unable to correct it.
Baniszewski left the room, leaving Sylvia tied, gagged, and naked. At
this point, Ricky, Paula, and Baniszewski's ten year old daughter
Shirley decided to give Sylvia another tattoo, an "S" in the middle of
her chest; the three would later become confused as to whether they
had intended the "S" to stand for "Sylvia" or "Slave," though the
latter explanation was the one which was leaned towards as being
Ricky burned the
bottom curve of the "S" into Sylvia; he then either choked, or changed
his mind, because he then ordered Jenny to come over and carve the top
half. Although threatened, Jenny refused; Ricky relented, and ordered
Shirley to finish the tattoo. The eleven year old choked and
accidentally carved the curve backwards, so that the numeral "3"
appeared on Likens' chest.
re-entered the room at this point to address the still bound and
gagged Sylvia: "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 was un-gagged
to address Baniszewski. She replied: "I guess there's nothing I can
do. It's on there."
Hubbard then took
Sylvia back to the basement, where he used her for judo practice for a
period before returning home. In the middle of the night, Jenny Likens
sneaked into the basement to visit her sister, where Sylvia told her,
"I'm going to die. I can tell."
Jenny's visit, Baniszewski inexplicably went into the basement and
brought Sylvia upstairs, and allowed her to sleep in one of the beds.
She was allowed to sleep until noon of the next day, October 23, when
Baniszewski woke her; once Sylvia was awake, Baniszewski and Stephanie
took her into the bathroom and gave her a warm, soapy bath.
After the bath,
Baniszewski and Paula dressed Sylvia, and then dictated a letter to
her, intended to look like a runaway letter to her parents. For
reasons unknown, Baniszewski dictated that Sylvia open the letter
"Dear Mr. and Mrs. Likens." The words which Baniszewski dictated were:
I went with a
gang of boys in the middle of the night. And they said that they would
pay me if I would give them something so I got in the car and they all
got what they wanted... and when they got 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 that I could do just to make Gertie mad and cause
[sic] Gertie more money than she's got. I've tore up a new mattress
and peaed [sic] 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.
Just as strangely as
Baniszewski's insistence on the formal salutation, she instructed
Sylvia not to sign it.
finished the letter, Baniszewski began formulating a plan to have John
Jr. and Jenny take Sylvia to a nearby garbage dump and leave her there
to die. When Sylvia overheard this, she ran for the front door, but in
her emaciated and mutilated state moved so slowly that Baniszewski was
able to grab her just as she reached the front door and drag her back
into the house.
settled Sylvia down, she took her into the kitchen and made her some
toast. Sylvia attempted to eat it but then said she couldn't swallow;
Baniszewski took down the curtain rod in the kitchen and beat Sylvia
in the mouth with it. John then took Sylvia into the basement and tied
her up while Baniszewski prepared a plate of crackers for Sylvia. When
she offered the crackers to Sylvia, Sylvia replied, "Feed it to the
dog. It's hungrier than I am." Baniszewski repeatedly punched Sylvia
in the stomach before leaving her in the basement.
On the next day,
October 24th, Baniszewski came into the basement and, attempted to
bludgeon Sylvia; first she tried to hit her with a chair, but missed
and broke it against the wall. Next she tried to beat her over the
head with a paddle, but swung in such a wide arc that it came back
against her own face, blacking her eye. To stop the strange show,
Hubbard stepped in and beat Sylvia unconscious with a broomstick.
Over the course of
that night, and into the morning hours of October 25th, Sylvia beat
the basement floor with the scoop portion of an iron shovel. Nextdoor
neighbors would later report considering calling the police, but chose
On October 26th,
Baniszewski voiced her intentions to give Sylvia a warm bath.
Stephanie and Ricky brought Sylvia upstairs and laid her in the tub
fully clothed; they took her out shortly thereafter when they realized
she was not breathing. Stephanie gave Sylvia CPR,
but by this time, Sylvia was already dead.
Baniszewski instructed her children to take Sylvia's body to the
basement and strip it naked. She then told Hobbs to go to a nearby
payphone and call the police (her house having no working telephone).
the police arrived, Baniszewski gave them the letter she'd made Sylvia
dictate; in the midst of the commotion, Jenny Likens whispered to one
of the police, "Get me out of here and I'll tell you everything." This
statement, combined with the police's discovery of Sylvia's body in
the basement, prompted the officers to arrest Baniszewski, Paula,
Stephanie, John, Hobbs, and Hubbard for murder. Other neighborhood
children present at the time - Mike Monroe, Randy Lepper, Duke, and
Siscoe - were arrested for "injury to a person."
Baniszewski, her children, Hobbs,
and Hubbard were held without bail pending their trials. Charges
against Siscoe, Duke, Monroe, and Lepper were dismissed. Stephanie's
lawyer got her a separate trial; before it was able to begin, the
district attorney dropped the murder charges.
Meanwhile, an autopsy of Sylvia
Likens turned up over 100 cigarette burns on her body, in addition to
various second and third degree burns, severe bruising, and muscle and
nerve damage. In her death throes, Sylvia bit through her lips, nearly
severing each of them. Her vaginal cavity was nearly swollen shut,
although an examination of the canal determined that her hymen was
still intact, largely discrediting--along with a lack of any ripping
or tearing to the rectum-- Gertrude's assertions that Sylvia was a
prostitue and completely disproving her insistence that she was
pregnant. The official cause of death was brain swelling, internal
hemorrhaging of the brain, and shock.
The case of the State of Indiana v.
Gertrude Baniszewski, John Baniszewski, Paula Baniszewski, Ricky
Hobbs, and Coy Hubbard commenced in May of 1966; the prosecution
sought the death penalty for all involved, including John and Hobbs,
who were thirteen and fourteen at the time, respectively. Paula's time
in court was interrupted when she was rushed to the hospital to give
birth to the child that she and her mother had insisted she wasn't
carrying; in a show of solidarity, Paula named the child Gertrude.
Baniszewski and the children's
cases were exacerbated by the fact that they were being represented by
four different attorneys--one for Baniszewski, one for Paula, one for
Hobbs, and one for Coy and John--all of whom worked against each other
and attempted to shift blame against the other defendants, even though
they were all being tried together.
Baniszewski's attorney attempted to
shift blame onto the children, portratying her as weak, chronically
ill, and incapable of preventing or perpetuating any of the abuse. The
children's attorneys attempted to shift blame onto Baniszewski and the
Some of the most damaging testimony
against Baniszewski was due to her own self-incrimination; she
recounted bizarre tales of Sylvia Likens being a neighborhood
prostitute and of her trysts with middle aged, married men, as well as
accusing her of frequently starting fights in the home. To corroborate
Baniszewski's testimony, eleven-year-old Marie was was called to the
Initially, Marie backed up
everything her mother had said, until, during cross examination, she
suddenly screamed "God help me!" before admitting everything she'd
said was a lie, and went on to recount in graphic, blunt detail how
her mother and siblings had tortured and murdered Sylvia.
The young girl's shocking turn
against her own family was largely responsible for the eventual
verdict: Baniszewski was found guilty of murder in the first degree.
To the shock of the citizens of Indianapolis, she did not receive the
death penalty, but rather life imprisonment without the possibility of
Paula Baniszewski was convicted of
second degree murder; she appealed and was granted a new trial, but
before it began, she struck a plea bargain and plead guilty to
voluntary manslaughter. She served three years in prison and was then
John Baniszewski, Hubbard, and
Hobbs were each convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to
eighteen months in a juvenile detention facility. By the time the now
seventeen year old Hobbs was released, the severity of his crimes had
sunk in, and he suffered a nervous breakdown; he began a regime of
heavy-chain smoking which had severely decayed his lungs by the time
he was twenty. By the time he was twenty-one, he was dead of lung
Baniszewski appealed, was granted a
new trial, and was again found guilty, though this time she was
sentenced to eighteen years to life. Over the course of the next
eighteen years, Baniszewski became a model prisoner, working in the
sewing shop and becoming a den-mother to younger female inmates; by
the time she came up for parole in 1985, she had earned the prison
The news of Baniszewski's parole
hearing sent shockwaves through the Indiana community. Jenny Likens
and her family appeared on television to speak out against
Baniszewski; the members of two anti-crime groups, Protect the
Innocent and Society's League Against Molestation, travelled to
Indiana to oppose Baniszewski's parole and support the Likens family,
beginning a sidewalk picket campaign.
Over the course of two months, the
groups collected 4500 signiatures from the citizens of Indiana
demanding that Baniszewski be kept behind bars. In spite of all this,
Baniszewski was granted parole. During the hearing, she gave the
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.
Baniszewski walked out of prison on
December 4, 1985, and travelled to Iowa under the name Nadine Van
Fossan. She died there of lung cancer in 1990. The fates of
Baniszewski's children remains largely unknown. Paula Baniszewski
moved to Iowa and assumed a new identity; internet rumors claim that
she is still alive and lives on a farm somewhere in the Iowa
countryside. Stephanie Baniszewski became a school teacher and assumed
a new name.
John Baniszewki changed his name to
John Blake and worked as a truck driver before becoming a real estate
agent and lay minister; he was never arrested again. He married and
had three children, and has lived in anonymity, only surfacing briefly
in 1998 in the wake of the Jonesboro Massacre to speak for the first
time about the Likens murder, saying that he took full responsibility
for his role in the murder and that a harsher sentence would have been