Sylvia Likens

I have to say that for all the years (most of my life) of reading true crime stories this story was the most horrific I’ve ever come across.  I also cannot stop thinking about Sylvia from the moment I watched the movie based on this crime. I have since watched “An American Crime” played by Ellen Page, which follows the trial transcripts more closely but still does not even come close to detailing all the torture and abuse she went through.  And I read the book “House of Evil” by John Dean.

It’s difficult to read and watch, not for the faint of heart that’s for sure…being a hardened true crime buff as I am I was able to get through it all, but again, this story haunts me daily… usually….

What bothers me most is that Jenny, Sylvia’s sister could have reported this to someone in a manner that would have gotten someones attention.  Jenny suffered from Polio and had a leg brace and so getting around was a bit difficult for her…but she seemed to get around when she wanted to walk miles to get to the park, or around school etc…I understand her excuse was fear..however I feel she only feared of getting the same treatment Sylvia was getting….so as long as Sylvia was alive, Jenny was safe….once Sylvia died Jenny has no problem then reporting what Gertrude did…where was her fear then?

Here are pictures of the basement Sylvia was kept and tortured in.

She was pushed down these stairs many times and at least one of those times with her hands tied behind her back.  The kids would come home from school and bring in a few neighborhood kids to “have fun with Sylvia” they would push her down those steps, then have her get up and walk back up them so they could push her down again. They also took turns burning her with cigarettes…one of the wounds goes nearly to the bone. During the autopsy they counted about 150 cigarette burns on her.

According to the court transcripts, Gertrude and Paula (her daughter) would give her scalding baths every other night…sometimes tying her hands and feet before dropping her into the scalding water.  On time the pain was too much for her and she passed out.  Her skin was so burnt and damaged it began peeling away leaving her raw…Paula then took salt and would rub it into her open wounds…Coy Hubbard saw her doing this and said that’s not the way to do it and poured more salt on her opens wounds and scrubbed the salt hard into them.  It’s no wonder Sylvia bit clear through her bottom lip, it was in shreds from biting during these tortures.  All of her fingernails were bent backwards in an effort to scratch through the concrete doing these torture sessions.

2 of Sylvia’s murderers are Gertrude & Paula

This is Coy Hubbard, Stephanie’s boyfriend…he inflicted tremendous injuries to Sylvia.  Punching her in the face, practicing his Judo on her.  It’s believed her gave her the fatal blow to the head. He would pick her up over his shoulder and throw her to the ground.

Ricky Hobbs, rumored to have been having an intimate relationship with Gertrude…he carved the words “I’m a prostitute and proud of it” onto Sylvia’s stomach with a hot pin.  She was also branded with a hot iron the number 3.

Lester & Betty Likens, Sylvia’s parents at the trail. It makes you wonder how anyone could leave their children with strangers.

The bed Sylvia was found on when the police arrived.  She was already dead.

The tub used to give Sylvia her scalding baths.  During which she has passed out from the pain…her hands and feet tied as she was put into the tub….when she passed out Gertrude and Paula grabbed onto her head and beat it against the tub to wake her up. According to Jenny in the trial transcripts she received these baths about every other day.  Sylvia’s torture sessions were usually once school let out and the kids came home and on weekends.

Gertrude was always around while Sylvia was being tortured and many times was doing the torturing herself…according to Jenny’s testimony Sylvia was usually kept naked.  When she did get dressed Gertrude or Paula would tare the clothes off her.


Prosecutor New made an impassioned plea for the death penalty for all of the accused. He told them that, “The issue here is . . . law and order. Will we allow such acts? Will we allow such brutality on a human being? If you go below the death penalty in this case, you will lower the value of human life by that much for each defendant.”

When the verdicts, came back, only Gertrude Baniszewski was convicted of first-degree murder. To the surprise and consternation of many observers, the jury did not sentence her to death. She appealed and was granted a new trial in which she was again convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Paula was convicted of second-degree murder. She appealed and was granted a new trial but passed it up to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. She was released after a few years.

The murder charge against Stephanie Baniszewski was dropped as were the injury to person charges against Anna Siscoe, Judy Duke, Randy, Lepper and Mike Monroe.

John Baniszewski, Coy Hubbard, and Richard Hobbs were convicted of manslaughter. Each spent a grand total of eighteen months in a juvenile detention facility.

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