Nanny in Indianapolis prompted neighbors to torture and abuse a young woman – USA – International

With a cigarette between his lips, the woman of Dutch descent Gertrude Baniszewski He looked at the girl, still, pale, full of bruises on her legs and arms. All around her, children played to throw water at her while laughing.

But something was not right. “Why doesn’t she move?” the woman wondered. As if reading her mind, the children around her also stopped and moved closer to her.

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“She’s dead,” was what she thought at the same time as a young man from the neighborhood, who was preparing to call the authorities to report what had happened.

The woman smoked consistently despite suffering from asthma.

This is the story of Sylvia Likens, a 16-year-old girl who died at the hands of a nanny that incited all the people of a neighborhood in Indianapolis, United States, to torture her during months of captivity.

Fighting to survive

The Likens were a large family, hailing from northwest Indianapolis, hustling day to day to survive. Lester Likens and his wife, Elizabeth Grimes, were the parents of Dianna, Daniel, Sylvia, Jenny, and Benny, five children who were only a few years old with each other.

For his part, Lester did any kind of job to earn a living. From a driver to a worker, he always sought to work in whatever it took to give his family a good life. However, this was not enough, which is why both he and Elizabeth worked in different carnivals selling food and soft drinks.

Because this work required a lot of traveling and putting several hands to work, the parents of the young people always tried to put them in a place where they could be safer.

It was then that the year 1965 arrived and with it one of the couple’s worst mistakes. In the midst of a job opportunity, the adults decided to leave their children in the care of different people so that they could work in peace. On the one hand, the two boys, Danny and Bennie, stayed with their maternal grandparents, while Diana was the eldest of all and she could take care of herself, since she was married and already had a home.

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But where did Sylvia and Jenny stay? Well, it turns out that as good believers, the Likens constantly attended church. On one of those visits, a friend introduced them to Gertrude Baniszewski, a neighbor willing to take care of the little ones for just $20 a week (amount that at that time represented much more than now).

At that time, Sylvia was barely 16 years old and Jenny was 15. They were two young people in the midst of adolescence who, although they had a certain autonomy, still depended on someone else in their daily lives. For this very reason, the parents of the girls sent them directly to the neighbor who lived in a corner house in the East New York neighborhood, Indianapolis, in the United States.

Delayed money and a love breakup

When the two teenagers arrived at the place, they met other seven boys: Paula, John, Stephanie, Marie, Shirley, James and Dennis. They were all Gertrude’s children and lived only with her, since the woman had been abandoned twice.

In fact, Baniszewski’s love life was quite turbulent. First, she married her boyfriend John Stephan Baniszewski, who was two years her senior, at age 16. They had four children with him and later divorced after 10 years of marriage.

The woman had seven children before the crime.

Then she had an ‘express’ marriage for the second time with Edward Guthrie. They were together for three months and then the woman returned to her first husband, with whom she had two more children. Finally, almost at the same time as the arrival of the Likens at her house, Baniszewski had a relationship with Dennis Wright, a young man who abandoned her after finding out that she was pregnant.

The girls arrived 18 months after the woman of Dutch descent gave birth.

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Now, from the beginning Sylvia and Paula did not get along. They fought over minor things and Gertrude’s daughter simply couldn’t stand the other girl. Added to this is the fact that, according to the authorities, both Baniszewskis resented Sylvia’s sweetness, beauty, and shyness.

The relationship was tense, but within everything it was possible to manage, until one day of June 1965, the $20 promised by the Likens was late in arriving.

Without thinking twice and full of fury, Gertrude took the two girls by the arms, led them down to the basement, and, in Jenny’s words in court, told them, “Well, I’ve been looking after you for a week for nothing. Your father’s check has not arrived.”

For her, it was reason enough to take it out on the girls, so she got a half-inch-thick wooden paddle ready and got ready to hit them below the waist.

This happened several times under the excuse that it was a “punishment”. Even if the money arrived, the 37-year-old woman would find any kind of excuse to hit them. She even once burned Sylvia’s fingers for suspecting that she had stolen something from her. She at the time she did not even say what had been stolen or how she had done it. It was just a pretext to lash out at the minor.

Paula, her eldest daughter, also participated in her mother’s physical abuse against the girls every time the woman had an asthma attack or got tired of it.

The complicity of an entire neighborhood

Unfortunately the two women were not the only ones who carried out violent acts against the girls. There was a moment when Gertrude began to label Sylvia as a prostitute, simply because she was envious of her.

The woman allowed the abuse to take place behind closed doors in her basement.

The 16-year-old girl was well known for her physical appearance, especially her hair, eyes, and big smile. Also, this was complemented by her sweet attitude, intelligence and the number of suitors she had.

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Because of that, The woman began to subject her to different tortures. From hitting her repeatedly, to leaving her without eating for days. But the worst came when she involved his children.

Under any excuse, Gertrude encouraged all her children, with the exception of babies, to hit the young woman however they wanted. There were even times when they forced her to hurt herself in her intimate area with a Coca-Cola bottle while everyone was looking at her.

After this, the physical and sexual abuse increased, but not only by Baniszewski’s children, but also by the children’s friends and classmates, who paid ten cents to go and mistreat her.

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Jenny, for her part, could only keep silent and suffer alone what she saw. She was so afraid of her neighbor that she never dared to defend her.

The death of Sylvia Likens

Although the young woman was already showing symptoms of malnutrition, she was still fighting for her life even though she knew she had little time left.

It was then that she tried to escape, after both Gertrude and Richard Hobbs, one of Sylvia’s suitors, carved on her abdomen the phrase: “I am a prostitute and I am proud of it.”

On October 26 of that year, after several months of collective torture, the young woman tried to escape without much success, as Gertrude caught her and forced her into a tub of boiling water. From her heat the young woman fainted from her, which is why the woman pulled her out of there pulling her hair and began to hit her head against the cement floor.

Authorities captured the woman immediately.

Seeing that she did not wake up, the perpetrator approached the girl and noticed that she gave off a fetid odor due to lack of cleanliness, as well as several open wounds that needed to be washed. With the help of her children and her neighbors, they took her to her patio, where they bathed her with cold water.

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In the woman’s head, this was supposed to wake up the girl and improve her condition; but seeing that she did not respond, both the attendees of the scene and she began to get scared. There, Richard Hobbs made the decision to call the Police in the hope that they could revive her, but unfortunately he passed away.

The cause of death was determined to be brain swelling, internal brain bleeding, and ‘shock’ induced by extensive damage to Sylvia’s skin.

A whole family sentenced to life imprisonment

When the Police arrived, Jenny asked them to get her out of there to confess everything. Once the statements were taken, the authorities captured Baniszewski and a year later she was taken to court.

On May 19, 1966, a jury found Gertrude Baniszewski guilty of first degree murder,
while Paula Baniszewski was found guilty of second degree murder. Both were sentenced to life in prison, at the Indiana Prison in Indianapolis, but were released early for good behavior behind bars.

In December 1985, Gertrude Baniszewski was paroled. She changed her name to Nadine Van Fossan and moved to Iowa, where she lived in obscurity until her death from lung cancer on June 16, 1990.

The boys were sentenced to terms of two to 21 years at the Indiana State Reformatory in Pendleton. For his part, John Baniszewski was the youngest prisoner in the reformatory in the history of that state, at the age of thirteen. After serving his sentence, he became a pastor and eventually died of diabetes.

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