The Horrifying 1965 Murder Of Sylvia Likens

The decision to leave your child with another isn't one to take lightly. Trusting a person to provide love and care for someone so young is something that many working parents have to face so that they can make ends meet. The vast majority of the time, no harm comes to the kids who have their care provided by someone outside of their families. But when things do go wrong, they can sometimes mean the child has suffered greatly at the hands of the person who was left in charge. The 1965 case of one young girl might be one of the most horrific cases of babysitting gone wrong in recorded history.

According to the IndiStar, a teen named Sylvia Likens, 16, and her younger sister Jenny were left in the care of her neighbor by her parents as they traveled for work. Her parents were both carnival workers and were not able to bring their daughters with them. In their stead, they had their neighbor, Gertrude Baniszewski (pictured above), put in charge of the girl while they were away. Likens temporarily moved into Baniszewski's home, along with the sitter's seven children. Liken's hostess had been married and divorced multiple times, and was thought to have been abusing prescription drugs on and off, per "House of Evil: The Indiana Torture Slaying."

As the summer of 1965 faded into fall, Likens would be subjected to cruel imprisonment and prolonged torture sessions orchestrated by Baniszewski and carried out by her children and other kids from the neighborhood. The impoverished Likens girl would not survive the torment inflicted upon her, dying in agony on October 26.

Likens was brutalized by many kids from her own neighborhood

By all accounts, the first few weeks in the sitter's home went without incident. But when Liken's father sent his payment to Baniszewski late, the woman took her rage out on the teen. She dragged her charge into a bedroom and beat her severely with a paddle and a belt per "House of Evil: The Indiana Torture Slaying." This abuse became a regular thing. When Baniszewski would become too tired to continue the abuse, her 17-year-old daughter Paula would sub in and continue the savagery. At times, Baniszewski would make Likens' younger sister Jenny participate in the beatings. 

At some point, Likens was moved to the basement of the home and cut off from food and bathroom privileges. Not content with members of her own family beating the teen, Baniszewski began to recruit other kids from the neighborhood to participate (per the IndyStar). Some accounts state that at least a dozen kids took part in Liken's torture, many of whom were brought in to take their anger on the girl for all the things that Baniszewski falsely claimed that she had said about them and their families. The physical and sexual abuse they committed is much too graphic to mention in detail. But it took place for weeks in the basement of Baniszewski's house while the poor girl was slowly being malnourished as well as assaulted. 

Sadly, when someone finally intervened and phoned the police, it was too late for Likens. She had tried to escape the day before she died but was caught, beaten, and tossed back into the basement. 

Those who tortured Likens received little to no justice for their crimes

One might think that the people involved in such a murder would face severe consequences. But that's not how things shook out in the Likens case. The IndyStar reports that Baniszewski was charged with first-degree murder. The woman was found guilty but was released from prison in 1985 after serving less than 20 years in prison. Her teenage daughter Paula was charged and found guilty of murder in the second degree, and served two years behind bars. 

Of the teens in the neighborhood that took part in the agonizing death of Likens, only three would ever go to court. Baniszewski's son John (pictured above with his mother) faced manslaughter charges, as did two of the neighbor boys involved, Richard Hobbs and Coy Hubbard. For their part in Likens' death, the three were found guilty and sentenced to serve a sentence of no less than two years and no more than 21 years in prison. They were all three paroled for good behavior in 1968 after serving the minimum.

A novel written in 1989 was inspired by the Likens case (via The New York Times). "The Girl Next Door" was part fact, part from the creative mind of novelist Jack Ketchum. His book was later made into a film of the same name, released in 2007 and starring William Atherton (via IMDb). It might be safe to assume that neither a novelist's imagination nor the creative license of a filmmaker could capture the abject terror experienced by Likens in the final months of her short life.