True Story: Gertrude Baniszewski - Sylvia’s ordeal began in July 1965 when her parents, Lester and Betty Likens, offered Baniszewski $20 a week to care for their two daughters while they traveled with a carnival operating a concession stand. Baniszewski agreed to board 16-year old Sylvia and 15-year old Jenny. No one has been able to explain how Sylvia became the object of torture that summer. The punishment started with “whippings” with a fraternity-style wooden paddle for both Likens girls, as they lay naked across a mattress. On Oct. 26, 1965, Indianapolis police were called to a rundown house where they found the body of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens on a bare mattress. She was covered with bruises and small wounds, later revealed to be cigarette and match burns that numbered over 100. There were also large areas where the outer layer of skin had peeled off. Likens also had a large letter “3” branded on her chest. However, the most remarkable injuries, by far, were the words in block letters that had been burned directly onto her stomach: “I’M A PROSTITUTE AND PROUD OF IT!” The only adult resident of the house, Gertrude Baniszewski, told investigators she had been taking care of Sylvia and Jenny while their parents were out of town and that the teenager (Sylvia) had been attacked by a gang of boys. Although Sylvia’s injuries were horrific, the most shocking fact about the case was that the torture had gone on so long and had involved so many neighborhood children some as young as 11 and 12, who had joined in on the “punishing” of Sylvia led by the 37-year-old woman.
Baniszewski trial the following year denied any knowledge of the torture, claiming the children must have done it all. She entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. On May 19, 1966, a jury found Baniszewski guilty of first-degree murder sentenced to life terms at the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis. In September 1985, Gertrude Baniszewski was released on parole. 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.
Movies based on Gertrude Baniszewski - The Girl Next Door (2007) and An American Crime (2007)