Sylvia Likens True Story next Page

Whilst Sylvia was bound in the basement, a social worker called to investigate an anonymous report of a 'girl with running sores on her body'. She was told that Sylvia did indeed have sores on her body...the result of her own bad personal hygiene...and that Baniszewski had thrown her out of the house because she had become a prostitute.

Clearly, the Banieszewskis were preparing to rid themselves of their victim.  They had an alibi and nobody had contradicted any of the tales they'd spun thus far.  Sylvia realised that her days were numbered if she didn't escape. She made a desperate attempt to get out of the house - but she was caught and beaten into unconsciousness.

Gertrude Baniszewski evidences

For a while she was treated with a bizarre mixture of outright brutality and warped kindness. She was offered crackers and sandwiches when Baniszewski became frightened of the consequences of all the beatings; yet one of the younger abusers made her drink urine and eat excrement.

They inflicted so much hurt on her that they must have known she would die; yet they also put her in the bathtub (with pleasantly warm water) and allowed her to sleep upstairs in a bed - though she was tied to the bedposts and denied use of the toilet (on the grounds that she had to 'learn' not to soil her bed before she earned that privilege). When, unsurprisingly, she wet the bed again, Sylvia was given another painful lesson by her sadistic 'tutors'. 

The neighbours heard Sylvia hitting the walls of the basement with a shovel; some of them thought about complaining to the authorities about all the sleep they'd lost - but nobody actually did complain.

The next day Sylvia was placed in the bathtub again. She became very quiet and her jailers realised that she was dead. 

The Police were told that Sylvia had been an uncontrollable and promiscuous tearaway. Baniszewski, producing the letter she'd forced Sylvia to write, stated that Sylvia had returned to the house after a sex session with some boys. According to her version of the events, the gang had followed Sylvia back to the house, mutilated her and then killed her. Baniszewski said she'd found the girl dead in the basement.

Of course, she neglected to say that her offspring had been primed with the same bogus tale before the Police were called. When investigating officer Melvin Dixon came to the house, all the children (including Jenny Likens) repeated Baniszewski's story word for word. Dixon was understandably shocked by Sylvia's bruised and battered body; he took down details of the accounts offered by the Baniszewskis and was about to leave when Jenny managed to whisper to him: "Get me out of here and I'll tell you the whole story."

Despite the protests of Gertrude Baniszewski and her clan, the officer took the girl away and quickly learned the truth. The sadistic 'foster mother' was charged with murder, convicted and given a life sentence. Baniszewski gained a new trial on appeal - but was again convicted and sent back to prison. Though she gave many interviews to writers and journalists from behind bars, she never expressed any genuine remorse. Nor did she ever come close to offering any explanations for her bizarre and cruel acts - to those who sought to discover her reasons, Gertrude Baniszewski would say: "I had to teach her a lesson."

The children who helped her to torture and kill Sylvia Likens were given incredibly short sentences; their lawyers skilfully laid most of the blame upon Gertrude Baniszewski - she'd been the only adult involved and (despite her attempts to claim that she was prostrate on her sickbed during the worst beatings and acts of torture) most onlookers had expected her to receive the Death Sentence.  In 1985, amidst much public protest, she was released upon parole.  For five years she lived quietly under an assumed name before dying of lung cancer.

Jack Ketchum’s disturbing novel The Girl Next Door was adapted for the big screen in 2007. The film about the sadistic torture and murder of an innocent, orphaned girl is brutal and extremely challenging to watch.