The notion of a killer torturing their victim is an incredibly disturbing one. The idea of an entire family torturing a victim is somehow more terrifying. There are thousands of stories about people who were held captive, people who were tortured, and people who have been subjected to every mental and physical degradation possible, but few are as dread-inducing as the brutal torture and murder of Sylvia Likens.
Every parent has read the horror stories about the babysitter who abused the child left in their care, or worse, had their child abducted or murdered by someone they trusted. This was Likens's unfortunate fate. As a young girl, she was left in the care of a neighbor along with her little sister. Her parents believed the neighbor, who seemed like a completely normal person, could be trusted with their children. The details of Likens's gruesome torture and subsequent murder are shocking and monstrous and outlined in detail below, so proceed with caution.
The first week the Likens children stayed with Baniszewski went by without any problems, but that was short-lived. On the day Baniszewski expected to be paid by Mr. Likens, the payment never arrived. Baniszewski was livid and took out her anger on the Likens girls. They were screamed at, slapped and spanked on their bare bottoms with a paddle. Baniszewski received a money order in the mail from Mr. Likens the very next day. The paddling would continue and eventually get much worse.
It wasn’t long before Baniszewksi’s paddling progressed to more severe violence toward Likens. It is unclear why she chose to single out Sylvia and not her sister Jenny, but perhaps it was due to the fact Jenny was left disabled from polio. Whatever the reason, Baniszewski began lashing out at Sylvia, sometimes seemingly for no reason at all. Other times, it was due to accusations, such as assuming Sylvia was stealing or being sexually promiscuous, albeit unfounded.
In addition to beating Sylvia, she began lighting matches and holding them to the girl’s fingers. She would force Sylvia to take scalding hot baths and rub salt in her wounds. One of the more disturbing things Baniszweski did to Syliva was forcing a Coca Cola bottle into her vagina in front of a group of neighborhood boys. To cover her torturous tracks, Baniszweski forced Syliva to write a letter - which Baniszewski dictated - stating that some anonymous boys attacked and raped her, explaining all of her injuries.
As if the abuse by Baniszewski herself wasn't horrific enough, she also included her children and neighborhood kids on abusing the teen girl. Baniszewski’s son John would force her to eat feces. They would extinguish their cigarettes out on her body. She was choked and thrown down the stairs. Her daughter, Stephanie, who was 15 at the time, had her boyfriend, Coy Hubbard, join the torture sessions as well. Hubbard would participate in severely beating Sylvia on numerous occasions. He was told by Baniszewski to practice judo moves on Sylvia, and he and other kids would regularly kick and hit her.
Baniszewski’s daughter Paula once beat Sylvia so badly that she broke her arm and had to get a cast. Paula then began beating Sylvia with the cast. Even Jenny Likens was forced to participate in the violence against her sister, threatened with violence against her if she refused. Richard Hobbs, a fifteen-year-old neighbor, was given a needle by Baniszewski along with a note with a message scrawled on it. The note read "I am a prostitute and proud of it." Baniszewski instructed Hobbs to tattoo the message on Liken's stomach with the tattoo. Likens was held down by other kids while Hobbs branded her.
The physical abuse against Sylvia was unimaginable, but the violence did not stop there. Baniszewski and all of her children would often tell Likens that they hated her. Baniszewski would say to her that she ruined her life. She was called a prostitute and a whore and would have to sit through lectures about how dirty she was.
Sylvia suffered through every type of abuse imaginable by the hands of everyone who came into contact with her.
After three months of enduring constant abuse, Sylvia tried to escape from the Baniszewski home. Sylvia overheard a conversation between Baniszewski and one of her sons, where the woman was explaining she had plans to blindfold Sylvia and dump her body in the forest.
On October 25, Sylvia managed to make it just outside the front door of the home before Baniszewski caught her, punished her with a scalding hot bath and beat her. She was then tied up again in the basement.