John Baniszewski Sr – The Man Behind the Torture of Sylvia Likens
Lester Likens placed his daughters, Sylvia and Jenny, with Gertrude Baniszewski, under the understanding that she would receive $20 per week for their care. She assured him that she would treat them as her own.
Soon police surrounded 3850 East New York Street and arrested Gertrude, Paula, Stephanie, John Baniszewski Jr., Richard Hobbs, and Coy Hubbard on murder charges. Randy Lepper, Mike Monroe, and Anna Siscoe were also charged with injury to children.
John Baniszewski was the former husband of Gertrude Baniszewski, who was the woman behind the heinous torture and death of Sylvia Likens. Sylvia’s parents left her and her sister Jenny in Gertrude’s care, naively trusting that she would provide them with the level of care they were used to.
Gertrude was known to be a vindictive and cruel person. She was jealous of Sylvia’s youth, appearance and respectability. She began to focus the abuse on Sylvia, and eventually had her blindfolded and taken to a forest where she was left to die.
The other participants in Sylvia’s abuse were Coy Hubbard, Randy Lepper, Paula Baniszewski and her brother John. Each of them was convicted and served prison time. John would change his name to john hollis after his release from prison. He would go on to marry twice and have two children. He was also a sheriff and worked in the insurance industry. He died in 2012 from cancer.
Gertrude Baniszewski allowed her older children and neighborhood friends to torture Sylvia Likens in any way that seemed appropriate. These tortures included starving her, beating her, denying her the right to urinate freely, making her eat her own vomit (after restraining her), using her as practice dummies for violent Judo sessions, cubbing her with objects including hair spray cans and even her genitals, making her drink her urine and use her as a guinea pig for experimental treatments such as burning her with lit cigarettes and pouring boiling water over her body.
Baniszewski also pitted Sylvia against her own daughter, Jenny. When she told Jenny that Sylvia had been spreading rumors that her mother was a whore, Baniszewski ordered the girls to fight. Jenny complied. When she did not beat Sylvia, Baniszewski deprived her of food and sleep, causing her to become severely malnourished and emaciated. Eventually, she began to suffer from a variety of illnesses.
It is unclear what set Baniszewski off so much. Some theorize that she was enraged at Sylvia for claiming her father had sexually abused her, while others believe the hard life she had led caused her to lash out in a rage of self loathing. Whatever the reason, she took it upon herself to abuse and torture Sylvia Likens.
Using her own children as henchmen, Baniszewski allowed them to verbally and physically abuse Sylvia. They beat her, slammed her into walls and threw her down stairs. They cut her skin and rubbed salt into the wounds. They would also douse her in scalding baths to “cleanse” her.
Baniszewski even used her children to lie to the social worker. She told one of Sylvia’s friends that the girl was spreading rumors about her mother and pitted her against the girl in a fist fight. Phyllis Likens witnessed this and neglected to report it to authorities. Baniszewski enlisted the help of a local boy named Ricky Hobbs to be her personal assistant, and he blindly followed her commands.
Phyllis Vermillion and other neighbors became concerned when Likens did not return home from school. They called the police, who sent a detective to the Baniszewski home. Gertrude claimed that Likens was not at home because she had run away from the house. She also screamed that Sylvia was a prostitute, which she alleged was her only form of retaliation.
Gertrude, her daughter Paula, and neighborhood children including Coy Hubbard and Ricky Hobbs began abusing and torturing Likens. Likens was locked in the basement and fed crackers. Her attempts to escape the house were thwarted by her frail condition.
At one point, she was forced to write a letter while tied to the stair railing. Its contents were intended to mislead her parents into believing that she had run away from the Baniszewski household. Likens was later beaten and subjected to torture including having the bottom curve of the letter “S” burned into her flesh.
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