The Disturbing Death of Sylvia Likens

Heather Monroe
10 min readOct 20, 2019

How mob mentality led to the torture-murder of an Indiana teen

Trigger Warning

This article discusses child abuse, torture, sexual abuse, and murder in sometimes graphic detail.

Sylvia Marie Likens, born on January 3, 1949, was the third child of Lester and Elizabeth Likens. She had four siblings, an older set of twins, Dianna and Daniel, and a younger set of twins, Jenny and Benny.

Sylvia was sweet sixteen in 1965. She loved rollerskating and the Beatles. Sylvia had long, wavy, brown hair and a bright smile despite missing a front tooth due to an accident with her brother. Her family called her “Cookie.”

Sylvia cared for her little sister Jenny, who had a limp leg due to Polio. She enjoyed spending her babysitting money on trips to the skating rink with Jenny. Sylvia fastened one skate to Jenny’s sturdy foot and held her hand so she could skate with the other kids.

In 1965, Sylvia met Paula and Stephanie Baniszewski at Arsenal Technical High School. On June 3, 1965, Sylvia’s mother was arrested for shoplifting. Lester sold concessions at carnivals and usually took the boys with him, but could not bring his daughters. Since the Likens and Baniszewski girls got along, Lester decided to send Sylvia and Jenny to live with Gertrude. He agreed to pay $20 each week for their board and care. Gertrude promised to care for the girls as if they were her own.

The Baniszewski Family

The face of evil, Gertrude Baniszewski, Wikimedia Commons-Public Domain

Gertrude Baniszewski (née Von Fossan) was born on September 19, 1928. She married John Stephan Baniszewski at 16 years old. The couple had four children together. John became physically violent toward Gertrude, and she divorced him in ten years.

Weeks later, she married Edward Guthrie. He, too, turned out to be abusive, and they divorced within months. Gertrude remarried her first husband, had two more children and divorced for the 2nd time.

Next, Gertrude met 22-year-old Dennis Lee Wright, and the unwed couple had one son together, Dennis Jr, in 1965. Dennis abandoned Gertrude and the baby. She filed a paternity suit against him, though she never saw a penny.


Heather Monroe

Welcome readers! Heather Monroe is a genealogist and writer who resides in California with her partner and their nine children. •True Crime• History• Memoir•