Episode 7: Sylvia Likens

Sylvia Likens was born on January 3rd 1949 to Lester and Betty Likens. She was the middle child between her and her 4 siblings 2 sets of twins. She was very close with one of her younger sisters, jenny who suffered from polio. Causing one of her legs to be weaker than the other so she walked with a limp and had a brace.

The family would travel frequently for work because they worked in the carnival circuit selling candy, soda and beer. The family would move frequently and usually suffered from financial troubles. Their parents would normally bring their sons along to help at the carnival but, both Sylvia and jenny would usually stay with their grandmother because their parents did not want them to miss school and were cautious about their safety.

Sylvia was often described as lively, friendly and confident by those who knew her. She would often make money by babysitting and doing chores for neighbors and would share her earnings with her parents.

In June of 1965 while attending Arsenal Technical High School Sylvia and Jenny met Paula and Stephanie Baniszewski and they became fast friends. Jenny and Sylvia would spend time at the Baniszewski house like attending birthday parties and going over to have dinner.

In the beginning of July Sylvia and Jenny's mother Betty was arrested for shoplifting and at that point Lester had to leave to work at the Carnival with his two sons. Seeing how well both Sylvia and Jenny got along with both of the Baniszewski sisters he decided it would be a good idea for them to stay at the Baniszewski house.

The first month, things went great. Both Sylvia and jenny would spend time singing and gossiping but, that would all end soon. In august, Lester began sending payments late and some times not at all. To keep things in perspective, 20.00 in 1965 is equal to about 168.00 today. This would put Gertrude in a state of rage. She would start to beat both Sylvia and Jenny with a quarter inch thick paddle, saying things like "well, I took care of you little bitch for a week, for nothing." after the initial beating their parents betty and Lester came to visit and gave Gertrude an advanced payment. During their whole visit neither sister mentioned anything about the beating.

Sylvia would earn money by collecting cans and turning them in. She would buy things like candy and sodas, when Gertrude would see her with these she would beat her with that same paddle across the back and head.

In late august, the abuse mainly began to focus on Sylvia. There are a couple of theories as to why this happened, one was because Gertrude was jealous of Sylvia because she was young and pretty. Another theory was that she felt bad for Jenny because of her polio so she went easy on her.

At one point while the girls were talking in the living room, Sylvia mentioned that she had a boyfriend who she met in Long Beach earlier that year when her family was in California. Gertrude then questioned Sylvia if she had ever done anything with a boy. Confused by the question Sylvia said that one time she went under the sheets with him.

The conversation came up again a few days later when Gertrude told her that her stomach was looking big and asked her if she was pregnant. Sylvia thinking that she was joking said " ugh I know I need to go on a diet." Gertrude then turned to the other girls and said "see this is what happens when you mess with boys, you get pregnant" then she turned back to Sylvia and kicked her in the vagina.

Gertrude then started to starve Sylvia, not allowing her to eat and when she did she was not allowed to eat at the table with everyone else. At one point she was so hungry she was scavenging for food in the dumpsters, when Gertrude caught her she, Paula and a neighborhood kid Randy Lepper force fed Sylvia a hot dog topped with condiments and spiced which she ended up vomiting and they made her eat the vomit.

When they returned to school in the fall, Sylvia started a rumor that Paula and Stephanie were prostitutes. One boy came up to Stephanie and offered her money for sex. Stephanie was pissed when this happened and the boy told her it was Sylvia starting the rumor. When Stephanie confronted Sylvia about the rumor Sylvia admitted to starting it and Stephanie punched her. Stephanie's boyfriend Coy Hubbard then brutally attacked Sylvia by slapping her, banging her head against the wall and flipping her backwards on the floor.

Coy and a few other classmates would come over just to attack Sylvia With the active encouragement of Gertrude, these neighborhood children routinely beat Likens, sometimes using her as a practice dummy in violent judo sessions, lacerating her body, burning her skin with lit cigarettes in excess of 100 times, and severely injuring her genitals. To entertain Gertrude and her teenage accomplices, Likens was forced at one point to strip naked in the family living room and insert an empty Coca-Cola bottle into her own vagina in their presence, with Gertrude stating to all present this act of humiliation being for Sylvia to "prove to Jenny what kind of a girl you are."

The abuse continued into October when it escalated. Gertrude began locking sylvia in the basement and tying her up to the stair railings. Where she would be forced to wet and soil herself. As punishment for this Gertrude would take her up to the bath and pour scolding water on her.

At one point Gertrude shouted for Likens to return to the kitchen, then ordered her to strip naked before proclaiming to her: "You have branded my daughters; now I am going to brand you." She began carving the words "I'M A PROSTITUTE AND PROUD OF IT" onto Likens' abdomen with a heated needle. When Gertrude was unable to finish the branding, she instructed one of the neighborhood children present, 14-year-old Richard Hobbs, to finish etching the words into Likens' flesh as she took Jenny to a nearby grocery store. In what Hobbs would later insist were "short, light" etchings, he continued to brand the text into Likens' abdomen as she clenched her teeth and moaned. Both Hobbs and 10-year-old Shirley Baniszewski then led Likens into the basement where each proceeded to use an anchor bolt in an attempt to burn the letter "S" beneath Likens' left breast, although they applied one section of the loop backwards, and this deep burn scar would resemble the numeral "3".Gertrude later taunted Likens by claiming she would never be able to marry due to the words carved on her stomach, stating: "Sylvia, what are you going to do now? You can't get married now. What are you going to do?" Weeping, Likens replied, "I guess there's nothing I can do."

The following day, Gertrude Baniszewski woke Likens, then forced her to write a letter as she dictated the contents, which were intended to mislead her parents into believing their daughter had run away from the Baniszewski residence. The content of this letter was intended to frame a group of anonymous local boys for extensively abusing and mutilating Likens after she had initially agreed to engage in sexual relations with them before they inflicted the extreme abuse and torture upon her body.

On October 25th after hearing Gertrude's plan to leave her in the woods to die, Sylvia made a run for it up the stairs and out of the basement but, she was so week they caught her and took her back down to the basement. That evening, Likens desperately attempted to alert neighbors by screaming for help and hitting the walls of the basement with a spade. One immediate neighbor of the Baniszewski's would later inform police she had heard the desperate commotion and that she had identified the source as emanating from the basement of 3850 East New York Street, but that as the noise had suddenly ceased at approximately 3:00 a.m., she decided not to inform police about the disturbance.

Sylvia passed away on October 26th and the Baniszewski family was arrested and tried!

Listen in to find out more!