Sylvia Likens Murder and Aftermath

In recent days, the name of Sylvia Likens has popped up in national media. To many, her name is familiar because of the movie An American Crime with Ellen Paige. To others, they might know of the inspiration for Jack Ketchum’s book The Girl Next Door. To natives of Indiana (or those who just happen to live here), her name is recognizable because of the news coverage her murder receives every year on the anniversary.

I am publishing this on the 47th Anniversary because it seems fitting.

Now, why has her name been in the national news? It’s because of a woman named Paula Pace. For the past 14 years, until this past Tuesday anyway, she had been working as a Teacher’s Aide in Iowa. An anonymous tip to local authorities reported her real name as Paula Baniszewski.

Baniszewski/Pace was one of six people charged with her systematic torture and murder. Others charged were Gertrude Baniszewski (her mother and the ringleader of the abuse), Coy Hubbard (her boyfriend), John Baniszewski (her brother), Stephanie Baniszewski (her sister), and Richard Hobbs (a neighbor).

Of the six of them, Stephanie’s charges were dropped because of her willingness to testify of the horrors that she and the others committed. Paula and Gertrude were both convicted on 1st degree murder charges (these were both overturned because of Jury Bias and new trials were ordered). The boys were sent to a boy’s reformatory school.

But what exactly happened? Forgive me if the details are wrong, but I am going off pure memory, so here it is as I recall: Sylvia and her younger sister stayed with Gertrude Baniszewski at 3850 East New York Street (the house stood for 44 years until a church purchased the property to make it a parking lot). The Likens’s girls stayed with Baniszewski because their parents, carnival workers at the time, asked that they be able stay. Their parents agreed to pay a certain amount of money per week while they traveled.

When payment was late, Baniszewski took it out on Sylvia. Her children were directed to hit her. Paula lied about her saying Sylvia was a prostitute and was pregnant (incidentally, Paula herself was pregnant by Hubbard). When Sylvia proclaimed her innocence, she was beaten. She was burned with cigarettes, Hubbard practiced his karate moves on her, and she was forced to eat her own excrement. The words “I’m a prostitute” were carved into her abdomen.

On 26 October 1965, Sylvia died from a cerebral hemorrhage. The police were called and her younger sister said “Get me out of here and I’ll tell you everything.”

The boys spent roughly two years incarcerated. In a second trial for Gertrude and Paula, Paula took a plea bargain while Gertrude was once again convicted of 1st Degree Murder (she was paroled in 1985).

The sentences of all involved seem light. Certainly they are. Hubbard spent the rest of his life in and out of prison before dying in 2005. John Baniszewski became a pastor, breaking his silence in 1998 after a school shooting in Jonesboro, AK. He told reporters that he was proof that young offenders can turn their lives around. Gertrude died of lung cancer in 1990. Pace/Baniszewski was paroled in 1972 (her child, by the way, was born in prison in 1966). Hobbs died of lung cancer at 21. He had picked up a multi-pack a day habit while incarcerated.

After her release in 1972, Pace/Baniszewski moved away. When she filled out her job application at
Beaman-Conrad-Liscomb-Union-Whitten in Iowa, she lied saying she had never been convicted of a crime. The fact that she spent 14 years around children frightens me very much.

I don’t know why some people feel compelled to do things this horrible, but I hope that with the last surviving person associated with Sylvia’s murder, Pace/Baniszewski takes a hard look at herself in the mirror every morning, realizing she was responsible for something so horrific that words cannot describe them. More so, I hope her husband and children realize what kind of monster she is.

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About MacJew

I am Husband to a beautiful woman, Father to two dogs and two cats. I am dovoutly Jewish. I love to read and write. I am trying to expand my horizons on film beyond the typical Hollywood garbage, so I have been watching foreign films lately. My plans for this blog are to talk about various things that are of interest to me, including Judaism, history, movies, books, et cetera. Anything that comes to mind, really.
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3 Responses to Sylvia Likens Murder and Aftermath

  1. Annita Martinez says:

    Mr.MacJew, Hello my name is Annita Martinez and I am also doing a story on Sylvia Likens< i may have some things you might be interested in some of the things I have as to I would be interested in what you may gotten. Please feel free to contact me and I will be looking forward to your responce thankyou

    • In 1966 I was 8. This story hits me hard. I cry every time I watch one of the movies or pick up the book about this horrific crime. I can’t fathom how so many young people could take part in torturing this helpless suffering girl. 50 years ago adults tuned children out and minding one’s own business was the rule of the day, but what drove the kids to punch, kick, and do horrible things to Sylvia? Some of the devil’s best work took place in that basement. He took alot of souls with him in that basement. To violate someone who is in such a state of pain and suffering, one would have to vacate their humanity entirely.To do it day after day, week after week, the devil took possession. I’ve always loved animals more than people, it will probably be the driving force to send me to hell. Beasts are not capable of evil. Bible says they have no souls, I suppose they don’t, but I prefer them to people, I always have.

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