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  • Writer's pictureMacabre Emporium Pod

Episode 3 - She's as ugly on the inside as she is on the outside


Sylvia Likens, Gertrude Baniszewski, Paula Baniszewski, Ricky Hobbs
Sylvia Likens, Gertrude Baniszewski, Paula Baniszewski, Ricky Hobbs

—------- Sylvia Likens —-------

Sylvia Likens was born on January 3rd, 1949, in Lebanon, IN, to Lester and Betty Likens. She was the middle child of the five Likens children. There were two sets of (fraternal) twins. The younger twins are Benny and Jenny, and the older twins being Dianna and Daniel.

Lester and Betty didn’t have the most stable of marriages. They regularly experienced extreme financial issues, causing them to move a lot, as they would get kicked out of the places they resided due to non-payment. They spent a good amount of their time in the summers working at concession stands at carnivals in and around Indiana. The Liken’s boys often traveled with their parents to help them out - however, Sylvia and Jenny were never allowed to go due to their schooling and wanting to keep them safe. The girls had to stay with family members, more often than not - her grandmother - for those reasons. Jenny also had Polio, which caused her leg to be weak, leaving her with a limp and a steel brace, which would have made travel a little more challenging.

Growing up, Sylvia, or “Cookie” as her friends referred to her, was always seen and described as a beautiful, confident, and friendly young woman. She usually kept her mouth closed due to missing one of her front teeth. She absolutely loved The Beatles and music in general. She liked to roller-skate, even with a limp leg, her sister Jenny joined.

In Sylvia’s teenage years, she found ways to make her own money, even though she would give some of that money to her mother, Betty. Sylvia would run errands, iron clothing for her neighbors, and babysit the neighborhood kids.

When 1965 rolled around, the Likens were living in Indianapolis. Betty (mother) got caught, arrested, and jailed for shoplifting. This set a line of events up that would require the Likens parents to join a traveling circus and head East. Not wanting to take the girls along with them, they left both Sylvia and Jenny with a woman named Gertrude Baniszewski. Upon this boarding agreement, Gertrude promised Lester (father) that she would care for and love his children as if they were hers. After the 4th of July, the girls moved to 3850 East New York Street to stay with Gertrude, who would be paid $20 weekly to take care of them.

The Likens girls were pleasantly surprised the first few weeks there, as they didn’t get punished for anything they did wrong. Sylvia and Jenny went to Sunday School and willingly helped with household chores. They were getting along great with one of Gertrude’s daughters, Stephanie.

Everything seemed to be working out well…. until it wasn’t.

—------- Gertrude Nadine Baniszewski —-------

Gertrude Nadine Baniszewski, also known as Gertrude Wright, was born on September 19th, 1929. She was the 3rd of 6 children, but unfortunately, there is not much known about her childhood other than her being very close to her father and very distanced from her mother. When Gertrude’s father passed from a heart attack in 1940, this solidified the distance between mother and daughter.

She dropped out of school at the age of 16 to marry a young deputy named John Baniszewski. Together they had four children. He was not the best of men. He often beat Gertrude for being annoying. She wound up staying in that marriage for ten years before divorcing him and taking her children with her.

She married a second man named Edward, and they divorced a mere three months after eloping because he got sick of Gertrude and her children. After this divorce, she wound up recoupling with John and stayed together for another seven years and had two more children. They divorced for the second and final time in 1963, when she was 37 years old.

Shortly after leaving John again, she met, had an affair, and moved in with 23-year-old Dennis Lee Wright. Her choice of men was atrocious, as Dennis was also abusive. She had her last child - a baby boy named Dennis Jr and also had a miscarriage. Dennis would wind up leaving Gertrude, leaving her with no money and no support. Her only financial gain at this point was a child support payment from John, when and if he sent it. She also started others’ laundry and babysat tikes.

With all of the stress and heartache her life had brought, her health declined. She was constantly sick, she rarely ate, and her personal hygiene habits truly affected the way that she looked. It caused her to look gaunt and pale. Her hairline also began to recede due to her diminished health. Do you remember in the movie Pet Sematary, Rachel’s sister Zelda? Imagine that, but with a dark brown mushroom haircut, and you’ve got Gertrude.

Her luck seemingly changed when Lester Likens gave her the opportunity to board his daughters while he, his wife and sons went out East to work the carnival circuit.

—------- The Abuse —-------

Even with the stipulation in place that the Likens pay Gertrude $20 weekly. The payments, of course, stopped coming in regularly. Remember, these are people that constantly have financial troubles - so this was bound to happen eventually. Clearly, this would be a legitimate reason for anyone “taking care of” someone else’s children to become upset. You had a verbal agreement, and the other side didn’t hold up their end. Gertrude wasn’t just upset. She was downright pissed and took it out on the girls by spanking them with a small board like the ones they used in Dazed and Confused when the senior douches were torturing the younger dudes. This is what would be the catalyst for the rest of the abuse the Likens girls would receive.

Gertrude was also seemingly jealous of her beauty and how she carried herself with poise and grace. She wanted to be young and beautiful again, but that would never happen. This bitch was ugly inside and out. Unfortunately for Sylvia, this would mean she would get the brunt of the abuse. She would be targeted far more than Jenny would be.

It started just two short months after Sylvia and Jenny went to live with Gertrude. Sylvia had been collecting Coca-Cola bottles to sell that she had gathered from the neighborhood garbage cans. What did she want to do with the money she got from bottle sales? She wanted to buy herself some candy. Sylvia made a sale and earned enough to get herself and her sister some candy. Afterward, they went home with it, and Gertrude immediately accused them of stealing from the store. This earned Sylvia another beating with the wooden paddle before Gertrude would force her to strip, in front of an audience and (trigger warning - as this does involve a minor) insert a glass coke bottle into herself while everyone around her watched.

After this all happened, Sylvia became incontinent - meaning she kept wetting herself - and Getrude used that against her. She called her filthy and unworthy of living with other humans, so she locked Sylvia in the basement. There was no plumbing, no toilet of any kind. Literally, not even a bucket to piss in. Sylvia had no choice where to go, and she would wind up urinating and defecating on herself. This forced Gertrude to introduce a bathing regime. Gertrude had a clawfoot bathtub that she would fill with scalding hot water. Poor Sylvia’s ankles and wrists were bound, and this way, she couldn’t fight back when Gertrude would dunk her into the hot ass water. This occurred once or twice a day, some days not at all. Paula (Gertrude’s daughter) even got to join in on what they considered fun. After these traumatic hot baths, she would rub Sylvia’s raw body down with salt.

Gertrude would spew off bullshit about sexual immortality as Paula (Gert’s daughter) would stomp on Sylvia’s vagina. Paula was pregnant, yet she told her mother that Sylvia was pregnant - so they found ways to mutilate her genitals. She would push and throw Sylvia into and onto furniture. She would practice karate on her, use her as an ashtray, and push her off of chairs, yelling at her that she wasn’t fit enough to sit on a chair. So after that, Sylvia was only allowed to sit on the furniture when she was told to. Paula’s brother would force both of the Likens girls to lick his youngest sibling's dirty diapers until they were clean. Gertrude herself would put out cigarettes on Sylvia’s neck.

She made the girls lay across the bed, pull their skirts up - and underwear down - so that she could begin to beat the girls with a wooden paddle when the first payment failed to arrive. The Likens sisters were said to have been beaten 15 times that day because Paula (Gertrude’s oldest daughter) had told Gertrude the girls ate too much at a church function. This resulted in Gertrude getting a hotdog, loading it up with every condiment one might have, and forcing Sylvia to eat it. Sylvia would wind up eating it and throwing it up and then being forced to eat her vomit while Gertrude’s other children stood around laughing at her.

Jenny was threatened often. She was told that if she ever let anyone know what was going on in that house, she would be the one hurting Sylvia that day. Jenny had to stand by and watch all of this abuse happening to her sister, and she couldn’t bear to think that SHE would be the one to hand down punishment. She couldn’t do it, and she wouldn’t do it, so she kept her mouth shut. Which was a win-win for Gertrude, as she could continue to abuse and neglect the girls - mainly Sylvia - and get away with it because she knew Jenny wouldn’t tell.

All of this abuse that was being handed down to the Likens girls was too much for her alone, so Gertrude got herself a 14-year-old personal assistant named Ricky Hobbs to help her “deal with” Sylvia. Now I’m not sure if he was terrified of Getrude or just an asshole that was excited to help her out. People suspected he became her lover turned henchman.

Gertrude would wind up telling her children that Sylvia was a prostitute. She propositioned neighborhood kids to come over and sexually violate Syliva any way they wished to. If they didn’t want to violate her that way, they could always abuse her—all for a small fee of $5. Ricky Hobbs and another of Gertrude’s daughters used a needle to carve “I’m a prostitute and proud of it” into her stomach with a hot needle, with the help of a young male that was there.

Sylvia’s older sister, Diana, had come to visit and was turned away at the door. She snuck food over for her sisters, which Sylvia hid in the basement. There was a neighbor nearby who had reported numerous things to a public health nurse. When this nurse gained entry to the home, she was shocked at the fact that Sylvia and Jenny were not there. Not in the house, not in the basement, nowhere. Gertrude lied but managed to convince this nurse that the Likens girls had been kicked out of the house. Other neighbors had seen the abuse take place through the windows, and they never reported it because they were in fear for their own lives, so they said nothing.

There was so much more heinous shit done in this house and to the Likens girls, but I think what I’ve shared is enough. If you want to hear more details, there are numerous resources online you can find. I am going to head to the unfortunate end of this story.

—------- Sylvia’s Death —-------

A few days before Sylvia would pass away, Gertrude allowed her to sleep inside the house and on a bed again - with a twist - she would be tied to the bed so she couldn’t get up in the middle of the night, which was to teach her to not wet the bed. As she had become incontinent…Sylvia wet the bed. This caused another force to get nude and insert a coke bottle inside herself. There was branding done after this.

Sylvia was sent back to the basement, where her sister Jenny visited her that evening. Sylvia told her, “I’m going to die. I can tell”.

Allowed back in the house and an actual bed again the next couple of days, Sylvia was even given non-scalding baths. Gertrude made Sylvia write a letter to her mom and dad that stated:

“To Mr. and Mrs. Likens:

I went with a gang of boys in the middle of the night. And they said they would pay me if I would give them something so I got in the car and they all got what they wanted…and when they got finished they beat me up and left sores on my face and all over my body.

And they also put on my stomach, I am a prostitute and proud of it.

I have done just about everything that I could do just to make Gertie mad and cost Gertie more money that she’s got. I’ve tore up a new mattress and peed on it. I have also cost Gertie doctor bills that she really can’t pay and made Gertie a nervous wreck and all her kids.”

Gertrude wanted to have some of the boys drop Sylvia’s body off at a garbage dump, but Sylvia tried to escape before that could happen. Unfortunately, she was so weak, and her body was so mutilated she only got to the front door before Gertrude caught up to her. She drug Sylvia back inside and tried to get her to eat. When Sylvia declined, Gertrude beat her in the face with a curtain rod.

She was again tied up in the basement and offered some crackers as sustenance. Sylvia, the brave girl she was, told Gertude to “give it to the dog; it’s hungrier than I am.” Saying this truly pissed Gertrude off - so much so that she punched Sylvia in the gut repeatedly. The following day, there were more beatings - from Gertrude AND her children. This included being hit with a chair (or an attempt anyways, the chair fell apart mid-swing); Gert tried to hit her with a paddle and only wound up hitting her own face and giving herself a black eye. And then a young male stopped over and, using a broomstick - hit Sylvia in the head and knocked her out.

The very next day, she was allowed out of the basement again and was given a bath - fully clothed. When she was pulled out of the tub and tossed onto her mattress, two of Gertrude’s kids realized she was not breathing. They did try to do mouth-to-mouth to resuscitate her, to no avail.

Sylvia was dead and had been dead for what was determined between 8 and 12 hours prior to her bath.

Gert told Ricky Hobbs to call the police. When the police got to the house, Gertrude handed them the letter she had forced Sylvia to write days before. She was hoping this would immediately clear her of any suspicion of murder.

In comes Jenny…. she was terrified and sad at the sight of her sister’s dead body lying there…. but managed to whisper to the police officer… “Get me out of here, and I’ll tell you everything.”

—------- The Downfall of the Baniszewski Clan —-------

Gertrude, her children, and the other kids that came over and helped in the abuse were arrested for murder. 4 of the younger ones were charged with “Injury to person.” Thankfully, the kids were more intelligent than Gertrude, and they all confessed to what they did to the Likens girls. They all also said, “Gertie told me to,” when asked why they did the horrendous things to the girls that they did. This ultimately ensured that Gertrude Baniszewski would never see the light of day again, or at least we could hope.

—------- The Sentencing —-------

Gertrude was sentenced to life in prison in a 1971 retrial. She was a model prisoner and was granted parole in 1985. She moved to Iowa and changed her name, and thankfully died of lung cancer in 1990. She continually denied having anything to do with the abuse done, as well as the death of Sylvia Likens. To me, the fact that she lived until 1990 is super aggravating. She got to live a life outside of prison after the shit she did to those girls. That should never have happened.

Gert’s daughter Paula got seven years in prison. She wasn’t heard from until 2012, when she was found living in Iowa AND WORKING IN A SCHOOL AS A TEACHER'S AIDE - which she thankfully got fired from once they figured out who she was since she was living under a different name thanks to an anonymous letter the school received. Her whereabouts are now unknown - she could be your next-door neighbor.

Ricky Hobbs was sentenced to 2 years in prison for manslaughter. He lived a shorter sentence than expected…he also died of cancer at the age of 21 in 1972.

—---- The Aftermath for The Likens —-------

ia and Jenny’s older sister) is currently alive but had a near-death experience in California, where she and her husband Cecil got lost and were stranded in their car for two weeks. They lived off of rainwater, a few oranges, and a pie. Cecil did not survive; he, unfortunately, died of a heart after the first week. Off-roaders thankfully found Diana.

Jenny (younger sister) wasn’t tortured as much as her sister, seemingly because she was already crippled with Polio, and they felt sorry for her. Not much of her life after this took place is known. But she did pass away at the age of 54 in 2004.

Lester (dad) - there wasn’t much known about him after the death of his daughter, but he reportedly died in February of 2013 in California. He was 86 years old.

Betty (mom) divorced Lester in 1967. She remarried and then passed away at the age of 71 on May 29th, 1998. She is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery, where she and her brother share a headstone.

The house that all of this happened in was torn down in 2009, and all that remains is gravel and a parking lot where it stood.

And that is the absolutely infuriating case of Sylvia Likens. I will say researching this case was not fun, seeing the picture of poor Sylvia laying dead on the mattress was pretty shocking, I don't suggest looking it up, but I know much like myself, some of you other weirdos will.



Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, IN
The view of downtown Indianapolis, IN from the top of Crown Hill

Now when trying to find information and stories about Crown Hill I could easily turn my portion of the episode into the history of cemeteries but they could easily be an episode on its own. After we visited crown hill after we went to the Curiosities and Oddities expo, on a side trip to see John Dillinger’s grave afterward I wanted to stick to Crown hill because I haven’t ever seen anything like it before. Well, maybe I can still do that when I talk about the railway of the dead in a future episode.

Crown Hill Cemetery is located in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was founded in 1863 after the city’s main cemetery, Greenlawn was filling quickly from Union soldiers and Confederate POWs of the Civil War. Also, it was plagued with grave robbing, flooding from the nearby white river, and vandalism of headstones. When Greenlawn was first planned out in 1821 it was the initial burying place for 1100 Hoosier Pioneers, 1200 Union Soldiers, and 1600 Confederate POWS.

Now I’m sure I keep saying it was instead of is?

That is because it was closed in 1890 for new burials and many of the graves that weren't robbed were moved to Crown Hill after its closure. Which is about 5 miles away.

(Robbed for their remains possibly for numerous medical schools in Indy)

By 1931 Greenlawn was completely abandoned and the bodies of Confederate POWs were moved to mass graves known as Confederate Mound for industrial development of the area. With poor record keeping headstones and graves would be discovered throughout the years while developing the land. One of the last graves to be found was in 1986 when fiber optic cable was being installed.

(City park, animal control, baseball field for the Federal league baseball team, various industrial and commercial businesses now.)

A 30-member board was created and established the nondenominational cemetery on Sept. 25, 1863. They purchased a 166-acre farm and tree nursery from Martin Williams named Strawberry Hill for 51,000 dollars (1,162,466.29 in 2022). Strawberry hill was later renamed “The Crown”. Crown Hill would be officially dedicated on June 1, 1864. Two days, later it would see its first burial as Crown hill of a woman named Lucy Ann Seaton. Lucy passed away from consumption aka tuberculosis.

Crown Hill Cemetery is the third largest non-government cemetery in the United States at 500 acres and over 200,000 burial plots. Divided into 234 sections. It has 25 miles of paved roads, features 130 species of trees, and is a refuge for many species of wildlife including whitetail deer, which is surprising for how developed Indianapolis is around the grounds of the cemetery, a national cemetery for veterans, and a gothic-style chapel built in 1875. with a stunning view of Downtown Indianapolis, and many notable figures' final resting places. Multiple authors, racing legends, and political figures. Some of the more prominent people that have been laid to rest in Crown Hill are:

  1. Nascar's first commissioner Erwin "CannonBall" Baker

  2. Inventor of the popular game Sudoku Howard Garns

  3. Inventor of the Gatling gun, Richard Jordan Gatling

  4. The 23rd United States President Benjamin Harrison

  5. Founder of L.S. Ayres dept. Stores Lyman S. Ayres

  6. LGBT and AIDS activist Christopher T. Gonzalez

  7. Woman’s Rights Activist May Wright Sewall

  8. Poet Jame Whitcomb Riley is best known for the poem turned comic strip Little Orphant Annie.

  9. John Giesse Co-founder of Target stores

  10. And last but certainly not least, Crown Hill's most notorious resident. Bank robber John Dillinger

Crown hill is mentioned briefly in the book “The Fault in Our Stars” written by John Green. The love interest of the main character is buried at Crown Hill in a grave site facing 38th St.

I figured since Crown Hill covers 500 acres and over 200,000 burial plots might have a ghost or two.

One of the legends surrounds a mausoleum of State representative Caleb Blood Smith. His mausoleum is made from sandstone and Egyptian-style architecture. Some spots have a "fire-blackened appearance" It was believed that Caleb Blood Smith was a conspirator of the Lincoln assassination, so the African American community burned fires to keep Caleb's spirit inside and from haunting the city. It has never been confirmed whether Caleb was involved in Lincoln's assassination. Records do show he was Lincoln's secretary of interior and friend. Caleb Blood Smith wasn't buried here. The whereabouts of his remains are unknown.

Section 10 has a national cemetery designation that holds the remains of 800 union soldiers from the Civil War. It is believed that moving their remains from Greenlawn to Crown Hill caused unrest with their spirits. Reports from visitors seeing them in Union army uniforms wandering the grounds and also carrying out military drills.

Section 32 of Crown hill, a mass grave of over 1,600 Confederate soldiers that were POWs at Camp Morton located north of Indianapolis, also are buried here also being relocated from Greenlawn. The spirits of these confederate soldiers have been spotted roaming the grounds and, oddly, in the parking lot near their grave for their rightful burial spot.

Now, this next part might be slightly sad and upsetting to some listeners. Section 37 of Crown hill holds a mass grave of orphaned children. These orphan children reportedly died from starvation, abuse, or illness while in the care of the orphanages. Their graves do not have a name on them, just a number. Thankfully in 2006, a college student was doing research for an old land deed for a children's home they were an intern at and found 67 unmarked graves in a different location. They kept digging through records and finding more until they found the mass grave. The age range of the children buried here is a few months to as old as 15.

Today this mass grave of children is marked by three black granite monoliths. The center stone houses a bronze sculpture of a boy and a girl, hand in hand. 5-foot stones are either side are engraved with the names of the 699 children. This memorial is named "Hearts Remembered." The sounds of children running along with crying or screaming. Other phenomena include orbs, disembodied voices and whispers, and strange winds on calm nights. On more than one occasion, a woman carrying a baby has been seen crying for help or humming has been spotted as well.

Do you know the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard Sarah?

Well the two terms are interchangeable but a graveyard is generally associated with being next to a church and the word cemetery comes from the Latin word Coemeterium “sleeping place”

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