May 19, 2023 - News

Remembering Sylvia Likens, a case that shocked Indy

Gertrude Baniszewski weeps on May 19, 1966, after a guilty verdict in the murder of Sylvia Likens.

Gertrude Baniszewski (left), in custody of a police matron, weeps after a jury delivered a guilty verdict against her and four teenagers in the torture slaying of 16-year-old Sylvia Liken on May 19, 1966. Photo: Bettmann/Contributor via Getty Images

On this day in 1966, Gertrude Baniszewski and four teenagers — two of Baniszewski's children and two neighbors — were found guilty in perhaps the most shocking and horrifying murder in the city's history.

💭 James' thought bubble: I hadn't heard of this nightmarish case until Mayor Joe Hogsett mentioned it during an interview and walked me over to a memorial for Sylvia Likens in Willard Park.

  • Hogsett shared details from memory, a sign of the scar Likens' murder left on the city.
  • "I would have been 9 or 10 years old, and it was wall-to-wall coverage," Hogsett told me. "It was just a horrible story."
A Sylvia Likens memorial in Willard Park with an image of her etched in a circle.
Indianapolis police created a Sylvia Likens memorial in Willard Park in 2001.

Catch up fast: For months, Baniszewski tortured 16-year-old Likens, who had been left in Baniszewski's care while her parents were away.

  • Baniszewski characterized her relentless abuse as discipline, per news reports, and turned it into entertainment for her children and neighbors.
  • Police arrived at 3850 E. New York St. on Oct. 26, 1965, and found Likens dead with a note Baniszewski had forced her to write blaming her attacks on a gang of boys.
  • The girl "was malnourished and covered with sores, burns and bruises, many of them old. She had been branded in one spot by a hot metal object, and the words 'I am a prostitute' had been etched on her stomach," per a 2013 IndyStar look back.

The bottom line: The details get far more graphic and shocking from there, making it clear why Indianapolis is still shaken by the Likens case.

Go deeper: The 1965 torture and murder of Sylvia Likens (IndyStar)

School district fires aide upon learning of secret past (USA Today)


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