THE TORTURE MOTHER
In 1965 police found the emaciated body of 16-year-old Indianapolis resident, Sylvia Likens. She was covered in cigarette burns and sprawled out on a filthy mattress in the home of 37-year-old Gertrude Baniszewski, according to Indianapolis Monthly.
Sylvia and her sister Jenny boarded with Baniszewski because their parents were carnival-workers and traveled a lot. The girls' father paid Baniszewski $20 a week in exchange for housing his daughters. If the money arrived late and Baniszewski took out her anger on the girls. Eventually, she focused her beatings on Sylvia, alone. But, this wasn't a crime of an adult beating on a child; Baniszewski was the mother of seven children, all of whom lived in the house and partook in the violent and sadistic attacks against Sylvia.
It should already be overwhelmingly clear that Gertrude Baniszewski was an absolute monster, and yet the most shocking element of her crimes has barely been discussed. It would be horrible enough had Baniszewski tortured Sylvia Likens entirely by herself, but she took the terror to another level by using her victim as a training tool for future abusers. Whenever Baniszewski felt tired or sick, or perhaps just to mix things up, she would instruct her children and other neighborhood kids who happened to wander into her house to enact the punishment on her behalf. Gertrude’s daughter, Pamela Baniszewski, was the second worst abuser of the bunch, once beating Sylvia so hard she broke her own wrists. The eldest daughter Pamela wasn’t the only one getting in on the abuse, though, as all but one of the Baniszewski’s children were somehow implicated in the crimes, with only her infant son free from guilt.
In October 1965, Sylvia was beaten to death. Baniszewski apparently forced a neighbor to call the police and tell them Sylvia ran away. When police arrived at the home, Jenny Likens, Sylvia's younger sister, apparently whispered to one of the officers, "Get me out of here and I'll tell you everything."
Baniszewski got 20 years in prison and was then released, she moved to Iowa, changed her name and died of lung cancer in 1990. The others, who were mainly children, all got away with short sentences if any.