- Category : 1928-births
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 5/1 - Heretical / Investigator
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : LAX The Plane 2
American murderer, who held 16-year-old Sylvia Likens captive, and sexually-abused and tortured her to death over a period of three months in Indianapolis, Indiana, in October 1965. Gertrude Baniszewski's crime was abetted by her children, and other neighbourhood children.
Likens' parents, who were carnival workers, had initially left her and her sister Jenny in the care of the Baniszewski family, paying Gertrude $20 a week to care for the sisters. Baniszewski, her daughter Paula, her son John, and two neighbourhood youths, Coy Hubbard and Richard Hobbs, were tried and convicted of torturing and murdering Likens. The case was described by the prosecutor in Baniszewski's trial as "the most terrible crime ever committed in the state of Indiana".
Baniszewski was of Dutch descent, the third of six children. On 5 October 1939, she witnessed her 50-year-old father's death from a sudden heart attack. Six years later, she dropped out of school to marry 18-year-old John Stephan Baniszewski (1926–2007), who was originally from Youngsville, Pennsylvania, with whom she had six children. Although John Baniszewski had a volatile temper, the two stayed together for ten more years before divorcing.
Baniszewski, then 34, moved in with 22-year-old Dennis Lee Wright, who abused her. She had one child with Dennis, Dennis Lee Wright Jr. (later given the name Denny Lee Wright by his adoptive mother), but after his birth, Wright abandoned Gertrude.
Lester Likens, who had recently separated from his wife, arranged for his daughters, Sylvia and Jenny, to board with Gertrude Baniszewski, the mother of the girls' new friend Paula Baniszewski (aged 17) and Paula's six siblings Stephanie (15), John (12), Marie (11), Shirley (10), James (8), and few-months-old Dennis Lee Wright Jr. During her early time with the Baniszewski family, she would sing with Baniszewski's daughter, Stephanie.
Although the Baniszewskis were poor, Lester "didn't pry" into the condition of the house (as he reported at the trial), and he encouraged Baniszewski to "straighten his daughters out."
Lester Likens agreed to pay Baniszewski $20 a week in exchange for her care of the Likens girls. Baniszewski, described by The Indianapolis Star as a "haggard, underweight asthmatic", was suffering from depression and the stress of several failed marriages. When his payment arrived late, Baniszewski beat the Likens girls on their bare buttocks with paddles.
Baniszewski soon focused her abuse exclusively on Sylvia. She accused her of stealing candy that she had bought, and humiliated her when she admitted that she once had a boyfriend. Baniszewski's daughter, Paula, who was pregnant at the time, kicked Likens in the genitals and accused her of being pregnant. Later medical examination proved that Likens was not pregnant and could not have been.
Baniszewski began allowing her older children to beat Likens and repeatedly push her down stairs for entertainment. Baniszewski also accused Likens of prostitution and delivered misogynistic sermons about the filthiness of prostitutes and women in general.
Baniszewski encouraged Hubbard, her children, and neighbourhood children to torment Likens, including, among other things: Beating her, starving her, forcing her to eat faeces and drink urine, cubbing her with objects such as hair spray cans, using her as a practice dummy during violent Judo sessions, burning her body with lit cigarettes over 100 times, burning her with scalding water, injuring her genitals, and forcing her to strip naked and insert an empty glass Coca-Cola bottle into her vagina.
Gertrude Baniszewski forced Jenny to hit her sister, beating her if she did not comply.
Likens eventually became incontinent due to the severity of the torture. She was denied access to the bathroom and thus, was forced to urinate herself. As punishment for her incontinence, Baniszewski threw and locked her in the basement. Throughout her captivity, Baniszewski frequently, with the assistance of her children and their friends, restrained Likens in a bathtub filled with scalding water and rubbed salt onto her burns.
The Likens sisters had no way to contact other family members to inform them of the abuse. Jenny, especially, struggled to do this since she was constantly threatened by Baniszewski that she would be abused and tortured next like her sister.
On 25 October 1965, Likens tried to escape after overhearing Baniszewski's plan to blindfold her and dump her body in Jimmy's Forest, a wooded area nearby. Likens fled to the front door but due to her extensive injuries, Baniszewski caught her in time. Likens was provided with toast but was unable to eat it due to her severe dehydration. Baniszewski shoved the toast into her mouth and struck her face several times with a curtain rod. She violently threw Likens into the basement and with the assistance of Hubbard, she tied and bludgeoned her until she was unconscious. Likens managed to recover but was unable to speak intelligibly and move her limbs properly. Likens tried to exit the basement but collapsed before she could make it to the stairs. Baniszewski crushed her head with her feet and stood there for several moments.
On 26 October 1965, after multiple beatings, burnings, and scalding baths, Likens died of a brain haemorrhage, shock, and malnutrition. She was 16 years old.
Baniszewski, her children, Hobbs, and Hubbard were held without bail pending their trials. During the highly publicized trial, Gertrude Baniszewski denied being responsible for Likens' death. She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. She claimed that she was too distracted by her ill health and depression to control her children.
On 19 May 1966, Gertrude Baniszewski was convicted of first-degree murder. She was spared the death penalty and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Paula Baniszewski, who had given birth to a daughter during the trial, was convicted of second-degree murder. She was also sentenced to life imprisonment.
Richard Hobbs, Coy Hubbard, and John Baniszewski Jr. were all convicted of manslaughter and given two 2-to-21-year prison sentences.
In 1971, Gertrude and Paula Baniszewski were granted another trial by the Indiana Supreme Court, largely for reasons of a prejudicial atmosphere due to heavy news media publicity before and during the trial. Paula Baniszewski pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was released from prison one year later. Gertrude Baniszewski, however, was again convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Over the course of the next 14 years, Baniszewski became a model prisoner at the Indiana Women's Prison, working in the sewing shop and becoming a "den mother" to younger female inmates. By the time she came up for parole in 1985, she was known by the prison nickname "Mom".
Baniszewski was released from prison on 4 December 1985, and travelled to Iowa, where she called herself Nadine Van Fossan, using her middle name and maiden name. She lived in obscurity until her death in Laurel, Iowa, from lung cancer, on 16 June 1990, aged 61.