Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Torturing Death of Sylvia Marie Likens

The Letter Before End

Then Gertrude and Paula forced Sylvia to write a letter to her parents. Sylvia started to begin the note like the one she had previously been forced to write, "Dear Mom and Dad" but Mrs. Wright told her to stop and made her start over with the peculiar salutation "To Mr. and Mrs. Likens." After Sylvia's death, Mrs. Wright would turn over this letter to a cop. She would tell him that Sylvia had been absent from her house for a few days, then wandered into the backyard, clutching this epistle. The unsigned note read, in part, as follows.

To Mr. and Mrs. Likens:

I went with a gang of boys in the middle of the night. And they said that 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 cause [sic] Gertie more money than she's got. I've tore up a new mattress and peaed [sic] 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. . . .

Police photo of the letter
Police photo of the letter

Mrs. Wright discussed having someone drop Sylvia in a waste lot. She told John and Jenny that they were going to do this chore that but, before they could, Sylvia made an escape attempt. The hideously mutilated and weakened girl ran to the front door. Gertrude ran after her, catching her just as Sylvia was about to make it to the porch. Then Mrs. Wright dragged her to the kitchen and offered the girl some toast. The sick youngster said she couldn't swallow. Infuriated, Mrs. Wright beat her across the mouth with a curtain rod.

Twelve-year-old John Baniszewski tied Sylvia up in the basement. Apparently, not wanting her young charge to die — at least not until she was elsewhere — Gertrude went down to the basement with an offer of crackers.

"Give it to the dog," Sylvia told her captor, "It's hungrier than I am." Perhaps Sylvia felt she had nothing left to lose and, so, was defiant. Or perhaps the horror of the words branded upon her had sapped her will to live. Mrs. Wright repeatedly punched the girl in the stomach.

The next day was Sunday, October 24. Gertrude and John both beat the girl. Mrs. Wright swung at Sylvia with a chair but it broke before it hit her. The frazzled woman then tried to hit Sylvia with the paddle but hit herself instead, blackening her own eye. Then Coy Hubbard stopped by and hit Sylvia in the head with a broomstick, knocking her unconscious.

During the night, Sylvia repeatedly pounded on the floor of her basement-prison with a shovel; neighbors were disturbed and considered calling the cops to complain about the noise but did not.

The next day, Sylvia was taken upstairs for a final — non-torturous — bath. She was placed in the tub clothed. When taken out of it, Stephanie and Ricky realized that Sylvia was not breathing. Stephanie attempted to give Sylvia mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It did no good.

Sylvia was dead.

Mrs. Wright told Ricky to call the cops. He had to go to a pay phone since Gertrude's home did not have a telephone. When the police got to the house, a frantic Mrs. Wright handed them the letter quoted above, hoping it would absolve her of blame for the battered corpse lying on a mattress. However, before the officer had a chance to read it, a grieving and terrified Jenny Likens whispered to him, "Get me out of here and I'll tell you everything."

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