Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Torturing Death of Sylvia Marie Likens

1985: SLAM into Action

In 1985, after serving two decades in Indiana Women's Prison, the parole board voted to grant Gertrude Baniszewski a parole. However, a court ruled that the board's hearing had not been properly open to the public and a new vote had to be taken.

Two anti-crime groups, Protect the Innocent and Society's League Against Molestation (SLAM), instantly swung into action. Interestingly, SLAM was founded by Patti Linebaugh, the grandmother of Amy Sue Seitz, a two-year-old molested, tortured, and murdered by convicted child molester Theodore Frank. Perpetrated in California, that crime, like this one, would be called "the worst crime ever committed against one victim in the state's history."

Members of SLAM and Protect the Innocent pounded the pavements of Indianapolis seeking signatures of citizens opposed to the parole. They had no trouble getting them even among those who were too young to remember the case because Gertrude Baniszewski's name had, in the two decades of her incarceration, become that of an Indianapolis "bogeywoman." They ended up gathering more than 4,500 signatures in just a couple of months. Jenny Likens appeared on television to demand that the notorious Baniszewski be kept behind bars.

Despite the outcry, when the parole board again voted, it was three to two in favor of the parole, exactly as it had been on the first vote. Baniszewski's conduct as a prisoner had been quite good. She worked in the sewing shop and tended to make favorable impressions upon both prison staff and other inmates. Many of the younger imprisoned women called the child killer and mother of seven by a title most familiar to her: "Mom." According to the Chicago Tribune, prison psychiatrists "termed Baniszewski a 'healthy, stable, pleasant and agreeable' person who wants 'to try to make up for the past and leave the world a little better.'" At the hearing, Baniszewski teared up frequently and expressed remorse but claimed amnesia about the crime. Indeed, her statement of remorse was enigmatic: "I'm not sure what role I had in it . . . because I was on drugs. I never really knew her. [But] I take full responsibility for whatever happened to Sylvia." She left prison December 4, 1985.

The torture-murderer moved to Iowa where she lived out her life under the name Nadine Van Fossan. A long-time heavy smoker, she died in 1990 of lung cancer.

Richard Hobbs, who did most of the dirty work of etching the words into Sylvia and half that of burning the "3," died of cancer when he was only 21.

Coy Hubbard, who took such excessive revenge again and again for a slur against his ladylove, Stephanie Baniszewski, served time for burglary some years after his brief stint in the reformatory. He obtained work as a mechanic. He was later tried but acquitted for the murders of two men.

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