Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Torturing Death of Sylvia Marie Likens

Foster Care

The next day, Lester Likens, having been informed of his wife's arrest, went with his oldest son, nineteen-year-old Danny, to his estranged wife's place to pick up Sylvia and Jenny. Not finding his daughters there, he began canvassing the neighborhood. Darlene MacGuire told him they were at the Baniszewskis.

When Lester got to "Mrs. Wright's" home, it was late in the evening and he was both tired and distraught. He talked about how he and Betty had reconciled and were going to travel with a carnival. Mrs. Wright graciously offered to let him spend the night sleeping on the couch in her cluttered and dusty living room.

The next day, Lester asked, or Gertrude offered (accounts are unclear), to board Sylvia and Jenny. Regardless of whose idea it was for Mrs. Wright to care for them, an agreement was made that she would board them for $20 a week.

Over a year later, in court, Lester Likens would be asked if he had inspected the home in which he left two of his five children. He replied, "I didn't pry," an odd way to describe not bothering to take a look-see about a place one's children will be living in. If he had, he would have found that the household had no stove, only a hot plate, that it possessed fewer beds than were needed for those already living there, and that its kitchen drawers boasted a grand total of three spoons. During Sylvia's tragic stay, the pitiful number of spoons would shrink to only one.

Thus, Lester Likens placed his minor daughters in the care of a woman he had known for only a couple of days and who had not been recommended to him by anyone. He did know, however, that she had the responsibility of caring for a large family without the help of a husband or other adult in the home.

Before leaving, Lester gave Mrs. Wright some advice that he would later have much reason to regret: "You'll have to take care of these girls with a firm hand because their mother has let them do as they please."

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