Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Torturing Death of Sylvia Marie Likens

The Brutality Escalates

On one awful day, Mrs. Wright was indignant because she was told that, much earlier in the girl's stay, Sylvia had had a bit of extra cash: she knew that the girl had to have been either stealing or prostituting. Sylvia could not just be turning in empty soda pop bottles as she claimed. So, while several kids were at the Baniszewski house, Gertrude forced a weeping Sylvia to perform an awkward striptease in front of the bunch. When Sylvia was fully nude, Mrs. Wright made the weeping girl shove a soft drink bottle up her vagina.

At the climax of this horror, Stephanie Baniszewski came home from school. Seeing Sylvia naked before a bunch of kids, shoving a bottle up herself, and unaware that her own mother had ordered this performance, the outraged Stephanie rushed up to Sylvia and slapped her. Then she furiously ordered Sylvia to go to her room.

The Baniszewski's bathroom
The Baniszewski's bathroom

One night in October, Sylvia wet her bed. This could have been the result of psychological anxiety — if anyone ever had reason to be nervous, she did — or it could have been because the many cruel blows to her stomach and crotch had weakened control in that area. However, her tormentors decided that she must now live down in the basement with the dog because she was too dirty to live with human beings. Paula punished Sylvia's bed-wetting by preventing her from using the toilet, thus forcing her to befoul herself.

At the same time, her torturers began a regimen of forced bathing in which they tied up the "dirty girl" and forced her into the Baniszewski's old-fashioned, claw-footed bathtub tub after filling it with scalding hot water. Sometimes she was put in the tub by Gertrude and Paula and on some evenings fourteen-year-old Richard (Ricky) Hobbs was there to assist. Hobbs was a soft-featured, good-looking lad who sported straight blonde hair parted on the side, wore thick eyeglasses with black horn rims and often hung out at the Baniszewski house.

Paula Baniszewski rubbed salt into Sylvia's wounds.

Sylvia was often kept nude or nearly so for days at a time. She became a game for the neighborhood kids to enjoy, burning, punching, and now pushing her down the stairs to the cellar, then forcing her back up just to throw her back down again.

On one occasion, the starving teenager was allowed up from the cellar and told to try to eat soup with her fingers. Famished, she made an attempt at it only to have the soup grabbed away from her by John. Later, Mrs. Wright. and John forced the girl to eat shit and drink urine.

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