In 1965 Sylvia Likens and her sister moved in with the Baniszewski family at their Indiana home for a summer; the Likens parents went to work on the carnival circuit. The Baniszewski children, and their mother, tortured Sylvia to death. One of those children, now grown, has been discovered working as a teacher’s aid.
The Likens had five children in the summer of 1965. In order to make money, the adults decided to go work the carnival circuit. They left three children with relatives. A friend introduced them to Gertrude Baniszewski, who had seven children of her own. The Likens agreed to pay Gertrude Baniszewski $20 a week for the childcare.
Sylvia did not get along with Gertrude’s daughter, Paula. Angry at the Liken’s late payments and angry with the children that were not her own, she began torturing the Liken girls with severe beatings, burnings, and more. Eventually Sylvia was chained to a post in the basement. The Baniszewski children regularly beat and sexually assaulted Sylvia, and encouraged neighborhood kids to do the same. Gertrude carved ‘I’m a prostitute and I’m proud of it!” on the young girl’s stomach. Paula, 17 years old, took part in the abuse. In October 1965, Sylvia’s body was found in the basement. She was malnourished, her brain swollen, with more than 150 burns, bruises, sores, cuts and scaldings, along with the words carved into her flesh.
The crime was featured in a movie “An American Crime” starring Ellen Page as Sylvia Likens and Ari Graynor as Paula Baniszewski. The movie was based on the court transcripts.
Gertrude was sentenced to life in prison. She collapsed crying in the courtroom when sentenced. Paula was sentenced to life, but in 1971 she was retried and received two to 21 years. Paula escaped prison in 1971, was recaptured, and an escape charge was added to her record. She was released in 1972.
Paula Baniszewski changed her last name to “Pace” and maintained a clean record. In 1998 she began working at a school in Conrad, Iowa and is currently a teacher’s aide. An anonymous caller tipped off the school district after reading a post on Facebook. Pace is now suspended for undisclosed reasons. According to the Sheriff, the case has been turned over to the school district, as no crime has actually been committed.
Should Paula Baniszewski/Pace be allowed to keep her job? Is 48 years a long enough time after the crime to return to society?
My book on crime prevention (including crimes against children)
Credit – photo of J. Yates