Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Torturing Death of Sylvia Marie Likens

In Memoriam

John Baniszewski surfaced a few years ago after the Jonesboro, Arkansas tragedy in which a couple of junior high school students gunned down four peers and a teacher. He decided to come forward to say that there is hope for young murderers and that they can turn their lives around. Baniszewski had changed his name to John Blake.

When he spoke publicly for the first time about Sylvia's death he said he still could not adequately explain why he and the others turned on the girl the way they did. He said that he harbored a great deal of anger over his parents' marital break-up and the lack of adequate food and clothing for him and his siblings.

Blake acknowledges that his punishment was inadequate to the terrible crime. "A more severe punishment would have been just," he comments. Blake claims he turned his life around after finding God. However, the Baniszewski family went to a fundamentalist church both before and during the time the unfortunate Likens girls boarded with them. In his adult life, Blake has had no run-ins with the law. He has worked as a truck driver and realtor and served as a lay pastor. He is happily married and the father of three although he is now disabled by diabetes. His vision is blurred and he requires the assistance of a cane or walker to get around.

Stephanie Baniszewski became a schoolteacher. She also married and had kids as did Paula, who moved to Iowa and is said to live on a small farm there. It is not known whether or not she had contact with her paroled mother.

The Likens family continued to endure considerable hardship. Jenny Likens enrolled in a Job Corps program in 1966 and later got a job in a bank. She also married. Lester and Betty divorced in 1967. Benny Likens, Jenny's twin brother, began showing signs of severe mental illness a few years after his sister's hideous death. He became a semi-recluse, tormented by voices only he could hear.

Betty Likens died in 1999 at the age of seventy-one. A search of her keepsakes revealed a yellowed newspaper clipping of Gertrude Baniszewski's obituary together with a note by Jenny saying, "Some good news. Damn old Gertrude died. Ha ha ha! I am happy about that."

Benny Likens died only four months after his mother. He was forty-nine and had been mentally troubled for some time. Only fifteen when his sister Sylvia died, he served in the army and worked in various restaurants, often as a cook, when he got out. He started hearing voices and was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. According to the afterward in The Indiana Torture Slaying, Lester Likens found out his son was dead when a letter the father had written to Benny was returned marked "Deceased."

The people of Indianapolis have not forgotten Sylvia. A memorial to her will be dedicated this year on June 22. A poem by Ivan Rogers will be on the plaque, reading: "I see a light; hope. I feel a breeze; strength. I hear a song; relief. Let them through for they are the welcome ones."

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