Sylvia Likens was sixteen and her sister Jenny was fifteen in July of 1965, when they were entrusted to the care of a skinny, asthmatic, chain smoking - and as it turned out, psychotic - woman named Gertrude Baniszewski. Likens’ parents had offered Baniszewski $20 a week to let their girls live with her while they traveled with a carnival, operating a concession stand. Soon - and no one seems to know why - Baniszewski started to beat the girls, but then she focused her illogical rage on Sylvia. She also began to invite neighborhood kids, who hung out at Gertrude’s house, to beat and torture Sylvia as well. Some kids would practice judo on her, and some would put out their cigarettes on her skin. On at least one occasion, Gertrude put Sylvia in scalding hot water to “cleanse her of her sins.” For a time Sylvia was allowed to leave the house, but eventually she became a kidnapped victim and was locked in the cellar and fed minimal food. Baniszewski used a needle to carve the words “I am a prostitute” onto her stomach. On October 26, 1965, Sylvia died from brain swelling, internal bleeding, and shock. Baniszewski and the family members and neighbors who took part in the torture, kidnapping, and murder were tried and convicted of various degrees of crime. Sylvias parents were not charged. Her sister Jenny died in 2004 at the age of 54, and Baniszewski, who had been released from prison on parole in 1985, died of lung cancer in 1990.
Ellen Page plays her in a movie. It’s so good.