Gertrude Nadine Baniszewski

Gertrude Nadine Baniszewski

Indiana criminal
Date of Birth: 19.09.1929
Country: USA

Biography of Gertrude Baniszewski

Gertrude Nadine Van Fossan was born on September 19, 1929, in Indianapolis, Indiana. She was the third child of Hugh and Molly Van Fossan, and she grew up in a low-income family. When Gertrude was 11 years old, her father passed away from a heart attack, which deeply affected her. She dropped out of school at the age of 16 and married a police officer named John Baniszewski, with whom she had four children.

Gertrude and John had a tumultuous relationship, often ending in fights. They divorced after ten years of marriage, and Gertrude briefly remarried to Edward Guthrie, but the marriage ended quickly due to his refusal to take responsibility for her children. She reconciled with John and had two more children with him before they divorced again in 1963.

At the age of 34, Gertrude entered into a relationship with 23-year-old Dennis Lee Wright. They had two children together, but Dennis was abusive towards Gertrude. He eventually left her, and Gertrude presented herself as "Mrs. Wright" to hide the fact that Dennis was not legally married to her.

Prior to the infamous case involving Sylvia Likens, Gertrude's life was difficult but not criminal. She struggled with health issues, including asthma, bronchitis, and weight loss. Gertrude worked odd jobs as a cleaner or nanny to support her children, as her income was minimal.

In July 1965, Gertrude's oldest daughter, Paula, became friends with Sylvia Likens and her sister, Jenny Likens. Sylvia and Jenny were living with their parents, who worked in a traveling carnival and were often on the move. Lester Likens, their father, offered to pay Gertrude $20 a week to take care of his daughters temporarily. Sylvia and Jenny attended the same school as Gertrude's children, and they also attended church together.

However, Gertrude's treatment of Sylvia quickly turned abusive. She accused Sylvia of theft and began physically abusing her. Gertrude's children joined in the abuse, at times encouraged by Gertrude herself. The situation escalated, and Gertrude subjected Sylvia to extreme torture, including branding her with hot objects and forcing her to engage in degrading acts.

Despite the horrific abuse, Sylvia did not escape or report her situation to the authorities. She feared that Gertrude would take her anger out on Jenny, who suffered less abuse than Sylvia. Additionally, growing up in a tense family environment had desensitized the Likens sisters to violence, making it difficult for them to recognize the severity of their situation.

In September 1965, Reverend Roy Julian from the local church visited Gertrude's home, as Gertrude's family was part of his congregation. Gertrude complained to him about her husband's refusal to pay child support, as well as her own health issues and the problems she faced with her children. She specifically mentioned Sylvia, claiming that Sylvia was skipping school and engaging in prostitution. Reverend Julian was skeptical of Gertrude's accusations, as he had seen Sylvia attending church and found her to be well-behaved.

Reverend Julian wanted to talk to Sylvia but was directed by Gertrude to speak with Jenny instead. Jenny, feeling frightened and pressured, responded mechanically and did not reveal the true extent of the abuse. This partly convinced Reverend Julian that Gertrude's claims were true. However, he failed to recognize the severity of the situation and did not report it to the authorities.

In October, Gertrude denied Jenny's sister, Diana Shoemaker, entry into the house when she came to visit. Gertrude demanded that the Likens parents give her permission to keep Diana away from her sisters. Diana ultimately did not report the abuse to the police.

On October 21, 1965, the police visited Gertrude's home in response to a neighbor's complaint about stolen items. Gertrude accused the neighbor, Robert Bruce Hanlon, of attempting to break into her house. Hanlon was arrested for theft, but the police did not uncover Sylvia's abuse during their visit.

On October 26, Gertrude ordered her children and the other involved individuals to move Sylvia from the basement to an upstairs room, where they tied her to a bed. The next day, they noticed that Sylvia was not breathing and attempted to resuscitate her without success. Stephanie Baniszewski, Gertrude's daughter, sent Richard Hobbs, a neighbor, to call the police from a nearby telephone booth.

When the police arrived, Gertrude handed them a letter that Sylvia had allegedly written, confessing to engaging in prostitution. However, before the police could finish reading the letter, Jenny approached one of the officers and whispered, "Take me out of here, and I'll tell you everything." Jenny's revelation and Sylvia's autopsy, which revealed numerous injuries and signs of torture, led to the arrest of Gertrude, her children, Richard Hobbs, and Coy Hubbard.

During the trial, Gertrude denied her responsibility for Sylvia's death, claiming insanity due to her own poor health and depression. Her lawyers argued that Gertrude's children and the other defendants were under her influence. Some of the other defendants initially confessed to their involvement, but they all implicated Gertrude as the mastermind behind the abuse.

Gertrude was found guilty of first-degree murder on May 19, 1966. Her death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. Paula Baniszewski, Richard Hobbs, Coy Hubbard, and Gertrude's other children were also convicted for their roles in Sylvia's abuse and death. The other defendants, including Anna Sisco, Judy Duke, Randy Lepper, and Mike Monroe, were initially charged but later had their charges dropped.

Gertrude Baniszewski continued to maintain her innocence throughout her imprisonment. She died of lung cancer on June 16, 1990, while serving her life sentence in the Indiana Women's Prison.