True Story Behind the Movie an American Crime

Posted on 05/20/2019
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True story behind the movie "An American Crime". Terrifying details about Sylvia’s torture to death and her abusers. The story about her’s life and death.


  An American Crime is a movie based on a true story of a sadistic murder of sixteen-year-old Sylvia Likens. The movie follows the story of an ill-fated teen, Sylvia and her younger sister Jenny, living with theirs, at the time, caregiver Gertrude Baniszewski and her seven children.   

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  Sylvia was a daughter of carnival sellers Lester Cecil Likens and Elisabeth Frances also known as Betty. It is said that her parent's marriage was a bit unstable. Due to the nature of their job, her parents had to move around a lot. Sylvia was a third child, born between two sets of twins. Her parents weren’t very keen on taking their daughters Sylvia and her younger sister Jenny with them, fearing their safety and education. Therefore girls would usually reside with their relatives so that their school work wouldn't suffer. In the summer of 1965, Lester Likens, arranged for his daughters to stay with Gertrude Baniszewski, the mother of the girls with whom the Likens sisters had recently become acquainted. Lester made a deal with Gertrude to take care of his daughters, for 20$ per week.

  Gertrude Baniszewski was a single mother of seven children. She could barely provide for them by sewing or cleaning for money. It is said that the fact that she had two failed marriages and was in a bad financial situation led to her depression among other illnesses. She agreed to take care of Likens’s two daughters as a way to earn extra money.

  Although the agreement was for Likens to send 20$ every week, these weekly payments would sometimes fail to arrive upon prearranged dates. Baniszewski started venting her anger on the Likens sisters, by spanking them with a paddle. By  August of 1965, Gertrude's abuse shifted mainly on Sylvia. She was now abusing Sylvia both, physically and psychologically. Sylvia would be subjected to humiliation when she would say she had a boyfriend, another time she was accused of stealing candy she had bought. Gertrudes oldest daughter, Paula, at the time, got pregnant with a married man and again Sylvia was a victim of both, Gertrude and Paula venting their anger. Paula would kick Sylvia in genitals accusing her of being pregnant. Sylvia was also falsely accused of spreading rumors at their school, that both Paula and Stephanie were prostitutes. This provoked Stephanie's boyfriend Coy Hubbard to physically attack Likens. On one occasion Paula would beat Sylvia so hard, she broke her own wrist. Gertrude would later accuse Sylvia of being a prostitute, among other insults. Coy Hubbard and several of his classmates frequently visited Baniszewskis house in order to torment Sylvia, with Gertrude and her children. The sadistic torture of Sylvia kept on getting worse. Among all tortures they would burn her with cigarettes, kick her repeatedly in genitals, whip her, they would subject her to scalding baths, etc. At one point a neighbor made an anonymous report to the authorities which prompted an in-home visit by a public health nurse. Baniszewski simply told her she kicked Sylvia out of the house and was unaware of her actual whereabouts.

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  Due to the severity and brutality of the torture and mistreatment, Sylvia became incontinent. She wasn't allowed to use the bathroom, thus being forced to wet herself. As a punishment for her becoming incontinent, on October 6th, Baniszewski simply threw Likens into the basement and tied her up. In there she was often kept naked, also deprived of food and water. Gertrude would often with the help of her children and sometimes their friends restrain Sylvia and place her in the tub with scalding water, after which they would rub salt onto her burns. At one point Gertrude would also charge neighborhood kids five cents to beat Sylvia. Likens was eventually allowed to sleep upstairs on the condition that she learned not to wet herself. As Sylvia, unfortunately, wetted herself, Gertrude punished her by making her masturbate with an empty glass of Coca Cola in front of the Baniszewski children. After that Gertrude said to Sylvia “You have branded my daughters, now I'm going to brand you” and begin carving the words " I'M A PROSTITUTE AND PROUD OF IT” onto Sylvia's abdomen using a heated needle. Since she wasn’t able to finish branding, she told one of the neighborhood kids, Richard Hobbs, to do it. On one occasion Baniszewski made Sylvia write a letter as she dictated the content. The letter was to mislead her parents to think Sylvia had run away. The content of the letter was supposed to frame a group of boys of torturing and killing Sylvia after she agreed to engage in sexual relations with them. After finishing the letter, Gertrude planned to take Sylvia to the woods and leave her to die.

  On October 25th Sylvia tried to escape but due to her injuries, Gertrude was able to stop her. She took her to the basement and beat her. Lykens desperately tried to alert neighbors by screaming for help and hitting basement walls with a spade. Unfortunately with no luck. The next morning John Jr sprayed with a hose in an attempt to “clean” her. Likens tried to exit the basement but could reach the stairs. After that Stephanie decided to give Sylvia a warm bath. She then realized Sylvia wasn’t breathing and attempted mouth to mouth as Gertrude simply said she was faking her death.

  On October 26th after enduring multiple beatings, burnings, scalding baths in addition to humiliation, Sylvia died of a combination of a brain hemorrhage, shock, and malnutrition. She was only 16 years old.

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  When Gertrude finally accepted Likins’s death, she sent Hobbs to the nearby payphone to call the police. She handed them the letter she made Likins write and saying she came back home that afternoon holding the letter. Before the police left the house, Jenny approached them and said: "Get me out of here I’ll tell you everything.” After that Gertrude, Paula, Stephanie and John Baniszewski, Richard Hobbs and Coy Hubbard were arrested. Five other neighborhood children were arrested for participating in this gruesome crime as well.

  During the highly publicized trial, Gertrude Baniszewski denied being responsible for Sylvia Likens’s death. She chooses to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Four minors Coy Hubbard, Richard Hobbs, and Paula and John  Baniszewski were tried for torture and murder.

  On May 19th,  1966 Gertrude was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison on May 25th. Paula Baniszewski was convicted of second-degree murder and also sentenced to life In prison on May 25th. The same day, Richard Hobbs, Coy Hubbard, and John Baniszewski Jr who were convicted of Sylvia's manslaughter received two to twenty-one years in prison.

Gertrude was released from prison on December 4th, 1985, and died five years later due to lung cancer at the age of 61.

Author: Jelena Ivanovic; Copyrighted ©

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