Name Gertrude Baniszewski
Family Paula Baniszewski (daughter)
Stephanie Baniszewski (daughter)
John Baniszewski Jr. (son)
Marie Baniszewski (daughter)
Shirley Baniszewski (daughter)
James Baniszewski (son)
Dennis Lee Wright Jr. (son with Dennis Wright Sr)
Pathology Murderer
Dates October 26, 1965
Motive Sadism
Victims Sylvia Likens
M.O. Torture
Conviction Paroled
Status Deceased
Appearance Born Bad

Gertrude Baniszewski was an American woman convicted of the murder of 16 year old Sylvia Likens.


She was born Gertrude Nadine Van Fossan of Polish/Dutch ancestry on September 22, 1929. In 1939, Van Fossan witnessed her father die of a heart attack. At 16, she dropped out of high school to marry John Baniszewski, an 18 year old with a volatile temper. After 10 years and six children, the two divorced.

When Gertrude was 34, she had a son with 18 year old Dennis Lee Wright. They had one son before Wright left the family.

By 1965, at 37 years old, her life had turned to poverty with seven children to take care of. The only income she had was a little child support, which was insufficient back in the 1960s, and ironing clothes. Her children frequently brought their friends to the house, including Sylvia and Jenny Likens, the daughters of carnival workers. The two were friends of Paula, the oldest child.

In July 1965, Paula brought the Likens girls over to stay the night. The girls' father asked Baniszewski if she would board the girls while they went out on the carnival circuit. Baniszewski accepted for $20 a week.

However, when the payments did not come in the mail, Gertrude took it out on the Likens girls with physical abuses and calling them "bitches". But the failure of payment wasn't the sole trigger for the abuse. As a sadist, Gertrude enjoyed inflicting pain on others. Gertrude used any excuse to hurt them. Sylvia reminded Gertrude of everything she had lost. Sylvia was clean, pretty virgin, which Gertrude had lost long ago and was jealous of her for it.

Gertrude's torture of Sylvia became worse. Gertrude started putting out her cigarettes on the 16 year old girl's body. She evened recruited her children into torturing her, a common trend in homes with child abuse.

At one point, Gertrude accused Sylvia of spreading rumors about her daughters. Having her children hold Sylvia down on a mattress, Gertrude used a heated sewing needle to carve the words "I'm a prostitute and proud of it" on Sylvia's stomach. She was probably already planning to murder her.

Sylvia submitted to this torture to protect her sister Jenny.

To cover up her crimes, Gertrude made Sylvia write a letter to her father. The letter said she had run away with a gang that had beaten her up and dumped her back at the Baniszewski house.

After her arrest, psychologist Doctor Edward Strain asked Baniszewski to make a self-portrait as a diagnostic test. She drew a woman with long, clawed fingers. This indicated a sadistic personality. Dr. Strain concluded she had a "hysterical personality with overdetermined sadistic trends".

In 1985, the sadistic woman for some reason won parole, and died finally in 1990.