Also known as the Torture Mother, Gertrude Baniszewski was an Indiana divorcee who oversaw and facilitated a prolonged torture, mutilation, and eventual murder of a teenage girl, Sylvia Likens. It was later discovered that the death and majority of the torture was actually carried out under Baniszewski’s instruction by her teenage children and other kids from the neighborhood. When the woman was convicted of first degree murder in 1965, the case was called, “the single worst crime perpetuated against an individual in Indiana’s history."
~ Description of Gertrude Baniszewski on List 25's 25 Most Evil Women in History, on which she was the 25th entrant.

Gertrude Baniszewski (September 19th, 1929 - June 16th, 1990) was an American woman who tortured and murdered a 16 year old girl named Sylvia Likens in her own home in the state of Indiana. She encouraged her children and their friends to join in the torture-murder. The crime was considered to be the worst in the state's history.

Early Life

Baniszewski was born on September 19th, 1929 to Mollie Myrtle and Hugh Marcus Van Fossan, Sr. She dropped out from high school six years after her father died, and she then married an 18-year-old deputy by the name of John Stephen Baniszewski and had five children with him. They divorced ten years later.

She later moved in with her 18-year-old boyfriend and had one child with him. He later left her after the child was born.

Sylvia Likens

35 years later in July 1965, Sylvia's parents asked for Gertrude to take her and her sister in as boarders while they continued to work as carnival employees. As payment for her cooperation, they would pay her $20 regularly. However, they had fallen short on a payment and Gertrude proceeded to beat the two girls as a result. Thus began a long history of child abuse.


Baniszewski began to physically abuse Sylvia in 1965. She appointed her own children into bullying her and they would do horrible things to her like pushing her down the stairs, burning cigarettes onto her skin multiple times and forcing her to consume her excrement and vomit. Her daughter Paula, one of the torturers, once tried to repent of her hatred towards Sylvia to a pastor but Gertude prevented her from doing so by stating that Sylvia was the one being hateful. Gertrude also accused Sylvia of being a prostitute, and "preached" to her about how it was wrong to sell your body for money, and that women were filthy in general. Hypocritically, Gertrude decided to please her fellow torturers, most of them male neighborhood children, by forcing Sylvia to participate in a strip tease, where she was stripped naked and had her vagina forcibly violated by an empty glass Coca Cola bottle. The most infamous and horrific act throughout the months of torture was when Baniszewski, with the help of her child torturers, carved the words "I'M A PROSTITUTE AND PROUD OF IT" onto her stomach with a heated needle. The letter "S" (ended up looking like a "3") was also burnt above the words with a hot iron poker.

See also