50 years later: Family, friends remember murder of Sylvia Likens

Sylvia Likens was brutally murdered in 1965.

LEBANON, Ind. (WISH) – Monday marks 50 years since the gruesome torture and murder of Sylvia Likens.

The 16-year-old girl was found Oct. 26, 1965, dead and mutilated at the hands of her caretaker.

At the trial, this case was referred to as the the single worst crime perpetuated against an individual in Indiana’s history.

Family and friends of Sylvia Likens gathered at her gravesite Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015. (WISH Photo/Howard Monroe)
Family and friends of Sylvia Likens gathered at her gravesite Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015. (WISH Photo/Howard Monroe)

About 50 people crowded into Oak Hill Cemetery in Lebanon Sunday afternoon. Some holding flowers, some holding onto each other, all of them holding Sylvia in their hearts

Family and friends said that if history isn’t learned we are doomed to repeat it.

“This is in your honor,” Dianna Bedwell, Likens’ sister, said. “We love you so, we miss you and I will see you again someday.”

“I feel as though I’ve known her all my life,” Bill Reeves, a Likens family friend, said. “I really can’t explain it. It’s a spiritual thing.”

Sylvia was found tortured in a home on East New York Street. Her parents left her in the care of Gertrude Baniszewski and a month later she was dead.

“Gertrude made her a prisoner. Gertrude encouraged others to physically abuse her, to emotionally abuse her, and she [Gertrude] abused her,” Gloria Allred, Bedwell’s attorney, said.

Baniszewski was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, but after less than 20 years in prison she was granted parole and released in 1985.

“To know that you’re responsible for taking someone’s life is really hard to live with,” Baniszewski said as she was released from prison.

Baniszewski died five years later.

Bedwell and her attorney, Gloria Allred, say the family didn’t know of Sylvia’s torture. Even 50 years later the scars of what her sister went through are still there.

“The love and the heartache is still there, the knowledge of what she went through is still there,” said Bedwell.

The case sparked changes in Indiana’s child abuse laws. It’s been the law since 1972 that anyone who believes child abuse is occurring must report it to police.

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