Based on the true story that shocked the world in 1965.

In the early summer of 1965, 16 year old Sylvia Likens stepped foot into 3850 East New York with hopes and dreams. She left the house three months later, emaciated with burns, bruises and scratches. What happened in those endless months would later be described as "the worst crime ever committed in the state of Indiana". This is the story of a girl who had hopes and dreams.

This is Sylvia's story.


43. "Get Away And Stay Away"

The depressive, agonisingly drawn out minutes.

When I gained a new wound, it would take days for the pain to ease. So I would be left in the basement, struggling to get over the bullets of pain racing across my body. I would grind my teeth, I would tear my lip, I would dig my nails into the concrete ground. So desperate to escape it, that I would inflict more self-mutilation. Delirious, my mind was fogged with memories that I couldn't relate to; that I couldn't reach. Some days were better, and I could actually remember daddy's name. But that day, I didn't remember being thrown in the basement. It begged the question, had I passed out before somebody had shoved me off the steps? It certainly solved the nauseating pounding on the left side of my skull.


My name was being called yet again, though maybe it was a good thing - then I wouldn't have forgotten it. Jenny was usually the one who I would see in the basement, repetitively calling my name, and laying a gentle hand on my shoulder. But there was no gentle hand, and instead, I felt a tap on my cheek. It made me flinch at first; the sudden contact. My eyes took their time in opening and discovering, and it wasn't long before the familiar hacking and coughing told me who was there before my eyes did. I looked, and saw Gertrude crouched in front of me. Unusually, she was holding a sponge, and a bucket was sat next to her. The floor was soapy and wet, and it only confirmed my belief that Gertrude had been cleaning whilst I was knocked out. I didn't blame her, there was too much blood on the floor.

Gertrude stared at me, but it was a different look compared to her others. In that moment, she looked curious, and amazed at her own work, that she had successfully belittled me. I felt her fingers clasp around my wrist, as she propped me up against the post; one of Johnny's favourite past times. I felt the ropes being tied around my hands, restricting me, not that I moved before anyway. I thought it didn't matter, because it wasn't like I used my arms during the day. It gave me a chance to rest my head, as all it ever seemed to do was weigh me down. If I felt my head dropping slowly, my body was sure enough to follow with it.

Gertrude stayed crouched in front of me, dipping the sponge in the bucket as she continued to scrub the grime and dirt from the ground. The sound of the water inside the bucket only brought new delusions, as though I thought I had a cup in my hand, and I was just about to take a huge gulp. The thirst hadn't disappeared, not one bit.

"I know what its like to be sick, Sylvia." She said, scrubbing the floor slowly.

It made me laugh, not that I could have summoned the strength to move my lips. Gertrude was unwell it seemed; a common cold at the most, a little bit of fatigue maybe. But she was not beaten, burnt, exhausted, lifeless, starving.

"I had Paula when I was just about your age." She continued, pausing her work as she sat still for a moment, as though thinking about the time when she was young, pregnant, trying to live free, "...and then, along came Stephanie - then all the others."

Her life story was one of regret, it seemed; having so many kids so young. My thoughts at that moment were jumbled.

Gertrude carried on cleaning, "their daddy left - John." She paused once again, becoming lost in her own life of regrets and mistakes, "...and here I am - tryin' to do everything I can for this family."

Sitting there, tied up, with some of those scars and marks from Gertie's hatred, I felt for her; a mother of 7, poor, no man around, no goals, no ambitions. And yet it seemed she had sewn the same fate for me; no future.

Her eyes stared into mine, with that brief look of reclusive rage and guilt. I didn't look away, not like I used to. I maintained eye contact, and stared into the eyes of the woman who had stolen my life from me. She reached a hand out. My body remained still, even if my mind ordered me to flinch. She laid her palm on my cheek, softly. I had never felt Gertie's hand so gently before...

"You need to be punished, Sylvia." She whispered, "...I have to protect my children."

There was silence in that basement; Gertrude had never looked at me for that long before without raising a hand and striking me. It should have unnerved me, but emotions that began the first night I was thrown in that basement, had now begun to trickle away. Whether it was a good thing or not, I would never know.


A child's voice soon broke the concentration on Gertie's face, as the eye contact finally ended. I didn't know what that moment meant in that short space of time, but no beating came my way, and I accepted it with a grateful heart.

"Mama, it's important!" Young Marie shouted from the top of the stairs.

Gertrude tiredly heaved herself back to her feet, and dropped the sponge in the bucket. I felt a few droplets of water hit my legs, and I relished those few seconds.

"What the hell is it, Marie?" Gertrude moaned; the same impatient temper taking over as usual.

"The health nurse mama - she's at the door now."

"What, well what did you say to her?" The sense of panic rose - I heard it in her voice.

"Nothin' - she's askin' about Sylvia."

Gertrude soon enough ran to the stairs, and climbed up them as if her life depended on it. I knew just the mention of a public health nurse gnawed at Gerie's nerves. I knew it straight away, you see - I knew the nurse would have been there for me. The basement door closed by Marie's touch, and even though I could not hear the voices, I heard the footsteps wading across the floorboards above. The questions that would be asked were typical - can I speak to Sylvia? From which Gertie would have replied, "I had to send her to Juvie".

People believed the adult figure, and that was why I didn't tell anyone before.

The ropes had begun to feel less painful, and yet I knew it was my limbs that were simply more numb; it seemed having your arms tied behind your back somehow disrupted the blood flow - something I had learnt in one of those biology lessons I so hated. Unlike the Reverant's visit earlier, I was not as desperate to seek an escape. I felt solace in the basement when it was only me, and me alone. My thoughts could become my own worst enemy; images of me dying, and nobody ever knowing - and me being replaced by Jenny; a new toy for the children. Those thoughts made me shudder; who knew my own mind could scare me more than the dark?


The smell was repulsive - enough to make a stomach churn with disagreement. The nipping of the cold had seemed to become worse overtime. The concrete floor was still damp from past punishments; memories that I had to face every time I was locked down there. Rotten food that had been left for me which I had, undeniably, refused. The odd stain of blood forever imprinted on the floor and the walls; seemed like a horror film, though it felt like it. I laid, scrunched up in the tightest ball my body would have allowed on a urine-infested mattress that I had used upstairs in the bedroom. It seemed someone had allowed me a little bit of comfort in the basement, though I didn't know why, even if I realised that it was better than nothing. I relished in the soft bedding under my strained back, even if it wasn't the cleanest.

It was dim, though the slight illumination from the moon seemed to enter through the small rectangular window. There were times I felt like the world was slowly disappearing in front of me. Or maybe it was just me who was fading away? Those moments didn't matter anyway. Because my empty burning lungs and my heart hitting my chest so hard it could have broken through my ribs and ripped apart my skin was the only thing I could have thought about.

And the void. The black hole in my head, deep inside my soul, slowly swallowing all my hopes and dreams. That was the worst of those moments. The realisation of the vacuum, the nothingness, the absurd of my existence. Those times kept me awake all night, and made me wonder; why am I living for anyway? Maybe for me. Maybe for Jenny. Did it really matter? And when I couldn't find my answers on the ceiling, the anxiety turned into panic.

Even though my body had been defeated, I had since gotten used to the emptiness I felt in my stomach. I was, as disturbing as it was, used to feeling hungry; famished. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't have slept. My eyes closed, but I only tricked myself - I was fully awake. But it was nice being alone; secluded from everything, and the troubles of everyone.

As I laid upon the mattress, the lighting from the moon hitting the concrete floor, I nearly began to drift away into the sweet sanctity of my dreams. But, of course, it was disturbed by the quiet etching of the basement door; followed by the slight creaking of the steps. Someone obviously didn't want to be heard. My eyes were hazy, as though I had been woken up. The figure was blurred to a degree, though I could still tell who it was, only slightly. The figure arched down beside me.

"Hey, Sylvia..." The figure grumbled slightly, "...Sylvia, wake up."

I knew who the voice belonged to. It was Paula. It was strange having Paula, one of the ring leaders to the madness, talk to me with such a caring tone. Before my eyes could have attempted to look around, I had felt the frantic tugs on my right arm in a bid to heave me to my feet. I murmured, seemingly in an attempt to get her to stop, but Paula heaved my battered body from the floor.

"Just get up, I need to get you out of here."

Something in the way she had spoken. She was, undoubtedly, worried. But what about? She knew something that I didn't. She was successful in getting me to my feet as she heaved me up; putting one of my limp arms around her neck. I couldn't understand why she was helping me. She groaned under the weight of my reluctant body. I stumbled myself towards the steps, with the question spiralling in my mind.

Where were we going?


We arrived in the hallway; my arm still tightly wrapped around Paula's neck. The living room was dark, only the street lights shining in from the outside world. I tried to breathe; the pain was relentless as I hadn't walked for days. It was as though I couldn't have summoned any strength to hold myself.

"Be quiet, Sylvia." She whispered, as it was clear to see she didn't want to wake anyone up, particularly Gertie.

I understood why. Knowing that it wouldn't have just been Paula who would have received a punishment if we were found, I summoned a monstrous amount of effort to lead myself out of harms way. We finally halted at the door as Paula slyly opened it, determined to make a quiet job of it. When suddenly, for the first time in a long time, I felt the breeze from the outside world caress my skin. Some of the lights from nearby houses illuminated my eyes. The street at night time was something I hadn't seen in such a while. I wanted to smile. I was tempted to run out, and yet what Paula said next confused me.

"Get away and stay away." She warned.

I wished someone would have helped me before everything had started; for someone to have ran down to the basement and to have helped me. Why now? Why not when I needed it most? There was one thing stopping me - I couldn't have gone. I couldn't have gone and left Jenny behind. God only knew what Gertie would have done if she had found out I had gone. It was simple; she would have blamed Jenny - I knew she would have.

"I can't - can't leave Jenny." The words spluttered from my mouth, with the recurring dribble of blood falling from my lips.

"Just go - you need to go." Paula frantically whispered.

I could tell she was in a hurry to get me out. But out of everything that had happened, I couldn't have summoned the courage to leave.

"I can't..."

I was astonished. I had spoken the words I never thought I would have said. I had always prayed I would escape, but to no avail. It was strange; Paula was handing it to me on a plate - allowing me to escape, allowing me to leave. I actually have a chance, I thought. But you see, my mind had been split into two sides; one side pleaded for me to leave, to run out of the door and to not have looked back. Yet another side was the only thing I could have heard, with Paula's hands shoving me relentlessly out onto the porch. The side I listened to had told me to stay; that if I hadn't have stayed, Jenny would have felt the brunt of Gertrude's anger.

Before a decision could have been made, the creaking of the stairs had became apparent. A tall, menacing figure stood in the dimness of the room; the slight enchantment of light from upstairs created a shadow that had been invented by my own nightmares.

"What the hell are you doin', Paula?" A sinister voice spoke.

I only needed to hear the voice to have know who it was. Gertrude.

"I, err..." Paula struggled, looking to me and then back to her mama, "...I found Sylvia at the door. She was tryin' to get out..." Paula had sacrificed me to protect herself. Selfish.

"Just take her back to the basement." Gertie droned on; she was thankfully still half asleep.

Paula nodded carefully, before leading me past the scrutinising eyes of Gertrude. I followed on behind Paula; hurrying away so Gertie wouldn't have had a chance to beat me. Though I failed to see how she would have accomplished that with the state she was in. I limped my way back to the basement door, as Paula heaved it open for me. I was reluctant to step inside - however I had done the right thing. I was still there. Jenny would still be safe. I thumped down the first step as Paula stood rigid behind me.

"You should have left." She hissed, and the basement door echoed shut.

The basement was dimly lit again, as I stood alone on the steps. I supposed I should have left; to run to my parents, or the police. Anyone. But I couldn't - if you were me, you would've understood why.

As I stood motionless on the edge of the step, I began to sway; backwards and forwards as though someone was pulling me on a string. My skin began crawling. I glanced down to my arms, noticing that each hair was standing on end; the skin a deathly pale. A faint whooshing noise, like the wind gathering speed, had already found a way through my ears. I had no idea what I was doing, or what was happening. I shuddered slightly, a quick chill racing across my bare skin as I began murmuring indescribable words for some odd reason. And then as quickly as I had been standing...

Everything had gone black.


"Wake up."

A distant voice began lighting the way in the darkness I was surrounded in. Consciousness was slow in returning to me, but when it did, the result was pain. I was disoriented for a moment by the combined strain of an exhaustion-induced migraine. My pounding head quelled just enough to restore my vision back to normal, and the figures of three people stood from afar, staring at me.

"What do you reckon it's like being down here?" Johnny's voice echoed, appearing louder with each time my face would wince in an attempt to hear the conversations.

Coy was leaning against the wall, with Randy doing the same; his arms folded, and desperation on his face each time Coy promised to give him a smoke.

"I reckon the ghosts aren't friendly down here." Randy smirked, taunting Johnny, seemingly because he was the youngest.

Johnny attempted to salvage his strength, "- ghosts aren't even real, idiot."

Randy laughed along with Coy, each making a remark about Johnny who attempted to be seen as the alpha male of the group. Coy and Randy knew otherwise.

"Bet you she probably fell down the stairs herself." Randy grinned, his eyes stabbing into my back as I remained against the concrete.

His words were enough to make me cringe, and no sympathy was to be held for me.

"You ever pushed her down?" Coy asked, casually; the way he was so casual.

Being shoved down the stairs was a quick sickening sensation, a chill clawing up my spine, and an unbearable pain that followed once I had hit the floor. It was fun to Coy, but each time my body left the top step of the basement, my life continued to drain from my eyes.

"I haven't done it yet - is it fun?"

The word 'fun' was just enough to reaffirm what I had thought about their tedious games.

"You have to shove her real hard - like really push her."

What sounded harmless to them, was a broken spirit to my already damaged soul.

"I've punched her, knocked her out cold once." Randy said; smug and pompous.

Coy scoffed, "you wish."

It was a competition of manliness to them; how hard you could hit. My brittle body had taken so many beatings, and I wasn't gone; they hadn't defeated me yet.

Looking back on life, it seemed like I had learnt everything I needed to know by the time I was sixteen. The problem was, I somehow forgot it all laying in the basement. Maybe if I could have explained it to someone else; captured it in this way, and kept it folded up - filed away in a corner of my mind, I could have kept from having to repeat the same mistakes. There was drama, there was conflict... but for the most part, I had been incredibly happy. I had been happy because I had my friends, and I had love. It wasn't exactly knowledge I had back then. It was the sort of gullible wisdom that came from growing up with people, having their lives becoming entwined in yours. Growing up with people who shared one thing similar to me.


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