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.


17. Hiding The Problems

A tranquil Saturday had finally arrived, and the temperature outside was a measly 22 degrees that day; hardly the temperature you would have expected during the summer. Considering the heat in Indiana seemed to last a good few months during the summer season, everybody seemed to spend most of their time out in the yards; gardening, enjoying the heat whilst they could, as though it would have disappeared by the next day.

I sat on the couch with Jenny, watching at Johnny and Marie fighting over who had won the board game as they fidgeted around with the dice. Gertrude, on the other hand, lugged herself around the living room; tidying away with a cigarette in one hand and a brush in the other. Paula fed Dennis Jr, holding him in her arm as he eagerly pleaded for more milk. Every now and again, I would receive a flicker of anger from Paula, before her eyes would fall back onto the baby. I was fine with a few harsh glares, just as long as she didn't beat me again like last time. It was difficult keeping a careful distance from her, considering we shared the same bedroom.

"I won!" Marie screamed, as she snatched the dice away from Johnny's grasp.

Johnny shoved Marie by the shoulders, "you don't even know how to play!"

It wasn't long before an argument had broken out. They both didn't seem to realise how the game was supposed to be played.

"Mama! Johnny keeps stealin' the dice!" Marie yelled, almost at the top of her lungs, I was sure.

It seemed Gertie's temper was reaching a dangerous boiling point that day, and I was careful on not exceeding it.

"Jesus!" She moaned, running her nails through her hair, "you two keep actin' up and you're goin' straight up them stairs and staying there!"

It seemed Johnny had given up, crossing his arms as he looked as though he was all and ready to have a fist fight with Marie. It was funny watching those two play around. It reminded me of my siblings; how we used to spend most of our time with one another. It made me feel a small inkling of loss, but I knew that one day we would all have been together again.

"Where d'you think you're goin', Paula?" Gertrude asked; for some reason, an anxiety in her voice.

She loved Paula, I could tell; protecting her from Bradley and - well, from me.

"I don't need to tell you." Paula argued, opening the front door though Gertie was soon to close it.

The repetitive shutting and closing of the door was sure to drive me insane, and it seemed with Paula too. 

"You don't talk to me like that," Gertrude warned, but Paula ignored her. Surprisingly enough, she said no more about it, " finished feedin' the baby?"

"I gave him to Jimmy." Paula insisted; annoyance in her voice like she was the disobedient teenager waiting to leave by her mama's command.

Gertrude quietened down, giving in to her daughter's childish behaviour. 

"Fine - and could you get Dennis over here? I need to speak to him." Gertrude asked, and the front door swayed open before finally being closed, for good that time.

Gertie stood at the stairs, throwing the brush onto the cabinet as she stormed away into the kitchen. Jenny's head gradually looked up, as she smiled widely. Her smile was enough to make me feel as though we were back home; sitting on that merry go round, or somewhere similar.

"Got any laundry jobs yet?" She asked.

"I'm sure I'll find some."

I had been trying to find extra work for a few dollars ever since I was 15. I had learnt from an early age that money didn't appear. You had to work for it if you wanted it. Laundry work was just easier than most, and charging $10 per item of clothing seemed like a reasonable bargain. Though for some reason, moving back to Indianapolis didn't help it at all. Not many people wanted their ironing down, though maybe it was because Gertrude was doing half of the state already.

I heard the front door opening again, however expecting it to be Paula, a man's voice spoke from the doorway.

"You guys alright?"

It was Dennis, as he quietly closed the door behind him as though determined to come in without Gertie finding out.

We all turned around as we gazed at him, each of us giving a nod in return. He walked towards us, keeping his hands in his trouser pockets as his eyes gazed down at the argument that was unravelling before our eyes.

"Guys, you gotta' play it fair." Dennis insisted, and it wasn't long before his eyes finally noticed Jenny and I, " guys are the new boarders, right?"

I quickly turned in my seat, and Jenny followed.

"I'm Sylvia," I then pointed to my little sister, "this is Jenny."

Dennis nodded with a bleak smile, "Gertie keepin' you prisoner?"

I couldn't have shrugged off the glare that he had shot at Jenny and I that one time in the front yard. I knew that he despised Gertrude taking in two more kids, only for the reason that he needed the money, as he said, more than Gertrude.

"Where's the little guy then?" He questioned, tapping his hands against his thighs as his eyes gazed around the room.

"Jimmy's feedin' him," Marie insisted, tucking the dice away as Johnny angrily tried to snatch it back. I was surprised they still had the energy to keep going.

"I didn't hear you come in." Gertrude's voice arose from the kitchen doorway.

Dennis laughed slightly, "that was the whole point."

It seemed Jimmy was struggling with the responsibility of looking after a baby, as I heard Dennis Jr crying, seemingly from the lack of attention. 

"I've seen Paula around," Dennis smirked, "she's lookin' more and more like you everyday."

Gertie let out a sarcastic scoff, "lucky her."

I turned my head away, giving them both a little privacy.

Another round of mysterious knocking appeared once again from the front door, and next to walk into the house, I thought, would have been the President himself. 

"Will you just go and check up on Jimmy and the baby?" Gertie insisted, ushering him away as he silently paced into the kitchen.

The voices I heard from the doorway next were enough to plant a permanent smile on my face.

"We're here to take our girls out for a bit." 

Jenny and I turned our heads in a peculiar unison, and the voices only matched with two familiar faces. 

"Girls," Gertrude called, and my eyes immediately caught the glimpse of my daddy's face gleaming at us. 

Even more greater than that, I saw our mama too.

"Mom!" Jenny cried out, heaving herself off the couch as she hobbled desperately to meet her.

I smiled slightly, trying in my best efforts to catch up with her and to keep her on her feet. It was a relief; seeing my parents gazing at me with such love. I immediately hurried over to my mama, squeezing her almost instantly. That hug and that same smell of vanilla made me think back to home.

"God, I missed you." I insisted.

My mama hugged me close, "ain't like you haven't been enjoyin' yourselves." She chuckled, and after releasing me I smothered my head against my daddy's chest.

"Cookie!" He cheered, holding me tightly in his arms. I could have almost fell asleep.

Gertie's eyes, I could tell, seemed to calculate the new lady standing at her doorway; again, giving off that aggressive impression. I was sure mama felt it, but she could have gotten along with anyone - even someone as stern as Gertie.

"You must be Betty?" Gertrude asked, giving out her hand as my mama shook it happily.

"Yes," she smiled, "Lester told me what you've done for the girls - it's awfully kind."

Gertrude nodded in return, "no problem at all."

"We just wanted to take our girls out for a little bit!" My mama exclaimed, and she seemed just as excited as we were.

"That's fine," Gertrude replied, "and those checks are comin' in nice and fast now, Lester."

My daddy nodded, "well I'm glad to hear it."

There was an unbearable silence as though our parents awaited Gertrude's permission to allow us to leave with them. I was beyond happy; a whole morning with our parents - a much deserved morning too.

"You better be off," Gertrude finally smiled, and we didn't hesitate to look back.

I hurried out first, and leaped from the few wooden steps as though they were no longer a challenge. Jenny limped on behind, holding onto my mama's arm for support.

"Guessin' you want somethin'...?" My daddy assumed.

"Do not!" I smirked, as I ran out onto the sidewalk.

"We're kinda' hungry." Jenny pleaded, and her only just bringing up our hunger was enough for my stomach to groan.

We walked further away from the Baniszewski house. It was a feeling that overwhelmed me unlike any other. I was happier - less alone. The day already seemed to look up.


The sun was bellowing over us all, as the smell of burgers and milkshakes seemed to engulf the air around us. We all sat at a bench just outside a family-run, however, traditional Indianapolis food stall. Jenny and I both eagerly chugged down a bottle of cola, yet I hadn't even considered my daddy glazing at us in amazement. My mama sat beside him, sipping at a strawberry milkshake. Milkshakes always were her favourites.

"Nothin' like a milkshake to cool down!" She giggled.

I had finished the very last drop of the fizzy goodness. It had been oh so long since I had tasted a beverage or food that was so sweet.

"Appetite has defiantly grown!" My dad announced.

I supposed the reason for that was because we rarely got fed back at the house. I knew it wasn't Gertie's fault, but even then, how could I have resisted a bottle of cola if it was in front of me?

It seemed I hadn't realised my mama looking at us with an anxious glint in her eyes, and it was clear to see there was something she needed to clear off her chest.

"Girls..." She said, "...I wanted to say sorry for what happened at the store..."

Jenny looked at me. I didn't even want to hear an apology; it had been a mistake, a stupid, silly mistake.

I reached my hand across the table, "haven't even thought about it." I insisted, as she reached her hand to meet with mine.

But of course my mama was always so quick to distract herself from any situation or conversation, as her eyes turned to look at daddy.

"Lester!" She moaned, "you're gonna' choke on it if you eat it any faster!"

My daddy smirked deviously, before placing the half-eaten burger back into the wrapping.

He swallowed the last bite in his mouth, before licking his fingers between words, "how's it goin' stayin' at the house?"

The question weighed heavy on my shoulders, as I was sure it did Jenny's. An otherwise simple question harboured so many answers, but I just prayed that Jenny would keep it all to herself. The last thing our parents needed was a guilt trip. We got punished, that was how it was. We weren't the only teenagers in the world who got paddled.

"Good." Jenny muttered under her breath, playing around with the bottle in front of her.

"Just good?" My mama persisted.

Jenny shrugged her shoulders.

"Better be more than good, I'm payin' $20 a week for it!" My daddy argued.

My mom was quick to slap him across the shoulder, as she shot him a harsh look.

"- What he means is he hopes the money is worth the care you're gettin'."

"Well, Gertrude's just a bit strict," I admitted, but before mama could have given me a strange look, I quickly attempted to reassure them, "- but she's nice."

Mama cautiously nodded her head. Could she tell something was...wrong?

"I got that call, girls..." She said, "...what was that all about?"

It seemed she was referring back to the frantic call we had made when Jenny had found the letter in the trash. I replied before Jenny could have had the chance to reveal anything that would have worried our parents.

"- We just wanted to hear your voice, mama." I assured, but she hadn't forgotten the revelation of us being paddled.

"Only you said Mrs Baniszewski had given you the paddle -"

"No, I mean - well, she did..." I couldn't get the words right, as each letter fell from my mouth in jumbles.

"Well, I've seen all them kids runnin' in and out of her house all day long." Mama insisted. She always had a reason for things, and she always had a way of understanding and forgiving.

Daddy, however, always had a different view on things.

"- What did I tell you girls? You misbehave like that and you're gonna' get a punishment." He moaned.

I slowly nodded my head, and took the telling-off as it came. Part of me believed daddy in every way, that being good would have spared us another paddling. But I couldn't understand what we were doing so wrong all the time...

My mama sighed heavily, before gently grasping hold of my hand from across the table. Daddy could get a little strict sometimes, and she knew that.

She smiled, stroking her fingertips over my hand, "how's school been?"

"Good." I said.

"Grades still good?"

"Average." I mumbled reluctantly.

"Jenny?" My mama asked.

"Good grades as always with her." I laughed, but Jenny embarrassingly nudged me on the shoulder.

"You been attendin' church?"

I nodded my head, "Reverent Julian's real nice."

My mom smiled sincerely, placing down her milkshake as she brought a tissue to her face.

"We're glad to hear you've settled in then, aren't we Lester?"

My daddy lifted his head, though what didn't shock me was that he was more wearing the burger than eating it. Not to mention he seemed oblivious about it.

"Daddy!" I called out, eagerly grasping a tissue as I quickly handed it to him.

Jenny let out a chuckle as we all watched him frantically trying to wipe his mouth with the tissue. He always was a kidder; trying to make us laugh all the time. Maybe the carnival had that effect on him.

"My bad," he laughed, "- you can't say you've missed my eatin' habits!"

It seemed that morning had been one of the loveliest I had ever had since staying in Indianapolis. So much so, that I didn't even want to go back.

"Right -" My mama spoke, as she heaved herself from the bench, "I think we best be gettin' back."

"Wait -" I paused, and my parents looked at me for a second, " we have to go back so soon?"

"We've been here for a good hour." Mama insisted, as she stood up from the bench, "bet all your friends will be missin' you about now."

I knew that by 'friends' she was referring to the children Jenny and I were staying with. I didn't feel as though we were friends anymore, not like it had been when we had first moved there. Something about the children had changed. I couldn't help thinking that it was me who had changed their opinion on Jenny and I.

I unwillingly stepped up from the bench, grasping Jenny by the arm as we lumbered on behind our parents. It was an end to a perfect day; I truly couldn't have asked for a better one.


I was sat on the couch with Jenny by my side; the light outside beginning to dim and the noises quietening, as each person in the neighbourhood closed their curtains for the night. It had been a few hours since we had arrived back from the trip out with our parents. I already had begun to miss them; it wasn't a nice feeling to experience. Saying goodbye was worse the second time around. Happy memories always found a way at igniting whenever I felt the sour emotions of sadness and anger.

The children were sat around the television, though Johnny was nowhere to be seen, with Gertrude sitting on the other couch beside us. Her being so near to us for such a long period of time made me weary, but I wasn't going to leave just because she was there - I wanted to sit with my little sister, and that was what I did.

Sitting there on the couch, I took no notice of the images on the screen, and instead would feel the harsh glowers from the woman sitting across from us. I wanted to ignore it, but I couldn't shrug the feeling that she was watching us; watching our every movements. Finally, she spoke.

"Fun day with your parents, girls?" She asked, as though there was an actual sense of interest in what we had done. I couldn't tell if it was fake, or if she was just trying really hard to be friendly to us.

I nodded my head slowly, "it was...nice."

She nodded her head in reply, spiralling the cigarette in her fingers with no fear of accidentally burning herself. It seemed I was so distracted by Gertrude, that I hadn't noticed young Johnny storming into the room; walking towards me.

"You bitch!" He hissed, "you told a lie - about my mother!"

And before I had even noticed him lifting his hand, he had already slapped it into my cheek. A fury of hot pain insured, and I frantically placed my palm against my face. My mind was sent reeling, unable to comprehend or process the young boy standing in front of me with rage in his eyes. What had I done wrong? I had never said a lie about Gertie?

All I could do was stare up at him; shocked.

"Sit your ass down, Johnny." Gertrude demanded, calmly. Surely Gertrude wouldn't think I had said something about her?

Johnny glared down at me; fury building behind his eyes. He hesitantly walked away, and sat on the couch next to Gertrude. Confusion had a hold on me, and wouldn't release my panicked mind.

"I bet I can guess what you were tellin' that daddy of yours, Sylvia." Gertrude murmured, her leg crossed over the other as she sprinkled the cigarette over the ash tray.

Jenny looked, puzzled. I hadn't said anything to daddy, though Gertrude should have been lucky that I didn't. I didn't speak - I stayed silent, staring straight ahead. I didn't want to look into her eyes.

"You been tellin' him how terrible it is here." She muttered, shaking her head as though she believed I had already admitted to it, "...I know what you're like."

I had never purposely argued with anyone before, but I felt my words were soon going to pack a powerful punch.

"I didn't say nothin' to my daddy." The words left my mouth. Carefully spoken, without drama, my words had an air of finality to them, and no matter how hard Gertrude was to rail against them, nothing would change my mind on my opinion.

Gertrude bit at the inside of her lip, and silently shook her head. I could tell my words had beaten her down, she hadn't expected me to say anything back. She thought I was just a puppet that she could have controlled.

"Oh, now that, honey, that is where you're wrong." She raised her voice from the calm tone she had once maintained, and slowly stood up from her seat, "- I know what kinda' girl you are. Definitely not the hard working type."

Frustration built in me like it had never done before.

"...I think I'm pretty hard working..." Words flew from my mouth that I never would have even thought, let alone said out loud. I knew instantly from the look in her eyes that the words had hit their mark. The children turned from the television, and stared intently. What had I just said?

"Finally, a back bone." She said. I knew she was expecting me to join her in shouting, but I forced myself to remain calm.

I despised the random accusations from that woman; accusing me of telling my daddy about her. It was crazy; insane. All I thought was that the woman was far too paranoid.

She stood, glaring, "- anythin' else?"

Just walk away, I thought, be the bigger person. I felt the niggling emotion of hidden fury that I tried so very hard to mask. With that, I stood up from the seat, and began walking to the stairs. I didn't want to hear another word from that woman; I didn't want to have all her children glowering at me like I was the villain. It was a battle I couldn't have won.

"You forgot your sister!" Gertrude yelled, as my foot was just about to come into contact with the first step.

My cold fury burnt with dangerous intensity. It was that bitterly cold, slow burning rage that threatened to push me over the edge. I stormed back over to the couch; Gertrude's patronising face smiling as I went. I carefully lifted Jenny from the seat, trying to hide my anger so I wouldn't have accidentally thrown it on my sister - I didn't want to show her I was mad. I just wanted to get out of that room. Those prying eyes watching Jenny and I as I helped her along continuously poked at my anger, but I held strong.

"At least I'm not in my room all day fantasising about a boy!" Gertrude shouted; her last words that I tried hard to push away from my sensitive mind.

I couldn't let her get to me.

I knew she wanted me to retaliate, just so she could have used 'back-talking' as an excuse for a paddling. But I was stronger than she thought, and I buried the quiet building of anger in a place where no one would ever see.

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