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.


38. House Of Evil

I laid emotionless in the basement.

My body was still in the same mangled position I had ended up in when I had been thrown down the steps. My face seemed to be surrounded by a red pool of liquid as it trickled down my forehead. The dark red blood had found a way at leaking with each passing second, and I could see the scarlet blood that once flowed through my body. Each drop felt as though it was taking years of life away from me, leaving me pale and weak and yet I still felt I was defying death. The pain had an unpleasant warmth to it, eating at my stomach. I had often prized myself in ignoring pain and just rocking on regardless, but that wasn't possible then. It owned me, dominated every thought, controlled every action. I figured lying there would have been easier than making an effort to move around. No matter how far I got, I wouldn't have been able to escape. I had figured that out over the time I had spent isolated from the world.

As the basement door thudded open, the distant echoes of voices was overheard by the eventual footsteps descending down the basement stairs. As usual, I felt each hand roughly claw around my limbs. I squinted slightly to glance around, and yet all I could have seen were two people.

"Put her on her back." I heard a hoarse voice.

Hands pushed against my shoulders, as the frosty concrete forced me to arch my back in retaliation.

"What if someone see's those scars?"

"Paula, go and grab that salt will you."


"Don't contradict your mama, go and grab the salt now."

Footsteps hurried away, and yet I still knew somebody was watching over me. My eyes began to stretch open, as meaningless tears seemed to build up in the corners, making it harder to see anything at all. I made out the haggard figure standing beside me; Gertrude. To my left, I heard the frantic footsteps of Paula who seemed to be holding a box of salt. It was then handed to Gertie as she began tearing it open like a ravenous animal into a meal. More weight crashed down onto my shoulders, and yet a slight murmur was all I could have released with the unforgiving pain. What else could I do?

"We're gonna' make those sores go away so you can't go showin' them off." Gertie muttered out.

I felt my leg being forced out, as bony fingers wrapped around my thigh. I felt a sharp nail dig into a burn as I yelped out, feeling my body being held down, neglected of the chance to breathe in more oxygen.

"I know what you wanna' do, Sylvia -" Gertrude grumbled under her rapid breathing, "- gonna' show all those marks to Phyllis, or that daddy of yours."

Fear overwhelmed every sense I had. My breathing had increased just as much as Gertie's had, and the haggard, distressed woman had already begun tipping the salt onto my leg. My eyes darted; panicking. I tried to shake the salt off; the burning sensation already overpowering me. Pain seared through my leg better than a branding iron, and my mind conceded to the torment, unable to bring a thought to completion. Without meaning to, my body curled, before Paula would pin my arms back. I retched out in pain, my legs trying to kick out and yet I knew that there was no way I could have escaped it. 

"What did she do!" I suddenly heard Stephanie's shriek from the basement door.

Gertrude choked on any word that tried to come out. She wasn't letting up.

"Shut that door!" Gertie continuously spluttered and coughed as she tried to regain her breath, digging her palm harder and harder into my leg.

"Stephanie - please!" I cried out; my nails digging into the concrete.

"Don't help! Just shut that door!" Gertie shouted, waving frantically to Stephanie. The name, however, that Gertie had called next, made me want to scream as loud as I could.

"Coy!" She yelled out.

I savoured the few breaths I could have gotten out, before Coy hastily taken over; his heavy footsteps thudding down. He paraded towards us, stealing the box of salt from Gertie. I knew he wouldn't have shown any hesitation.

"That ain't how you did, Gertie." He insisted.

And without a second to think, his palm thudded onto my thigh. Every burn and every open wound on my flesh was being scarred forever more by the unusual scalding the salt seemed so very well at inflicting. Coy, nor Paula wanted to stop - they wanted to make me suffer.

I felt the darkness lingering around the edges of my poor sight; an obnoxious ringing echoing through my ears. My head felt heavy; gravity was winning in keeping me down. The pain was but a distant memory, and with each long awaited second, time seemed to skip ahead. I heard other voices but they weren't very clear. I felt total craved darkness pulling me in. I tried to fight it but it was too strong. Finally, I allowed myself the sweet release, letting the darkness take over.

I don't remember much after that...


The dimness I was experiencing had transformed into bright lights. It even started to ache when I finally summoned the energy to open my eyes. As I awoke, I noticed I was alone. The room was deserted as silence filled the air.

The salt that I thought had only been rubbed into my thighs had also seemingly been forced onto my arms. It made me thankful in a strange way; thankful that I had been lucky enough to have fainted, so I didn't have to feel through the pain. I kept my head rested back on the floor; my breathing was slower that day. I had begun to count the days, and even the weeks, that I had gone without food or water. I needed to distract my mind on something - anything. I decided to make the effort to stand up. I hesitantly swivelled my legs around on the floor, as I struggled with only battered limbs; the more wounds I received, the more numb I seemed to feel. The doctor couldn't have helped anymore than the salt had, as my scars were already infected with anything that seemed to notice an open wound. I forced myself up, ignoring any pain or soreness I was feeling. In doing that, I began to feel sick; the room spinning with no control. I clutched my stomach tightly. The toilet was too far, I wouldn't have been able to get up. I had started to feel a burning sensation in the back of my throat - I knew that I was going to throw up any second.

I heard the front door upstairs sway open. I heard the footsteps of the children skipping and running across the hallway - and as expected, they were soon to arrive at the basement door. Laughter and excitable feet began clambering down the steps all at once, but I wanted to keep my eyes closed. All the unnecessary beatings from Gertrude had grown me to despise her with such hate that I had never felt with anyone before, yet I was far too weak to run or to fight back. I was trying, God knew I was trying, but I couldn't feel a damn thing. It was as though I was under water, closing my eyes. Everything in the world suddenly ceased to exist somehow. The only thing I could hear was the beating of my heart. My lungs craved for oxygen, burning because I couldn't breathe.

I only heard the echoes of past voices in my mind, but the rest of the world didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered right then for me. I just felt the beating of my heart; nothing less, nothing more.

"That damn teacher makin' me stay back - swear she has somethin' against me!" Randy furiously exclaimed, throwing his school books upon the floor; the sound of them impacting the concrete made my eyes pin even tighter.

"Maybe it's because you were talking, idiot." Coy scoffed.

Hearing about their school day was something that made me feel even more alienated; knowing that everything outside was moving on as normal. Had no one truly noticed my absence from school?

They all laughed; chuckling with each other like it was a normal day. More smiles inflicted more pain. As the figures became more apparent, my eyes focused on the faces. It was the same people that had came before - except for Stephanie. I wanted to think that she was off telling someone; trying to get me out of there. But a sense of doubt was still there, and I knew it always would have been. The abnormal beat inside my chest was all I could have heard and felt, as I waited for them to reach me. I wanted to breath appropriately so badly, but knew if I took faster and deeper breaths they would have noticed me. All I could feel was a lonely tear running down my cheek, as I realised that there was no escape. I exhaled one last time in submission and acceptance of what they all wanted to do, even if I didn't want it to happen.

The sound of Randy's heavy boots against concrete was enough to send my panic over the edge, as he knelt beside me. I kept my eyes glued to the ceiling, avoiding his patronising face glaring down at me.

"We should have a game..." I heard a voice say from behind, "- whoever gets Sylvia to cry first..."

"- Wins a free can on the house!" Coy interrupted, and all the boys around gave a laugh and a cheer.

"I'll go first." Randy decided; a grin rose on his face - a grin that made every limb attached to my body clench.

Randy wasn't usually one to burn me or kick me, he was the one who delivered the brutal punches. Unsure about where or when he would hit, I waited; the concrete was cool under my back. My nails dug hard into the floor beneath me as I felt them slowly snapping. I had never been an anxious person before; the future hadn't frightened me. Maybe it was because I had grown up in a loving family.

The images of my sweet family evaporated in my mind as quickly as they had appeared, and finally, I felt the force of Randy's fist crunch into my skull - colliding hard enough that my head slammed back into the concrete. The blinding pain rippled throughout my body with every movement; for a second it even hurt to breathe, but I gritted my teeth and pulled through. The unusual thing was, I couldn't cry. Even though the pain was overwhelming, I just couldn't have cried. I had no tears left in me. Was this even possible?

"I want a tear!" He ordered, as his fingernails nipped at my arm tightly in a bid to get one tear from eyes that had cried so many. I whimpered and tried to fling him off, but his nails were so sharp.

"Hey!" Somebody called from behind, "that's cheatin', you can't do more than one!"

Coy began shuffling forwards, aloof and cocky - like he always seemed to be. I had no energy to move away; to scream and shout. I never did. He grappled me by my arms and forced me up. My legs felt like collapsing as I couldn't even hold myself up anymore. His face pressed against my cheek as his repulsive, tobacco-filled breath made me queasy. My vision had grown hazy, spiralling in unnerving colours that frightened me with each passing second. It would have soon comforted me.

"Make sure you throw her hard enough!" Johnny yelled.

I braced myself, trying to shut off from any feeling I had left. That was what I had wanted, you see - I just didn't want to feel anymore. Before I knew it, I was torpedoing towards the wall; everyone fell silent. Even though I hoped I wouldn't feel, I felt it instantly as I collided hard against the concrete wall. A burning pain succeeded in every nerve in my body, as my body collapsed back onto the floor like a puppet with no strings. I wanted so badly to cry, but I genuinely couldn't give a tear. I had prayed that they would leave, but it seemed never ending.

"Damn - she's a strong one." He murmured, and he slithered off back to the others.

Relief washed over me, as I heard the thud of his footsteps grow quieter. Maybe they were going to leave me alone? I wished they would.

Jimmy, seemingly the youngest boy apart from baby Dennis, jumped around on his feet eagerly. What he said next made me enclose myself in the tightest ball my body would have allowed. I saw the cigarette dance in Jimmy's hands, and he moved closer towards me. I tried my best to shuffle away, though the smashes to my head had shut off the feeling I had once had in my limbs. The young boy neared me, slowly bending over as the cigarette was so close to my arm.

But without a hesitation like the rest seemed to do, he stumped the cigarette onto my skin; the heat infuriated itself around my arm. I panicked, frantically flailing the limb around, though I didn't know why I was bothering. It was obviously just a conscious reaction my mind seemed to repeat through no fault of its own. The pain was unbearable for the few seconds it had been placed, but thankfully Jimmy quickly lifted it from my skin. He gleamed at me in amazement, as though about to thank me for being his own personal ash tray.

"See what I just did?" He called out, as he turned around to the rest of them who had watched, "- that's my burn that is!"

At the mere age of 8 years old, too. And unusually enough, although you may feel differently, I didn't look at Jimmy in a way as I did the others. He was young, far too young...

I didn't like the basement. The solid floor that had brought only pain to my battered and bruised body. The vile damp smell that had made my lungs heave. The draft that had made me shiver in my own pool of blood. But it had become a place where I had appreciated the silence; the silence that had meant I was alone, without anyone who wanted to hurt me. The sound of Gertrude's sickening voice suddenly cut through my ear canal. I knew I still wasn't alone.

"What are you lot doin' down here?" I heard that haggard voice murmur; in sync with the sound of heels descending down the stairs.

The continuing chatter of the teenagers and children fell silent, with only the sound of heels dragging across the basement floor. 

"We were just keepin' her company, mama." Johnny answered

I could see fury build up in Gertie's eyes, almost making them darker. Her eyes then flickered to my arms where the cigarette burns had blemished my flesh. She enclosed her finger over the blistered tissue, as my limp arm grew cold under her touch. I wanted to heave with her fingers on me, but I soon heard the shuffling of more footsteps, as I glanced up to find Paula standing behind her mom. Her arms were crossed; glaring at me. Her spiteful eyes enjoyed the discomfort I was receiving. She had wanted this ever since I had told Bradley her secret.

"Someone needs to clean this damn basement..." Gertrude huffed, turning on her feet, "Ricky, can you go out back and get the hose?"

Ricky nodded slightly and silently made his way back up the wooden steps. Gertie stood for a while, as she began lighting a traditional cigarette. Her eyes glanced back down to me, and she shook her head; it was my fault again, I imagined.

Thankfully, with no needless beating or harsh words, she walked away; in a way that she was on some schedule and she didn't want to be late. She pushed past Paula and the other children, and heaved herself back up the stairs; deeply inhaling the smoke from the cigarette. I wearily looked up, and noticed Paula standing over me. She lifted her foot up, and I flinched; somehow thinking a shoe would have collided with my body. Strangely enough, I didn't feel anything. It seemed Paula, by the sound of her malicious laughter, had wanted to scare me. She knew how frightened I had become, and she wanted to use that to her advantage.

I heard the sound of steady footsteps as Ricky arrived back with the hose. He passed it quickly over to Johnny who began fitting it into a pipe sticking from the wall. My eyes, being too fixated on the hose, hadn't noticed the tall boy striding over towards me; Randy. His mouth was smeared into a smile as he knelt down.

"You gonna' take the clothes off?" He questioned; his eyes filled with annoyance and hate.

The words I had heard made me cringe. Kick me, burn me if you wanted, just don't humiliate me. I refused to move.

"What are you doin'?" Marie cried out.

His eyes glanced up to those behind, "givin' her a wash, what does it look like?"

Coy had joined in crouching next to me; faces that looked down with eyes that seemed as though nothing lived behind them. They were just bodies with no soul or mind, although they probably thought the same about me.

Coy leaned over me, as I felt his cold touch attack my wrists. I struggled to turn over; begging them to let go. My arms felt heavy, but I tried lifting them up.

Coy spat; his words made my nails dig hard into the palms of my hands, "- I bet your sister is popular with the boys."

Fury suddenly surged through me, and with every piece of dignity I had left, I began to strike Coy; screaming frantically as I landed blows to his arms. His hands quickly caught my wrists and his fingernails bit through my flesh. Where my sudden outburst had came from I will never know, but no one had the right to talk about my sister in such a way.

"Someone hit her, my hands aren't free!" He yelled.

If only I would have braced myself, as I feel the weight of somebody's foot thud into my head; a wave of nausea followed, and each figure that once appeared normal, had begun to distort and fade. With somebody's best efforts to knock me out, I only laid more silently, as the dizzy spells from the kick began to take effect. I wasn't supposed to fight back, that was how it worked. I was to lay there and take it all.

I soon felt a chill covering each bit of skin, and the horror of being naked threatened to make me pass out. Bare skin and bones protruding out, I struggled in my best efforts to wrap myself in a tight ball to cover my body; my best efforts never worked. It seemed no one accepted me to retaliate.

"She really does look like a slut now." Shirley grimaced, and all I could think was to huddle myself in the tightest ball I could think of to shield myself from prying eyes.

Everything that had happened before didn't matter anymore. It could have never compared to what was happening at that moment; the way they had stripped me of everything I had left, wiping my personality and person I once was clean.

"Johnny, got the hose?"

Johnny nodded as he eagerly passed it over to Coy. Everyone stood behind him, glaring at me with frosty eyes that were enough to murder me in one instant. I was freezing. My shapeless body was on show for everyone to see.

"I can't promise you'll enjoy this." Coy jeered - and with one flick, he switched on the pipe.

Before I knew it, I felt the first few drops of numbing water hit my body. It wasn't long before I was slammed onto the concrete by the force. I heard everyone laugh and giggle. Their amusement echoed throughout my ears as I screamed.

"I can't breathe!" I protested, but water prevented me to speak any further.

"Hey - let me have a go!"

"Get it right up in her face!"

My eyes were filled with water, and I couldn't see anything other than the slight blur of figures. Water stung my face like little knives, and I tried my best to shield myself away. Nothing seemed to work. No matter how much I had tried to hide away from the piercing water, I couldn't get away. I choked and spluttered on water that had found a way through my closed mouth, feeling myself drowning in the pool that surrounded me; gasping for as much air as I could, before being overpowered once again.

Amongst the water filling my ears, I heard the muffled sound of footsteps sprinting down the wooden stairs. Whoever is was, they were frantic.

"Turn that damn water off!" I heard someone scream.

Finally, I felt the water stop; droplets of water raining from my face as though I had been crying a thousand tears. I cowered, my head hanging between my legs. The name that had sprung up surprised me, and made me question who my friends truly were.

"What the heck Stephanie!" Johnny shouted; he seemed irritated that he couldn't finish what he had started. I was just glad it was done.

"What the hell were you doin'?" I heard Stephanie question. 

"Mama wanted everythin' cleaned."

I heard Stephanie scoff loudly, "- yeah, and if you listened closely you would know mama meant the basement."

As I sat - water only making my body shiver more violently - I wanted to know why Stephanie was stopping it. No one cared about me.

"Steph, I'm sorry." Coy insisted, putting on that same sweet boyfriend act as he gently interlocked his hand in her's.

"I know you are..." She smiled, as always, fooling for him like the love-struck teenager she was, "...damn Sylvia is makin' everythin' worse!"

It was my fault - once again.

"Don't take notice of her then." Coy explained.

"- How can I when she's livin in this damn house all the time!" Stephanie moaned, almost beginning to sound like Gertrude.

If they didn't want me in their house anymore, why don't they just give me back to my parents? It seemed everything could have been avoided if Gertrude never took Jenny and I in.

"I'm headin' out..." Randy muttered, though with a bawled fist tightened like a boxing glove, he slammed it into my face head on.

I felt as though I had been choked; each breath of air forced itself up my throat until I felt I couldn't breathe at all through my nose.

"God damn it, Randy!" Stephanie screamed.

I forced my mouth open, hoping to at least contain a few breaths if that was all I could do. I felt a tickle over my top lip, though I had only just noticed it was my nose that had taken the full impact. There was no pain, strangely enough, just the faint, silkiness of blood dripping from my lips. Why is there no pain? Why does Stephanie seem so emotional about it all? It seemed everyone was thinking the same thing, as they gazed at her with confusion. No one stood up for me, and I knew that Stephanie certainly wasn't.

"Fight, fight! That's all we ever do in this damn house!" She wept, before tears began raining from her eyes with each second she blinked, "I wish we'd just quit already!"

It seemed with Stephanie's sudden outburst, everyone knew when to leave. But she was right, even if I knew no one else wanted to believe it. That was all that ever happened in that house, day in and day out - fighting.

I heard the eventual footsteps become fainter, and Stephanie's crying become distant, until I heard the basement door slam shut. The once full basement, filled with chanting and laughing, was now silent enough to hear my own heart beat. My hair was soaked; my clothes had been tossed to the other side of the room as I laid naked upon the concrete floor. It seemed the ordeal had gone on for hours. I felt isolated; rejected from everyone. What had I done wrong to Coy or Ricky? I didn't understand.

I just didn't.

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