“GERTRUDE BANISZEWSKI: THE TORTURE MOTHER” and 3 More Horrifyingly True Stories! #WeirdDarkness

GERTRUDE BANISZEWSKI: THE TORTURE MOTHER” and 3 More Horrifyingly True Stories! #WeirdDarkness

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IN THIS EPISODE: On January 2, 1935, a man who signed the guest register as “Roland T. Owen” checked into the President Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri – and never checked out. (The Man in Room 1046) *** If you ask a dying loved one to try and reach you from the other side when they finally pass away, don’t be surprised if they follow up on that promise. (My Mom’s Wake) *** The last cabin standing along the beach at Hunting Island State Park is a celebrity among locals and visitors as folks have taken to a love affair with the little blue cabin’s fight against nature over the past few years. Oh… and it also appears to be haunted. (Little Blue Ocean Cabin) *** But first… the story I warned you about. Gertrude Baniszewski – a woman whose evil ran so deep, it flowed through her children and their friends and displayed itself in the torture, mutilation and murder of a young girl. (Torture Mother)
“The Man in Room 1046” by Troy Taylor: http://bit.ly/2QJcZpW
“My Mom’s Wake” by Pete Inesc: http://bit.ly/2EObXUE
“Little Blue Ocean Cabin” posted at GhostsNGhouls.com (link no longer available)
“The Torture Mother” posted at Murderpedia.org: http://bit.ly/2WfFAcm
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Before I go any further with this episode, I want to let you know that the first story is so graphic that I would strongly encourage you not to listen if children are in the room. I would also recommend the same if you are easily squeamish. I know I begin each episode with a disclaimer, but our first story – the one promoted at the beginning of this episode – is the most graphic story I have ever presented in the podcast.


Gertrude Baniszewski (1929–1990), also known as Gertrude Wright and The Torture Mother, was an Indiana divorcee who oversaw and facilitated the prolonged torture, mutilation, and eventual murder of Sylvia Likens, a teenage girl she had taken into her home. The case is unique in that, while Baniszewski did play an active role in Likens’ death, the majority of the torture that eventually brought about Likens’ demise was carried out by Baniszewski’s teenage children and other neighborhood children. Although Baniszewski did instruct the children on several occasions, it was later discovered that they took a large degree of Likens’ torture into their own hands, in what would later be called a Lord of the Flies scenario come to life. When she was convicted of first degree murder in 1965, the case was called “the single worst crime perpetuated against an individual in Indiana’s history”.

I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.

SHOW OPEN==========

Welcome, Weirdos – I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.

Coming up in this episode…

On January 2, 1935, a man who signed the guest register as “Roland T. Owen” checked into the President Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri – and never checked out. (The Man in Room 1046)

If you ask a dying loved one to try and reach you from the other side when they finally pass away, don’t be surprised if they follow up on that promise. (My Mom’s Wake)

The last cabin standing along the beach at Hunting Island State Park is a celebrity among locals and visitors as folks have taken to a love affair with the little blue cabin’s fight against nature over the past few years. Oh… and it also appears to be haunted. (Little Blue Ocean Cabin)

But first… the story I warned you about. Gertrude Baniszewski – a woman whose evil ran so deep, it flowed through her children and their friends and displayed itself in the torture, mutilation and murder of a young girl. (Torture Mother)

If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, my newsletter, enter contests, to connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.

Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!



Gertrude Baniszewski was born Gertrude Van Fossan in 1929, the third of 6 children. Little is known about her childhood, except that she shared an extremely close bond with her father but had a frigid relationship with her mother. A further wedge was driven between Gertrude and her mother when Baniszewski’s father died in 1940; the 11 year old Baniszewski watched her father die of a sudden heart attack.

Five years later, Baniszewski dropped out of school at the age of 16 to marry 18 year old deputy John Baniszewski, by whom she had 4 children. John Baniszewski had a volatile temper, often beating his wife for “annoying him.” The two stayed together for 10 years before eventually divorcing; Gertrude Baniszewski was granted custody of their children.

Within a year of the divorce, Gertrude Baniszewski met and married a man named Edward Guthrie, who divorced her after 3 months when he tired of having her children around. Shortly thereafter, Gertrude and John Baniszewski reconciled and re-married. The couple stayed together for 7 years and had 2 more children before finally divorcing permanently in 1963.

Around this time, the then 37 year old Gertrude Baniszewski began an affair and moved in with a 23 year old named Dennis Lee Wright, who further abused her. She became pregnant by him twice, suffering one miscarriage (possibly as the result of an assault by Wright) and giving birth to one child. This child–Dennis Jr.– would be Baniszewski’s last child; in all, she had 7 children and suffered 6 miscarriages.

Shortly after Dennis Jr.’s birth, Dennis Wright Sr. abandoned Baniszewski and disappeared. She was left essentially destitute, as Wright had been supporting her financially; she was now forced to support herself and 7 children on occasional child support payments from the unreliable John Baniszewski, and by performing odd jobs around town such as babysitting and doing other people’s laundry for them.

Financial problems were quickly exacerbated when Baniszewski discovered that her 17 year old daughter, Paula, was 3 months pregnant after a fling with a middle aged, married man.

Around this time Baniszewski’s health declined considerably; she was chronically ill with a number of unidentified illnesses, ceased practicing proper hygiene, and barely ate; eventually, these factors began to affect her outward appearance, resulting in a receded hairline, sunken eyes, and an overall skeletal appearance. Baniszewski began to present herself as “Mrs. Wright”, claiming that she had in fact married Dennis before he abandoned her, which allowed her to keep up a verneer of respectability.

In July 1965, Paula Baniszewski met up with a friend of hers, Darlene McGuire, who introduced her to two new neighborhood girls, Sylvia Marie Likens, 16, and Sylvia’s younger sister, Jenny, 15, who was required to walk with braces due to polio. Paula took the girls back home to 3850 East New York Street, where they drank soda and listened to records.

The Likens’ girls mother, Betty, was at the time in county jail after having been arrested for shoplifting, which left Sylvia to care for her sister; Betty had abandoned Sylvia’s father, Lester, and effectively kidnapped their two daughters. When Paula heard of the girls’ circumstances, she offered to let Sylvia and Jenny spend the night.

The next day, Lester Likens arrived in town, having tracked down his wife. He ran into McGuire, who recognized the description Lester gave of his daughters, and she directed him to the Baniszewski home.

When Lester Likens arrived, Baniszewski introduced herself as “Mrs. Wright”. The two struck up a conversation, over the course of which the idea came up that Gertrude might take in Sylvia and Jenny as boarders; he had spoken with his wife at the county jail, where they had reconciled and agreed to travel the United States carnival circuit as carnies.

No one alive knows whether Baniszewski or Lester suggested that she board the girls; eventually, Lester agreed to leave the children in Baniszewski’s care for $20 a week. Lester did not inspect the home before leaving; had he have done so, he would have discovered that Gertrude’s home had no stove or microwave; that there were only enough beds for half the people in the house; that the only things Gertrude kept in her pantry were bread and crackers; that most of the surfaces in the home were caked with thick layers of dirt; and only enough plates and eating utensils for 3 people.

The first week of Sylvia and Jenny’s lives at the Baniszewski home went relatively well. They attended high school and attended teenage social functions with the Baniszewski children as well as church with Gertrude Baniszewski on Sunday.

When Lester’s $20 payment failed to arrive, though, Baniszewski threw a temper tantrum, screaming at the girls, “I took care of you two bitches for nothing!” before forcing them to lie across her bed with their skirts and underwear around their ankles while Baniszewski beat their buttocks. Shortly thereafter, Lester and Betty Likens came into town to check on the girls; neither of them made any reference to the beatings, presumably under threat from Baniszewski.

The next week, Sylvia and Jenny went through the neighborhood garbage, collecting old Coca Cola bottles to sell in order to get money for candy. When they came home with the candy, Baniszewski accused them of stealing; when Sylvia explained how she had gotten the candy, Baniszewski accused her of lying and made her bend over her bed as before while she beat her across the buttocks with a paddle.

Shortly thereafter, the Baniszewski children came to Gertrude Baniszewski after a church social and told her that they were disgusted with the amount of food they had seen Sylvia eating.

Baniszewski told Sylvia that she was angry that Sylvia would do something to ruin her physical appearance, and forced the girl to eat a hot dog piled with condiments; when Sylvia vomited, Baniszewski forced her to scoop the vomit up and devour it. Soon afterwards, Lester and Betty Likens again came into town to check on the girls; per Baniszewski’s instructions, Sylvia made no reference to the vomit eating incident.

The incident which appears to have either precipitated, triggered, or coincided with the sharp decline of Baniszewski’s mental stability occurred in August of 1965 when she overheard Sylvia remark that she had once allowed a boy to feel her up. Baniszewski inexplicably burst into a fit of obscenities, accused Sylvia of being a prostitute, and informed the rest of the house that Sylvia was pregnant because she had let a boy touch her vagina. Baniszewski then attacked Sylvia, repeatedly kicking her in the crotch. When Sylvia attempted to sit down afterwards, Paula threw her out of the chair and informed her, “You ain’t fit to sit in chairs.”

From there on, Baniszewski only allowed Sylvia to sit in a chair with permission. Around this time, Baniszewski also began allowing her older children to use Sylvia as a sort of living “play thing”, with the “games” ranging from beatings to being pushed down the stairs.

Why Sylvia’s story so enraged Baniszewski is still uncertain. It has been theorized that she saw in Sylvia the beauty and opportunity for happiness that had long ago escaped her, and so encouraged and participated in Sylvia’s degradation and torture as an act of self loathing.

Others have theorized that Baniszewski’s hard life and current living conditions resulted in a mental break. Still others have theorized that the violence against Likens was an extreme form of domestic abuse, in which Baniszewski directed her rage onto Sylvia. Whatever the case, Baniszewski manifested this rage by justifying her attacks by accusing Likens of being a prostitute, and delivering bizarre “sermons” to her children and Sylvia about the filthiness of prostitues and women in general.

The day after Baniszewski kicked Sylvia in the crotch, according to Jenny, as an act of vengeance, Sylvia and Jenny told their classmates that they had seen Paula and Stephanie (Baniszewski’s second oldest daughter) having sex with boys in exchange for money.

When Stephanie’s fifteen-year-old boyfriend, Coy Hubbard, discovered what Sylvia and Jenny had said, he came to the Baniszewski home and beat Sylvia. From then on, Hubbard, encouraged by Baniszewski, made frequent visits to the Baniszewski home, during which she would instruct the boy to practice his judo on Sylvia.

Also around this time, Baniszewski got Sylvia’s best friend, a thirteen year old named Anna Sisco, alone long enough to convince her that Sylvia had been telling boys at school that Anna’s mother was a whore. When Baniszewski took Anna to see Sylvia, she directed Anna in a violent attack on the girl. Soon after, Baniszewski told one of Paula’s friends, a girl named Judy Duke, that Sylvia had been spreading rumors about her mother, and pitted the girls against each other in a fist-fight. During the fight, Baniszewski instructed Jenny to punch Sylvia. When Jenny refused, Gertrude began to beat her in the face with her fists, until Jenny finally agreed to punch Sylvia.

In August of 1965, the vacant house next door to the Baniszewski residence was purchased by a middle-aged couple named Phyllis and Raymond Vermillion. Phyllis, seeing the number of children Baniszewski cared for, believed that Baniszewski would make a good babysitter for her two young children, and that she would also be helping Baniszewski out by paying her for her services.

The Vermillions arranged a backyard barbecue so that the two families could get to know one another. During the course of the barbecue, Phyllis noticed Sylvia wandering around the yard with a pronounced black eye; Paula proudly announced to Phyllis that she was the one who had given it to her. Then, under Baniszewski’s supervision, Paula approached Sylvia with a glass of steaming water and threw it in Sylvia’s face. Neither of the Vermillions reported this incident to the authorities.

Two months later, Phyllis went to the Baniszewski home to borrow something. Over the course of the few minutes she was there, she noticed Sylvia wandering around as in a daze with swollen lips and a black eye that had swollen shut. To demonstrate how this had happened, Paula took her belt off and began to beat Sylvia with it in front of Phyllis. Phyllis again neglected to report anything to the authorities.

Around the time that Phyllis Vermillion witnessed Paula beat Sylvia, Sylvia came home from school and told Baniszewski that she needed a sweat suit for gym class. When Baniszewski told Sylvia that they could not afford one, Sylvia stole one from the school. Baniszewski questioned Sylvia about her new gym outfit, eventually coercing Sylvia into confession.

Baniszewski inexplicably segued from the topic of Sylvia stealing into the topic of Sylvia being a prostitute, and threw Sylvia onto the ground, where she repeatedly kicked her in the crotch before once more returning to the topic of theft; to “cure” Sylvia of her “sticky fingers,” Baniszewski burned the tips of each of Sylvia’s fingers with a lit cigarette.

Afterwards, she made Sylvia bend over while she whipped her with a belt. After this incident, the smokers in the Baniszewski home began arbitrarily putting their cigarettes out on Sylvia’s body as a reminder for her not to steal.

Sometime later, Likens went out again to sell old soda bottles for money. When she returned home, Baniszewski accused her of prostitution. Baniszewski took her into the living room of her home and forced Sylvia to strip naked in front of her sons and several neighborhood boys, on the threat of beating Jenny. Once Sylvia was fully naked, Baniszewski handed her a glass Coca Cola bottle, and forced Sylvia to masturbate with it for the boys.


Gertrude wasn’t done abusing poor Sylvia… more of the torture mother when Weird Darkness returns.



Following the Coke bottle incident, Sylvia became incontinent; as a result, Baniszewski decided that she was no longer fit to live with humans, and locked her in the basement. The lack of a toilet in the basement forced Sylvia to defecate and urinate on the floor. When Baniszewski saw this, she began a “bathing regime” to “cleanse” Sylvia, whom she began calling “dirty girl.”

The “regime” consisted of filling Gertrude’s claw-footed bathtub with scalding water, binding Sylvia’s wrists and ankles, and then dunking Sylvia into it. The regime was administered arbitrarily, sometimes once or many times a day, somedays not at all. Following the baths, Paula Baniszewski would rub handfuls of salt over Sylvia’s nude body.

During this period Baniszewski took on 14 year old Ricky Hobbs, a neighborhood boy, as her “personal assistant” when dealing with Sylvia. Hobbs, an honor student from a middle class family with no previous legal trouble, experienced a sudden shift in personality upon becoming Baniszewski’s assistant, blindly following whatever orders she gave him; crime reporters have since speculated that Hobbs was Baniszewski’s lover, and that she had seduced the boy into becoming her henchman.

Baniszewski’s children turned Sylvia into a money-making opportunity, charging neighborhood children a nickel to gawk at the nude Sylvia or to push her down the stairs to the basement, where she was now kept when not being bathed or put on display. She was kept constantly naked and rarely fed; when she was allowed to eat, it was in some bizarre fashion (such as the instance in which Baniszewski insisted that she eat soup with her fingers).

Often, Baniszewski and her twelve-year-old son John Jr. would make Sylvia “clean” the basement by “allowing” her to eat her own feces, and gave Sylvia a container in which she could collect her urine, which she was then made to drink.

Sometime around this period, Jenny managed to send contact to her and Sylvia’s older sister, Diana, who was married and had a family of her own. Jenny outlined the horrors that she and Sylvia were experiencing, and instruted Diana to contact the police to come rescue them. Diana ignored the letter, believing that Jenny was simply displeased with being punished and that she was making up stories so that she could come live with her.

Also around this time, one of the neighborhood children who had been by to see Sylvia, a twelve year old named Judy Duke, went home and told her mother “they were beating and kicking Sylvia.” The girl’s mother replied that was what happened when someone was punished.

Shortly thereafter, the Baniszewski’s reverend, Roy Julian, visited them as part of a program he had set up to see each of his parishoners at their homes. While he and Baniszewski drank coffee, she complained to him that Sylvia had been an intense burden on her, claiming that the girl was a prostitute who had been servicing married men and had gotten pregnant. Although at the time Paula Baniszewski was several months pregnant, Gertrude Baniszewski insisted that her daughter was a virgin and that Sylvia was attempting to pass off her own misdeeds onto the pure Paula.

Baniszewski and the reverend prayed for Sylvia’s salvation before the reverend left. When the reverend returned again a few weeks later, Paula told the reverend during prayers that she had “hatred in [her] heart” for Sylvia, to which Baniszewski interjected that the opposite was true.

Shortly after this, Diana came by to visit her sisters. Baniszewski refused to allow her into the home, at first telling her that Lester had contacted her and instructed her not to allow Diana into the home. When Diana questioned this, Baniszewski threatened to call the police and have her arrested for trespassing. Diana hid nearby the house until she spotted Jenny outside, and then approached her. Jenny told her older sister that she was not allowed to talk to her and then ran away.

Concerned, Diana contacted social services. When a social worker arrived at the home, Baniszewski informed her that she had kicked Sylvia out of the house for being physically unclean and a prostitute, and that Sylvia had since run away. Baniszewski then managed to get Jenny alone long enough to inform her that if she told the social worker the truth, Jenny would join her sister naked in the basement. Jenny then told the social worker that Sylvia had indeed run away. The social worker returned to her office, where she filed a report stating that no more calls needed to be made to the Baniszewski home.

On October 20th, Gertrude called the police to come arrest a boy at her home. Robert Bruce Hanlon was a local youth who claimed that the Baniszewski children had stolen things from his basement. He had come to the home earlier in the evening demanding that Baniszewski return his things; when she refused, he attempted to sneak into the home to take them back.

Phyllis Vermillion witnessed Hanlon being put into the back of a squad car and approached the police to speak on his behalf, as she had earlier overheard the argument between Baniszewski and Hanlon over the stolen goods. Vermillion made no mention of Sylvia during her conversation with the police.

On October 21st, Baniszewski instructed John Jr., Coy, and Stephanie to bring Sylvia up from the basement and tie her to a bed, telling Sylvia that if she could hold her bladder through the night, she would be permitted to sleep upstairs again.

When Baniszewski checked Sylvia the next morning and discovered she had wet the bed, Baniszewski made her dress, then took her into the living area, where she was once again forced to perform a striptease for her sons and the neighborhood boys, again climaxed by Baniszewski forcing Sylvia to masturbate with a Coca Cola bottle.

When Sylvia was finished, she was allowed to dress. After a few moments, apropos of nothing, Gertrude brought up Sylvia’s lies about Paula and Stephanie, and declared, “You have branded my daughters so I will brand you!” Sylvia was forcibly stripped naked, tied down, and gagged while one of Baniszewski’s children heated a sewing needle with a series of matches. When the needle was orange, Gertrude used it to carve and burn the letter “I'” and part of the letter “M” into Sylvia’s stomach. She then instructed Ricky Hobbs to continue carving letters to spell out the phrase, “I’M A PROSTITUTE AND PROUD OF IT.”

At one point Hobbs stopped and asked Baniszewski in a confused manner to spell “prostitute” for him. Baniszewski wrote it down on a piece of paper, and the carving/burning re-commenced. When the process was finished, the tattoo – consisting not only of the actual carving but third-degree burns left behind by the heat of the needle – was such that modern plastic surgery would have been unable to correct it.

Satisfied, Baniszewski left the room, leaving Sylvia tied, gagged, and naked. At this point, Ricky, Paula, and Baniszewski’s ten year old daughter Shirley decided to give Sylvia another tattoo, an “S” in the middle of her chest; the three would later become confused as to whether they had intended the “S” to stand for “Sylvia” or “Slave,” though the latter explanation was the one which was leaned towards as being correct.

Ricky burned the bottom curve of the “S” into Sylvia; he then either choked, or changed his mind, because he then ordered Jenny to come over and carve the top half. Although threatened, Jenny refused; Ricky relented, and ordered Shirley to finish the tattoo. The eleven year old choked and accidentally carved the curve backwards, so that the numeral “3” appeared on Likens’ chest.

Baniszewski re-entered the room at this point to address the still bound and gagged Sylvia: “What are you going to do now, Sylvia? You can’t get married now, you can’t undress in front of anyone… What are you going to do now?”

Sylvia was un-gagged to address Baniszewski. She replied: “I guess there’s nothing I can do. It’s on there.”

Hubbard then took Sylvia back to the basement, where he used her for judo practice for a period before returning home. In the middle of the night, Jenny Likens sneaked into the basement to visit her sister, where Sylvia told her, “I’m going to die. I can tell.”

Shortly after Jenny’s visit, Baniszewski inexplicably went into the basement and brought Sylvia upstairs, and allowed her to sleep in one of the beds. She was allowed to sleep until noon of the next day, October 23, when Baniszewski woke her; once Sylvia was awake, Baniszewski and Stephanie took her into the bathroom and gave her a warm, soapy bath.

After the bath, Baniszewski and Paula dressed Sylvia, and then dictated a letter to her, intended to look like a runaway letter to her parents. For reasons unknown, Baniszewski dictated that Sylvia open the letter “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Likens.” The words which Baniszewski dictated were:

I went with a gang of boys in the middle of the night. And they said that they would pay me if I would give them something so I got in the car and they all got what they wanted… and when they got finished they beat me up and left sores on my face and all over my body.

And they also put on my stomach, I am a prostitute and proud of it.

I have done just about everything that I could do just to make Gertie mad and cause [sic] Gertie more money than she’s got. I’ve tore up a new mattress and peaed [sic] on it. I have also cost Gertie doctor bills that she really can’t pay and made Gertie a nervous wreck and all her kids.

Just as strangely as Baniszewski’s insistence on the formal salutation, she instructed Sylvia not to sign it.

After Sylvia finished the letter, Baniszewski began formulating a plan to have John Jr. and Jenny take Sylvia to a nearby garbage dump and leave her there to die. When Sylvia overheard this, she ran for the front door, but in her emaciated and mutilated state moved so slowly that Baniszewski was able to grab her just as she reached the front door and drag her back into the house.

Once Baniszewski settled Sylvia down, she took her into the kitchen and made her some toast. Sylvia attempted to eat it but then said she couldn’t swallow; Baniszewski took down the curtain rod in the kitchen and beat Sylvia in the mouth with it. John then took Sylvia into the basement and tied her up while Baniszewski prepared a plate of crackers for Sylvia. When she offered the crackers to Sylvia, Sylvia replied, “Feed it to the dog. It’s hungrier than I am.” Baniszewski repeatedly punched Sylvia in the stomach before leaving her in the basement.

On the next day, October 24th, Baniszewski came into the basement and, attempted to bludgeon Sylvia; first she tried to hit her with a chair, but missed and broke it against the wall. Next she tried to beat her over the head with a paddle, but swung in such a wide arc that it came back against her own face, blacking her eye. To stop the strange show, Hubbard stepped in and beat Sylvia unconscious with a broomstick.

Over the course of that night, and into the morning hours of October 25th, Sylvia beat the basement floor with the scoop portion of an iron shovel. Nextdoor neighbors would later report considering calling the police, but chose not to.

On October 26th, Baniszewski voiced her intentions to give Sylvia a warm bath. Stephanie and Ricky brought Sylvia upstairs and laid her in the tub fully clothed; they took her out shortly thereafter when they realized she was not breathing. Stephanie gave Sylvia CPR, but by this time, Sylvia was already dead.

Baniszewski instructed her children to take Sylvia’s body to the basement and strip it naked. She then told Hobbs to go to a nearby payphone and call the police (her house having no working telephone).

When the police arrived, Baniszewski gave them the letter she’d made Sylvia dictate; in the midst of the commotion, Jenny Likens whispered to one of the police, “Get me out of here and I’ll tell you everything.” This statement, combined with the police’s discovery of Sylvia’s body in the basement, prompted the officers to arrest Baniszewski, Paula, Stephanie, John, Hobbs, and Hubbard for murder. Other neighborhood children present at the time – Mike Monroe, Randy Lepper, Duke, and Siscoe – were arrested for “injury to a person.”

Baniszewski, her children, Hobbs, and Hubbard were held without bail pending their trials. Charges against Siscoe, Duke, Monroe, and Lepper were dismissed. Stephanie’s lawyer got her a separate trial; before it was able to begin, the district attorney dropped the murder charges.

Meanwhile, an autopsy of Sylvia Likens turned up over 100 cigarette burns on her body, in addition to various second and third degree burns, severe bruising, and muscle and nerve damage. In her death throes, Sylvia bit through her lips, nearly severing each of them. Her vaginal cavity was nearly swollen shut, although an examination of the canal determined that her hymen was still intact, largely discrediting–along with a lack of any ripping or tearing to the rectum– Gertrude’s assertions that Sylvia was a prostitue and completely disproving her insistence that she was pregnant. The official cause of death was brain swelling, internal hemorrhaging of the brain, and shock.

The case of the State of Indiana v. Gertrude Baniszewski, John Baniszewski, Paula Baniszewski, Ricky Hobbs, and Coy Hubbard commenced in May of 1966; the prosecution sought the death penalty for all involved, including John and Hobbs, who were thirteen and fourteen at the time, respectively. Paula’s time in court was interrupted when she was rushed to the hospital to give birth to the child that she and her mother had insisted she wasn’t carrying; in a show of solidarity, Paula named the child Gertrude.

Baniszewski and the children’s cases were exacerbated by the fact that they were being represented by four different attorneys–one for Baniszewski, one for Paula, one for Hobbs, and one for Coy and John–all of whom worked against each other and attempted to shift blame against the other defendants, even though they were all being tried together.

Baniszewski’s attorney attempted to shift blame onto the children, portratying her as weak, chronically ill, and incapable of preventing or perpetuating any of the abuse. The children’s attorneys attempted to shift blame onto Baniszewski and the other children.

Some of the most damaging testimony against Baniszewski was due to her own self-incrimination; she recounted bizarre tales of Sylvia Likens being a neighborhood prostitute and of her trysts with middle aged, married men, as well as accusing her of frequently starting fights in the home. To corroborate Baniszewski’s testimony, eleven-year-old Marie was was called to the stand.

Initially, Marie backed up everything her mother had said, until, during cross examination, she suddenly screamed “God help me!” before admitting everything she’d said was a lie, and went on to recount in graphic, blunt detail how her mother and siblings had tortured and murdered Sylvia.

The young girl’s shocking turn against her own family was largely responsible for the eventual verdict: Baniszewski was found guilty of murder in the first degree. To the shock of the citizens of Indianapolis, she did not receive the death penalty, but rather life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Paula Baniszewski was convicted of second degree murder; she appealed and was granted a new trial, but before it began, she struck a plea bargain and plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter. She served three years in prison and was then paroled.

John Baniszewski, Hubbard, and Hobbs were each convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to eighteen months in a juvenile detention facility. By the time the now seventeen year old Hobbs was released, the severity of his crimes had sunk in, and he suffered a nervous breakdown; he began a regime of heavy-chain smoking which had severely decayed his lungs by the time he was twenty. By the time he was twenty-one, he was dead of lung cancer.

Baniszewski appealed, was granted a new trial, and was again found guilty, though this time she was sentenced to eighteen years to life. Over the course of the next eighteen years, Baniszewski became a model prisoner, working in the sewing shop and becoming a den-mother to younger female inmates; by the time she came up for parole in 1985, she had earned the prison nickname “Mom.”

The news of Baniszewski’s parole hearing sent shockwaves through the Indiana community. Jenny Likens and her family appeared on television to speak out against Baniszewski; the members of two anti-crime groups, Protect the Innocent and Society’s League Against Molestation, travelled to Indiana to oppose Baniszewski’s parole and support the Likens family, beginning a sidewalk picket campaign.

Over the course of two months, the groups collected 4500 signiatures from the citizens of Indiana demanding that Baniszewski be kept behind bars. In spite of all this, Baniszewski was granted parole. During the hearing, she gave the following confession:”

I’m not sure what role I had in it… because I was on drugs. I never really knew her… I take full responsibility for whatever happened to Sylvia.

Baniszewski walked out of prison on December 4, 1985, and travelled to Iowa under the name Nadine Van Fossan. She died there of lung cancer in 1990. The fates of Baniszewski’s children remains largely unknown. Paula Baniszewski moved to Iowa and assumed a new identity; internet rumors claim that she is still alive and lives on a farm somewhere in the Iowa countryside. Stephanie Baniszewski became a school teacher and assumed a new name.

John Baniszewki changed his name to John Blake and worked as a truck driver before becoming a real estate agent and lay minister; he was never arrested again. He married and had three children, and has lived in anonymity, only surfacing briefly in 1998 in the wake of the Jonesboro Massacre to speak for the first time about the Likens murder, saying that he took full responsibility for his role in the murder and that a harsher sentence would have been more just.


Coming up…

On January 2, 1935, a man who signed the guest register as “Roland T. Owen” checked into the President Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri – and never checked out. (The Man in Room 1046)

Plus… If you ask a dying loved one to try and reach you from the other side when they finally pass away, don’t be surprised if they follow up on that promise. (My Mom’s Wake)

These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.




On January 2, 1935, a man who signed the guest register as “Roland T. Owen” checked into the President Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. His only request from the desk clerk was for a room that faced the hotel’s inner courtyard, rather than the street. He had no luggage with him –only a hair brush, comb, and toothpaste, which were all tucked into the pockets of his overcoat. He thanked the clerk as he took the key to his room and walked away.

No one knew that he was going to create a bloody mystery that remains unsolved to this day.

His short stay at the President Hotel was a strange one. The hotel maid later told the police that he kept the room dark. The shades were always drawn and only a small lamp on the desk was turned on. On his first day in room 1046, he told the maid to leave the door open because he was expecting a friend. She said that he seemed frightened.

On January 3, the same maid was cleaning the room and she said that Owen received a telephone call. She heard him say into the receiver, “No, Don, I don’t want to eat.” Later, when she returned to the room with fresh towels, she heard the voices of two men inside. The door was locked. When she knocked, a man with a “rough” voice turned her away, telling her that they didn’t need any towels, although she knew there were none in the room.

Later that same night, a city worker named Robert Lane was driving home and was flagged down by a man running in the street. He was not wearing a coat, even though it was a cold winter’s night. When he stopped, he saw a deep scratch on the man’s arm. From the way that he was standing, Lane thought he might have other enemies. “You look like you’ve been in it bad,” Lane said to the man.

The man reportedly replied, “I’ll kill that “expletive” tomorrow.” [the newspaper didn’t print the expletive in 1935].

Lane agreed to drive the man to the nearest taxi stand, where he saw him jump into a cab. He later identified his passenger as the man police would know as Roland T. Owen.

On Friday, January 4, the hotel operator noticed that the telephone in room 1046 was off the hook. She sent a bellboy upstairs to replace the receiver. The bellboy used his pass key to enter the room and found Owen lying on the bed, naked. The bellboy assumed that he was drunk and sleeping one off and quietly replaced the receiver, which had been knocked onto the floor. He tiptoed out of the room.

A few hours later, though, the phone in room 1046 was again off the hook. Once again, a bellboy was sent upstairs to fix the problem. After knocking loudly and getting no response, he used his pass key and went inside. The room was dark. When he turned on the light, he was shocked to discover Owen just two feet from the door. He was lying on his side, holding his bloody head in his hands. He was alive, but barely. The bellboy later told detectives, “I looked around and saw blood on the walls, on the bed, and in the bathroom.” Frightened, he fled the room to get help.

When the doctor and the police arrived, they found the scene was even worse than the bellboy had described. Owen had been bound at the neck, the wrists, and the ankles. It appeared that he had been tortured. He had a fractured skull and dozens of knife wounds, one of which had punctured his lung. There was even blood sprayed across the ceiling. Most of the blood had dried, leading the doctor to believe that he had been attacked six or seven hours before. This meant that when the bellboy had originally entered the room – believing that Owen had been passed out drunk – he had actually been seriously injured.

There were few clues left behind. All of Owen’s clothing, including his overcoat, were gone. The police found a hairpin, an unlighted cigarette, and, on the telephone table, four small fingerprints that they speculated might belong to a woman.

Owen offered no help. He was barely conscious and the few words that he spoke only made matters worse. He said that no one had been in the room with him and that he had sustained all his injuries – including the knife wounds – by falling against the bathtub. Owen had slipped into a coma by the time he reached the hospital and he died a little after midnight.

In addition to trying to find out who killed him, detectives also had to try and figure out who the victim really was. It quickly became clear that his name was not really “Roland T. Owen.” A sketch of him was published in area newspapers and his body was placed on display at a local funeral home. Several people claimed to have seen, or met, him, but all of them offered different names. The families of missing people sent photos to Kansas City, hoping for a match, but the dead man could not be identified.

He was scheduled to be buried as “John Doe” in a pauper’s grave until an anonymous donor sent money for a proper funeral. He was laid to rest under the only name that anyone knew – Roland T. Owen – and a bouquet of roses, paid for with cash, was placed on his grave. The card read, “Love for ever – Louise.”

Then, a year later, a woman named Ruby Ogletree saw a crime magazine article about the unsolved murder, which included a photograph of the victim. It was her son, Artemus Ogletree, who had been missing since he vanished from Birmingham, Alabama, in 1934. Artemus was much younger than anyone suspected – he was only 17.

Detectives had finally learned who the victim was, but they still had no idea who killed him, or why. Was it the mysterious “Don” that he had been talking to on the telephone? Or the man who turned away the maid with the towels? Who was Artemus hiding from at the President Hotel? Who had beaten him up on the night he was picked up by Robert Lane? Whose fingerprints were found in his room? Did they belong to a woman? Who was Louise, and how did she connect to the case? Had she paid for the funeral, as well as the roses? Could she have been the killer, or at least present when Artemus was killed?

The mystery of what happened in room 1046 remains unsolved today and it’s likely that we will never really know what happened that night, or what led up to the brutal death of the young man who checked in as “Roland T. Owen.”



My Mom passed away after a long illness last year. In the end she told us that she had had enough and her quality of life had eroded to the point of it not being worth it all. She hoped that we all understood and the whole family was heart broken but agreed and understood with respect her decision. She would simply stop taking her medicines which were keeping her alive.

She stopped taking her medicines and actually rallied for about four days where she was able to say good bye and let us go slowly. We even had a last supper all together with family which was an incredible event full of human emotion & love.

I was quite close to her and we often talked about many different things including the after life and paranormal discussions.

A day or two before her passing I asked her to reach out to me somehow from the other side if she could to let me know that she was well.

The day after our last supper she passed quietly surrounded by all of us surrounding her with love. It was the best possible end of her life that we could have hoped for.

Her wake was at an old funeral home in a small upstate New York town. We all gathered in a large room there for hours as friends & family came to give their last respects.

Near the end of it, I left the room and went out into the hallway which led up a ramp with a closet facing me at a turn in the hallway which in turn led back to a bathroom and offices. I was going to check on my 92 year old Father who was in the bathroom to make sure he was OK. After doing so I turned and proceeded back down the hallway. As I approached the corner of the hall where the closet was I noticed a large moving shadow which was moving left to right and towards the closet. As I noticed its height and broad shoulders it seemed to notice that I had recognized that it was there and the shadow first froze and then moved as if walking quickly towards the closet.

I had a distinct feeling that it was actually fleeing and meant me no harm. I was frozen momentarily not by any sort of fear but of astonishment and curiosity. As I approached it in curiosity the most incredible things occurred! Suddenly the shadow stopped and a sort of window appeared floor to ceiling. It had a clear square edge to the window and within it’s shape a swirling smokey image seemed to be moving but indiscernible in shape. As the smokey image filled the window I could see that the window was illuminated from within with a bright light. It kept swirling and filled all of the window. SUDDENLY a bright burning track of light extended from the window ACCROSS the floor at a perfect 45 degree angle towards the open closet. The brightly lit track of light on the floor stopped just short of the open closet door. ANOTHER window then appeared instantly from the brightly lit track upwards to fill the space again from floor to ceiling. This window had a distinctly square edge, was brightly lit from within and appeared about 1/2 inch in thickness and now the smokey image swirled into this next window with the previous window now gone. I approached it in curious astonishment trying to take note of every detail!

As I approached it, a white vapor appeared all along the outer square edge of the window almost like white steam vapor. It left the edge of the window at a distinct 90 degree angle and was disappearing into the closet. At that moment I thought to myself “are you hallucinating or losing your mind?” Just as I thought that, the vapor disappeared into the closet, the track of light and window disappeared and the last of the vapor seemed to brush across a jacket hanging by itself in the closet. As if to confirm for me that this really happened, the jacket started swinging on it’s hanger in the closet. I moved the last few feet to the closet opening, looked in, saw nothing but the jacket still swinging gently back and forth.


When Weird Darkness returns… The last cabin standing along the beach at Hunting Island State Park is a celebrity among locals and visitors as folks have taken to a love affair with the little blue cabin’s fight against nature over the past few years. Oh… and it also appears to be haunted. (Little Blue Ocean Cabin)




My family and I recently spent a week in Beaufort (South Carolina). We did the typical touristy stuff – carriage rides, history tours, lots of shrimp and grits – but one day we got bored with the scene in town and drove to Hunting Island State Park.

The first thing my parents wanted to do was explore the nature center and the connecting pier. That was fine for about 20 minutes, but my sister, Kate, and I really wanted to visit the beach. After some whining and complaining, we finally convinced our parents to turn us loose.

We followed the first trail we saw and eventually crossed over a boardwalk and down to a torn up portion of the beach. I say torn up because there were chunks of concrete scattered around as well as several uprooted trees. I also saw what looked like large, plastic pipes. It was a little strange, but the strangest thing we saw was a blue shack looming above the ocean on wooden stilts. The shack was all alone, several feet out in the water, and from what I could see, completely inaccessible. There were no stairs, no ladders, no way up. Here’s a photo I found online (above).

My sister and I debated what it could it be, guessing it was an old ranger station or something, but we soon lost interest and explored the beach for awhile, collecting shells and killing time. Then something in the shack caught my eye. We could only see one small window from our vantage point on the beach, but I could have sworn a figure in white was pacing inside. I looked at my sister, and she said she’d seen it too.

We were confused, because like I said, the shack was several feet out in the surf and there appeared to be no way inside. I caught sight of the figure again and saw that it was definitely pacing – back and forth, back and forth – but the longer I stared at it, the more uneasy I felt. It looked like a person, but…not. Its edges were oddly blurred, and it appeared to stagger. Just as I was about to tell my sister we should leave, the figure stopped directly in front of the window.

“It’s looking at us,” Kate said. And though the shack was too far out to see the figure in the window clearly, I knew she was right. And for some reason that terrified me. It must have freaked my sister out too because without saying a word, we both turned around and hurried back the way we came. All the time, I had the feeling of being watched by something…malevolent. I know that sounds corny and dramatic, but there’s no other word for it. I was sure whoever, or whatever, was watching us from the window wished us harm.

Though it’s embarrassing to admit, at this point I began to run. I took one last look as we got to the beginning of the trail, and when I did, I saw a large, white mass hurl itself from the window and into the surf below. The crazy thing is that there was no splash. Whatever it was penetrated the water like a knife. I didn’t stick around to see if it resurfaced. I ran faster than I’ve ever run in my life, practically dragging Kate behind me.

When we got back to the nature center and told our parents what we saw, they laughed and said it was probably just a pelican or some other sea bird thrashing around in the shack. And I admit that makes sense. But I don’t believe it.

When we got back to the hotel, I Googled Hunting Island Park and, amazingly enough, found an article about the old shack (known by locals as Little Blue). Turns out it’s an old rental cabin. It was once one of several rental properties on the beach but is now the last cabin standing due to severe beach erosion (hence all the rubble we’d seen). According to the article, the family who owned the cabin was very happy there. There were no sudden deaths in the property, or anything like that, though several people have drowned at the park over the years. Honestly, I don’t know what we saw that day. And I’m pretty sure I don’t want to find out.”


Thanks for listening. If you like the show, please share it with someone you know who loves the paranormal or strange stories, true crime, monsters, or unsolved mysteries like you do! And please leave a rating and review of the show in the podcast app you listen from – doing so helps the show to get noticed! You can also email me anytime with your questions or comments through the website at WeirdDarkness.com. That’s also where you can find all of my social media, listen to free audiobooks I’ve narrated, shop the Weird Darkness store, sign up for the email newsletter to win monthly prizes, find other podcasts that I host, and find the Hope in the Darkness page if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or dark thoughts. Plus if you have a true paranormal or creepy tale to tell, you can click on TELL YOUR STORY at WeirdDarkness.com.

All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise) and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.

“The Man in Room 1046” by Troy Taylor: http://bit.ly/2QJcZpW

“My Mom’s Wake” by Pete Inesc: http://bit.ly/2EObXUE

“Little Blue Ocean Cabin” posted at GhostsNGhouls.com (link no longer available)

“The Torture Mother” posted at Murderpedia.org: http://bit.ly/2WfFAcm

WeirdDarkness™ – is a production of Marlar House Productions. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2022.

Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9

And a final thought… “Embrace the present moment fully and with passion, because only through the present moment do we truly live.” – Richard L. Haight

I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.

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