10 Oct

Based On A True Story: The Girl Next Door

Posted by Bryan White | Monday October 10, 2011 | Based On A True Story

The Girl Next DoorJack Ketchum tends to write a particular brand of horror that I don’t usually subscribe to. His novels fall into a category that has one foot in true crime and that stuff, usually the source martial for these BoaTS articles, mirrors reality in such a way that horror loses the fun factor and become just plain miserable. Reading a novel or watching a movie about the actual suffering of a human being that lived through it or worse, didn’t quite survive, can be a real ordeal and is not how I like to spend my time. It’s a thin line I and other horror fans walk, but we know where it begins and ends so if you don’t get it. Fuck off. But even though I seem to have a personal code of ethics in this matter, others don’t and many seem to revel in the extremes of the genre. Visually speaking, The Girl Next Door isn’t extremely explicit like, say, A Serbian Film, which lives way out on the fringes of the genre, a movie I weathered from start to finish and hated every second of, but its subject matter is so completely nasty that I can’t imagine who could possibly find a thrill in it. Ketchum’s story is pretty miserable but I’ll tell you what, no matter what you may think of that, the original story is even worse.

If Mad Men has taught us anything, it’s that the good old days weren’t really very good after all and the mainstream of America was miserable, repressed and most men were living double lives. There seems to be a conservative movement in this country that looks back on this time with wonder and longing, thinking that those good old days were like an episode of Leave It To Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show but they weren’t. Most small towns, as romanticized as they are today, weren’t as charming as these people would like you to think they are. Sure, most of these people are using this imagined ideal as some kind of argument against gay marriage or are mining the American fantasy for country music subject matter but most of small-town America was mired in poverty and never really recovered from the depression of the 30’s. When World War 2 and Korea flared up, these were the communities that were mined most for infantry and when those guys came home, they brought all their trauma and broken lives with them. It didn’t help matter in these whimsical fantasy lands of small town values. This kind of fractured narrative explains a lot. People like Charlie Starkweather make a lot of sense in this context and what’s unfortunate is that this idea lends a lot of understanding to the case of Sylvia Likens, a teenage girl who was dealt a seriously bad hand in life.

Sylvia LikensSylvia Likens was 16 in 1965 when the lives of her carny parents took a turn for the worse. Her mother was sent up for shoplifting charges and her father opted to board her and her younger sister, Jenny, out to Gertrude Baniszewski, the poor single mother of seven children. Lester paid Gertrude $20 a week to keep an eye on the girls while he worked. Almost immediately, this awful wretch of a woman began abusing the two girls. Two more mouths to feed on top of bills and her own brood of nasty results of failed marriages put a strain on this fragile woman and rather than take it out on her own kids, she focused her attention on Sylvia. The girls were beaten with paddles, but it was Sylvia who got it the worst. She was often beaten and berated in front of Baniszewski’s own children, accused of being pregnant – when she was in fact a virgin, proven post-mortem – Baniszewski’s actual pregnant daughter joined in the abuse and as well as being physically violent toward Sylvia in the home, she spread rumors about her and her sister in the school they attended that the girls were whores. Actual prostitutes, mind you, not the casual insult that most girls seem to use these days about other girls. This engaged other kids in the community and things got worse for Sylvia.

Gertrude BaniszewskiEventually, Sylvia, dealing with a tremendous amount of torment and trauma began to crack at the seams. She wet the bed, which enraged Baniszewski. Her punishment was to be locked in the basement. If you can believe it, things got even worse. Sylvia, still going to school at the time, was eventually caught by Gertrude when she stole a suit for school that was to be worn for gym class and once again she was tossed back in the basement and practically starved were it not for the shit and piss she was forced to eat and drink. Baniszewski, the head of a house full of feral children, was known for letting neighborhood kids come and go as they pleased and each of these kids knew about Sylvia in the basement. Some even participated in the torture, burning her and etching words into her skin while she lay restrained. With the implied consent of an adult, Baniszewski, the kids of the neighborhood committed some of the most unspeakable acts of torture before poor Sylvia’s body gave up and she died in that lonely hole in the earth.

Baniszewski had the local kids call the cops from a pay phone nearby and when they arrived she tried to pass off a letter that Sylvia had been forced to write that explained her torment away as the victim of a gang rape when she agreed to have sex with some local boys for money but Sylvia’s sister, mostly untouched, approached the cops before they left and offered the truth for an escape. See, back then they didn’t have a social department that was meant to look after the well being of children in homes like this. After finding this girl in a decaying home in rotten, rust-belt Indiana, these cops were ready to walk off and put it all behind them were it not for the courage of Sylvia’s horrified and understandably pissed off sister. Baniszewski was sent up on a life sentence after pleading not guilty by reason of insanity and when asked why she did it all she could offer in her own defense was, “The girls wouldn’t mind me.”

Her pregnant daughter, Paula, was also sent up on a life sentence and the children who also tortured Sylvia were sentence to two twenty one year sentences, of which they would serve two years before being released. Paula would eventually be retried and he charge dropped to manslaughter and was release a couple of years later but Baniszewski wouldn’t be so lucky and narrowly avoided the death penalty. She would eventually be paroled in 1985 and died in 1990. The house where all this misery stood empty from that time on, unable to find a new owner who could bear to live in the sort of place where this shit took place. It was eventually demolished. Nearly everyone involved in this rotten case is dead now.

19 Comments 

  1. October 13, 2011 11:33 am

    mike b

    Awesome! You nailed small town U.S. right on the head. I grew up in the 70s but it was in a small town that still seemed stuck in the 50s. Life was not the wholesome existence neighbors pretended it to be and it did have it’s ugly side.

    Until, we face facts about society warts and all I’m afraid this pious living nonsense will only lead to more depravity.

  2. January 28, 2012 3:46 am

    Robin

    Ths movie, “The Girl next door” was so brutal, and the person who is an excuse of a human being needs to be tortured in the same way. Piece of crap. What a shame!!! I cried….Too sad!!!

  3. January 28, 2012 3:48 am

    Robin

    continued from above….The Sick F**k is dead now, so I’m sure she is being taken care of where she belongs…in hell!!! May God have had mercy on her soul…Sadistictic Sicko!!!

  4. April 11, 2012 3:27 pm

    Robyn

    I hope that stupid bitch got what she deserved and her kids. I don’t feel sorry for them one bit because noone should ever have to go through what that girl did. The movie really gave a visual on what had happened and what she went through. I wud have wooped a bitchss ass…

  5. May 13, 2012 2:23 am

    Mike M

    That movie had me so upset. I just wish the b would have suffered the way sylvia suffered. Goes to show you how screwed up the judicial system was back then. I can’t believe that they even let the b–ch out. At least she didn’t live long. I hope she is rotting in hell. And I hope her kids rot in hell too for what they have done. I know they are out know. Someone needs to do those things to them now that they are adults. I hope that they never get 1 nights sleep for the rest of their lives.

  6. May 26, 2012 7:44 pm

    lynda

    this was one of the sickest accounts of a child being brutalized that i was ever exposed to!!!! may she rot in the hell that she made that poor child endure!! YOU SIC FUK!!!!!!!

  7. July 15, 2012 2:42 am

    Leeann

    The movie seriously scarred me it’s just so sick to think people could find a thrill out of doing those sick things. Sylvia’s in a better place but i hope her aunt and those fucking kids are rotting in hell

  8. July 21, 2012 11:35 pm

    amber

    “But even though I seem to have a personal code of ethics in this matter, others don’t and many seem to revel in the extremes of the genre. ” ? Bryn White, you let your emotions get in the way of what could be a decent story. I say this because i, myself, revel in the extremes in which i enjoy watching sadistic shit. ” fuck off ” ? i get it man, cool it, its all a matter of perspective…i feel bad for the girl i really do, but i liked the movie, and that does NOT make me sadistic. Probably the worst torture a young girl can ever go through…though, the kids were raised to be morbid fucks, they had no reason, so its not their fault…do you people who comment ever put yourself in someone else’s shoes ? ever ? No ? thought so,because if you did, youd realize that being raised in a fucked up family ensures no moral for those kids at all, no reason, they wouldnt know right from wrong living in a shit hole like that…nuff said. R.i.P sylvia…

  9. August 23, 2012 12:51 pm

    Alex

    I watched the girl next door like a year ago and I had no idea it was based on a true story and it made me cry and angry…and then today I was watching an episode of deadly women and it was talking about gertrude and i was noticing how her story was a lot like the movie I watched and I just had to look it up. …that’s horrible.

  10. August 30, 2012 1:56 pm

    stuart

    if i was that boy i would freed Meg and let her ran away with me and then i will kill the mother and her kis wht have they doune to Meg it was not very nice she did not do anything wrong at all evern her little sister did not dont doing anthing wrong at all it mad me sad how those could they do that to Meg in the girl next door they should go and fuck themsevles and go to hell beacuse all of that stuck up bitch and her kids. at the end of the film i felt i was going to cry how could someone do that to somebody els they were sick fucks

  11. November 11, 2012 5:44 am

    Ariana & tommy

    I think that bitch was very sick in the head if i was living then in that state i swear if i was her neighbor i would beat the fuk out of her n help thawt innocent girl n her sister i dnt understand y david didnt tell he should have because she could of been alive stil .. tommy says he would of freed the 2 girls n started the house on fire sounds fair to me o n tied them up 2 c how they like to be hung fucking sick bastards. rip ur in a better place.

  12. December 19, 2012 3:52 pm

    Fay

    How evil was this woman! I actually saw this story on ID\’s Deadly Women but I didn\’t know this film was about her until I read all of this. My heart goes out to those poor little girls. Gertrude should have gotten the death penalty and those children who participated should have gotten life in jail. My soul is troubled after watching this movie, it just makes me love my daughter even more now. God bless that little girl\’s soul. I hope Gertrude\’s soul is being tormented in hell a million times worst than this little girl was tormented.

  13. February 4, 2013 6:45 am

    Johna

    I had so much hate and anger for this movie
    But as they say “There’s no such thing as bad kid
    Only bad parent”.

  14. February 15, 2013 9:59 pm

    Marie

    The death penalty would certainly be way too easy for this sick bitch and her children. If it was me, I would have made her suffer first, very slowly. Then again, I honestly cannot think of any punishment that would ” pay back ” these sick bitches.

    The only punishment that comes to mind right now, is to leave them right where they are, with Satan. He will certainly know what to do with them.

    Good riddens to bad rubbish. May they rot in hell ! ! !

  15. February 28, 2013 11:30 pm

    marie

    this movie was sick.i feel soory for these goiirls she shouildnt did thus tto this giirl tto sad .

  16. March 27, 2013 11:12 am

    jenny

    I Hate all of them with a mean passion I hope that mother burns slowly for what she did I was crying hoping she would survive but she didn’t and the boy didn’t as anything

  17. September 10, 2013 10:45 am

    Dominique

    I watched this movie last night and….and….I cryed all night. I am someone who was raped and abused as a child but seeing what this girl went through…I felt like all that happened to me was just a slap to face. It is so sick and upsetting to me that there are people out there in OUR world who do this shit to children…

  18. November 2, 2013 1:17 pm

    Duaalrebaie

    I seen the movie and i cried y would they do that to a girl that her mom and dad died and her sister thats let that are all most brocken the lady ruth bet the little girl and when were done f**king her they burned her pussy

  19. March 10, 2014 8:55 pm

    Wolfman

    Its all been said but shit like this is what ruined my relationship with my ex girlfriend. She ain’t really living. That past has a hold on her so strong she can’t see when she’s wrong and still acts like a kid since she was deprived of her child hood.


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