Sylvia Likens. 1949-1965

Most people don’t know that the movie and book, The Girl Next Door, and the film, An American Crime are based on a true story. While An American Crime sticks to the facts of the case, Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door is a fictionalized version of the true story. The story is that of Sylvia Likens who, in 1965, was brutally tortured, mutilated, and humiliated for months at the hands of her caregiver in Indianapolis, Indiana. What happened to her was nothing short of a travesty, an atrocity, a true crime against humanity. The human mind can be so depraved, devious, and sadistic, it is no wonder Jack Ketchum used the real-life backdrop of a white picket fence, small-town American street in his novel to drive his point. The reason is that no one wants to know about it, see it, hear about it, as it is too disturbing. There is an issue of apathy in this country that has existed for far too long, the dark underbelly of America needs to be revealed if anything is ever to be changed.

Back then, it was okay to hit your children. Still is, in some places, but only under the term punishment, or discipline. It’s one thing to smack your kid on the butt for trying to run out in the middle of traffic. Obviously, you don’t want them to do it again. That’s not what we’re talking about here. This wasn’t even her child. We’re talking about people who are so mentally disturbed and evil that they take out all the bad things in their life on others, normally children, and in this case, Sylvia Likens. Not to mention, she got her other children and their neighborhood friends to join in the fun. Sylvia was burned with cigarettes, pushed down the stairs, blasted with hoses, belts, and fists, had objects inserted into her body, deprived of food, deprived of bathroom facilities, and had the words, “I’m a prostitute and proud of it”  and the number 3 burned into her stomach. She eventually died of shock, malnutrition, and brain hemorrhaging. Her caretaker, Gertrude Baniszewski, was found guilty of murder and received a life sentence, but she was released after 20 years. Her daughter was convicted of second-degree murder, and three neighborhood boys received a sentence of 18 months. Eighteen months? This is one of the most hideous, disgusting cases in history, and her killer received 20 years and the other perpetrators got a year and half in a juvenile detention facility.

The Girl Next Door featured the girl’s torture and suffering prominently, but there is at least one difference. In real life, there was no David, no young boy who took pity on her and eventually stood up for her and felt guilty about it for the rest of his life. I know he was likely placed into the fictionalized story to make for at least a modicum of a happy ending, that there was someone who cared. But for poor Sylvia, no such person existed. However, this movie is shot beautifully, and absolutely breaks your heart. Another difference is that the woman, Ruth, was her aunt. The real Sylvia was not under the care of a relative.

The amazing Blythe Auffarth as Meg Loughlin in The Girl Next Door.

 An American Crime also portrays the Likens story, but in a more crime-drama way, as it focuses more on the case and the real facts. This is probably my favorite role of Ellen Page, because she took it so seriously and did the story justice. It is absolutely respectful of the real life events, and pulls no punches. These films may be hard to watch, but I feel it is important to witness the brutality that human beings can inflict upon one another, and learn from it.

The remarkable Ellen Page as Sylvia Likens in An American Crime.

Both of these films rank high on my list of favorites. All the actors involved are truly spectacular, and they both get the story and point across in different ways. As beautifully shot, powerful, and thought-provoking as these films are, it is important to remember that this happened to a real girl, Sylvia Likens.

About Aloha Mister Hand

28, horror-loving chick, lover of animals, movies, and her boyfriend.

37 responses »

  1. RaoulDukeKD says:

    I hadn’t heard of the Catherine Keener & Ellen Page version. I’ll have to check it out. I’ve been a fan of both of them since ‘Being John Malkovich’ and ‘Hard Candy’ respectively.

  2. WestWords81 says:

    I totally agree that we’re living in an apathetic state, I think people are so easily forgetful, or we are content to pretend like nothing is wrong because it isn’t staring us in the face. Which I think it’s important for blogs like this to exist in order to remind everyone of the horrible things that happen. As hard as it is for me to stomach watching these kinds of fact based movies, obviously movies like The Girl Next Door,The Stoning of Soraya M., and so on are important so that their stories are told. Great post, very well put.

  3. karlails says:

    I loved An American Crime (sounds kinda wrong), but I wasn’t too impressed by The Girl Next Door, one of the reasons being, like you said, the boy who helped her. Just the part in An American Crime, where she is getting away and then you realise it’s not real is so heartbreaking. Of course, it is horrifying that something like this could happen in real life.

  4. rwhyan says:

    I haven’t seen An American Crime but it sounds pretty interesting. I saw The Girl Next Door and that was extremely messed up. Jack Ketchum writes some horrifying stuff, so much so that Stephen King says he’s the scariest man in America. Good post.

  5. HorrorBore says:

    The remake of this movie….ugh….I don’t even know how to explain how I felt while I was watching this movie. Disgusted, ashamed, and strangely intrigued. not due to everything the poor girl went through. But because this is based on true events. So there was a person at one time (I’m sure somewhere around today as well) that could really treat people like this and not show remorse for any actions. Human reactions always interest me when dealing with “vulgar” content.

  6. Raymond says:

    When I picked up Ketchum’s book I was fairly new to his writing. I also did not realize it was based on a true story and assumed that in the end the “kid would be the hero.” What a nasty little surprise. I think it is probably the most disturbing “horror” story I have ever read and yet…like a car crash I could not look away. I think what the story captures that was most alarming was not the psychosis of the aunt…but the “lord of the flies” effect people like her can have – even the “good kid” in the story is slow to react because of his own “interest” in what happens next. Ketchum wrote another “based on reality” story called Weed Species – graphic but short and not as good as TGND. The movie was interesting yet far less graphic than the novel. Great Post btw as I think it highlights that some “horror” stories are more real than we’d like to consider.

  7. I had heard The Girl Next Door was based on true events – but I assumed pretty much the entire movie was grossly exaggerated. An excellent post. I’ll add a link to this post in my movie review.

    • Thanks a lot!
      Yeah, it’s definitely not grossly exaggerated, sadly. Some was, of course, for dramatic effect, such as the character of David, but much of it was true, unfortunately. I enjoyed your post, as well! Appreciate the support!! :)

    • says:

      the girl next door has a lot of things in it that never happened. Although her female area was swollen externally it was never reported of medically found that she was raped or molested except for when Gertrude made her use the glass coke bottle on herself. An American crime on the other hand is based strictly off of court transcripts and police reports. Also John Dean has a book called house of evil the Indiana torture slaying which is based off court testimony as well. he personally attended all of the trial.

  8. […] about this movie, and how closely the movie resembled real-life events. I recommend reading it.… Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeOne blogger likes this […]

  9. I watched this move ONCE! I cringed at the depravity and cruelty that child had to go through and even though it was fictionalized I found myself in tears and actually stopping the movie for a moment because frankly it was too much to take in. I have never been able to watch it again, we have it in our library but it will stay on the shelf. I just can’t watch such evil without having a little hatred creep into my own heart. What I would give to get hold of the real caretaker for just an hour. Excellent Review! :)

    • terry says:

      I agree with you ! that woman should be taught a real lesson. To bad the prison did not make her suffer for what she had done, when a woman hears of such a horrible thing especially already in prison whats there to loose, she, I guess, is still around.

  10. Akeema says:

    Omg! I just recently watched this movie and all I can say is that people in this world are cold and the system is very fucked up. They should have given her caretaker and her bastard ass children and the neighbor hood boys the Death penalty. But I know one thing if there really is a heaven and hell alot of people are going to be very sorry. RIP SYLVIA L.

    • jatinder says:

      hi i m from india..saw this movieu knowhell for tht woman gertrude started the day sh e was sentenced ..and she will burn in hell for eternity so willl her children….she is responsible for whatever hell her children may b goin thru still…….they will pay for theirs and there mothers crime

  11. anderson forde says:


  12. nancy chancellor says:

    I love this movie its hard to watch because their is no one to save her noboby in the movie have any since to stop if u have kids at some point in your life there.comes a.changee?if u don’t love your self u can’t love any boby els they took there anger out on one of gods angles(why)?

  13. jnai says:

    well did you know the house sylvia died is local east new York 3850

  14. I do not know how people can be so cruel as Gertrude Baniszewski had a mind so dirty enough to kill a sweet girl and called there several times when her heart was still beating, she called Sylvia of “prostitute”.
    for the love of God which is that it got people’s love?
    people like gertie make me sick
    I know I should not feel this but when I read news about the case I was angry and tried to get the story would leave of my head …. what not worked.
    well to finish here I leave my message
    “Now stop abuse against children!”

  15. […] […]

  16. Dajuan L. Abner says:

    I wish the best too the victims and I’m going to leave Detroit just to visit her grave site I’m a young black male but It really doesn’t matter what color you are any one with humanity would be touched by this story if they have a heart my blessing go out to the family and lets try to love one another a little bit more often and in the remembrance of this girl god bless

  17. amin says:

    i want to say something “why does people abuse young children it is sick in so many ways”

  18. Poor girl…hope she has her peace now!

  19. Cherie says:

    I have seen An American Crime a long time ago. It to this day gives me chills and to just think about it makes my heart hurt all over again. Very heartbreaking. I pray Sylvia is at peace after enduring that! I am all out of words. Again I am left speechless!!!

    • fred says:

      I say do not suffer so of this girls nightmare. I believe there is a Heaven and she will be at peace and enjoying every moment of her eternal life. it is a pity that it is not so in this life, just thank god for life and enjoy the moment, I am sure this young girl would want you to, and I say this as much as I hate what they did to her they are more to be pitied for it is for sure they will be punished in the long run

  20. Apu says:

    Just watched “The Girl Next Door” Was looking for real story about the girl.Beside wiki found ur blog.Though movie is disturbing but it’s still hurting my mind thinking about Sylvia.Nice review

  21. trying to move on says:

    wow how heartbreaking. brings back memories. I suffered from an abusive childhood after my mother passed. my father remarried and allowed his wife and her kids to abuse me and my sister. ruth in this movie must have been related to my stepmother connie. they act and think so much alike. unfortunately connie has the whole town fooled thinking she is a great person but the ppl around her know how hideous she truly is. she may have gotten by with what she did thru the legal system but on judgement day god will hold her accountable for what she did and the abuse and torture me and my sister suffered!

  22. fred says:

    I would like to say that it has made you a stronger people and more caring towards others who also suffer, I hope you both are enjoying the moment today. God bless.

  23. Jenna Maskins says:

    I’ve Seen both versions, and both Are hard to swallow. It’s a shame what she did to Sylvia and her sister Jenny.

  24. Petra says:

    It’s not just about stoping abuse against children…it could litterally happen to anyone innocent like this,grown ups,elders,kids……it’s about stoping those psycho killers and satans like gertrude to walk and live on this earth…..But it just broke my heart and collapsed to tears when I saw what that they actually did this to a little girl and truth of the matter is nobody said a word to the outside world about what was happening….People who keep their mouth shut about those kind of things are worse than the commiter of the crime himself.

  25. dee says:

    I just watched the girl next door and I couldn’t stomach the whole movie. Then to see it was based on a true story really disturbed me. People who are able to do things like this to people are truly messed up in the head. There is no way any of them should be free right now. She didn’t deserve this at all.

  26. Amy says:

    I have never seen the movie the girl next door but I did see An American Crime. It was a really good movie. Sad that this young girl lost her life so horrifically. I was pissed to know that so many kids played a part that lead to her death but yet were not held responsible. Why? I understand they were kids but they were old enough to know right from wrong. They ALL knew what they were doing to her was wrong. RIP Sylvia…

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