CONRAD, Iowa -- The students who worked with Paula Pace knew a quiet,
friendly educator who helped them with test questions and homework
They didn't know Paula Baniszewski, the woman who
pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the torture and death of a
16-year-old girl 47 years ago in Indianapolis.
For at least 14
years, Baniszewski has lived her life as Paula Pace, a
Beaman-Conrad-Liscomb-Union-Whitten school district teacher's aide who
resided in Marshalltown, Iowa. The consolidated school district's board
unanimously voted Tuesday night to fire Pace, 64, for falsifying
information on her job application.
"She was a sweet lady (who)
helped out any student she could that came into her classroom," said
Thaddeus Lawler, 27, who was tutored by Pace while he was a student at
BCLUW High School. "She'd changed a lot from her past. She was a totally
But that "different person" as a teenager
participated with her mother, family and neighborhood children in
systematically torturing Sylvia Likens, 16, over a period of weeks in
1965, eventually killing her.
The case came to light in Iowa on
Oct. 17, when the Grundy County sheriff's office received an anonymous
tip that Pace was Paula Baniszewski. That tip was forwarded on to the
school district, which suspended Pace. She had worked here since 1998,
most recently as a teacher's aide at the high school in Conrad.
The torturous killing of Sylvia Likens has been called the most enduring nightmare in Indianapolis' true crime history.
16, and her 15-year-old sister, Jenny, were sent by their parents to
live with Gertrude Baniszewski and her seven children in summer 1965.
Paula, then 17, was the oldest child at the house.
girls were subjected to abuse at the hands of not only Gertrude, but
also her children and other children in the neighborhood. The
neighborhood children took turns practicing their judo skills on Sylvia,
hurling her against the wall, kicking and beating her, and
extinguishing cigarettes on her skin.
Toward the end of her life,
Sylvia was locked in the cellar, fed crackers and forbidden from using a
restroom. A movie based on Likens' death, "An American Crime," was
released in 2007.
A quiet life in Marshalltown
and others who knew Pace expressed shock when they heard of her past
but also said she shouldn't be working with children.
Wallen, who has seven children in the school district here, was the only
parent at Tuesday's board meeting. She said she has known Pace for more
than 30 years and considered her a friend. Wallen's nephews went to
school with Pace's two sons, and the two moms crossed paths often at
school sports games and birthday parties, Wallen said.
Pace separated from her husband a few years ago, and her sons are in their 30s now, Wallen said.
liked Pace, who volunteered with the Special Olympics, Wallen said. No
one had reason to believe Pace was hiding such a big secret, she said.
from nearby Liscomb, Iowa, said she wishes Pace a quiet retirement but
said Pace shouldn't be working with children. Wallen wants the district
to conduct more thorough background checks, including fingerprint
identification, of all potential hires.
If not, "You might as well put up a sign that says 'We hire convicted felons. Come work here,' " she said.
Pace's troubled past has been buzzing around town for a few months, and rumors had been swirling, Wallen said.
Casey Stolzman, 28, was unaware that Pace lived down the street from him but remembered her from his time at BCLUW High School.
never saw anything that would raise a red flag," Stolzman said. "I even
told my wife that, obviously, since I knew her growing up that I
wouldn't hesitate to send my kids to school with her being there."
reporter knocked on the door of Pace's home Tuesday afternoon, but no
one answered. A phone number listed for her has been disconnected, and
she was not at Tuesday night's school board meeting.
blue ranch-style home is in a working-class Marshalltown neighborhood.
She lives a quiet life and mostly keeps to herself, one neighbor said.
Krukow has lived two houses down from Pace for 16 years. She talked to
her on rare occasions, like last year when a winter storm toppled a tree
in the Krukows' yard and Pace came by to check on the family.
Krukow had no idea Pace had been convicted or played a role in the brutal murder nearly 50 years ago.
"It's shocking that she lives just two houses down."
expressed some remorse that Pace's past is being brought to light. The
crime happened when Pace was a teen and it seems like Pace's mother was
the primary perpetrator, Krukow said.
"But to be able to work around kids?" Krukow said about Pace's employment at the school. "I don't think so."
State regulations and certifications
and teacher's aides in Iowa do not require the same state licensure as
classroom teachers, and individual districts are responsible for
conducting background checks on those employees, said Duane Magee,
executive director of the Board of Educational Examiners.
BCLUW school district policy requires applicants to disclose if they
have been charged with a felony or any offense involving "moral
turpitude," said Mike Smith, a lawyer for the district. That policy
would have been in place when Pace was hired in 1998.
check of prospective school district employees is conducted by the Iowa
Division of Criminal Investigation, Smith said.
Ben Petty declined to comment on the situation Tuesday and would not say
what information Pace had falsified on her application.
not undergoing any criminal investigation, and she has never had any
run-ins with law enforcement in Grundy County, Sheriff Rick Penning
Pace is a registered Republican and has voted under her
current name in 15 elections since 1986, including filling out a ballot
for the upcoming Nov. 6 election, according to information provided by
the Iowa Secretary Of State's Office.
A governor must restore
felons right to vote in Iowa, but it's possible Pace never made her
conviction known to voting officials.
Sarah Reisetter, director of
elections, said the office receives updates on convicted felons from
clerks of court across Iowa but not from out of state. No one had raised
questions about Pace's eligibility to vote.
'This is a case that won't die'
Those who've followed the case closely say they were surprised to hear it still is making headlines nearly 50 years later.
Dean, now known as Natty Bumppo, covered the killing for the
Indianapolis Star and later wrote a book, "The Indiana Torture Slaying:
Sylvia Likens' Ordeal and Death."
"This is a case that won't die," Bumppo said.
people with direct connections to the case have passed away. Pace's
mother died in 1990, and Likens' younger sister died in 2004.
Bowman Jr. - who represented John Baniszewski, Paula's brother, who was
convicted of manslaughter; and Coy Hubbard, a neighbor of the
Baniszewskis who also was convicted of manslaughter - said he never got
to know Paula Baniszewski. Her lawyer, George Rice, has died.
fact, Bowman said, ticking off the names of defendants, lawyers and the
judge, nearly all of those directly involved in the case have died.
"I think she (Paula) and I are the only survivors of that case," he said.
(Contributing: Diana Penner, The Indianapolis Star)
About the case
Lester and Betty Likens sent Sylvia Likens, 16, and her sister, Jenny,
15, to live with Gertrude Baniszewski and her seven children in 1965.
Baniszewski was paid $20 per week to care for the two girls.
Gertrude Baniszewski reportedly used a fraternity-style paddle and thick
leather belt on the girls. And when she suspected Sylvia of stealing,
she used matches to burn the girl's fingers.
• When Gertrude
Baniszewski felt too weak from her asthma to discipline the girls, Paula
Baniszewski, then 17, reportedly helped out.
• Before her death, Gertrude Baniszewski forced Sylvia to write a note saying a gang of boys had beaten her.
She died Oct. 26, 1965, and when police arrived at the home later that
day, they found the girl's body on a mattress, severely malnourished
and branded in one spot by a hot metal object, with the words "I am a
prostitute" etched on her stomach.
• The cause of death was
determined to be brain swelling, internal hemorrhaging of the brain and
shock induced by Sylvia's extensive skin damage.
In 1966, a jury found Gertrude Baniszewski guilty of first-degree
murder and Paula Baniszewski guilty of second-degree murder, and they
received life sentences. Paula's younger brother John and neighborhood
boys Richard Hobbs and Coy Hubbard were convicted of manslaughter.
• The Indiana Supreme Court granted Gertrude and Paula Baniszewski new trials in 1971 because of "prejudicial atmosphere."
Gertrude Baniszewski was convicted of first-degree murder, and Paula
Baniszewski pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
Paula Baniszewski then served about two years in prison.
Gertrude Baniszewski was released on parole in September 1985. She
changed her name to Nadine Van Fossan and moved to Iowa, where she lived
in obscurity until her death from lung cancer on June 16, 1990.
• Hobbs died of cancer at age 21, four years after being released from the reformatory.
• Hubbard has had several brushes with the law.
• Lester and Betty Likens eventually divorced. Betty Likens remarried and died in 1998 at age 71.
• Jenny Likens Wade died in 2004 at age 54.
Emily Schettler, Joel Aschbrenner and Josh Hafner, The Des Moines Register