CONRAD, Iowa -- The students who worked with Paula Pace knew a quiet,friendly educator who helped them with test questions and homeworkassignments.
They didn't know Paula Baniszewski, the woman whopleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the torture and death of a16-year-old girl 47 years ago in Indianapolis.
For at least 14years, Baniszewski has lived her life as Paula Pace, aBeaman-Conrad-Liscomb-Union-Whitten school district teacher's aide whoresided in Marshalltown, Iowa. The consolidated school district's boardunanimously voted Tuesday night to fire Pace, 64, for falsifyinginformation on her job application.
"She was a sweet lady (who)helped out any student she could that came into her classroom," saidThaddeus Lawler, 27, who was tutored by Pace while he was a student atBCLUW High School. "She'd changed a lot from her past. She was a totallydifferent person."
But that "different person" as a teenagerparticipated with her mother, family and neighborhood children insystematically torturing Sylvia Likens, 16, over a period of weeks in1965, eventually killing her.
The case came to light in Iowa onOct. 17, when the Grundy County sheriff's office received an anonymoustip that Pace was Paula Baniszewski. That tip was forwarded on to theschool 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.
Likens,16, and her 15-year-old sister, Jenny, were sent by their parents tolive with Gertrude Baniszewski and her seven children in summer 1965.Paula, then 17, was the oldest child at the house.
The Likensgirls were subjected to abuse at the hands of not only Gertrude, butalso her children and other children in the neighborhood. Theneighborhood children took turns practicing their judo skills on Sylvia,hurling her against the wall, kicking and beating her, andextinguishing cigarettes on her skin.
Toward the end of her life,Sylvia was locked in the cellar, fed crackers and forbidden from using arestroom. A movie based on Likens' death, "An American Crime," wasreleased in 2007.
A quiet life in Marshalltown
Neighborsand others who knew Pace expressed shock when they heard of her pastbut also said she shouldn't be working with children.
BalindaWallen, who has seven children in the school district here, was the onlyparent at Tuesday's board meeting. She said she has known Pace for morethan 30 years and considered her a friend. Wallen's nephews went toschool with Pace's two sons, and the two moms crossed paths often atschool 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.
Studentsliked Pace, who volunteered with the Special Olympics, Wallen said. Noone had reason to believe Pace was hiding such a big secret, she said.
Wallen,from nearby Liscomb, Iowa, said she wishes Pace a quiet retirement butsaid Pace shouldn't be working with children. Wallen wants the districtto conduct more thorough background checks, including fingerprintidentification, 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.
"Inever saw anything that would raise a red flag," Stolzman said. "I eventold my wife that, obviously, since I knew her growing up that Iwouldn't hesitate to send my kids to school with her being there."
Areporter knocked on the door of Pace's home Tuesday afternoon, but noone answered. A phone number listed for her has been disconnected, andshe was not at Tuesday night's school board meeting.
Pace's lightblue ranch-style home is in a working-class Marshalltown neighborhood.She lives a quiet life and mostly keeps to herself, one neighbor said.
KellyKrukow has lived two houses down from Pace for 16 years. She talked toher on rare occasions, like last year when a winter storm toppled a treein 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."
Krukowexpressed some remorse that Pace's past is being brought to light. Thecrime happened when Pace was a teen and it seems like Pace's mother wasthe 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
Paraeducatorsand teacher's aides in Iowa do not require the same state licensure asclassroom teachers, and individual districts are responsible forconducting background checks on those employees, said Duane Magee,executive director of the Board of Educational Examiners.
TheBCLUW school district policy requires applicants to disclose if theyhave been charged with a felony or any offense involving "moralturpitude," said Mike Smith, a lawyer for the district. That policywould have been in place when Pace was hired in 1998.
A backgroundcheck of prospective school district employees is conducted by the IowaDivision of Criminal Investigation, Smith said.
SuperintendentBen Petty declined to comment on the situation Tuesday and would not saywhat information Pace had falsified on her application.
Pace isnot undergoing any criminal investigation, and she has never had anyrun-ins with law enforcement in Grundy County, Sheriff Rick Penningsaid.
Pace is a registered Republican and has voted under hercurrent name in 15 elections since 1986, including filling out a ballotfor the upcoming Nov. 6 election, according to information provided bythe Iowa Secretary Of State's Office.
A governor must restorefelons right to vote in Iowa, but it's possible Pace never made herconviction known to voting officials.
Sarah Reisetter, director ofelections, said the office receives updates on convicted felons fromclerks of court across Iowa but not from out of state. No one had raisedquestions 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.
JohnDean, now known as Natty Bumppo, covered the killing for theIndianapolis 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.
Mostpeople with direct connections to the case have passed away. Pace'smother died in 1990, and Likens' younger sister died in 2004.
ForrestBowman Jr. - who represented John Baniszewski, Paula's brother, who wasconvicted of manslaughter; and Coy Hubbard, a neighbor of theBaniszewskis who also was convicted of manslaughter - said he never gotto know Paula Baniszewski. Her lawyer, George Rice, has died.
Infact, Bowman said, ticking off the names of defendants, lawyers and thejudge, 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 thickleather belt on the girls. And when she suspected Sylvia of stealing,she used matches to burn the girl's fingers.
• When GertrudeBaniszewski felt too weak from her asthma to discipline the girls, PaulaBaniszewski, 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 thatday, they found the girl's body on a mattress, severely malnourishedand branded in one spot by a hot metal object, with the words "I am aprostitute" etched on her stomach.
• The cause of death wasdetermined to be brain swelling, internal hemorrhaging of the brain andshock induced by Sylvia's extensive skin damage.
•In 1966, a jury found Gertrude Baniszewski guilty of first-degreemurder and Paula Baniszewski guilty of second-degree murder, and theyreceived life sentences. Paula's younger brother John and neighborhoodboys 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 PaulaBaniszewski 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. Shechanged her name to Nadine Van Fossan and moved to Iowa, where she livedin 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.