Life for man unclaimed in morgue hadn't been easy, kin says
WELTON W. HARRIS II; STAFF WRITER
LEBANON, Ind. -- The four-inch obituary last week in The Lebanon Reporter did not reveal the tragedies of his 49-year life.
After the listing of survivors were two lines that jumped off the page for anyone familiar with one of the most bizarre murders in Indianapolis.
It mentioned a sister who preceded him in death -- Sylvia Likens.
Benny Ray Likens' sibling was 16 years old when her battered and abused body was found in the basement of an Indianapolis home in the summer of 1965.
The crime was so horrific it captured the attention of the nation.
By contrast, Benny Ray's death went virtually unnoticed. In fact, he died alone, and no one claimed his body for months.
Almost 35 years ago, Sylvia and her sister, Jennie, had been left in the care of a neighbor, Gertrude Baniszewski, by their mother, Betty Likens. She and her husband, Lester, worked for a food stand owner at county fairs and carnivals.
For no known reasons, Baniszewski directed and witnessed the torture of Sylvia by a group of cruel children, including some of her own. Jennie, who also was abused, survived and lives in Beech Grove.
Baniszewski and four of the teens were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. She was paroled in 1985 after 20 years in prison and died of lung cancer in 1990 in Iowa.
Benny Likens was 15 when his sister died.
When his decomposed body was found August 3, 1999, in an apartment on East Washington Street, authorities had no clues to any relatives.
An autopsy revealed he died of a heart attack.
His body was held in the Marion County morgue.
Marchele Hall, office supervisor for the coroner, said she placed an unclaimed-body notice in The Indianapolis Star on Aug. 6, 7 and 8, but there was no response.
"It's sad when you have to do this because you feel there is someone, someplace who knows something about these people," she said.
After waiting an appropriate period, Benny Likens was cremated at county expense for $350 and his remains kept by the Alpha Funeral Home on West 16th Street.
Lucille Allen, 69, of Lebanon, is his great aunt.
"Benny's father, Lester, is my uncle. Lester is my mother's brother," she said this week from her home.
She offered an insight about Benny Likens.
"When he came back from the service, he just kept to himself. He was diagnosed as schizophrenic. He didn't want to be around nobody."
She said Likens stayed in his apartment a lot, smoking five to six packages of cigarettes a day.
"His twin sister, Jennie, said he heard voices," Allen said.
His obituary said he had served in the U.S. Army and had been an employee of several restaurants as a kitchen worker and cook.
The account did not mention that his mother had died.
Benny never married.
Lucille Allen would not speculate whether the impact of his sister's death was a factor in Benny remaining single.
She knew he was being treated at the Veterans Hospital in Indianapolis.
"He took a cab to the hospital. He went there every so often to get his medicine," she said.
His food came from Meals on Wheels.
Allen said sometime last fall, Benny's father, living in Fontana, Calif., wrote his son a letter.
"His father was coming to get him into the Veterans Hospital or take him home with him to get him help," Allen said.
But, Lester Likens' letter to his son was returned, marked "Deceased."
Lucille Allen said that within two hours of receiving the return mail, Lester Likens learned what happened to his son.
On Oct. 27, the Marion County coroner's office took a call from Likens.
"He was upset because he was just finding out about his son," said Hall, the coroner's office manager, referring to notes in Benny Likens' file.
She said the father was referred to the funeral home.
Toney Edwards, owner of the Alpha Funeral Home, said, "He wanted to know if we had his son's cremains. We asked if he would like them and he said, 'No,' but his aunt (Lucille Allen) would."
Edwards said he received a letter from the father on Nov. 5 releasing Benny Likens' ashes to Allen and asking for three copies of the death certificate.
Within days, Lucille Allen said, she retrieved the remains and placed them with Myers Mortuary in Lebanon until she worked out details for placement.
Nine days ago, the son's ashes were interred in his father's plot in Oak Hill Cemetery in Lebanon.
Only Lucille Allen and a friend of hers were present. She said, "He's right beside my grave, where I'll be. Sylvia is right around the corner from me."
Originally published in 1999.
Lester Cecil Likens (1926 - 2013)
Elizabeth Frances Grimes Matheson (1927 - 1998)
Sylvia Marie Likens (1949 - 1965)*
Benny Ray Likens (1950 - 1999)
Jenny Fay Likens Wade (1950 - 2004)*
Oak Hill Cemetery
Plot: Section B, Lot 125
Created by: Princess Kim
Record added: Jan 18, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 46838975