Published October 23, 2012
DES MOINES, Iowa – An Iowa teacher's aide was fired Tuesday after school officials recently learned she was the member of an Indianapolis family who tortured and killed a girl in the basement of their home in 1965.
Paula Pace had worked for the BCLUW consolidated school district based in the central Iowa town of Conrad since 1998. She was a teacher's aide at the district's high school.
Superintendent Ben Petty said the school board fired Pace for providing false information on her application. Petty said he could not comment further about the case. The board made the decision after meeting in special session to discuss the matter.
The district was notified by Grundy County Sheriff Rick Penning, who said his office received an anonymous telephone call last Wednesday informing him that Pace was Paula Baniszewski, formerly of Indianapolis, who had been convicted of manslaughter for participating in the torture and murder of 16-year-old Sylvia Likens in 1965.
"They wanted to make us aware of it because of the crime that was involved and because she was in the school system," Penning said. "We turned it over to the school and we're kind of out of it because there's no criminal offense per se."
He said the caller indicated they had picked up on Pace's previous identity from a Facebook posting.
"Whether it was somebody on a vendetta or somebody just in the public interest started putting it on Facebook, people just started picking up on it," the sheriff said.
Penning said his officers investigated the case and found that Pace had completed her prison sentence and was released on parole.
The case has been referred to as one of the most notorious crimes in Indianapolis. The story has generated fiction and nonfiction books, a play and movies including the 2007 dramas "An American Crime" and "The Girl Next Door."
The case begins when Sylvia Likens and her sister, Jenny, were left by their parents with Gertrude Baniszewski and her seven children in the summer of 1965. In the following months, Sylvia was beaten, burned with cigarettes, branded with a hot needle, and suffered other abuse. Her malnourished body was found in the basement of the home Baniszewski rented on Oct. 26, 1965. The cause of death was brain swelling and internal bleeding of the brain.
A trial later revealed the torture came at the hands of Gertrude Baniszewski; her daughter Paula, who was 17 at the time; her son Johnny, then 13; and other neighbor children who would watch and at times participate.
In 1966, Gertrude Baniszewski was convicted of first-degree murder and Paula was found guilty of second-degree murder. Both were sentenced to life in prison in Indianapolis. Johnny Baniszewski and two other boys aged 16 and 15 were convicted of manslaughter. They were released on parole in 1968.
In 1971, the Indiana Supreme Court overturned the convictions of the two women, saying jurors had been prejudiced by publicity and that the trials should have been held separately.
The mother was convicted of first-degree murder again at a second trial. She was paroled in 1985, changed her name to Nadine Van Fossan and moved to Iowa. She died in 1990.
Paula Baniszewski, however, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter to avoid another trial.
The Indiana Department of Corrections records indicate she was sentenced in August 1971 to a sentence of two to 21 years. She escaped in 1971 but was recaptured. Her prison records show an escape charge was added in December 1971.
Baniszewski, who is now 64, was released from prison on Dec. 6, 1972, and discharged from parole in March 1974.
It is unclear when she moved to Iowa and when she changed her name to Paula Pace. She lives in Marshalltown, and telephone numbers listed in her name have been disconnected. She did not immediately respond to an email address listed for her.
She began working for the BCLUW school district in 1998, said the district's attorney, Mike Smith.
He said he could not discuss personnel issues and could only confirm she was employed by the district as a teacher's aide. It was not immediately clear if the district did a background check when she was hired.