To Note: The following is an addendum to a previous introductory post I penned earlier this year. While I did not intend to do a “follow-up” posting on Sylvia, this past weekend marked the official 50th anniversary date since her tragic passing (October 26, 1965). Given the somewhat unusual nature of circumstances that took me back there, I felt it pertinent to share them.
Was it supernatural beckoning or a religious spiritual calling? No one seemed to have any definitive answer for me. A few who had made the pilgrimage, having (like myself) never known Sylvia Likens personally, differed in their opinions as to what had actually drawn them to be there. Some came from as far away as Tennessee, others much further. I drove from St. Louis. I made my first “Sylvia” sojourn in early February, lured in part by a string of bizarre circumstances that seemed almost too unusual to be believed. [see original post here]
The weather back in February was cold and frigid then, with residue of snow and ice still covering the ground in Indiana. My decision to return to Indiana for the anniversary evolved slowly. I kept reminding myself that the trip would be too costly, and therefore impossible. And besides, I had already been there. Though I had pretty much decided not to, I was still thinking about going when myself and a fellow co-worker happened to witness a shooting-star streak from out of the heavens one morning just before sunrise. It lit up the entire night sky around it. Not surprisingly, I happened to have Sylvia in my thoughts at the time.
“What do you think it means?” I asked. “It means the life of that star has now come to an end,” my co-worker friend answered back, facetiously. Then, only one day before Sylvia’s anniversary weekend was to begin, I was messing around with a pack of Ludy Lescot fortune-telling cards. Happenstance had ironically placed them in my possession recently. Skeptical, I decided to try them out. After shuffling the deck quite thoroughly, I selected five random cards. The first four seemed to make no sense at all. The fifth one, however, depicted a young horseman, implying that I could be “going on a trip” soon. Later that evening, I decided to repeat the previous, and pull five new cards. Astonishingly, the first four cards were the exact same ones that I had selected earlier that morning–and in the same identical sequence! The fifth card was a different one–yet more prophetic than ever! It was THE MOON card. The scene on the card shows a young girl in shadows, translucent and ghost-like, beneath a developing moon. The description for this particular card (in accordance with the manual that accompanies the deck) reads as follows: “Never stop believing in ghosts. Under the light of the moon, give them a face and let them go. Only in this way will they let go of you.” Glancing out the window, I suddenly realized that this was the weekend of October’s full moon. Was the spectral girl on the card suppose to represent Sylvia Likens? I didn’t know.
It did, however, give me the final boost I needed to get up and go. So early the next morning I headed back–to Indiana. The memorial event wasn’t scheduled until Sunday. In the meantime, I had all of Saturday to take pictures and visit locations in Indianapolis. Twenty minutes down the road from where the murder happened was the cemetery which housed the cremated remains of one of the main villains, Richard Hobbs. He had played a pivotal part in Sylvia’s prolonged torture. Weirdly, following her death, many of those involved (either directly or indirectly) began meeting untimely fates. Hobbs was the third to die. Fifteen at the time of the murder, he died at age of 21, in 1972. Hobbs’ mother was the first to die, only two weeks after Sylvia. The second to die had been the first-born child of Coy Hubbard–Hubbard having been one of Sylvia’s most brutal and vicious tormentors.
Unrepentant to the end, Coy Hubbard died at age 56 in 2007. But it was Richard Hobbs’ death that seemed most curious…he died only hours before what would have been Sylvia’s latest birthday. Locating Hobbs’ marker in the cemetery became a major challenge. As I continued my search, I noticed the clouds above me beginning to grow darker and darker. I checked and re-checked records in the main office. They kept assuring me that he was “out there.” Then success, I found it. The tiny bronze marker had been buried under years of old grass which had layered over it. As I pulled away the dead grass and washed the encrusted mud from the marker’s face, Hobbs’ name once again was now visible to all. But was I making a mistake in exposing it? I managed to snap off a couple of quick photos before the sky opened up on me, drenching me with “Heaven’s tears.” Looking back at the photos later, I found something odd–there was what looked to be a “white haze” hovering over the cluster of grave markers, with Hobbs’ being the only one in good focus. I crossed my fingers, hoping I had not “angered the spirit of Sylvia Likens” by visiting him.
I would travel two times throughout the darkness of night in order to take anniversary photographs of the former murder scene (the house itself was torn down in 2009). Already in an advanced state of decay at the time of Sylvia’s death, the two-story residence eventually became an all-out neighborhood eyesore. Some in the area believed they had even seen Sylvia’s ghost on occasion–peering out from the upper-floor bedroom where she had died. None of the beneficial purposes envisioned for future utilization of the building, however, were ever realized–giving rise to the belief that the property was now simply cursed. A murder-suicide on the front porch steps about 15 years after Sylvia’s attempted-but-failed escape off that very same porch hadn’t helped matters.
My intention was to try and capture the scene at night (as it was), hopefully with a bright moon above. The moon, however, had disappeared into the clouds before I could reach the location. When I did arrive, I found things ominously dark and eerily quiet. I also accidentally interrupted a drug deal going down and had to abort the area quite quickly. My second try came at 4:30 a.m. in the morning. A shooting had just occurred a block or two over from the vacant lot. Police were out in full force. The shooter was still on the loose in the area. I ignored common sense and stayed my course (I needed the photos).
I snapped off a few general preliminary photos first before finally training my camera towards a rather significant portion of the lot. It was there that I noticed something white and translucent, casually “dipping in and out” of a double-window in the old neighbor’s house (the window had originally faced the murder home’s kitchen area). Like “ghostly arms” blindly ferreting about for something they could not seem to locate, I continued to watch and snap pictures until whatever it was had dissipated. This was in very close proximity to the murder home’s former basement entry [see photo] where Sylvia’s final days were spent.
I would drive up to Sylvia’s hometown later that same day. The rains had come and gone by then. Their passing had left the outside temperature feeling a bit chilly. My drive down the Lebanon streets was nothing short of surreal. The scenery on this day, with its multi-colored falling autumn leaves, must have looked nearly identical to the way things were at the time…the day Sylvia was moved to her final resting place at Oakhill Cemetery. The belated Easter rabbit I had left at the grave in early September was still sitting there, untouched [see photo]. After paying my respects, I began to think it would probably be better to leave without attending the memorial. I was tired. St. Louis was a long drive back. But as I turned to leave, I felt the muscle in my upper right arm suddenly tighten and compress–as if some “unseen hand” had suddenly reached out and grabbed me.
I had injured my bicep about a year or so earlier, so I figured it was probably just a passing spasm. As I proceeded back through town towards the highway entrance, however, I couldn’t shake what happened back at the grave from my thoughts. Something seemed to be telling me to change my mind? Hesitant at first to do so, I eventually did–and was glad that I had. I arrived late to the memorial gathering. No one knew me–and I didn’t know any of them. I felt uncomfortable and out-of-place. Many were Likens family members. I didn’t wish to intrude on this solemn occasion. But necessity finally got the better of me. I was curious about the fate of Sylvia’s older sister Dianna. Dianna had nearly perished in the California desert a few months ago after she and her husband took a wrong turn and became lost and stranded in the wilderness for two weeks (her husband died). I finally got up my nerve to ask a relative inside the gathering room how Dianna was doing?
I was shocked by the response I received. “I’ll let you ask her yourself. She’s here.” Her trip back, it seems, was also a spur-of-the-moment decision. “I wasn’t planning to come at first, but then I got a feeling I should be here…for Sylvia,” she said. Dianna had boarded a last-minute flight in California and traveled all night to reach Indiana in time. She had not rested. She had not eaten. Had I left Lebanon early (as I most nearly had) then I would have deprived myself of the chance to meet her–and ask her all about what Sylvia had really been like. Who knows, perhaps even Sylvia herself had had a little bit of a “hand” in this day as well?