It is the morning of November 16th 1957. The tiny hamlet of Plainfield, Wisconsin has a population of just 680 people. It would be a slight overstatement to even call the place a town. The landscape around Plainfield is flat and lightly forested, cut only by farms that are situated miles apart. Further into Plainfield are the agrarian community’s most impressive structures: a smattering of three-story brick buildings constructed in the late 1800s, with a couple more added in the 1920s. The hamlet’s main street is composed of shops catering to the basic essentials of the surrounding farming community: various grocery stores selling fresh produce and canned goods, a candy shop, a hardware store, a barber shop, and a post office. More unusual items like fitted clothing, luxury furniture, or modern electronics have to be ordered by catalogue and shipped in. Ultimately, the hamlet is isolated and unremarkable. And it would have remained so if the day’s events had not come to pass.
An atmosphere of late autumn gloom had descended upon Plainfield. Three inches of snow covered the ground. The sky was gray, hazy, and depressing. There was a light mist and wet drizzle in the air, vaguely threatening a storm. Plainfield was almost deserted. Most of the men were gone. Today was the first day of deer season, the government mandated time of year where the deer population is culled by thousands of hunters across the state with free reign to stalk, kill, and butcher as many of the creatures as they can carry. The men have all eagerly marched off into the woods. In total, in the year of 1957, over 40,000 deer would be slaughtered.
At 8 am on the morning of November 16th, Ed Gein finished eating breakfast in the festering, stinking hellhole of his farmhouse. He was oblivious to the overpowering stench that would have caused a normal person to choke and gasp for air. Despite the inclement weather, Gein donned a summer jacket and plopped a deer hunting cap onto his balding head. Gein stood at 5-foot-7-inches or 170 cm, with a slight frame no more than 140 pounds or just a little over 60 kg. His large bulbous forehead, prominent cheekbones, and square jaw shaped like a window-sill, displayed his descent from the German settlers who populated the region in droves the century prior. Gein had slightly prominent and dopey looking ears, the tops of which bent outward. His face bore a hint of stubble, but he was otherwise clean shaven. Gein had a vague, distant, day-dreaming expression that was typically on his face, which led most of the people who knew him to think he was a bit mentally slow. His reputation around Plainfield was that of a shy, strange little man, who did odd jobs for his neighbours. Even babysat children. They thought he was fairly dependable and ultimately harmless. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Leaving the corpses and the vermin-infested filth of his house behind him, Gein climbed into his maroon 1949 Ford Sedan and drove into Plainfield. He stopped off at a gas station and filled a can with kerosene. He then drove to the east end of Plainfield and parked a fair distance away from Worden’s Hardware Store. He grabbed a glass jug and headed inside. Working the till was Bernice Worden, a tough-talking bespectacled woman of 58, who had an eye for business and a love of fishing. Usually, she would be assisted in the store by her son, Frank, who also acted as the local sheriff, but he was off hunting with the rest of the men. But Ed Gein already knew that, because he had asked Frank if he planned to go hunting when Frank had seen him skulking around Worden’s Hardware the day before. Bernice looked up to see Ed Gein enter her shop, and she groaned inwardly in annoyance. Bernice disliked Gein. They had known each other for 40 years. Bernice thought he was weird, creepy, and a bit of an idiot.
Only a few weeks earlier, Gein had bizarrely asked Bernice if she would like to, quote, “try out the floor” of the new roller-skating rink that had opened in Plainfield. Gein claimed he had asked her out as a joke. But this was not the first time he had done so. Gein had also asked her to go dancing and to a movie.
Gein approached the counter and asked to purchase some anti-freeze, which Bernice dutifully poured from a steel barrel into his glass jug. Bernice handed the jug back to him and wrote up a receipt. Gein thanked her and left. Moments later, Gein re-entered the store and asked Bernice to show him one of the Marlin .22 calibre rifles in the gun rack that lined the wall. Gein gently took the rifle from Bernice and examined it. Bernice meanwhile turned away from Gein to look out the window. She saw a new red Chevy truck belonging to her daughter’s husband and she commented haughtily that she did not approve of Chevrolet vehicles.
Gein stealthily withdrew a .22 calibre shell from his jacket pocket, placed it in the rifle, and shot Bernice Worden in the head. She dropped down and fell from Gein’s sight behind the counter. He peered over it and saw Bernice lying there dead. Gein locked the front door to the hardware store to delay people from noticing Bernice’s disappearance. Indeed most people that day would assume Bernice had gone hunting. Gein also removed the cash register in order to make people think it was a robbery gone wrong. Thereafter, Gein gripped the body, dragged it out of the back of the store, leaving a trail of blood, to the Worden Hardware delivery truck. He loaded the body on board, and drove away.
Forty minutes later, back at his farm, Gein hanged Bernice Worden’s body from a meat-hook in his barn.
On His Knees in the Snow
After disposing of the delivery truck, Gein retrieved his Ford Sedan from Plainfield and drove it back home. At 3 pm later that day, Elmo Ueeck [you-eek] paid Ed Gein a visit at his farm. Elmo found Gein out front bizarrely changing his winter tires to the normal summer ones. Brushing that aside, Elmo apologised to Ed for shooting a deer on Gein’s property that day. Ed did not approve of people hunting on his land. But Gein did not seem to mind and told Elmo to forget about it. Elmo tried to make chit-chat with Gein for a bit, but as usual with the strange, shy man, it went nowhere and after a while Elmo left.
Shortly thereafter Ed Gein entered his barn and decapitated Bernice Worden’s corpse. He proceeded to cut open the body from the top of the sternum, near the collar bone, down to the mons veneris, the soft flesh just above the pubic bone. Using circular incisions, Ed Gein then removed the body’s genitalia and rectum, which he later transported, along with the head, to his house. Gein drained the remaining blood from the body and washed the insides clean with water. He then returned the body to the meat-hook.
At 5 pm, Frank Worden had returned to Plainfield after a day’s hunting, when the owner of the local gas station informed him that Worden Hardware had been closed all day, with the door locked but the lights oddly left on, and there was no sign of his mother, Bernice. Frank headed over there to see what was going on. Indeed the door was locked. Quickly going home to get the spare key, Frank returned to the hardware store and stepped inside. What greeted him was blood. Lots of blood. A slug trail of it headed out the back door. Frank Worden called his fellow sheriffs, who were in Wautoma [wah-tome-ah] 15 miles away and told them what had happened. When they arrived, Frank Worden said, “He’s done something to her.” When the sheriffs asked whom Frank meant, the man snarled, “Eddie Gein.” Frank then produced the sales receipt that Bernice had written for anti-freeze that morning. The name registered on it was Ed Gein.
Meanwhile, teenager Bob Hill and his sister Darlene walked up the road to Ed Gein’s farm. Gein exited his house and met them outside, with his hands covered in blood. Bob explained that his car had broken down in their driveway and asked Ed for a lift into Plainfield so he could buy a new car battery. Ed said yes, and told Bob and Darlene to wait while he washed the blood off his hands. Gein explained he had been dressing a deer. Hardly unusual given it was the first day of deer season. What Bob Hill didn’t know is that Ed Gein was known by some of the older men in the community for never hunting deer.
Ed Gein drove the Hill siblings into Plainfield, where they picked up the battery. Thereafter, Gein helped Bob install it and get the car running at the Hill’s house, which sat next to their family-run grocery store. Because it was getting late, Bob’s mother, Irene, invited Gein to stay for dinner. Gein accepted and cheerfully munched down a meal of pork chops, potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and pickles, with coffee and cookies for dessert.
At 7 pm, Jim Vroman, Irene Hill’s son-in-law, burst through the door and said that Bernice Worden had gone missing and there was blood all over the hardware store. Ed Gein’s only comment was “Must have been somebody pretty cold-blooded.” Bob Hill, eager to head into Plainfield and join the lines of gawkers, asked Gein if he would drive him. Ed Gein, assuming he was not a suspect, agreed to do this.
As Gein said his goodbyes, Irene headed to the nearby family grocery store to relieve her husband and send him home for his dinner while she watched the store. Moments later, she was confronted by two state troopers. They said they were looking for Ed Gein. Irene replied that he was probably just about to pull out of her driveway, unless he’d already left. The two men headed around the house and found Ed Gein and Bob Hill still in the driveway, warming up the engine before taking off. The officers knocked on Gein’s window and asked him to follow them to a squad car where they had one or two questions.
Sitting in the car, with Gein in the backseat, the officer asked Gein about his movements that day. When
the officer pointed out a few contradictions in his story, Ed Gein blurted out, “Somebody framed me.” “Framed you for what?” the officer asked.
“Mrs. Worden. She’s dead ain’t she?” Gein replied. “How do you know she is dead?” the officer shot back. “I heard tell of it.” Gein answered vaguely.
At that point, nobody in the public knew that Bernice Worden was dead. And the police couldn’t be sure of it themselves, although a lot of blood was found at the scene. Ed Gein was promptly arrested for the robbery of the hardware store, and under suspicion for the kidnapping or murder of Bernice Worden.
At 8 pm, Sheriff Arthur Schley [shhlay] and Captain Schoephoerster [show-ep-horse-tur] arrived at Ed Gein’s farm in search of Bernice Worden. The farmhouse and its connecting barn were cloaked in total darkness. Armed with flashlights, the men tried all of the doors, which were locked, except the door to the barn. As they made their way inside, the men fumbled through the darkness in order to find a source of light or a way into the house. It was there in the darkness that Arthur Schley bumped into the hanging, decapitated, eviscerated, exsanguinated, and mutilated corpse of Bernice Worden. At first Schley could not believe his eyes, thinking he was staring at the carcass of some sort of animal. Then in total shock he ran out of the barn, sank to his knees in the snow and was violently sick. He was soon joined by Captain Schoephoerster, who began retching beside him.
Meet Ed Gein’s Mother
Augusta Wilhelmine [wilhelmina] Lehrke [lair-kah] was born on the 21st of July 1878. Her parents were German immigrants who had settled in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1870. Augusta was raised in a devout Lutheran household with rules that were strictly enforced by frequent and painful corporal punishments administered by her father, Friedrich. Far from alienating Augusta from her parents, this oppressive and abusive upbringing forged her in her father’s image. She was just as domineering, inflexible, humourless, austere, and fanatically religious as her father. If not more so. Augusta embodied the notion of the Protestant Work Ethic. Life should be hard work, filled with self-denial, hostility to all things sexual, and a rigid adherence to Old World values. Augusta seems to have possessed little self-doubt in her own beliefs and betrayed no fear or humility when dealing with people she despised.
And, by God, were there a lot of them!
As the United States rapidly industrialised in the late 19th century, once sleepy agrarian communities saw an influx of travelers, traders, new goods and technologies, and the arrival of new ideas. Augusta hated modernity with a passion. She saw it as the encroachment of immoral Satanic decadence, and a straying from the godly Christian path which had prevailed since time immemorial. Augusta saw this moral decay in pretty much everyone she met. Men she largely viewed as weak, self-indulgent, easily tempted buffoons. But she hated women even more. Augusta regarded women, with very few exceptions, as whores, temptresses, and unclean filth, the likes of which had tempted Adam to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, dooming humanity to a life of sin and suffering. Thus, Augusta practiced a toxic combination of profound misogyny and contemptuous misandry. And if anything about you did not meet her very narrow, doctrinaire view of what was acceptable behaviour, she’d be outraged and castigate you as a monster and a blight on the human race.
As she matured into a young woman, Augusta Lehrke did not have an abundance of suitors. Some men found her unsmiling attitude and sharp insulting tongue quite off-putting. More shy men were quickly intimidated by her force of character. The more sprightly and virile of men may have shown Augusta some attention, but she quickly rebuffed them in the most vicious manner possible, given her own revulsion toward sex. In terms of physical appearance, sure, her eyes were too widely spaced apart and she wasn’t Aphrodite made flesh, but she was solidly built, curvy, and buxom. Perfectly decent qualities for a 19th century wife. But what was exceedingly hideous was Augusta’s perennial bad attitude and how she treated people. Before Augusta was even 16 years old she had gained a reputation as a real battle-axe and did not particularly enthrall any of the young men in La Crosse County. Most did their best to avoid her, since it would put them at risk of her puritanical hectoring and blistering disapproval.
But in 1897, when Augusta was 19 years old, she met her future husband. George Gein was 24 years old and had recently arrived in La Crosse. He had been bouncing from job to job, working as an insurance salesman, a carpenter, a tanner, a power plant worker, and a lowly grunt on the railroads. His inability to find a bit of stability in life or to find a workplace where his efforts were appreciated led George to have an exceedingly low self-esteem. He repaired his broken spirit in the saloon with copious amounts of whiskey. You’d hardly think George Gein was the sort of man who would attract Augusta Lehrke. But George presented well. She liked that he was strong. She liked that he was quiet. She liked that he did as he was told. And, above all, she liked that he was a practicing Lutheran.
Meanwhile George had managed to mask his alcoholism during their courtship. For George’s part, he was attracted to Augusta’s personality, which he interpreted as her being a strong independent woman, rather than the meddlesome, angry, judgmental, and verbally abusive banshee that the young men of La Crosse County had dismissed her as. Augusta’s force of character, her decisiveness, her practical intelligence, and her large family espousing Old World Christian values also offered George the stability his life had so far been lacking.
George and Augusta were married on December 4th 1899. And then the other shoe dropped. It immediately became clear that George Gein was a drunk and couldn’t hold down a job. Augusta responded to this by becoming tyrannical and verbally abusive, treating her husband as worse than vermin. George in turn responded to this by diving deeper into the bottle. Occasionally, he’d come home drunk and beat Augusta when she started in on him. Augusta would start screaming that she wished he was dead. Such wishes also animated Augusta’s nightly prayers which she recited out loud, in front of her husband. When they were not engaged in full-blown domestic incidents, a heavy silence oppressed the Gein household, with the newlyweds refusing to say a civil word to each other.
When it came to Augusta’s Christian duty of procreation, she did not shy away from it, despite her seething hatred for her husband. But Augusta loathed sex and found the act disgusting. She did it purely to conceive a child. Any idea of having sex for pleasure was the language of whores. And it evidently did not often occur to her that sex could also be an expression of love. Not that she loved her husband anyway. After 3 years of marriage, and quite infrequent boughts of stale emotionless sex, Henry Gein, Ed’s older brother was dragged kicking and screaming into the world. Four years later, on August 27th 1906, Ed Gein himself was born. Augusta had hoped and prayed that her second child would be a girl, and felt embittered that she had given birth to another son. Now she was doomed to live in a household filled with dull- minded, lumbering, coarse, and carnally barbaric men. She had been deprived of the opportunity to have a daughter and to mold her in her own image, in defiant contrast to the airheaded, promiscuous, and hypocritical housewives and prostitutes she saw in La Crosse. Needless to say, after Ed Gein’s birth, any physical interaction between Augusta and George promptly ceased.
Lusting After Mummy Dearest
In 1909, George Gein set himself up with a small grocery store. Being self-employed had at least one benefit: you didn’t have a boss who could fire you for being a drunk. Nevertheless, Augusta quickly established dominance over the business. By 1911, Augusta was listed in the town’s registry as the store’s owner, with George merely being listed as a “clerk”.
Meanwhile, with their father being a lost cause, Augusta established a domestic tyranny over her sons. Her attentions in particular fell upon young Ed, for whom his mother cultivated a particularly nuanced system of abuse. Augusta would go out of her way to make Ed feel utterly worthless, while at the same time not rejecting him outright, making Ed even more dependent on her. For example, when Ed was seven years old, Augusta sent him to the bakery with some money to buy a loaf of bread. The young lad somehow lost the coins during his walk to the bakery. Ed burst into tears, terrified of what his mother might say. When he arrived home and told Augusta what had happened, she did not screech and hurl insults as she might have done to her husband. Instead, she looked at her son with contempt and disgust, and quietly said, “You dreadful child. Only a mother could love you.”
This ugly treatment was less flagrant than the violent maternal abuse of Andrei Chikatilo or Pedro Lopez. As such it bred a different species of monster. Ed didn’t hate his mother. He worshipped her. In Ed’s eyes, she was the pinnacle of virtue, an alpha female, a lady-boss who “didn’t take no guff”, who had no time for thoughts of sex or sentimentality. She worked tirelessly, spoke her mind, acted as a moral arbiter for all humanity, and shielded Ed from all the evils and corrupting ideas of the world.
By 1913, Augusta had decided she was fed up with the town of La Crosse and all its sinful manifestations of corruption. She wished for a more isolated life in the countryside. She moved the Gein family first to the farming community of Camp Douglas and then, in 1914, to the 155 acre farm near Plainfield, where Bernice Worden’s body was found hanging from a meat-hook 43 years later. In keeping with the pattern that had evolved during her marriage, the land deed to the farm was made out in Augusta’s name. The house itself Augusta kept immaculately clean. Cleanliness was next to godliness after all. Augusta also ensured it was well-furnished and decorated. Such was the museum-tier organisation of knick-knacks, throw-rugs, and furniture, that Augusta’s husband and two sons had to tip toe around the house, and were extremely hesitant to sit on the furniture lest Augusta shout at them for making it dirty.
As such, Augusta’s husband, George, tended to spend as much time as possible out of the house. By this time, George had lapsed into a perpetually sullen silence, no longer arguing back when subjected to one of Augusta’s frequent verbal harangues. His alcoholism had evolved from loud, violent outbursts of anger at his wife, to just being a chronic day-long affair of keeping himself comfortably numb. George rarely took his frustrations out on his kids, and it wasn’t long before they were old enough to fight back.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Augusta despised the people of Plainfield, and they returned the favour. Augusta spent the overwhelming majority of her time on the farm and the Gein family rarely entertained visitors. She also kept her two boys as isolated as possible, kept firmly under her wing. The only exception to this is when they had to attend school. Henry seemed to fare better at school than Ed, gradually making friends and contacts in Plainfield, which he kept secret from his mother. Ed, on the other hand, was a shy, awkward, brow-beaten boy, and did not make friends easily. He was occasionally subjected to bullying, but nothing in the extreme. When Ed did make a new friend, he’d excitedly come home and tell his mother all about it, and she’d immediately launch into a diatribe about how the friend’s family were a bunch of reprobates before forbidding Ed from associating with the other child. As a result, Ed deliberately avoided any association with his classmates, and buried himself in the world of books. He was noted at school for being quite an avid reader, although this did not mean he was highly intelligent. When he was later given an IQ test in the lunatic asylum, his scores were average. Still, books were preferable to his father’s form of escapism, namely, crippling amounts of alcohol.
When Ed Gein finished his education in 1922, at the age of 16, he immediately began working full time at the Gein family farm. His life became even more isolated, his only strong human connection being his ghastly, domineering mother. Not that Ed minded. He loved his mother to bits. But you can understand this wasn’t exactly ideal for his mental health. Madness was sprouting at the family farm.
As both Ed and Henry reached sexual maturity, Augusta began harping on the subject of the immorality of women. Quite frankly, Augusta did not think a single woman in Plainfield was pure or upright enough to consort with her boys, and she thought it would be better if both Henry and Ed remained celibate. Henry conducted the odd liaison with local women in secret. Ed stayed a virgin. But the idea of either son forming a deep, meaningful, and lasting relationship with another woman was out of the question. Both of them remained bachelors.
Augusta’s removal of any hope in Ed for any prospect of intimate or sexual contact, the soft comforting touch of a woman, along with her harsh disapproval of anything as innocent as masturbation, profoundly damaged Ed sexually and psychologically. He spent his days taking orders from his foul-tempered and emotionally abusive mother, he wasn’t allowed to connect with any women, and he wasn’t allowed to jerk off. Try doing that to any 16 year old boy, and see how that works out.
Naturally, Ed did retain his sexuality, he did fantasize, and he did masturbate. But it was extremely furtive and came along with a massive spoonful of self-hatred. Ed saw himself as a bestial male unable to control his base impulses. He seemed to take on board his mother’s sermons that most women were soiled, evil, and repugnant figures. Not to be flippant, but as far as Ed was concerned, woman’s vaginas might as well have come with sharp fangs. As such Ed’s attraction seemed to grow toward his own mother and women who resembled his mother. Textbook Oedipal stuff. And given that women like Augusta were in short supply, there is no question where Ed’s desires were directed. Some have speculated that Ed and Augusta even developed an incestuous relationship, but given Augusta’s attitude toward sex, this seems unlikely. What was clear is that Ed not only wanted to have sex with his mother, he admired her so much, and despised himself and his masculinity so greatly, that he wanted to be her.
Decades passed with little changing on the Gein family farm. Even the Great Depression and the tumultuous world events of the 1930s and 40s seemed to make little dent in their existence. Both boys skirted conscription into the army and the Second World War. Never mind Hitler, the Gein boys were enslaved to another, more local, tyrant.
In 1940, at the age of 66, drunken, sickly, physically incapable, and spiritually broken, George Gein died, having lived a miserable existence of his own making. Or at least partially – through his alcoholism and choice of wife. Henry Gein was 38 years old, and Ed was 34. George’s death came as a relief to his family. He was utter deadweight and did nothing to help on the farm. Ed Gein meanwhile took on a job as a local handyman to supplement the farm’s income. He began to gain a reputation in the community as a decent sort of fellow, if a bit quiet and strange, and he was generally tolerated and even liked by his neighbours. Unlike his acid-tongued hag of a mother, who was universally hated in Plainfield.
In addition to being a handyman, Ed was regularly conscripted to babysit. It turned out Ed was very good with kids. He’d play silly games, tell them stories derived from the books and magazines he’d read, and he’d buy them ice cream and candy. And before you say it, no, there is no report of pedophilia or child abuse having ever occurred. It so happened that Ed was good with kids because he was comfortable with them. They were innocent, unlike the adults his mother had taught him to fear, and they were naïve and sheltered just like he was.
Ed’s knack for dealing with children would have been heart-warming and admirable if it weren’t a
symptom of the fact that, as a man, his mother had left him deeply and irrevocably broken.
Cain and Abel
Henry Gein pushed back where Ed did not. In 1944, at the age of 42, Henry was still on the Gein family farm. He was a hard worker. A man’s man. He socialised and had healthy adult relationships. Henry Gein also developed a deep and passionate bond with a divorced woman in Plainfield, which scandalised his mother, who forbade Henry from seeing her. Nevertheless, it seemed likely that soon Henry would finally leave the farm and pursue his happiness elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Henry was deeply critical of Ed’s close and fawning relationship with Augusta, which he told his brother was unnerving, perverted, and unnatural. Henry also was increasingly critical of Augusta herself, whom he denounced as the abusive, intolerant, and fanatical harridan that she, in fact, was. These insults enraged Ed Gein beyond all human reason and comprehension.
On May 16th 1944, Ed Gein suggested to his brother, Henry, that they burn out some dead grass next to some marshland on the Gein property, in order to provoke some fresh vegetation to grow there. A fierce wind caused Ed’s plan to go haywire. The fire quickly got out of control, and threatened to consume a large part of the fields, and even head toward the Gein household. Ed and Henry spent a considerable amount of time fighting back the flames. By the time the fire subsided, Henry Gein was no longer there. Ed Gein went to Plainfield to round up a search party. They found Henry Gein lying on a patch of burnt ground, dead. The coroner later declared the cause of death to be asphyxiation from the smoke.
What was strange about the incident was Henry was lying on burnt ground, yet there was no evidence that fire damaged either Henry’s body or clothing, as if he had been moved to that place post-mortem. Furthermore, Henry had sustained severe blunt force trauma to his head, which the coroner speculated (without evidence) was caused by a rock when Henry collapsed to the ground. Finally, despite Ed’s claims he could not find his brother earlier, when the search party arrived, Ed led the crowd directly to where his brother Henry lay. Despite all these suspicious circumstances, Plainfield law enforcement, used to handing out parking tickets and bouncing the local drunks, thought it too sensational and unthinkable that harmless Ed Gein would have murdered his much more masculine brother.
In retrospect, however, it seems quite clear that Ed Gein bashed his brother over the head, killing him. The fire was then deliberately set as a bit of theatre to explain Henry’s demise. Very few experts today disagree with that assessment. However, what remains a mystery is whether Augusta Gein was aware of Ed Gein’s actions, whether she approved of them, or whether Augusta had given the order herself. In later years, Ed Gein would show himself perfectly capable of murdering of his own volition. On the other hand, Henry’s relationship with his mother and brother had grown increasingly strained in 1944, and it seems abundantly clear that if Augusta Gein had told her son Ed to do something, he would do it. Conversely, would Ed Gein have dared to murder his brother if it ran the risk of upsetting his mother? Not bloody likely.
Sic Semper Tyrannis
In the summer of 1944, Augusta Gein suddenly began complaining of headaches and started vomiting. For the first time in her life, she also experienced difficulty speaking. And she claimed that she could not feel her left arm or left leg. Her condition worsened to the point that she lay in bed, unable to move. Ed Gein drove her to hospital, where the doctors told him that Augusta had suffered a stroke. She had just turned 66 years old. Ed was devastated by the news and burst into tears. He spent all his time sitting next to her in hospital while she recovered.
When Augusta’s condition was stable enough for her to be discharged, Ed picked her up as tenderly as he would a baby bird, carried her to his truck, and brought her back to the farm. Augusta was still weak and movement was extremely difficult. Ed carried Augusta to her bedroom and laid her down on her bed. For weeks, Ed looked after Augusta’s every need, only departing from her beside when she instructed him what chores needed to be done on the farm. At night, he read to her from the Bible.
A year went by. Then in the summer of 1945, Augusta was finally capable of walking again. When Ed tried to assist her, she shoved him off. During the succeeding months, Augusta recuperated and, aside from significant weight loss, seemed back to her normal self. Ed was exceedingly relieved. Without the slightest fear of overstatement, Augusta was the centre of his entire universe.
Indeed, it appeared that Augusta was up to her old tricks. In December 1945, Ed went to the nearby Smith livestock farm to buy some straw for winter fodder. Augusta demanded she go with her son in order to oversee the transaction, because she thought that Ed was generally too stupid to handle it himself. Ed carefully helped Augusta into the passenger seat of his truck, and they drove off. When they pulled up the driveway, they saw a furious Mr. Smith beating a puppy to death with a stick. On the porch, dressed only in her pajamas, screaming at him to stop, was Smith’s lover, a woman who lived with the livestock farmer, but was not married to him. When the puppy was dead, Mr. Smith threw the stick to the ground, and his lover ran up to him and pushed him out of the way, before kneeling over the puppy’s body, weeping loudly in grief. She turned and rattled off a number of bitter insults at Smith for such a brutal act.
Augusta was scandalised by what she had witnessed. She later told her son as much. The idea, the veryidea, that a man like Mr. Smith would let a woman talk to him that way was unthinkable! He must be a very weak man indeed. Augusta said she’d always thought so. And what a debaucherous fool to live with a woman in sin, the disgusting pervert! As for the woman, whom Augusta only ever referred to as, quote, “Smith’s harlot”, how dare she make such a public spectacle of herself. Isn’t it bad enough that she’d disgraced herself as a wanton whore in front of the whole community by living with Smith? But she had to go on, ranting and raving in public, in front of witnesses, wailing and moaning like a demented goat, while in a state of undress! What sewer had Smith fished her out of?
As for the puppy, Augusta couldn’t give a sh*t.
A week later, Augusta suffered another stroke. Ed rushed her to hospital, where she died, aged 67, on December 29th 1945. Several of Augusta’s brothers and sisters travelled from La Crosse for her funeral. Ed was there, barely able to hold himself together, and, according to a member of the Lehrke family, he cried continuously the entire time, with tears and mucus running freely down his face. At times he had trouble standing. Nobody, and I mean literally nobody, from Plainfield attended Augusta’s funeral.
In the Mouth of Madness
After his mother’s death, Ed Gein stopped shaving regularly and stopped bathing. Around Plainfield he became recognisable for his perpetual stubble (not as fashionable a choice as it is today) and the overpowering smell of his body odour. Ed sold off all of his livestock. He stopped tending to his fields, which the forest began to reclaim. The front yard sported 2 foot high grass, riddled with weeds. Farm equipment was left where it lay, rusting for years, unused since December 1945. Ed Gein supported himself by renting out a few of his acres to neighbouring farms and working as a handyman. Aside from food and purchasing a new car, Ed’s expenses were virtually non-existent.
In general, Gein had a reputation for being a hard worker and thoroughly dependable. He was still conscripted to look after the local kids. The men of Plainfield thought Gein was faintly ridiculous and timid, and occasionally subjected him to a prank or made him the butt end of a joke, but they were not terribly abusive. For the most part they just respected him as a man who could be hired to do a job well.
The women of Plainfield, in contrast, felt sorry for him. By and large, he was quiet, gentle, and unusually courteous toward them. Even more so than their sons and husbands. Ed carried with him a sort of loneliness and sadness, which in another context would have made him terribly attractive. This did not translate into any romantic interest from women, he was too odd and timid for that, but the women of Plainfield frequently took over their fresh baking, leftovers, and invited Ed Gein round for dinner. During the meal, he would not sit until everyone else was seated, would listen attentively while the women talked, and after dinner would help the women take care of the dishes. Behaviour that was highly unusual for a man in Wisconsin in the 1940s and 1950s.
When he wasn’t working odd-jobs, or playing the wounded sparrow for the local women, Gein spent his time either shut up in his farmhouse, doing God knows what, or purchasing pulp crime thrillers, pop historical literature, and adventure magazines. Gein also regularly attended a local bar, where he would drink a beer or two. Something unthinkable during his puritanical mother’s lifetime.
Nevertheless, Ed Gein missed his mother to a soul-crushing degree. Without her, his life was rudderless. His mind and body were decaying from the loss. And he would do anything, anything, to replace her.
During the course of his history reading, Gein had recently become enamoured with accounts of Nazi war atrocities. In particular, Gein was fascinated with two female figures: Irma Grese “The Hyena of Auschwitz” and Ilse Koch “The Bitch of Buchenwald”, both women who committed acts of extreme sadism on thousands as they participated enthusiastically in the Holocaust. Between the ages of 19 and 22, Irma Grese, reputedly quite the stone-faced beauty, served as a concentration camp guard and selected women and children for the gas chamber. She was executed in December 1945. Ilse Koch was the wife of the Buchenwald camp commandant, and she committed numerous acts of torture and murder, and harvested human skin for lampshades, furniture, and book bindings. Koch committed suicide in prison in 1967. Why Ed read so much about these women and whether Ed felt they bore any resemblance to Augusta Wilhelmine Gein is a matter of speculation.
On May 1st 1947, in Jefferson, Wisconsin, 8 year old Georgia Weckler disappeared after being dropped off after school, half a mile from her family’s farmhouse. Two weeks of frantic searching involving hundreds of people in the local community turned up nothing. On the day of her disappearance, a Ford Sedan, similar to the make and model Ed Gein drove, was witnessed speeding away from the scene.
On the afternoon of November 1st 1952, deer hunters Victor Travis and Ray Burgess stopped off in Plainfield to drink at a local bar. They got drunk and left at 7 pm. Neither Travis and Burgess, nor the car they drove out of Plainfield, were ever found. The same bar was sometimes frequented by Ed Gein.
On October 24th 1953, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, 15 year old Evelyn Hartley was babysitting 20 month old infant Janis Rasmussen. She was last seen departing for the Rasmussen home at 6.30 in the evening. Evelyn’s father became worried when she did not call to check-in during the evening. He went to the Rasmussen’s and knocked on the door. Nobody answered. Looking through the window, Hartley saw his daughter’s glasses and one of her shoes in the middle of the living room floor. There were also signs of a struggle. Hartley spotted an open basement window with footprints and blood leading from it. Hartley found his daughter’s second shoe in the basement. The next door neighbours claimed they heard a girl’s scream at around 7:15 pm. Police determined that just down the road, the girl was bundled into a car. Scraps of her bloodstained clothing and a bloodstained pair of men’s trousers were found further down the highway, hurled from the window of a vehicle, heading east in the direction of Plainfield.
On the afternoon of December 8th 1954, in a Plainfield bar, a regular customer entered to find that the proprietor, Mary Hogan, was not there. The customer was alarmed by a large pool of blood on the floor. Hogan was a two hundred pound woman who spoke with a German accent, 51 years old, who swore like a sailor, was twice divorced, and allegedly used to run a brothel in Chicago. Ed Gein was often spotted at Hogan’s bar, staring at the woman. Some of Plainfield’s residents even joked Gein had a crush on her. While completely different in character, the physical resemblance of Mary Hogan to Augusta Gein was unmistakable. Local sheriffs found a bullet casing next to the pool of blood, and noted a blood trail leading out of the bar into the parking lot where the woman was loaded into a vehicle.
Shortly after Mary Hogan’s disappearance, Elmo Ueek joked with Ed Gein, quote, “If you had spent more time courting Mary, she’d be cooking for you instead of missing.”
Gein replied, with a sloppy boyish grin, “She’s not missing. She’s down at the house now.” Gein would repeat this bizarre joke several more times whenever the disappearance of Mary Hogan came up in conversation.
Between the years 1947 and 1954, Ed Gein went to the local graveyard no less than 40 times, and performed at least 9 exhumations of recent burials, though he likely did more. On one of those nights, Gein dug up a grave, opened the casket, and harvested the body parts he desired. He then resealed the lid and reinterred the casket, patting down the soil with a shovel. He left the graves exactly as he found them or, as Gein would later describe it, “in apple pie order.”
After 1954, the grave robbing ceased. For the next three years, at night, if one went to Ed Gein’s farm just a few miles outside of Plainfield, one would be confronted with a startling sight. A man, dressed in a skin suit composed of human body parts, dancing in the yard. The suit resembled an old woman, with tanned and stitched together flesh, complete with breasts and female genitalia. The grotesque figure was naked. A wig of long, dry, wirey, and untamed gray hair, still attached to a leather-cured scalp, jutted out from the top of the figure’s head. And peering out from beneath a mask of skin ripped from the skull of a corpse were the eyes of a deranged killer.
TheCorpse-Eater’sDen [Major content warning]
We return to the night of November 16th 1957. Once Deputy Sheriff Schley [shhlay] and Captain Schoephoerster [show-ep-horse-tur] had finished retching and vomiting outside of Ed Gein’s barn, the police captain went to his squad car and radioed the other officers that Bernice Worden’s body had been found. They sat on the hood of the captain’s squad car for a moment, collecting themselves. Both men lit up cigarettes and smoked in silence. Then the two men headed back into the barn.
What remained of Bernice Worden’s body hung from her ankles. She had been butchered like wild game and left in the coldness of the barn to be preserved like a slab of meat in an industrial sized freezer. The head and other certain body parts were gone, and her insides had been scraped clean and washed. What the officers did not know at the time was Ed Gein had done this in order to convert the body into another skin suit. It would be worn as if it were a onesie. A team of sheriffs, state troopers, and forensic analysts arrived at the scene. All of them were shocked. None of them, in all their experience, had seen anything like this. But they should have girded their loins as they moved into the main farmhouse.
The majority of the Gein household, including all of the upstairs and the majority of the ground floor, was boarded off. Ed had preserved those parts of the household to remain as they were when his mother died 12 years earlier in 1945. The scrupulous placement of furniture and knick-knacks remained.
Only layers of dust and the odd rodent skittering across the floor gave any indication that a large amount of time had elapsed since Augusta Gein had last graced those once immaculate rooms. It soon became clear that Ed Gein inhabited only two parts of the house. The kitchen and his bedroom. There the conditions were an entirely different story.
The first thing that struck the officers, led by Captain Schoephoerster [show-ep-horse-tur], was the stench. An overpowering mixture of festering garbage, feces, and rotting flesh. A dozen members of the team had to periodically dash out of the house to be sick that night. Deputy Sheriff Arthur Schley was absolutely traumatised by the experience. Standing in the middle of the kitchen, one could detect a herd of rats scurrying along the counter tops and around the corners of the room. It was not easy to see them by torchlight, especially because the kitchen was claustrophobic with mounds of trash and hoarded junk. The window to the kitchen was so covered with grime that barely any of the light from the policemen’s lamps outside managed to shine through it.
A tremendous collection of empty cans of pork-and-beans, Ed’s regular meal, had accumulated on the counter-tops and the floor. Ed had evidently heated them up and ate them right out of the can. On the kitchen shelf was a coffee tin filled with hundreds of used pieces of gum, which Gein had been saving for some reason. Also on the shelf were three old radios, although the house had no electricity, a placard that said “In case of fire, call 505”, although the house had no telephone, a gas mask, a bunch of empty pill bottles belonging to Augusta, a container filled with cheap plastic toys found in children’s breakfast cereals and boxes of Cracker Jack, a rubber ball, a small basin filled with sand, two sets of dentures Gein had liberated from the graveyard, and three bowls made from women’s skulls. Ed had sawed off the tops of the skulls, right at the temple, just above the eye sockets, to make the bowls hold as much volume as possible. He had then sanded down the rims of the bowls to make them smooth. Another one of the bowls was on the kitchen table, from which Ed had recently eaten soup.
The floor of the kitchen was festooned with scraps of rotting food and absolutely coated with rat sh*t. The officers picked their way through a hoarder’s obstacle-course of boxes filled with old magazines, a sack of plaster, several piles of ash, stacks of calendars 10 years out of date, and tubs filled with broken crockery, rope, and clothing that belonged to Ed and Henry when they were both children. At the kitchen table were three chairs. Seat padding had replaced the old wicker weaving, and the padding was upholstered by human skin which had been tanned into leather. The undersides of the cushions were studded with white globs of human fat that had dripped and congealed during the crude leather-making process. Decorating the walls of the kitchen was a horseshoe hanging from a nail, a pair of deer antlers, and a Christmas wreath that had long since died, become brittle, and covered with cobwebs.
In a pile beside the kitchen door was a robe made of horsehide. Deputy Arnie Fritz gave it a kick and a cursory glance and noticed it was covering a small paper bag. Pointing his flashlight inside the bag, he saw a lump of hair and desiccated skin. In a daze, Arnie Fritz reached into the bag, pulled out the object and held it up so it unfurled in the torchlight. “By god,” one of the other officers said, “That’s Mary Hogan.” Indeed, it was the face of the sassy, tough-talking bar-owner who had disappeared back in 1954. Her face had been preserved and transformed into a grisly, ghoulish mask for Ed Gein to wear.
Among the endless piles of junk and trash piled in the kitchen, police found a lampshade that was made from the skin of a human face. Taking direct inspiration from Ilse Koch “the Bitch of Buchenwald”, the skin had been cured and stretched out using thin metal wire to make a conical shape. Closed eyelids, a flattened nose, and sealed lips could still be made out on its front side. Also among the maze of boxes and metal tubs, police discovered that Gein had used scraps of human skin to make leather bracelets, a holster for a large hunting knife, a wastepaper basket scaffolded by wire, and a small drum made from skin pulled so tightly across a wooden base that it made a reverberating, thumping noise.
Moving into Ed Gein’s bedroom, one was confronted by a bare, moldy, yellow-stained mattress, and a clot of threadbare sheets lumped at the end of it. Next to the mattress was a stove which kept Gein warm and which he used to cook various midnight snacks. Debris at the scene indicated that some of those snacks were charred human organs that Gein had eviscerated from dead bodies during his quest to make more female costumes. Over Gein’s bed was a clothesline from which hung a series of soiled handkerchiefs. On a crate next to the bed was another bowl made from a skull which Gein appeared to have used as a pisspot. Next to that was a pile of several dozen books. Across the bed was a rocking chair upholstered with human skin.
On the floor, one could find more food tins, empty juice and milk cartons, more rotten bits of meat and carrion, more rats, more rat sh*t. As one moved across the room and inevitably disturbed this carpet of filth, nudging a rotten lump with one’s foot or kicking up a cloud of green mold, occasionally an officer set off a blast of stench that temporarily stunned the men with its noxious strength, while still others had to rapidly make an exit. Along the wall was a broken accordion, a violin without strings, two rifles, a .22 calibre pistol, a German Mauser, and a shotgun. Unlike the rest of Gein’s possessions the firearms were all cleaned, oiled, and well maintained. The bedposts flanking Ed Gein’s mattress were decorated with complete human skulls, fixed there with a couple knots of twine and a nail hammered through the back of the skull where the occipital lobe of the brain would have been.
In addition to a pile of Gein’s unwashed everyday clothing, police found several other personal effects. They found a belt with an ornate brass buckle, the strap of which was constructed from fifteen leather- pressed female nipples, stitched together by the edges of their areolas. Gein had also crafted a small handle that he would have used to pull down a set of blinds, which he had decorated with a pair of human lips.
Near midnight, a motorised generator arrived, and Gein’s house was lined with floodlights so the officers no longer had to walk through the gruesome scene using only torchlight. The chamber of horrors was lit up like a Christmas tree, which allowed crime scene investigators to make a more thorough and methodical “excavation” of the two rooms. Lab analyst Allan Willimovsky [will-im-ov-ski] found an old shoebox containing the external genitalia of nine women, dried and preserved with salt, some of which were still attached by a flap of skin to the rectum. Two of such remains were determined to have belonged to young girls who had just hit puberty, convincing many analysts that the disappearance of 15 year old Evelyn Hartley had indeed been Ed Gein’s work. Another shoebox contained four women’s noses. A Quaker Oats cereal box contained scraps of skin from women’s heads. Police also found several pairs of leggings, made from the skin of women’s legs, and a corset fashioned from the skin of a woman’s upper torso, complete with breasts, that could be tightened around the wearer with a crudely fashioned network of strings. Gein also had nine masks of women’s faces, some of them dried out and mummified, some of them preserved with oil and painted with make-up. Four of them hung on the walls of Ed’s bedroom.
Back in the kitchen, police finally found the rest of Bernice Worden’s remains. Her heart was in a plastic bag next to the kitchen stove, her remaining internal organs were wrapped in newspaper and cloth, and her skull was found in a burlap sack. The victim’s head had small nails behind each ear attached to string so that Gein could later mount the head on the wall as a trophy. The skull of the bartender, Mary Hogan, stripped of its face, was found in a box not far away. Lastly, police found a container filled with women’s fingernails which Gein would use as “press-ons” when in costume.
The excavation of Gein’s house took until 5 in the morning on November 17th 1957. This is why some sources list the date of Bernice Worden’s murder and Gein’s arrest on the 17th, rather than the 16th, or else imply police waited an entire day after arresting Gein before searching his house. In truth, the whole horrific affair unfolded in just 21 hours.
Ed Gein claimed to have performed only 9 exhumations between 1947 and 1954, and only two murders have been definitively linked to him: that of Mary Hogan and Bernice Worden. But the number of human body parts found at the scene strongly imply that Gein had committed far more grave-robberies and/or was responsible for a larger number of murders. Unfortunately, because of the ethics of the time, the grisly evidence was photographed and then quickly disposed of, preventing further forensic investigation in later years. Nevertheless, it seems clear that Gein could have murdered 6-8 victims (including the likely murder of his brother Henry) and raided as many as two dozen graves.
As reporters and onlookers gathered in front of Gein’s house in the early hours of the 17th, they were told only that Bernice Worden’s body had been found and nothing more. Yet from the number of men at the scene, the tireless hours they worked, and indeed the number of them who became physically ill over the duration of the night, it was clear to reporters and onlookers that something more had occurred. At one point in the night a clearly shaken Deputy Sheriff Arthur Schley simply said to reporters, quote, “It is just too horrible. Horrible beyond belief.” And he refused to say another word.
Trial and Death
During the night of the 16th and 17th, Ed Gein spent his time in a jail cell in the Wautoma courthouse, still not having confessed to any of his crimes. At 2.30 am Sheriff Schley burst into his cell and slammed Gein up against the wall, smashing his face into the bricks, demanding to know what the man had done. Schley had to be pulled off Gein with some difficulty by three other men. Still Gein would not confess to a single thing. The next day police formally interrogated Gein for 12 hours, and Gein did not have a lawyer present nor was he informed that he had a right to one. Nevertheless, Gein refused to admit to any wrongdoing. Another 24 hours would pass before Ed Gein finally admitted to the murder of Bernice Worden, claiming he did not remember anything because he had “blacked out” at the time of the murder. Gein denied murdering anyone else and claimed that the other female body parts came entirely from grave-robbing. At the very least, in regard to Mary Hogan, we now know this was a lie.
Later that day, Gein was driven out to his farm so he could indicate where he had disposed of Bernice Worden’s remaining blood after collecting it with a bucket. A gaggle of journalists followed Gein and snapped a few photos. In one of the photographs, now famous, his usual day-dreaming expression was replaced with a sinister and ghoulish grin.
Two days later, Gein was transported to Madison, Wisconsin, where he was interrogated for nine more hours.
During this interrogation, Gein gave details of his grave robberies, his fashioning costumes out of human remains, and vaguely alluded to dressing up as a woman. He was much cagier about admitting to any murders. He had already admitted to murdering Bernice Worden in a daze, and confronted with the evidence of Mary Hogan’s face and skull, Gein finally admitted to her murder as well. However, he insisted he had no memory of Mary Hogan’s murder either and claimed that he was admitting to the crime because that is what interrogators wanted him to do. Ed Gein’s reluctance to bear full responsibility for the murders, and focus on the grave-robbing, led some police to suspect Gein was not as crazy as he seemed. That is to say, he had the mental competence to recognise that grave-robbing and desecration of multiple corpses, although revolting in nature, was less severe a criminal offense than admitting to additional murders.
The Plainfield gravekeeper and a local mortician were both of the opinion that it seemed unlikely that Gein was a grave-robber. The gravekeeper claimed that he had kept a close eye on the graves during the period in question due to some vandals causing a large amount of damage to some headstones in 1947. He said that the graves showed no sign of disturbance between 1947 and 1954. A local mortician said while it is possible that Gein could have forced open a casket, harvested human remains, and then replaced everything over the course of one night, that some of the times during which Gein claimed to have gone graverobbing were in the middle of winter and the ground would have been frozen too hard to carry out an exhumation. Naturally, if Gein hadn’t collected the body parts from graves, that opened the question of whom else Gein would have murdered during that period. That question was never fully resolved. Meanwhile, police exhumed numerous caskets in the Plainfield graveyard and found that, indeed, at least two graves had been disturbed and the bodies mutilated. Police refused to dig up any more, to avoid causing grief to the families concerned, because, as far as the police were concerned, the existence of even a couple disturbed graves was enough to verify Gein’s story. Today, most people accept the grave-robbing story, while allowing that Gein may have murdered more than two victims.
On November 21st, Gein was arraigned on just one count of murder, that of Bernice Worden, for which he pled not guilty by reason of insanity. A month later, after psychologists gave Gein a diagnosis of schizophrenia, he was declared not competent enough to stand trial and packed off to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. During his psychological examination, Gein laid blame on the 1945 incident where his mother witnessed Smith beating a puppy to death, which Gein claimed caused his mother’s second stroke, which killed her. The Madison Capital Times ran with the headline, “Gein Diagnoses Own Case: Blames Dog.”
The next several weeks were predictably one of media frenzy, during which a local Plainfield woman falsely claimed that she had carried on a 20 year affair with Gein, and during which police made contradictory statements to the press about whether or not Gein had robbed a single grave to collect the body parts. Press attention became all the more intense and stupefied when it came out that Gein had been harvesting body parts to dress up as his deceased mother, with whom he had developed an unnatural obsession. When journalists asked police whether Gein had tried to exhume the body of his mother, police stated that Gein had denied doing such a thing, and, at any rate, Augusta Gein’s casket was covered with a concrete slab, which would have made exhumation that much more difficult.
During his interviews with psychologists, Gein confirmed that his mother’s death had taken a mental toll on him, and affirmed that he shared his mother’s opinion that most women were unclean temptresses who should be avoided at all costs.
Gein claimed that he regularly heard his mother’s voice in his head after her death, started smelling rotting flesh everywhere he went, and started seeing people’s faces in leaves upon the ground. Gein had killed and grave-robbed in order to fashion several costumes with which he could replace or even become his mother. At the same time, Gein brutalised women’s bodies because he believed his mother’s teaching that most women were sinful creatures. This dehumanised his victims to the extent he could commit such appalling acts of murder and mutilation.
Ed Gein’s farm and possessions (obviously not counting those admitted as police evidence) were scheduled for auction on March 30th 1958. Ten days before the auction, on March 20th, the house and all of its contents was burned to the ground. Suspicions were that the fire had been deliberately set, either by angry townsfolk or traumatised police officers, in order to prevent the place from becoming a shrine to a monster. An exact cause of the fire was never determined. Ed Gein’s 1949 maroon Ford Sedan was purchased by a carnival ring-master, Bunny Gibbons, who charged people 25 cents in order to see it. Numerous special interest groups demanded that this sideshow be stopped and when a local sheriff shut down the exhibit at a county fair in Slinger, Wisconsin, and the state government banned its exhibit later that year, the car was never seen again.
Ed Gein was declared fit enough to stand trial for the murder of Bernice Worden in November of 1968. He was not brought to trial for any other murder or for the grave-robbing due to, quote, “prohibitive costs.” During his trial, Gein repeated his claim that he had blacked out during the murder, and that the last thing he remembered was trying out the rifle Bernice Worden had handed to him, loaded a bullet into the chamber, and it had gone off accidentally. Given the methodical way Gein had disposed of the body thereafter, and his long history of systematically butchering either murder victims or disinterred bodies, it is likely that his claim is nowhere near the truth. Nevertheless, in a trial without a jury, the judge found that Gein was not guilty by reason of insanity and recommitted him to the insane asylum. Gein died at Mendota Mental Health Institute on July 26th 1984, aged 77. He was buried in Plainfield Cemetery alongside his father, brother, and dear beloved mother.
- Sheriff Arthur Schley was so traumatised by what he saw in Ed Gein’s house that he never fully recovered. Shortly before Schley was due to give evidence at Ed Gein’s trial in 1968, he died of heart failure. One of his friends insisted that it was Gein was functionally responsible for his murder.
- Ed Gein’s case inspired Robert Bloch’s 1959 novel, Psycho, which Alfred Hitchcock made into a movie the following year. Gein also inspired aspects of the movies Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974 and Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Gein also inspired numerous grindhouse and low budget horror films over the years, and a number of biopics, most of which are pretty awful. Gein’s story was also adapted into a few stage plays and an off-Broadway musical. Gein differs from the villain of Psycho, Norman Bates, in that the latter only wore his mother’s clothing rather than fashioning a suit out of skin. Leatherface, the villain of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, did wear human skin but the film’s plot resembles very little of Gein’s story. Finally, Buffalo Bill in SilenceoftheLambs kills his victims in order to fashion a skin suit in order to become a woman, but becoming an orphan at a young age, his childhood and life bears little resemblance to Gein’s.
- Gein’s case is frequently highlighted by criminologists and psychologists to point out that sexual
repression can be just as damaging to a child and young adult as outright sexual abuse.
- A frequent criticism of much of the media inspired by Gein’s case, particularly Psycho and Silenceof the Lambs, is that it promotes transphobia, where people with gender dysphoria are equated with deranged killers. However, concerning Gein’s case itself, no mental health expert, past or present, has ever claimed that Gein had gender dysphoria. Rather than wanting to transition to being a woman in his own right, Gein’s obsession rested entirely with becoming one woman specifically, his mother, whom he adored above all other people, while generally despising what the average woman represented to his repressed and puritanical mind.
- While Gein’s kill count is nowhere close to the world’s most prolific serial killers, only being confirmed to have murdered two victims, Gein’s immense cultural impact can be explained by the gruesome discoveries made in Gein’s house and his twisted but intriguing relationship with his mother. Finally, Gein was immortalised due to the shocking discovery of his crimes in a small hamlet in the 1950s, that was quickly snapped up by an author and a filmmaker in the immediate aftermath of his crimes. If it were not for the creativity of Bloch and Hitchcock it is likely Gein’s story would have faded alongside similar cases of necrophiles, cannibals, and murderers of which there are a substantial number, with tales just as grisly and depraved as the one we have uttered today. Far from being unusual, there are elements of Gein’s crimes that have been replayed dozens of times throughout modern criminal history.
Featured image: akurat.co