In popular culture, Ed Gein is remembered more for the horror films he has inspired than his crimes themselves. But when it comes to history’s worst serial killers, Ed Gein is one of the most depraved.
A murderer and grave robber who was deeply obsessed with his mother, his crimes range from the brutal to the bizarre. These are some of the strangest and creepiest details about his case.
1. He believed women were ‘vessels of sin’
When it comes to Ed Gein’s origin story, his mother is one of the scariest details. A familiar figure thanks to Psycho and Silence of the Lambs (both of which have characters she inspired), she was a domineering and deeply religious woman who despised men, a trait that she passed on to her son.
Obsessed with the concepts of purity and sin, she was determined to keep her sons, Ed and his brother, Henry, away from the world to save them from corruption, raising them in an isolated farmhouse. She was incredibly overprotective and taught them that women were evil and ‘vessels of sin’.
When she died, Gein boarded up her rooms, leaving them untouched in her memory and buried her with an inscription that read ‘mother’. The rest of the house descended into squalor.
2. He had unusual early sexual experiences
As a child, Ed Gein snuck into the slaughterhouse on his farm, where he saw his mother slaughter a pig. This reportedly led to him having his first orgasm.
His relationship with sex didn’t get any less warped as he grew up. When he was 12, his mother found him masturbating in the bath and responded by grabbing his genitals. He likely died a virgin.
3. He may have been responsible for his brother’s death
Although Ed Gein’s older brother's death was ruled at the time as accidental, it’s more than possible Henry was actually Gein’s first victim. Unlike Ed, he had a life outside of the farm and their mother, even planning to move in with a woman he had been dating. He also disparaged their mother to Ed.
In 1944, Ed and Henry were clearing vegetation on the farm by burning it, when in the process, the fire got out of control. When firefighters came to put out the blaze, Gein claimed he and Henry had become separated. Henry was later found dead. His death was deemed an accident and asphyxiation was given as the official cause of death, but he had bruises to his head, which suggested foul play.
As Gein’s father had also died by this point, Henry’s death left Gein alone with his mother.
4. He started robbing graves
After his mother had died, Gein spent his time reading about human anatomy, Nazi atrocities and consuming porn. His visits to his mother’s grave descended into robbing it, when he dug up her corpse, removed her head and took it back home with him.
From there, Gein started digging up other graves. All of them were women around his mother’s age who bore enough resemblance to her to remind him of her. He found his targets by reading the recent obituaries.
Although he denied having sex with the bodies, he did admit to dancing with them in the cemetery.
5. He only murdered two people he knew
When police investigated Gein, they found the remains of several women in his house. He seemingly killed at random and only knew two of his victims.
Mary Hogan was the owner of a tavern Gein frequented and whom he was said to be fixated by. She physically resembled his mother but had a completely opposite personality. When investigators later went into Gein’s house, they found her head in a paper bag. He later confessed to shooting her.
58-year-old Bernice Worden owned the local hardware store. Gein was the last person to see her alive after he went in to buy anti-freeze. When police went to investigate, they found Worden in Gein’s kitchen. Her gutted body was suspended from the ceiling by the ankles. Her head was found separately, in a box, which also held her intestines.
6. His house of horrors
The most infamous and harrowing details of Gein’s case are what happened to the bodies of his female victims.
Bones and skulls were made into utensils and bowls. Human skin was used to upholster furniture, like chairs and a bin. A woman’s lips had been turned into a curtain pull. There was a belt made from nipples. Faces had been used to make a lampshade.
But most horrifying of all? He told investigators his ultimate aim was to create a ‘skin suit’ he could wear so he could become his mother. Police found gloves, a corset and masks made from the dead’s faces, as well as a vest, replete with breasts. Plus, a bag.
At trial, Gein was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He died in a mental institution at the age of 78.