Ed Gein

Crime Files

Edward Theodore Gein was born on 27 August 1906 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, the second child of George and Augusta Gein. His father was a timid character, subsumed beneath the domineering and puritanical Augusta, the main breadwinner and absolute matriarch of the Gein household. Fanatically puritanical, Augusta railed daily about the moral state of the world, drumming into Ed and his brother, Henry, who was seven years Ed’s senior, the dangers of loose women and carnal lust. Her overpowering personality stunted Gein’s psychological growth, and turned the naturally shy boy into a sexually confused, slightly effeminate young man who was destined to remain a virgin, obsessively devoted to his mother. Augusta Gein became increasingly disgusted with the depravity of La Crosse, where she ran a grocery store with an iron fist, and moved the family to a secluded farm in rural Wisconsin. Gein’s father, George, died of a heart attack in 1940, but Augusta remained on the farm with her, by now, grown up sons, who worked as local handymen. Henry was the more rebellious of the two, but his attempts to break free of his mother’s influence ended suddenly when, following a brushfire near the farm, his body was discovered by police. They chose to ignore the suspicious blunt trauma marks on the back of his head, and ruled that he had died of asphyxiation, or perhaps a heart attack, incurred while trying to fight the flames. The true cause of his death remains shrouded in mystery. Gein was now alone on the farm with his mother, the sole focus of her ire. Her health deteriorated, and she became more erratic than ever, accusing Gein of being useless like his father, and then softening towards him, allowing him to share her bed. She suffered a stroke, and Gein cared for her despite her increasingly vicious demeanour. When a more serious stroke caused her death on 29 December 1945, Gein was devastated, and became increasingly unhinged, turning her rooms in the farmhouse into shrines.

Timeline

Born 27 August 1906Victims Mary Hogan Bernice WordenArrested 16 November 1957Trial November 1968Died 26 July 1984

The Arrest

Gein was arrested and taken to Wautoma County jail, where he initially denied everything, before eventually admitting having shot Bernice Worden with a rifle.He claimed that most of the body parts in his house, estimated to total 15 different individuals, had come from corpses removed from the cemetery. Police were initially sceptical of this claim, but were forced to accept it when they exhumed the bodies in question and discovered that the corpses had indeed been mutilated, as Gein had claimed.They were eager to tie Gein to four other mysterious Wisconsin disappearances, which included a child, a teenager and two men, but no remains from the farmhouse were ever matched to these victims. They did, however, find Mary Hogan’s remains, and Gein admitted to her murder as well.During the course of the interrogation, sheriff Schley subjected Gein to a brutal assault, banging his head repeatedly against a brick wall, which rendered his confession inadmissible, but Gein was assessed by psychiatrists and, in any case, declared mentally unfit for trial at that time. He was committed to the Central State Hospital in Waupun, Wisconsin.Locals were horrified by the litany of depravity carried out by Gein in their community, and his farmhouse suffered an arson attack on 20 March 1958, and was razed to the ground. His car was sold at auction, and toured State fairs, billed as the “Ghoul Car”, which made its entrepreneurial purchaser a healthy profit.

The Trial

Gein was finally declared mentally competent to stand trial in November 1968, and tried for the murder of Bernice Worden. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and sent back to Central State hospital in Waupun.

The Aftermath

Gein was regarded as a model patient during his incarceration, and died of cancer on 26 July 1984. He was buried next to his mother, in the same cemetery that had provided him so much pleasure in life. Fittingly, vandals desecrated his grave.The American public viewed Ed Gein as the quintessential product of a disturbed childhood, and his persona was forever immortalised in the film “Psycho”, in which Norman Bates murders women out of loyalty to his domineering mother. The character of Leatherface, in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, also pays homage to Gein, where the killer wears a mask made of human skin.More recently, his character appears in the chilling tale of the transvestite serial killer Buffalo Bill, who murders women for their skin, and then dresses in it, in 'The Silence of the Lambs'.

The Crimes

He became obsessed with anatomy texts, wartime stories of atrocities, cannibalism, sex change operations and anything concerning the dead. He took increasing interest in the local cemetery, where he met Gus, a gravedigger whom he befriended. He persuaded Gus to assist him to exhume some of the bodies there, from which he removed strips of skin, whole breasts, genitalia and in some cases whole bodies, before carefully reburying the bodies. He kept these parts as trophies, which he kept in his home.Dissatisfied with the lifeless texture of these victims, he took to poring over the Obituary column in his local paper, so that he and Gus could secure some "fresher" trophies. He preferred the bodies of older women, particularly those with whom he was acquainted, and he later admitted that he enjoyed parading in the skins of these victims, covering his own body and pretending to be a woman.Increasingly creative, he began to fashion truly sickening trophies: a belt was studded with female nipples, a woman’s lips were sewn into a curtain pull, a soup bowl was created out of a human skull, and human skin was used to make shirts, fashion lampshades and chair coverings. He also preserved and mounted the faces of nine women on his wall, reminiscent of a hunting lodge. When the occasional visitor to his home commented on these trophies, he claimed they were wartime souvenirs gifted to him by a cousin who had served in the Pacific during the War.His grave-robbing might have satisfied his unhealthy obsession indefinitely, but in 1954 he was forced to give this up when his partner, Gus, was placed in a home and no longer able to assist. With no further supply of dead bodies, he was obliged to create his own.His first victim was Mary Hogan, the matronly owner of the local tavern where Gein was a customer, who disappeared on 8 December 1954 in mysterious circumstances. Locals claim that, later, Gein joked that she had stayed overnight with him, but no one took much notice of his jokes at the time, which were considered in poor taste.Three years later, while sheriff Art Schley, from the town of Plainfield, was investigating the disappearance of shopkeeper Bernice Worden, evidence discovered at her shop provided a link to Gein. A trail of blood and a receipt, made out to Gein for a supply of anti-freeze, led him to seek a warrant to search his farmhouse.His search, carried out on 16 November 1957, led him to a “summer kitchen”, an extension at the back of the house, where he found a naked human body that had been decapitated, disembowelled and hung upside down. The carcass turned out to be the freshly gutted remains of Mrs Worden, and her head was discovered later in a burlap sack, in another part of the house. Nails had been hammered through each ear and tied together with twine, as though ready to join Gein’s other ghoulish trophies on his display wall.A thorough search over the ensuing days revealed human organs and body parts in freezers relating to multiple individuals, and a human heart was reportedly found in a pan on the stove.