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.