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.