“I had a compulsion to do it.”
This notorious killer and grave robber inspired the creation of several film characters including Norman Bates (‘Psycho’), Jame Gumb (‘The Silence of the Lambs’) and Leatherface (‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’). Not bad going…
Name: Edward Gein
Birth date: August 27th, 1906
Arrest date: November 16th, 1957
Death date: July 26th, 1984
Place of birth: La Crosse, Wisconsin
Place of death: Madison, Wisconsin
Nickname: The Butcher of Plainfield
Edward Gein was one of the worst and most under-the-radar serial killers of all time. Part of this may be due to him being mostly guilty of body snatching. He only ever confessed to two murders. Also, the murders happened in a very small town (Plainfield) in central Wisconsin; a town most people have never heard of. Make no mistake though, Ed Gein was one of the worst of the worst.
Gein lived in a town that, if you don’t count the bowling alley, has only one restaurant. Nevertheless, he has left more than a mark on this town – children learn about him as part of local history, adults try to forget and the old folks recall “where they were” when they heard the news and how they always suspected something was up at that old farmhouse.
The Gein family moved to a farm in Plainfield when Gein was young. His father, a big drinker, died when Ed was still young, leaving him with his mother, Augusta and brother. His mother didn’t allow for any interaction with the outside world other than school. She constantly preached about how bad drinking is and also that all women were whores and just a tool used by the devil…
Augusta was more than a mother to Ed, she became his best friend, his only friend in the world.
With little social interaction, it’s not hard to see where things may have taken a turn. Augusta never allowed any women around the house and when she saw them in the street with other men (that were not their husbands) she would ‘cuss them out’, right in front of the boys. It’s not like there was ever a lot to do in Plainfield anyway, but still probably would have been nice to hit a playground (or bowling alley) now and then.
Augusta, was old-school Lutheran, really religious and used any chance she could get to preach to her boys the perils of sin. No cartoons and Kool Aid after school for these boys – instead, it was Bible time. Augusta would break out the Old Testament and use very graphic verses to teach about death and retribution. Pretty heavy stuff for a little boy…
Bible time probably contributed to his shyness and what was described as “strange behaviour” such as laughing at his own jokes or at very random, inappropriate times. When he did try to make friends his mother punished him. Having his social life suppressed with no friends and daily Bible time certainly did not help stopping who Ed would become.
When Ed’s father died at the age of 66 from drinking, to help with expenses, Ed and his brother Henry did whatever work they could find around town. They even had a good reputation in the community as hard working handymen. In addition to the handyman gig, Ed also babysat for children. He liked this job, believing he related better to children than adults.
Can you imagine if you were one of the kids that Gein babysat?
“Go finish your homework and then clean your room please.” Response would be something to the effect of “No, you do it. You had Ed Gein babysit me.” I don’t think you’d have to say much more than that.
Ed may have killed his brother, Henry…
Dr. George W. Arndt studied the Gein case files and said that not only was it possible that Ed killed his brother; it was likely and was a case of “Cain and Abel.” It was 1944 and the two boys were burning excess weeds on their property. The fire got out of control requiring the fire department to come and extinguish it. Later, Ed reported his brother missing. It was nighttime so a search party with lanterns set out, eventually finding Henry’s body face down. The initial cause of death was ruled heart failure. However, later the coroner would list his cause of death as asphyxiation.
No autopsy was ever performed, but there were also bruises on his head which may have been the result of foul play. His brother was likely his first murder victim. Henry was the only person standing between Ed and his mother. Now, he had her all to herself.
Not long after Henry’s death, Gein’s mother suffered a massive stroke. Gein dedicated himself to tending to his now-disabled mother. She suffered a second stroke shortly after the first, and died in December 1945.
Once his mother died, a lot changed. Sure, he had already allegedly murdered his brother, but this wasn’t proven. He was socially inept and people were starting to talk. His mothers death left an awful void in Gein’s life; she was the only person he cared about. Still managing the farm, Gein boarded up his mother’s room as well as all the rooms she used including the living room and all of upstairs. Gein lived in a small room next to the kitchen.
It was in his new living quarters where he started to find new interests. He started reading death-cult magazines that dealt with Nazis and also cannibals. He studied how cannibals stripped bodies and what areas were good for eating as well as using for other items. This is where it starts to get ugly, real ugly…
Between 1947 and 1952 Ed Gein went to three local graveyards approximately 40 times. He claims he was in a “daze-like” state and would actually wake up and come out of the daze often. When he did this (approximately 30 times) he left the cemetery. It’s unclear as to the real motivation for “leaving.” It’s possible Gein was spooked those 30 times, afraid he was going to be caught. However, the other 10 times he would dig up graves of middle-aged women he believed would look like his mother. He then took those bodies home.
At home, Gein tanned their skins and made things out of them ranging from household items to more personal items. With his mother’s rooms boarded, Gein used the remaining limited space to cut, tear and sew the skin of the women’s bodies he stole from the cemeteries.
According to Gein’s testimony, he was neither a cannibal or into necrophilia 👀 but he was clearly into some weird stuff…
He created a suit out of their skin – a ‘Woman Suit’.
We all mourn the death of loved ones in different ways. Some of us are depressed, sad or even angry. Ed Gein, however, mourned his mother’s death by creating a suit of another woman’s skin so that he could crawl into the skin and “be her.”
Apparently he crawled in and out of many skins of women he tanned. This practice was described as an “insane transvestite ritual,” a phrase that to me doesn’t seem to quite capture the extremity of the situation to be honest. How do you go from afternoon Bible study to skinning women’s bodies and then wearing that skin? 🤷🏻♀️
Despite this incredibly intimate practice of wearing a “woman suit,” Gein denies ever having sex with the bodies, insisting that the bodies smelled too bad.
He has standards you guys…
When found, Gein was arrested for the murders of only two people, bar owner Mary Hogan and hardware store owner Bernice Worden. But some believe that he may have killed as many as seven.
He was arrested on November 16th, 1957.
When investigators searched Gein’s property, what they found was a house of horrors.
They found: a decapitated body dressed like a deer, human bones, skulls on his bedpost, bowls made from skulls, a waste basket full of human skin, chairs upholstered with human skin, a corset made from the torso of a woman, leggings made from human skin, face masks (actual skin), more skulls and body parts in various bags, nine vulvae in a shoe box, four noses, a lampshade made of human skin and a belt made of female nipples.
Hipsters would pay a fortune for an interior like this these days…
When the cops busted in there was a heart sitting in a bag near the stove. Again, Gein denies he was planning to eat this. He does not deny the murders or grave robberies, but did say he doesn’t recall a lot of the crimes due to the “daze like” states he claimed to experience, eventually leading to a mental insanity plea.
He was ‘Dazed and Confused’, get it… (hahahahahaha)
Ed Gein’s confession was initially ruled inadmissible in court…
Here they had one of the worst crime scenes ever and a confession! Incredible! Then they go and lose it due to how a sheriff handled the case.
Then Waushara County sheriff, Art Schley, took Gein’s head and bashed it into a brick wall during questioning. The judge decided there was no way that confession can hold up given the excessive force used. Schley died of heart failure before Gein’s trial even started.
Most believe Schley was so traumatised by Gein and the case that his heart couldn’t take it. The weight of the crimes committed along with the weight of having to testify was too much. His friends blame Gein, calling Schley another victim of Ed Gein. Obviously it would be tough to keep your composure if put in that position, but we are all lucky there was enough additional evidence to eventually convict him. *Phew*
Gein gave a plea of insanity and was sent to a mental hospital, but in 1968, doctors determined that he had become sane enough to stand trial. After one week, the jury convicted Gein of first-degree murder. After the trial, he returned to the mental hospital, where he would spend the rest of his life.
The character Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was influenced by Gein and his crimes. The first movie was more suspenseful, but the second one dealt very directly with a den of flesh and skin that included body parts and skin masks, similar to the kind that Gein made.
Released in 1974 being told as a true story, the plot is fictional with Leatherface taking inspiration from Ed Gein. The film was very low budget and even banned in most countries. It also made a huge amount of money and has been lauded as one of the best horror movies of all time. The initial movie launched countless sequels, books, magazines and even video games. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre showed how to tell a good horror story on a budget and scare the crap out of people along the way. This movie was also responsible for the future use of power tools in horror movies. Nice little fact for you, there.
Ever since Gein was busted and his house of horror hit the media, there has been a lot of pop culture “black humour” surrounding Gein’s crimes. One of the oddest examples of this was in 1995 when Blind Melon released the song “Skinned” off their album titled Soup.
Blind Melon never really fit into one particular genre, residing somewhere in the alternative and classic sounding rock space. The song has an upbeat sound that playfully describes some of his crimes, even detailing the skinned lamps.
I kinda of like it… 👀
Other music influenced by Gein includes the Slayer song “Dead Skin Mask”, “Nothing to Gein” from Mudvayne and “Ed Gein” a song from the Ziggens’ album titled Rusty Never Sleeps. There is always a place for “shock” in pop culture and Gein provided a lot of material for others to exploit via music, film, print and now, blogs 💁🏻
Gein will forever live on…
In addition to his impact on horror movies, Ed Gein has had a rather lasting impact on American culture (which has then transpired onto the rest of us). In addition to Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Gein’s story has played a major role in Deranged, Ed Gein (originally released as In the Light of the Moon) and Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield and Hitchcock. Rob Zombie has also been influenced by the crimes in the making of his films House of 1000 Corpses and the sequel titled The Devil’s Rejects.
Other characters inspired by Gein include Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs and Dr. Oliver Thredson from America Horror Story: Asylum. There was even a “top secret” movie planned between filmmakers Errol Morris and Werner Herzog. They interviewed Gein several times and spent a significant amount of time in Plainfield interviewing people. The two were going to actually take Gein’s mother from her grave to prove a point, but thankfully never got around to doing so. What they were looking to prove is unclear and disturbing to say the least.
His grave was stolen…
After his death, Gein was buried in one of the same cemeteries he once prowled and took bodies from (also where his parents were buried). His headstone turned into a weird tourist stop for both locals and outsiders, wanting to connect to this twisted piece of pop culture history.
Initially people would chip away from the headstone, keeping a piece of the headstone as a keepsake or souvenir. Eventually, someone just went for it and stole the entire headstone. It was later recovered, but did not get replaced; Gein now has an unmarked grave. As for the house that Gein grew up in, that was burned to the ground by the locals. Seems like a waste to me but hey-ho.
Going once, going twice… SOLD!
In an effort to raise funds, Gein’s car, the one used to carry bodies from the cemetery at night, was sold via public auction. Carnival sideshow operator, Bunny Gibbons, purchased the Ed Gein car for $760. He used it at his sideshows, charging carnival guest 25 cents to see this car that got famous for all the wrong reasons. That’s a bargain if you ask me!
Here are some of his ‘creations’…
Bowls, Tableware, And Ashtrays
Wall Hanging And Other Artifacts
Corset and Belt
And no outfit is complete without some…
Finally, here’s the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre trailer to make you feel all nostalgic and grossed out…