- "She isn't missing. She's at the farm right now."
- —Ed Gein
Edward Theodore Gein (August 27th, 1906 July 26th, 1984) was an American serial killer also known as "The Mad Butcher". Gein is widely regarded among the most infamous serial killers in American history, his only two confirmed victims were Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan, however the real number is believed to have spanned much higher. Aside from the murders, Gein was known for human trophy collecting and robbed bones and flesh from many local graveyards in his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin were most of his crime were committed.
Gein had a difficult childhood, his mother, Augusta, was a pious woman who would read Gein and his brother Henry handpicked verses from the old testament, often of a misogynistic or grotesque context. Gein's father, George, was an alcoholic which caused a significant amount of tension in his family, his mother Augusta detested her husband due to his alcoholism and inability to hold down a job, which many speculate may have been a contributing factor in Gein descending into insanity.
Gein was extremely close to his mother, who tried to control every aspect of his life, when at school she would punish him for establishing friendship with any of his classmates. Many of the staff at his school saw Gein as abnormal, he was shy and possessed a rather eccentric personality, this included randomly laughing for no apparent reason and strange mannerisms.
Gein's father died in 1940 at the age of 66 from heart failure attributable to his lifelong alcoholism, Gein and his brother Henry had to work various oddjobs in order to sustain a suitable income for themselves and their mother. Gein, unlike his brother Henry, was particularly close to his mother who even when Gein was an adult, tried to control every aspect of his life due to his naivety. In 1944, Gein and Henry were burning away vegetarian marsh which went out of control, and drew the attention of the local fire brigade, Henry's body was found later that day and his death attributed to choking to death in the fire. Gein now devoted his entire time to look after his mother who's health was significantly ailing after suffering a stroke following Henry's life. Gein was a diagnosed schizophrenia and it has been speculated his mother suffered from a similar condition, in 1945, Gein and his mother visited the home of a man named Smith who was beating a dog to a bloody pulp, a woman inside came out and yelled to stop, Smith eventually beat the dog to death, Augusta seemed to be more appalled by the sight of a woman rather than the shocking attack of animal cruelty that had just occurred. Augusta, as a religious zealot, always took a misogynistic outlook on the world and hated women despite being one herself, she told her son Smith was unmarried and so the woman had no business commanding him to do anything and referred to her as "Smith's Harlot" a slang term for a whore.
Augusta died from a second stroke later in 1945 at the age of 67, Gein was distraught. The Author Harold Schechter, who wrote a book documenting Ed Gein's life, and said regarding her death, Gein had "lost his only friend and one true love. And he was absolutely alone in the world." Following her death Gein worked a serious of oddjobs.
Augestine, Gein's mother.
On November 16, 1957, Bernice Worden disappeared, she was the owner of a local hardware store in Plainfield. Worden's son informed authorities that Gein had been spotted in the store the evening before his mother disappeared and informed her he would return the following morning to purchase an item. When authorities searched Gein's property, they discovered Worden's decomposing body in a shed hung upside down by her wrists and a crossbar at her ankles, she had been shot by Gein and her torso had been dressed out, a tactic often performed by hunters after killing their desired prey. When authorities searched Gein's home, what they found were much more shocking than Worden's dead body, they discovered.
- Whole human bones and fragments
- Wastebasket made of human skin
- Human skin covering several chair seats
- Skulls on his bedposts
- Female skulls, some with the tops sawn off
- Bowls made from human skulls
- A corset made from a female torso skinned from shoulders to waist
- Leggings made from human leg skin
- Masks made from the skin from female heads
- Mary Hogan's face mask in a paper bag
- Mary Hogan's skull in a box
- Bernice Worden's entire head in a burlap sack
- Bernice Worden's heart "in a plastic bag in front of Gein's potbellied stove"
- Nine vulvae in a shoe box
- A young girl's dress and "the vulvas of two females judged to have been about fifteen years old"
- A belt made from female human nipples
- Four noses
- A pair of lips on a window shade drawstring
- A lampshade made from the skin of a human face
- Fingernails from female fingers
After being photographed, they were destroyed. When questioned, Gein denied murder, but admitted between 1947 and 1952 he had made about 40 nocturnal visits to three local graveyards and exhumed the remains of recently buried victims, but stated he was in somewhat of a "dazed state". However, Gein remarked that on approximately 30 of his occasions he had managed to come out of the dazed state and put the bodies back and left the grave in good order. Gein admitted to making nine grave robberies and subsequently lead investigators to them, authorities were skeptical as to whether or not Gein could rob a grave within the space of an evening and dug up two of the graves Gein had informed them about, in one instance there was a crowbar in place of the body and contradicted Gein's story. Gein was accused of committing necrophilia with the bodies he had exhumed, but denounced this claim stating "they smelt too bad." He also confessed that following his mother's death in 1945 he wanted to become her, and began these gruesome acts due to his mother's psychotic hatred of women.
Trial, imprisonment and death
Gein's trial began in 1957, but he pleaded not guilty due to reason of insanity, a plea which was accepted by the court. He was confined to a mental institution in Wisconsin were he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a trait that many speculate his mother also possessed.
However in 1968, psychiatrists informed law enforcement he was able to stand trial on account of his crimes, the trial lasted one week before Gein was confined to an institution for the criminally insane, he admitted to the murder of a woman named Mary Hogan but stated he was unaware of whether or not the murder of Bernice Worden in 1957 was intentional or unintentional. Gein died from respiratory failure at the age of 77 in 1984, he was buried in a Plainfield cemetery were his headstone was frequently vandalized over the years, the bulk of it was stolen in 2000 but recovered the following year and is now in the possession of law enforcement, Gein's grave is now unmarked.
Gein has served as the inspiration for many notable literary and cinematic villains, most notably Norman Bates. Robert Bloch, the author of the famed novel and later Alfred Hitchcock classic, Psycho, based Norma Bates of Gein's mother Augusta, both share many attributes, Gein's mother had a deep hatred for women and taught her son all women are whores, as did Norma Bates. Norman Bates' unwanted willingness to kill women were also based of Gein's murder and human trophy collecting. Leatherface of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was also based loosely based of Gein's human trophy collecting. Leatherface, the franchise's antagonist, wears a mask made of human flesh. Thomas Harris, the creator of the legendary movie character, Hannibal Lecter based Buffalo Bill, the main antagonist of his 1988 novel, The Silence of the Lambs of Gein.
Art Schley, the sheriff of Waushara County who interrogated Gein reportedly assaulted him during his interrogation. Schley died just before Gein's second trial in 1968, many in his family have claimed his death from heart failure was attributable as he was traumatized by Gein's gruesome crimes.