In the 1950s, the case of a bizarre serial killer named Edward Theodore Gein, shortened in Ed Gein shocked the whole American community. It was just as fascinating as it was intriguing and terrifying at the same time. Ed Gein used to find his pleasure in making everyday use objects from human remains.
Ed Gein, a mid-20th century American murderer and body snatcher who killed the innocence and made objects from human remains. That’s why he is widely known as “The Mad Butcher” and “The Ghoul of Plainfield” whose evil crimes have prominently inspired a number of heart-wrenching movies and series throughout the decades.
“Inspired by a real incident,” “From a true story”―when such little warning comes up at the beginning of a film, it’s like an unconscious click occurs in our mind. What we are about to see has truly happened in real life. And when it comes to a thrill, suspense, horror or macabre incident, this warning often sends shivers down our spine, thinking the devilishness we are about to witness was actually committed by someone..!
Over the decades, many filthy facts of psychopath killers have inspired a number of fictional novels and movies. In the United States, movies and web series have watered all the stories of possible serial killers, partially covering various true stories to frighten the audience. But some of these killers have clearly exceeded the limits of all atrocities, and Ed Gein is significantly one of them. To say, Ed Gein was one of the first serial killers to have paid the news column in the United States.
The discovery of his misdeeds – necrophilia, murders, grave robbings, etc. – deeply shocked America. One headline, “The Butcher of Plainfield” in the newspapers of that time unsurprisingly inspired many fictions, such as the novel Psycho and its adaptation to film in 1960, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974, The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 and many more. As reporter Dan Hanley precisely explained in Alex Flaster’s documentary, Ed Gein (2004): “Good fiction writers could draw inspiration from Ed Gein to create just about all their horror movie characters. Because he alone has all the characteristics of it.” Features that effectively mark forever.
The horrors of Ed Gein
It all began — or rather finished — on November 16, 1957, in the small town of Plainfield, Wisconsin, just 50 km from where Robert Bloch resides, the man who eventually wrote Psycho two years later.
On that day, a lady named Bernice Worden, who managed a local hardware store, was reported missing. The police interrogate Ed Gein because he’s the last customer to visit the store last evening. In his statement, Gein gets a little tangled with his statements and the police decided to go his home to continue the investigation.
Upon reaching the location, they discovered a dreadful eerie looking house with ominous signs, close to the dump, without electricity and almost abandoned. Inside, they found Bernice Worden, hanged by the feet. Then what??
Yes, most of you already know what happened afterwards. But before emerging at the bottom of this story, let’s see, from the beginning, what was actually going on in Ed Gein’s life.
Ed Gein’s early life
Ed Gein was born in La Crosse County, Wisconsin, on August 27, 1906, the second of two boys of George Philip Gein and Augusta Wilhelmine Gein. Gein had an elder brother, Henry George Gein.
Augusta hated her husband, George because he was an alcoholic and was unable to keep a job. He had worked at various times as a carpenter, tanner (point out “tanner”), and an insurance salesman. George owned a local grocery shop for a few years, but sold the business, and the family left the city to live in isolation on a 155-acre farm in the town of Plainfield in Waushara County, Wisconsin, which became the Gein family’s permanent residence.
Augusta took advantage of the farm’s isolation by turning away outsiders who could have influenced her sons. Edward left the farm only to attend school. Outside of school, he spent most of his time doing chores on the farm. Augusta was fervently religious, and nominally Lutheran.
She preached to her boys about the innate immorality of the world, the evil of drinking, and her belief that all women (except herself) were naturally promiscuous and instruments of the devil. She reserved time every afternoon to read to them from the Bible, usually selecting verses from the Old Testament concerning death, murder, and divine retribution.
Edward was shy, and classmates and teachers remembered him as having strange mannerisms, such as seemingly random laughter, as if he were laughing at his own personal jokes. To make matters worse, his mother punished him whenever he tried to make friends. Despite his poor social development, he did fairly well in school, particularly in reading.
What happened to Ed’s brother, Henry?!
On April 1, 1940, Ed Gein’s father George died of heart failure caused by his alcoholism at the age of 66. Henry and Ed began doing odd jobs around town to bear living expenses. The brothers were generally considered reliable and honest by residents of the community. While both worked as handymen, Ed also frequently babysat for neighbours. He enjoyed babysitting, seeming to relate more easily to children than adults.
Henry began dating a divorced, single mother of two and planned on moving in with her. Henry worried about his brother’s attachment to their mother and often spoke ill of her around Ed, who responded with shock and hurt.
On May 16, 1944, Henry and Ed were burning away marsh vegetation on the property, eventually the fire got out of control, drawing the attention of the local fire department. By the end of the day – the fire having been extinguished and the firefighters gone – Ed reported his brother missing. With lanterns and flashlights, a search party searched for Henry, whose dead body was found lying face down.
Apparently, he had been dead for some time, and it appeared that the cause of death was heart failure since he had not been burned or injured otherwise. It was later reported, in Harold Schechter‘s biography of Ed Gein, Deviant, that Henry had bruises on his head.
The police dismissed the possibility of foul play and the county coroner later officially listed asphyxiation, a condition of deficient supply of oxygen to the body that arises from abnormal breathing, as the cause of death. The authorities accepted the accident theory, but no official investigation was conducted and an autopsy was not performed. Some suspected that Ed Gein killed his brother.
Questioning Gein about the death of Bernice Worden in 1957, state investigator Joe Wilimovsky brought up questions about Henry’s death. George W. Arndt, who studied the case, wrote that, in retrospect, it was “possible and likely” that Henry’s death was “the ‘Cain and Abel’ aspect of this case.”
Just to be clear, in the biblical Book of Genesis, Cain and Abel are the first two sons of Adam and Eve. Cain, the firstborn, was a farmer, and his brother Abel was a shepherd. The brothers made sacrifices to God, each of his own produce, but God favoured Abel’s sacrifice instead of Cain’s. Cain then murdered Abel.
The Loneliness Surrounded Ed Gein And His Mom:
Gein and his mother were now alone and their life became more limited, bound to the almost isolated farmhouse. Not so long after Henry’s tragic death, Augusta had a paralyzing stroke, and Gein devoted himself to taking care of her.
Sometime in 1945, Ed Gein later recounted, he and his mother visited a man named Smith, who lived nearby, to purchase straw. According to Gein, Augusta witnessed Smith beating a dog. A woman inside the Smith home came outside and yelled for him to stop but Smith beat the dog to death.
Augusta was extremely upset by this scene. However, what bothered her did not appear to be the brutality toward the dog but rather the presence of the woman!
Augusta told Gein that the woman was not married to Smith, so she had no business being there. “Smith’s harlot”, Augusta angrily called her. She had a second stroke soon after, and her health deteriorated rapidly. She died on December 29, 1945, at the age of 67.
Ed was devastated by her death; in the words of author Harold Schechter, he had “lost his only friend and one true love. And he was absolutely alone in the world.”
How Ed Gain made a living?
Ed Gein held on to the farm and earned money from odd jobs. He boarded up rooms used by his mother, including the upstairs, downstairs parlour, and living room, leaving them untouched; while the rest of the house became increasingly squalid, these rooms remained pristine. Gein lived thereafter in a small room next to the kitchen. Around this time, he became interested in reading pulp magazines and adventure stories, particularly those involving cannibals or Nazi atrocities.
Gein was a handyman and received a farm subsidy from the federal government starting in 1951. He occasionally worked for the local municipal road crew and crop-threshing crews in the area. Sometime between 1946 and 1956, he also sold an 80-acre parcel of land that his brother Henry had owned.
Ed Gein’s crimes
Ed Gein was arrested by Waushara County sheriff Arthur Elmer Schley, on 16 November, 1957.
This is the part everyone wants to hear about Ed Gein’s life story. On the morning of November 16, 1957, the Plainfield hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, disappeared. A Plainfield resident reported that the hardware store’s truck had been driven out from the rear of the building at around 9:30 AM The hardware store was closed the entire day. Some area residents believed this was because of the deer hunting season. Bernice Worden’s son, Deputy Sheriff Frank Worden, entered the store around 5:00 PM to find the store’s cash register open and bloodstains on the floor.
Frank Worden told investigators that Ed Gein had been in the store the evening before his mother’s disappearance, and that he would return the next morning for a gallon of antifreeze. A sales slip for a gallon of antifreeze was the last receipt written by Worden on the morning she disappeared. On the evening of the same day, Gein was arrested at one of West Plainfield grocery stores, and the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department searched the Gein farm.
A Waushara County Sheriff’s deputy was totally shocked to discover Worden’s decapitated body, hanged upside down by the feet with a crossbar at her ankles and ropes at her wrists. The torso was “dressed out like a deer.” She had been shot with a .22-caliber rifle, and the mutilations were made after her death.
Further searching in the house, authorities made a whole bunch of terrible discoveries:
- Whole human bones and fragments.
- Human pieces in glass jars in the refrigerator.
- A wastebasket made of human skin.
- Human skin covering several armchairs and seats.
- Curtains and gloves made of human skin.
- 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 of female heads.
- A woman’s (later found to be of Mary Hogan) face mask in a paper bag.
- A woman’s (later found to be of Mary Hogan) 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 vulvas (part of the female genitals) in a shoebox.
- 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.
These bizarrely odd artifacts were photographed at the state crime laboratory and then destroyed―why, you will know in the following story. [Watch and witness the “Horrors of Ed Gein” in the video given below this article]
Ed Gein’s House of Horrors. As the police were packing up and leaving. Curious neighbours swooped in on the house and started peeking in the windows and checking the locks on the doors.
When questioned, Gein told investigators that between 1947 and 1952, he made as many as 40 nocturnal visits to three local graveyards to exhume recently buried bodies while he was in a “daze-like” state. On about 30 of those visits, he said he came out of the daze while in the cemetery, left the grave in good order, and returned home empty-handed. On the other occasions, he dug up the graves of recently buried middle-aged women he thought resembled his mother and took the bodies home, where he tanned their skins to make his paraphernalia.
Investigators soon found Gein’s confession to be truth. He really had robbed the graves after the funerals while the graves were not completed. Even Gein had returned rings and such other objects of some of those snatched corpses.
Soon after his mother’s death, Ed Gein began to create a “woman suit” so that “he could become his mother—to literally crawl into her skin.” However, Gein denied having sex with the bodies he exhumed, explaining: “They smelled too bad!”
During state crime laboratory interrogation, Gein also admitted to the shooting death of Mary Hogan, a local bar owner missing since 1954 whose head was found in his house, in a box, but he later denied memory of details of her death.
Ed Gein’s kitchen held many of the worst horrors. Organs were in glass jars in the refrigerator. The shop owner, Worden’s heart had been cooked in a pot on the stove. A bowl made from the top part of a human skull stood on the kitchen table.
A 16-year-old youth, whose parents were friends of Gein and who attended ball games and movies with him, reported that Gein kept shrunken heads in his house, which Gein had described as relics from the Philippines, sent by a cousin who had served on the islands during World War II. Upon investigation by the police, these were determined to be human facial skins, carefully peeled from corpses and used by Gein as masks.
Gein was also considered a suspect in several other unsolved cases in Wisconsin, including the 1953 disappearance of Evelyn Hartley, a La Crosse babysitter.
During questioning, Waushara County sheriff Arthur Elmer Schley reportedly assaulted Gein by banging his head and face into a brick wall. As a result, Gein’s initial confession was ruled inadmissible. Schley died of heart failure at age 43 in 1968 before Gein’s trial. One of his friends said: “He was a victim of Ed Gein as surely as if he had butchered him.”
Ed Gein’s trial
On November 21, 1957, Gein was arraigned on one count of first degree murder in Waushara County Court, where he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Gein was diagnosed with schizophrenia and found mentally incompetent, thus unfit for trial. He was sent to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane―now renamed as the Dodge Correctional Institution―a maximum-security facility in Waupun, Wisconsin, and later transferred to the Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
Later in 1968, Ed Gein told a psychiatrist that he did not know whether the killing of Bernice Worden was intentional or accidental. He said that while he examined a gun in Worden’s store, trying to load a bullet into the rifle, it discharged, killing Worden. According to the statement, he had not aimed the rifle at Worden, and did not remember anything else that happened that morning.
At the first trial, Ed Gein was found guilty by Judge Robert H. Gollmar on November 14, 1968. But a second trial dealt with Gein’s sanity, after testimony by doctors for the prosecution and defence, Gollmar ruled Gein “not guilty by reason of insanity” and ordered him committed to Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Gein spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital.
Later, Judge Robert H. Gollmar described the murders, judicial review, trial and the judgement of the Ed Gein case in detail in his book, “Edward Gein, America’s most bizarre murderer,” published in 1981.
The fate of Ed Gein’s property
Ed Gein’s house and 195-acre property were appraised at $4,700, which is equivalent to $42,000 in this day. His possessions were scheduled to be auctioned on March 30, 1958, amidst rumours that the house and the land it stood on might become a tourist attraction.
Smoldering ruins is all that remains of the House of Horrors after a fire of undetermined cause destroyed the two story frame building on March 20, 1958. Once the home of confessed killer ghoul Ed Gein, who shocked the nation when human remains were found in it, the house was to be auctioned. Police suspected arson.
Early on the morning of March 20, the house was destroyed by fire. Arson was suspected, but the cause of the fire was never officially determined. When Gein learned of the incident while in detention, he shrugged and said, “Just as well.”
Gein’s 1949 Ford sedan, which he used to haul the bodies of his victims, was sold at public auction for $760 to carnival sideshow operator Bunny Gibbons. The car was put on display, and Gibbons charged carnival-goers 25¢ admission to see it.
Death of Ed Gein
On July 26, 1984, at the age of 77, Gein died at the Mendota Mental Health Institute due to respiratory failure secondary to lung cancer. He was buried next to his mother at the Plainfield Cemetery.
Over the years, souvenir seekers chipped pieces from his gravestone at the Plainfield Cemetery, until the stone itself was stolen in 2000. It was recovered in June 2001, near Seattle, and was placed in storage at the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department. The gravesite itself is now unmarked, but not unknown. Gein is interred between his parents and brother in the cemetery.