He was raised by over protective mother, who always dominated their children and warned her sons against the wiles and ways of scheming women. She warned them—with dire descriptions of venereal diseases—that “free and easy sex” would bring prolonged physical pain and premature death.
When the mother died of stroke in 1945, Ed Gein or Edward Theodore Gein began to take strange twists. He was driven to rid himself of any memories of his mother and went deeper into his dark fantasies.
Gein started it by visited the local public library in Plainfield and began to take out books and periodicals dealing with human anatomy, studying these tracts in his kitchen farmhouse for hours.
He had little recreation and no friends, except for a dim-witted farming neighbour named Gus, who visited Gein periodically, sitting with him in his kitchen—a blank expression glued to his face and saying nothing for hours.
Sometime in 1947, Ed Gein began to visit three of the local cemeteries in the area, nocturnal visits wherein he dug up graves and removed recently interned female corpses. He took these decomposed bodies to his farmhouse. On some occasions he merely severed limbs and heads and removed these grim artefacts to his home.
In two or more instances, he actually brought back bodies to their graves and reburied them, or what was left of them after he had conducted his “experiments.”
Gein’s friend, Gus, accompanied him on some of these early graveyard raids and helped the ghoul to cart bodies back to the Gein farm. It is uncertain if this simpleminded man ever knew the purpose of these night excursions or Gein’s use of the bodies once they were stored in a shed behind Gein’s farm.
Gus, however, was removed to a retirement home, where he died a short time later, leaving Gein to continue his laborious cemetery chores alone.
When the shed was fairly packed with cadavers, Gein began to remove one body after another. He would study each for hours, then carefully dissect the corpse, following the notes and illustrations from the anatomical books he had obtained. These crude operations, however, had nothing to do with the advancement of medical science.
They led, instead, to wild aberrant behaviour, where Gein would skin the corpses and wear the skins about as though they were shawls or scarves. He fondled female organs for hours and later admitted that wearing and caressing these gruesome remains gave him inexplicable thrills.
The little farmer butchered the cadavers with care, keeping several heads, sex organs, livers, hearts and intestines, before discarding human parts that held no interest for him. It was also later reported that to while away his time, Gein boiled down human skulls to use them as decorations, mounting some on his bedposts and using skull caps as bowls.
He allegedly employed noses, lips and labia to fashion mobiles he positioned about the kitchen and even used human skin to fashion lampshades, waste cans and coverlets for chairs.
Gein grew tired of having to dig up graves alone and quit this pursuit, deciding it was much easier and less physically demanding to murder women and take their bodies to his farmhouse for more “experiments.”
His first victim was 51-year-old Mary Hogan, who operated a tavern in Pine Grove, Wisconsin. On the night of 8 December 1954, Gein waited until all of Hogan’s patrons left the remote bar. He then walked calmly inside to hear Hogan tell him that she was closing.
Gein said nothing as he walked around the bar to Hogan’s side. He withdrew a .32-caliber pistol from his pocket, placed this close to Hogan’s head and fired a single bullet into her skull, killing her. He then dragged her body from the bar to a sled he had placed outdoors. It took the diminutive Gein several hours to drag the corpse back to his farm, his way made more difficult by a blinding snowstorm.
The next day officers found some overturned furniture in the tavern and a pool of blood behind the bar. Close by they found a single spent cartridge for a .32-caliber pistol.
Not until three years later would police identify the killer, finding a .32-caliber pistol in Gein’s home, one that matched the shell casing. Plainfield police were dumbfounded by Hogan’s disappearance—they had found no body and did not declare her case a murder.
Gein’s next known victim was Bernice Worden, the 58-year-old operator of a hardware store in Plainfield. In November 1957, Gein, a reserved and almost shy person, worked up enough nerve to strike up a conversation with Worden, even engaging her son Frank in small talk as he hung about the store.
When Frank Worden, a deputy sheriff, told Gein that he would going hunting on a certain Saturday, the Plainfield farmer knew that his mother would be left alone in the store.
On 16 November 1957, Gein entered the hardware store just before Mrs Worden was about to close up. Unseen, he locked the front door of the shop and then went to a gun rack and took a .22-caliber rifle from the wall, inserting a single bullet into the chamber, one that he had brought with him.
Gein then turned on the startled woman and fired a shot, which struck her in the head, killing her. He then dragged the body out the back door of the store and dumped it into his old car. He returned to the store and took its cash register, which contained $41. Gein then drove to his farmhouse.
Both of Gein’s known murder victims, Mary Hogan and Mrs Worden resembled to some extent, Edward Gein’s long-departed mother. When Frank Worden returned to his mother’s store he found it locked and, getting no response, he broke into the shop, finding his mother and the cash register missing.
He spotted a small pool of blood behind the counter. A sales slip, half written out in his mother’s handwriting, was on the counter. It was for antifreeze. Worden remembered that in his conversation with Gein the farmer had said he would be stopping by the store later to buy this item.
Worden immediately went to the sheriff and told him that Gein was most probably behind his mother’s disappearance. While the sheriff drove toward Gein’s farmhouse, Worden went to a West Plainfield store, where he thought Gein would be visiting friends. He found the meek, little farmer in a small coffee shop, just finishing dinner. He confronted Gein with his mother’s disappearance.
“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” Gein told Worden in a calm voice. Worden nevertheless placed Gein in custody, taking him to a local jail, where he locked him in a cell. The sheriff arrived at the jail just as Worden was putting Gein into the cell. He had gone to the Gein farmhouse and appeared to be in shock. For some time, he was unable to describe what he had seen there. Then he began to make a verbal inventory of the gruesome “trophies” he had found.
He found four human noses in a cup on the kitchen table. He also found a bracelet made of human skin, a crude tom-tom made from an empty coffee can with human skin stretched over the top and bottom.
He found a pair of human lips, which hung on a string attached to a window sill. Bracing four chairs were strips of human skin. Two human shin bones propped up a damaged table, he noted. Skin from female bodies had been made into a crude vest, leggings and purse handles.
On the kitchen walls the sheriff had found nine death masks, the skinned faces or skulls of women. There were ten heads from female corpses, all sawed off just above the eyebrows. One skull had been made into a soup bowl.
The refrigerator contained human organs, all frozen and seemingly prepared for later consumption. In a pan on the stove lay a human heart, believed to be the heart of the slain Mrs Worden.
When the sheriff entered the basement, he reeled in sickening horror. The place looked like a slaughterhouse. Pieces of human bodies dangled from hooks along the walls and the floor was coated with dried human gore. From what the sheriff was able to determine, the human remains he discovered in Gein’s farmhouse represented the bodies of fifteen women. Inside the shed behind Gein’s house, the sheriff discovered Mrs. Worden’s headless body, hanging from a rafter. It had been gutted.
Confronted with all this horrible evidence, Gein denied nothing. He readily admitted murdering Mary Hogan and Mrs. Worden. He may have murdered several more women, he said, but he could not remember. Later evidence pointed to but did not conclude that he had murdered and cannibalized two other women, including Evelyn Hartley, who had years earlier disappeared on the very night when Gein was visiting relatives only two blocks from her home in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
A short time after Hartley vanished, Mary Weckler, of nearby Jefferson, Wisconsin disappeared and it was believed that Gein murdered and cannibalized her, too. Gein talked freely about eating the dead flesh of the bodies he had robbed from graves and those he had killed.
The cannibal even described in detail how he had adorned himself in the crude garments made of skin and how, if the mood suited him, he would dance naked throughout his kitchen and bedroom as he played fitfully with his gruesome trophies. He talked matter-of-factly about these nightmare gyrations, as if talking about normal conduct.
Psychiatrists later concluded that Gein had been at such devilish work for so many years that he had grown used to such abnormal practices. Gein’s composure only cracked when he was accused of stealing the cash register and its money from the Worden store. ”I’m no robber.” he said indignantly. “I took the money and the cash register to see how it worked.”
On 16 January 1958, Gein was examined and pronounced incompetent to stand trial. He was sent to the Central State Hospital at Waupun, Wisconsin, which also housed the state prison complex. In November 1958, he was tried for murder and found innocent by reason of insanity Judge Robert Gollmar ordered Gein back to the hospital in Waupun, where he was to remain for life.
Gein never fully accepted his acts as being criminal and thought he should have been released from Waupun. He repeatedly applied for parole over the years and was always surprised to see his appeals denied. This ghoulish and unrepentant killer-cannibal died in the psychiatric ward at Waupun of respiratory failure on 26 July 1984, a death mourned by no one living in Plainfield, Wisconsin.