08 November 2010
Edward Theodore “Ed” Gein was an American murder and body snatcher. His crimes, which he committed around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, garnered widespread notoriety after authorities discovered Gein had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin. After police found body parts in his house in 1957, Gein confessed to killing two women: tavern owner Mary Hogan in 1954, and a Plainfield hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, in 1957. Initially found unfit to stand trial, following confinement in a mental health facility, he was tried in 1968 for the murder of Worden and sentenced to life imprisonment, which he spent in a mental hospital. The body of Bernice Worden was found in Gein’s shed; her head and the head of Mary Hogan were found inside his house. Robert H. Gollmar, the judge in the Gein case, wrote: ‘Due to prohibitive costs, Gein was tried for only one murder—that of Mrs. Worden.’ With fewer than three confirmed kills, Gein does not meet the traditional definition of a serial killer. Regardless his real-life case influenced the creation of several fictional serial killers, including Norman Bates from Psycho, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.
Gein was born in La Crosse County, Wisconsin. His parents, George and Augusta Gein, both natives of Wisconsin, had two sons: Henry George Gein, and his younger brother, Edward Theodore Gein. Gein was a frequently unemployed alcoholic who physically abused his sons. Despite Augusta’s deep contempt for her husband, the marriage persisted because of the family’s religious belief about divorce. Augusta Gein operated a small grocery store and eventually purchased a farm on the outskirts of the small town of Plainfield, Wisconsin, which then became the Gein family’s permanent home. Augusta Gein moved to this location to prevent outsiders from influencing her sons. Edward Gein left the premises only to go to school. Besides school, he spent most of his time doing chores on the farm. Augusta Gein, a fervent Lutheran, preached into her boys the innate immorality of the world, the evil of drinking, and the belief that all women (herself excluded) were prostitutes and instruments of the devil. She reserved time every afternoon to read to them from the Bible, usually selecting graphic verses from the Old Testament dealing with death, murder, and divine retribution. With a slight growth over one eye and an effeminate demeanor, the younger Gein became a target for bullies. Classmates and teachers recalled off-putting mannerisms, such as seemingly random laughter, as if he were laughing at his own personal jokes. To make matters worse, his mother scolded him whenever he tried to make friends. Despite his poor social development, he did fairly well in school, particularly in reading. Gein tried to make his mother happy, but she was rarely pleased with her boys. She often abused them, believing that they were destined to become failures like their father. During their teen and throughout their early adulthood, the boys remained detached from people outside of their farmstead, and so had only each other for company.
On November 16, 1957, Plainfield hardware store owner Bernice Worden disappeared, and police had reason to suspect Gein. Worden’s son had told investigators that Gein had been in the store the evening before the disappearance, saying that he would return the following morning for a gallon of anti-freeze. A sales slip for a gallon of anti-freeze was the last receipt written by Worden on the morning she disappeared. Upon searching Gein’s property, investigators discovered Worden’s decapitated body in a shed, hung upside down by ropes at her wrists, with a crossbar at her ankles. The torso was ‘dressed out’ like that of a deer. She had been shot with a .22-caliber rifle, and the mutilations performed after death. Searching...